Unlike many of the large game publishers, Days of Wonder only release a couple of new games a year, so every new release is a bit of an event for boardgamers. The company favours games that have a broad appeal and can be enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike. Their games are also characterised by wonderful artwork and extremely high design and production values. Let’s have a quick look back at some of the Days of Wonder classics that have become staples in most gamers’ collections.
On a personal note, this writer was lucky enough to have lunch with the company’s CEO, Eric Hautemont, on his visit to Sydney several years back when BattleLore (now published by Fantasy Flight Games) was first released. I found him an extremely friendly, charming fellow, and his enthusiasm and dedication to making quality boardgames was very obvious!
Days of Wonders’ greatest success would have to be Ticket to Ride and its many variants and expansions. Originally published in 2004 and designed by Alan R. Moon, it has won numerous awards and sold close to a million copies. Why is it so popular? Probably because it’s the perfect ‘gateway’ game. This means it is the kind of game that is perfect for playing with people whose previous experience with boardgames has been mainstream games such as Monopoly and Scrabble. The rules are easy to learn, the theme is straightforward, it’s a nice blend between luck and strategy, and it’s always a hit with new players.
Basically, Ticket to Ride is a game of set collection. Players try and collect sets of matching coloured cards, which they can then trade in to place rows of their train carriages on the board, connecting routes between cities and scoring points for doing so.
Ticket to Ride was so successful for Days of Wonder that it wasn’t long before they began to create expansions and new versions. Ticket to Ride: Europe was the first, featuring, of course, a game board of Europe, plus new rules for Tunnels, Ferries and Train Stations that add some new strategies to the game.
The Ticket To Ride: Marklin Edition is played on map of Germany and introduces Passengers and Merchandise to the gameplay; plus every one of the 118 train cards features a different image of a Marklin model train car or locomotive. Train hobbyists can tell you that Marklin has been around for over 140 years and is the world’s leader in the miniature train hobby.
Ticket To Ride: Nordic Countries takes the train routes through Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and is especially designed for 2-3 players.
For a more portable Ticket to Ride experience, there’s Ticket to Ride: The Card Game, a stand-alone, easy-to-carry card game version of the game with a few twists. An exciting new variant on the original game (compatible with any map) is Ticket to Ride: The Dice Game, which uses special dice instead of train cards.
The USA 1910 and Europa 1912 sets are card expansions; the first replaces the small cards in the original basic set with large-format cards, plus some new cards and variants, and the second adds more cards and variants, plus the Warehouses & Depots variant.
As you can see, there’s plenty of Ticket to Ride to keep even the most dedicated fan happy for many, many games!
The other Days of Wonder blockbuster is undoubtably their WWII light strategy game Memoir ’44, created by Richard Borg and and also first released in 2004. Still one of my all-time favourite games, Memoir’44 never fails to entertain and engage, and is the perfect introduction into more complex historical wargaming. Based on Borg’s popular Command & Colors system, the game board is split into three sections, and the play of various cards activates units in these sections to move and attack. With a wealth of historical scenarios, extra rules and expansion sets—and of course the joy of moving little plastic army men around a large board divided into big hexes—if you haven’t played Memoir ’44 yet, you are definitely missing out!
The base game covers the D-Day invasions and comes with German and American troops, but additional sets like the Eastern Front Expansion, the Pacific Theatre Expansion, and the Mediterranean Theatre Expansion supply Russian, Japanese and British troops respectively, and make possible the recreation of battles and campaigns from throughout WWII.
Talking about campaigns, the Campaign Book Volume 1 is a fantastic hardback collection of over 50 battles linked together into three campaigns: The Battle for Normandy in the summer of 1944, the Blitzkrieg to the West in 1940, and Operation Barbarossa on the Russian Front in 1941.
The flexibility of the Memoir ’44 system means that it can be played in several different exciting and unique ways. The Operation Overlord expansion, coupled with huge Overlord pre-printed battlemaps like Hedgerow Hell, Sword of Stalingrad or Tigers in the Snow, lets you play a battle royale with up to 4 players per side. I’ve played Memoir ’44 in this way with six players and it was a memorable game, I can assure you!
There’s still more to the Memoir ’44 experience: Breakthrough is an expansion that features four oversize, long boards that expand scenario possibilities, and the Air Pack Expansion includes 8 pre-painted airplanes that bring the skies above your battles alive!
All in all, Memoir ’44 is undoubtably the premiere light WWII wargame system; a game with just the right level of complexity to keep things interesting, but simple enough to introduce to young players and inexperienced gamers alike. And it’s also an educational experience that teaches a lot about the battles of WWII.
Apart from Ticket to Ride and Memoir ’44, there are some other relatively recent DOW releases that are fast on their way to also being classics: the fun fantasy conquest game Small World and its expansions, and the Cluedo-like murder mystery game, set on the Orient Express, Mystery Express.
But for now, everybody’s talking about the brand new Cargo Noir—pre-order yourself a copy now!