“Ticket to Ride” has MANY endearing qualities, though sometimes I find its average playtime to be a bit long on nights where homework, cooking dinner, and cleaning are a thing. Enter, “Continental Express”, a much smaller game that can be played in as little as twenty minutes. Instead of claiming routes across the USA or Europe (or whatever version of “Ticket to Ride” you have), you’ll instead be tasked with collecting train cars of a particular type in order to fulfill both short and long-term objectives. Before I go any further, I’d like quickly thank Audrey Debayle from Asmodee for providing me with a free press copy for review purposes.
The game includes 82 Small cards (58 Train cards, 2 Event cards, 12 Banknotes, & 10 Character cards), 20 Company Tokens, and 30 Long cards (20 Objective cards & 10 Contract cards).
Setup & Gameplay
The small cards are shuffled into three separate, equal stacks and placed vertically in relation to one another. Three cards are drawn face-up from each deck and placed to the right of it, forming a 3×3 grid. The objective cards are shuffled and placed above this grid, with three being drawn face up to the right of the deck. The contract cards are shuffled and each player receives two (face-down), though they keep one and discard the other. The tokens are kept nearby within easy reach of all players and someone is picked to go first.
On a player’s turn, they’ll:
1. Take a small card from the nine available. Cards on the far right are free, cards in the middle require one banknote, and cards on the left require two banknotes. When a player takes a card, it is placed face-up in front of them for all to see. The other cards in that row slide to the right (becoming cheaper) and a new card is drawn from that deck to replace the missing one. If said card is an event card, it is resolved immediately.
2. Claim an objective (optional). To do this, a player must discard train cars equal to the number and type shown on the objective. A taken objective card is put near the player’s contract card for endgame scoring.
Players continue taking turns until someone claims their fourth objective card. Everyone else gets one final turn and players then tally the victory points listed on their respective objective cards. Unspent banknotes are worth a victory point each. They’ll also factor in the points in earned from their secret contract card. The person with the most points, wins!
Editor’s Note: The above doesn’t cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you an idea as to how the game is played.
Honestly, this game isn’t all that complicated (which in some cases is a good thing). Most experienced gamers will see the game for what it is: a casual set collector. Not only are you collecting train cars in the short-term to complete objectives, but you’re also trying to collect objective cards of a particular type in order to fulfill your contract. In other words, A leads to B which leads to C. Players earn a “company symbol” simply by completing an objective (the company symbol is listed on the bottom left corner of the card), though they can also earn matching company tokens via certain character cards. Earning the right amount of a certain company symbol can potentially fulfill your contract and push you ahead to victory, though everyone’s agenda will be slightly different.
From a strategic standpoint, “Continental Express” offers very little. Your choices will be limited to three cards when you have no banknotes available to you and the more players you add, the less you can plan ahead. In a four player game, for example, you can only hope that the card you need is still there by the time your turn rolls around again. In a two player game, things are slightly less chaotic. Speaking of choices, you’ll either be collecting a car, a banknote, or a character card. Again, not a whole lot of strategy here…banknotes expand your options a bit but also earn you VP at the game’s end, making them highly valuable. Character cards give players special abilities and cars simply allow you to complete objectives. I found that what I took often depended on the situation and what was available at the time…I rarely thought about the long-term.
To be fair, the “long-term” lasts twenty minutes. Had this game been priced at $30 or $40, I would have taken issue with its simplicity. Currently, you can find it on Amazon for about $15, which is about right for what market the game is aimed at: casual/light strategy gamers who want a quick micro-game fix. When looked at in that light, “Continental Express” is a safe-buy. Folks who are looking for something a bit more strategic and in-depth may do well to pass on this one, though I suppose it might serve as a good filler in between longer play sessions. Personally, I find it to be a charming little game that is not only train-themed (a plus) but is relatively quick to set up and clean up. If you have kids, you’ll know just how valuable a commodity “time” really is.
Final Verdict: 7/10