Review: Alvin and Dexter—Would you like spite with that?
Days of Wonder really hit the ground running in 2011 and introduced one of the first games of the year: Alvin & Dexter. A&D is an expansion for the Ticket to Ride series of games. Which TtR game? Well, all of them, really. Alvin the alien, and Dexter the dinosaur, come stomping into your board and create havoc. And, until I got my hands on this game, I pretty much dismissed it.
I mean, aliens and dinosaurs? In Ticket to Ride? Come on. It seemed like an attempt to cash in on the highly successful franchise without having to create an entirely new board. And I think they may be running out of countries at this point. However, Days of Wonder was kind enough to send me a review copy so I got it to the table a few times. And, let me tell you, I could not have been more wrong. The expansion is relatively simple, but packs a whollop of a good time. Read past the cut for the full review.
The Basics. Alvin and Dexter, those scamps, love to cause chaos. In fact, any city that they are located in becomes a “City in Chaos.” (I’d like to use that font from old horror trailers here, but the best I can do is italicize). While Alvin or Dexter are in a city, no routes can be built to or from that city. The people living there are dealing with menacing aliens and rampaging dinosaurs. They have a little more on their plate than worrying about your train routes.
During each player’s turn, they may move one monster by discarding one or two locomotive (wild) cards from their hand. One card moves them up to three cities, two cards sends them up to six away. But, once a player has moved it, he takes their card (Alvin and Dexter each have their own little stack) and places it face up. As long as it is face up, no one else can move that monster. That card doesn’t get turned face down until the end of that player’s next turn.
And that’s where a lot of the genius of the mechanic comes in. This ensures that the same player can’t move the monster every turn. It also means that the monster won’t be jumping around the board on every player’s turn, which would render it largely meaningless. If you place a monster somewhere, you know that it’ll effect the player you want to impact for at least one of his turns. This simple rule really started to sell me on A&D. It was clearly something that had some thought behind it and was not just a way to trade on the Ticket to Ride series.
Also, at the end of the game, whoever has the most cards for Alvin and Dexter (gained by moving them the most times during the game) gets a bonus 15 points. And, if either monster is on a city on a player’s destination card, then that card is worth half as much (either negative or positive). In our games, we have to disguise our end routes lest a monster be placed at the end of a long train route and we find ourselves entitled to only half points.
Components: 4 of 5. The cards that come with Alvin & Dexter are top notch and I think on even better stock than the train cards. Plus, they don’t get shuffled at all, so the quality is really excellent. The figurines are also fantastic. There is a lot of detail on both Alvin and Dexter, but especially Dexter since you can see all of his little scales. They might be a bit top heavy, so you have to set them down a little carefully. And getting them out of the package is a little tough. They are in there good. I actually ripped off Dexter’s little dinosaur leg getting him out. Luckily it goes right back on, but I felt bad for the guy.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 5 of 5. There’s really no luck added with this expansion, but there is a whole world of strategy. In our games, the monsters come out early and roar often. They get moved nearly every round to block what we think might be the ideal routes for our opponents. This also means building decoy routes from time to time.
Mechanics: 5 of 5. I was quite surprised by exactly how well this worked with our Ticket to Ride. And the method of having the cards, and only letting the two monsters be utilized by one player each round really spreads the joy (or spite) around. It also keeps one player from continuously hogging the monster which is a definite plus. Though I still think the theme of killer monsters doesn’t quite mesh with Ticket to Ride, mechanically it’s a perfect addition to the game.
Replayability: 4 of 5. This will largely depend on the group you play with, but I don’t see a reason not to add the monsters to nearly every game. Those who are spite averse or who game with kids may not see as much play. But if you don’t mind having a turn foiled by Dexter, and if you enjoy throwing Alvin at your opponents, then this is a welcome addition to TtR. It makes the game so much more interactive and creates a tension as you wait to see if your opponents guess your preferred connecting city correctly.
Spite: 4.5 of 5. Without this expansion, Ticket to Ride is relatively spite free. Can you block someone else’s route out of spite? Of course. But doing so costs you cards that could have been used to help yourself, and it costs you an entire turn to do so. It’s almost always better to use those cards on yourself. With A&D in the mix, though, that’s no longer the case. You can move a monster without taking up your turn. Move a monster and still build or draw. Plus, now the wild cards have double usage. You have to carefully decide whether to use it to help build a route, or instead inflict its malice on another player. Plus, you’re even encouraged to move the monsters. The more moves you get in, the greater the chance you’ll get the bonus points at the end.
Overall: 4.5 of 5. Alvin and Dexter is a fantastic addition to the Ticket to Ride game series. It increases interaction, increases strategy, increases action, and increases fun. The monsters can be a force on the table almost from the very beginning of the game. As soon as someone plays down a track, the monster usually gets into the action on the next turn. While some players may be very spite-phobic, and therefore it won’t be for everyone, I consider it a superb add-on to Ticket to Ride. And, with a suggested retail price of only $13, it’s well worth the cost.
In my first play of the game, we allowed any card to move the monsters rather than just the wild cards. This certainly lead to a lot more movement, but also lessened the impact. I think this would make a good variant, but if you want to keep the monsters more menacing, stick with the wild cards as written in the rules.
*A special thanks to Days of Wonder for providing a review copy of Alvin & Dexter.