Written by Zeb Larson
Expedite is a new release by Turnham Games, based around managing shipping centers for the entire globe. Players compete to set up routes between major cities to ship goods, receiving points based on the length of the route. The game is designed for between two to four players and is relatively quick, clocking out around 45 minutes. The game includes a map of all the different shipping centers, four different sets of colored chips and pawns, a deck of colored “plane” cards, the “world trade” cards and a rulebook. The map shows a variety of different cities across the world, all of which link to certain other cities. These cities are referred to as hubs and are color-coded, matching up to the colors of different plane cards. They range in cost from one to three and can be purchased from other players by multiplying the original cost by how many times they were purchased. Players can take one of four actions in a turn: drawing plane cards, purchasing a hub, playing a scoring card or discarding a trade card and drawing a new one.
The world trade cards are the scoring mechanism of the game. The cards will list a route for a set amount of points; one example would be a route from New York to Bangkok, which if completed will give the player 21 points. However, a player does not have to control each hub along the way (with the exception of the starting hub). Instead, if a hub is controlled by a different player, you lose points for the route equal to the value of your opponent’s city, which they then receive. Clever opponents will hijack certain critical hubs and guarantee themselves a cut of a person’s payout.
Playing this game, my friends and I were immediately struck by its obvious similarities to Ticket to Ride. In and of itself, a game’s similarity to another is not a bad thing. Game designers should borrow concepts and mechanics from one another if they work well. Obviously, designers should not produce carbon-copies of other games, for legal as well as pragmatic reasons, but inspiration is a good thing and Expedite succeeds in this regard. The ability to buy up your opponent’s hubs changes the flow of gameplay compared to TTR, as players cannot count on maintaining the same routes throughout the game. If somebody has built an unbroken route, you can start to dismantle it. This element of the game is fun and well thought-out.
I worry though that this game might run out for more in-depth strategy gamers. The hub-purchasing mechanism doesn’t go quite as far as it should. It’s true that you can use it to profit from your opponent’s scoring cards, but we never had a play through where it made a critical difference. If I control one or two hubs in another player’s route, I can expect to make at most 4 or 5 points. If they’re playing a 20 or 21 point scoring card (which there are plenty of), it’s still almost always within their interests to play the card. In theory, I can buy up a starting hub for a route, but as the trade cards are secret, this is difficult (not to mention quite expensive). It’s a great idea, but it should be a bit more expensive, or the routes should be less profitable.
If the game does a good job in adapting ideas from TTR, it also might be more fun to play if it hadn’t adapted the same point structure.. You are limited to a scoring card hand size of three at any time, and the cards are useless to you if the starting hub is controlled by somebody else and you can’t buy it out from them. Say that in the course of playing, you burn through your original scoring cards, and your new ones have starting hubs that either can’t be bought or are too expensive to buy. You can become stuck for turns just discarding and drawing new ones. Contrast this with TTR. You can’t buy out hubs from people, but you can draw multiple tickets all at once and cherry pick which ones are useful to you. It’s a little less luck-based.
There are also some game decisions which I’m sure were made for game balance but which seem like weird logical fallacies. There’s no trans-Pacific trade. None. I understand that those higher-scoring cards, such as NY to Bangkok, would be a lot easier if you could fly across the ocean and would make them too powerful with the right hubs. My response to that is that the scoring structure could probably be redistributed to move away from longer-routes, or at least focus the high-scoring ones on Eurasia exclusively.
I liked the production values in the game. My friends seemed to think that the map was hard to read, though I didn’t have any particular issue with it (maybe looking at Pandemic’s or Warriors & Traders has deadened me to this complaint). The rulebook is well-written and concise, something deserving of praise. I grasped the rules in about forty-five seconds flat, though part of that may have been my own familiarity with TTR.
Bear in mind that I am writing this review as a snobbish Eurogamer and one who has fairly brutal standards for what makes a great game. This would be a fantastic game to introduce new gamers to or a fun one to play as a family. Outside of my elitist gamer groups, this game probably ranks somewhere between a 7 and a 9. For me personally, this was closer to a 6, but I would encourage people to seek this game out on their own and make up their own mind about it. It’s certainly worth trying.