Dale Yu: Review of Free Ride

Free Ride

  • Designer: Friedemann Friese
  • Publisher: 2F
  • Players: 1-5
  • Age: 10+
  • Time 55 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by 2F

free ride

I just received the newest game from 2F, Free Ride, and I was surprised to read the subtitle – the train game from Friedemann Friese.  For some reason, my brain has always felt that Power Grid was a train game.  In my game collection, it is actually shelved with the other train games, nestled between Age of Steam and Chicago Express.  Of course, there is not a single train in that game, just power lines.  But yet, the building of networks and connecting of cities has always reminded me of a train game.  However, this newest release, actually has trains…  Here, players tried to connect 45 different cities across Europe, and each tries to operate their own train line, trying to get tourists to see the most important sites in these 45 cities.

To set up the game, place the board in the center of the table.  Each of the 9 cities around the periphery of the continent are supplied with 2 coins each.  Then taking the “I” route cards, shuffle the deck and then deal out 3 columns of 3 cards. There are 2 other Decks of cards “II” and “III:.  Shuffle these and set them aside.

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Each player takes the train player mat in their color as well as one locomotive.  They also get train ownership markers.  Each player starts with a supply of 6 coins as well.  A start player is determined, and now the game is ready to start.  There are 3 distinct portions to the game: Prologue, Main Game, and Finish.

Prologue

In the prologue, players will choose their initial travel route, and this gives them a starting location for their train.  Starting with the first player, that player chooses one of the 3 travel routes available in the display.  While he may never change the order of the cards, he only takes 2 of the cards out of that set of 3.  Either he takes the top 2, with a topmost card being the origin, and his train is placed on that city to start the game, and then the middle card is the destination.  Alternatively if he takes the bottom 2 cards, the middle card is the origin and the bottom card becomes the destination.  Either way, the 2 cards which are taken are placed on the player’s train car card, such that the destination is visible.  The player’s train is placed on the origin city.  The card which is not chosen is discarded.  Note that if you start in one of the cities which has 2 coins next to it, you collect those coins immediately.

After the first player has chosen, 2 new travel routes are added to the display such that the next player has 1 more possible choice when he chooses.  Continue this until all players have chosen their starting route, and placed their train in their starting location.  Once this is complete, make sure that the display has 6 travel routes to move into the next phase of the game.

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Main game

Once everyone has their first route and they are starting location, you move into the main game.  Players will take turns choosing 1 of 3 possible actions: Build Rails, Ride the train, or Take rail tokens.

Build rails: As you can see on your train mat, you may spend up to 2 construction points to place 1 or 2 rails onto the map.  Each basic Railway space requires 1 construction point.  Tunnel and ferry spaces require two.  If you only have one point left in your turn, you can place a rail token on the tunnel/ferry space but perpendicular to the correct orientation to show that it is halfway built.  Whenever you start building a new train link, place one of your ownership markers on one of the pieces to claim it for yourself.  You are allowed to build a Railway line as long as it is connected to your own line, a state owned railway, or a railway line of fellow players.  You do not need to complete construction of a line in a single turn, but you will not be able to build anything else until this particular line is finished.  Note that you are limited to the rail tokens you have in your supply.  If you require more train tokens in this action, you may spend 1 coin in order to gain 5 rail tokens from the general supply.

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Ride the train: As I said earlier, your end goal is likely to visit as many of the cities as possible with your train – to do this, you must move your train!.  If you choose to ride the train, you may move your train up to 2 cities along finished railway lines.  Each link between 2 cities is considered a unit, it does not matter how many train segments are between them.  If you travel over your own railway lines or those owned by the state, the movement is free.  If you need to use a Railway line owned by an opponent, you must pay them one coin to use the link.  However, once you do this, this link now becomes state owned and all players may use it for free.  Note that if you travel through the city on the periphery which still has 2 coins next to it, as soon as you pass through or stop in that city, you collect the 2 coins.  Once you reach or pass through the destination city seen on your locomotive card route, you finish the travel route and you place both cards facedown in a score pile.  In this action, if you have availability to pick up a new travel route you may do so.  However, your train must be in the starting city of the route you collect.  Just as in the prologue, you may not change the order of the 3 cards in our out column.  You choose either the top 2 or the bottom 2.  If you are not in the city which matches up to an origin on one of the displayed routes, you may have to take additional “ride the train” actions to move your train to a city where you can pick up a route.  Whenever you choose a route, again place the 2 desired cards onto your train car card, discard the third unused card, and then draw 3 new cards from the deck so that the display always has 6 routes.

Take rail tokens: If you have 1 or fewer rail tokens left in your stock, you can choose to use your entire turn to take 5 rail tokens from the supply.  This does not cost you a coin.

The game continues on with each player taking one of the 3 action choices each turn.  However, there are two transition points within this main game portion; each occurs when the current draw stack is exhausted.  When the first draw stack is depleted, you bring the second deck into play.  At this time, players also get a second train car and add it to the area in front of them.  From now on, players are able to carry two travel routes at any time.  Similarly, when the second deck is depleted, the third deck comes into play.  At this time, players flip over their locomotive to reveal a faster train.  For the rest of the game, when riding the train, you may move up to 3 cities instead of 2..

Finish

When the third deck of route cards is depleted, the game moves into the Finish phase.  Players can still take the same 3 actions, but now there is an additional option when you Ride the train.  After moving your train, you can also then quit the game and withdraw your train from the board.  You do earn a bonus of 1 coin if you are able to fulfill your last travel route with your final movement.  However, it is not required for you to finish the route in order to withdraw your train from the board (you just don’t earn the bonus coin).  For the rest of the game, you do not take any turns, instead you gain one coin from the supply for each turn in which you pass.  The game continues until all players have passed.  To ensure that all players have the same number of turns, anyone left in player order for that round still collects a coin from the supply.

Scoring

Scoring the game is fairly simple.  At this point players reveal all of the city cards they have collected from their fulfilled routes.  You score 5 points for the first card for each city, and 2 points for every other card of the same city.  Each coin collected is worth 3 victory points.  The player with the most points wins the game.  Ties are broken in favor of the player with the most unique cities visited during the game.

My thoughts on the game

Free Ride is a deviously complicated game which has quite a simple set of rules.  You are tasked with both network creation as well as route completion – and these two things don’t necessarily have to go together at all!   The game has a nice arc, starting slowly with a single route to complete and a nascent line of track.  As you start, you mostly build track, generally to get to where your initial ticket ends – then moving your train to said destination.  If you’re lucky, you can use someone else’s track (of course, at the cost of a coin) to speed up this process. Next, you keep an eye out for a ticket that you want to grab, and then hopefully get there quickly.  

You must of course move quickly, because one of your opponents might have their eye on the same set of tickets!   The rub here is that they may not be looking at the same pair of cities – and you must therefore scour the board  to look at both possibilities in the set.  For instance, you might want Amsterdam to Wien, and no one else is too close to Amsterdam.  But, you must also be looking at Wien, because what if someone comes and snakes it away because they wanted Wien to Sofia?

All of this looking takes a bit of time, and for our group, the graphic design hindered our play a bit.  The route cards clearly state the name of the city and have a nice landmark illustration on the bulk of the card; but there is no indication where that city might be on the European landmass.  For us (perhaps consider us Dumb Americans), it was hard to know where exactly to look to find Lwiw.  Honestly, thanks to my love of soccer and hours spent watching the Euro 2012 tournament, I remembered that Lviv was a city in the Ukraine.  But finding that on a map which doesn’t have any country border lines?  Yeah, that takes time.  Sure, you’ll eventually learn where everything is – but it is still time consuming.  I would have really liked there to be a map in the background with the city location highlighted somehow.  

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Because, when you’re looking at tickets, you have 6 ticket sets to consider, and you have to look at 3 cards per set – and while you might know where most of the cities are, it’ll take time to do it right, and longer if you have to constantly search for where the cities are located!  Of course, this could just be dumb American syndrome.  For all I know, our European friends can easily locate the cities, most of which I would say are major cities, with ease.  Of course, they might have issues quickly locating Phoenix, Topeka and Nashville.

In any event, for our group – the design did make the game a bit longer.  But aside from that, the game is a very engaging experience, and one I enjoy (and continue to look forward to playing).  There is a certain art to building a useful set of rail links.  You would like it to bring you to the places you want to go, or at least in contact with other people who are already going where you want to go.  You also want to make your lines desirable to others.

The reason for this is that the coin economy is mostly closed.  Each player starts with a small supply, and then you can pick up coins at the cities on the periphery if you are first to arrive there – but otherwise, no other coins are added to the system.  Thus, once you spend all your coins, the only way to get more is to have someone convert one of your rail lines to governmental lines.  So you need to make sure that your rail segments are going places that other people want to get to!

While you’re working on this, the scoring system demands that you visit new places as often as you can.  Sure, it’s easy to keep going back to the places where your network already is, but those 2 point cards are easily eclipsed by the 5 points that a new location will give you.  Hopefully you can find destinations which are not too far from your network (or government lines) so that you can get there cheaply and quickly.  And, while you’re doing that, keep an eye out for your next ticket, because you’ll obviously do better if you spend less time moving around to get your next ticket after completing one.

So, the game starts slow, and then picks up pace in the second phase when you now get two rail cars.  Now that you have two possible destinations, you can plan some longer term strategies.  You can choose to play defensively and take a ticket that someone else desperately wants (though you better be able to do it at some point or else it will gum up your own engine).  You can also try to get routes that dovetail nicely to maximize your travel expenses…  Then, in the final deck, getting 3 movement points helps you scoot across the board, making previously ludicrously long tickets seem do-able.

Our games have all come in longer than the advertised 55 minutes, in part because of our woeful knowledge of European geography, in part due to our novice level of experience with the game, and in part because two of the games were with the full complement of 5 players.  With a smaller, more experienced group, I could see this easily in the 30-45 minute range.   If I get a rainy day, I might try to make up a deck of Ticket to Ride style city cards which I think will help enormously for my group.  But even without that change, this is a game that I have really liked, and I look forward to exploring it further this winter. I currently really like this, and with a few more plays, could grow to love it. 

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Alan H: I’ve enjoyed every game of this, though I’ve maxed out at 4 players and then the advertised timeline is fine. Of course with European players one of the obstacles that Dale encountered is far less relevant.

I think game this joins the go to train club of Ticket to Ride, Transamerica and now Free Ride as games that are easily accessible, playable with a wide range of people and not taking too long to play.

Mark Jackson: I think there are some graphic choices that could make the game substantially easier to play – not the least of which is making it clearer where on the board the various cities are located – but the underlying game is solid and I’d be happy to play again.

Simon Neale: With a stated runtime of under an hour our first 4 player game came in at a mind blowing 100 minutes! That said, most of that time was trying to find the places on the map. Later plays however have brought the runtime back to the hour and as others have mentioned the game fits well into the Ticket to Ride style of game. The placing of ownership arches can be a little fiddly and the lack of a way of telling quickly where a location is from the cards makes the gameplay feel clunky at times. Perhaps a bit more development before release would have helped, but I’m happy to play the game when it hits the table.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Eric M, Alan H, Rand L
  • I like it. Dale Y, Steph H, Mark J, John P, Simon N, 
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2021, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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