Amazon’s digital Alexa Assistant can now play two popular board games, “Ticket to Ride” and “Ticket to Ride Europe”. These are not just digital ports of the modern classics. You actually need physical copies of the games to play. While this is a great way to quickly learn or learn the rules again, I’m not sure I will invite Alexa back to the table soon.
Alexa capability is available for free on any activated device. I created a demo for both an older Echo Dot and a brand new Echo Show provided by Asmodee’s Days of Wonder with a copy of Ticket to Ride. The skill itself is available free of charge. All I had to do was say “Alexa, start Ticket to Ride” to get started.
As a free add-on, the ability has a tremendous value in getting players familiar with the basics. Alexa is quite helpful in unpacking and setting up. It’s also pretty good to go through the basics of a round. I would rather have her do a tutorial than be forced to watch an awkward, pre-recorded video on YouTube. But things collapse when Alexa takes on the role of an opposing player. It’s particularly frustrating to play one on one against them as an AI.
There are two reasons for this frustration. First, having Alexa as a different player changes some subtleties of the game. For example, target tickets should be kept secret from other players. This enables bluffing and more competitive gaming. But when Alexa pulls her target cards, you have to read them out loud so that you have at least an idea of where she might be going.
Even more frustrating is that Alexa never pulls out of the other card game, the so-called train car deck. This tends to slow down the pace at which new cards and new strategic options come into play.
This also means that Alexa has different chances of drawing certain cards than the other players at the table. While human players are limited by the number of cards in the physical deck, Alexa has no such restrictions. The end result is a game that is less exciting and a little less fair than a game without a virtual assistant.
Of course, there is a common rule of getting Alexa to understand you. I had to repeat myself many times during my game test. There is also no pause button. So if you go away for a certain amount of time, you’ll need to turn down the volume or endure Alexa repeating itself every minute like an automated phone system.
The Echo Show 5 from Amazon has a small touchscreen. It visually responds to the game and shows when Alexa draws cards from its virtual deck, but does not offer any physical inputs. Image: Amazon
Ultimately, this new Alexa capability is a promising new development. I would love it if Amazon’s virtual assistant could help me set up more complex board games or guide me through the game rounds. It would also be convenient to search a game manual for opaque rules. However, Amazon’s virtual assistant is no match for any other human opponent, and that will likely not change until it has its own set of highly functional eyeballs or customized game components that it can identify in other ways.
You can find Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride Europe at your local game store, Amazon, Target and Walmart stores across the country.