Published on April 19th, 2013 | by A. J. Asplund
Around the World in 45 Trains
Determining the most effective way to connect two cities on a map can be a difficult problem to solve. It gets even more difficult, but potentially more interesting, when somebody else interferes with your plan. This question is at the heart of the award-winning game, Ticket to Ride. Set on a map of the United States at the turn of the century, Ticket to Ride is a game for two to five players that takes about sixty minutes. Designed by Alan R. Moon and published by Days of Wonder, is a great game for new and experienced players alike.
PRODUCTION: The Age of Steam and Plastic
Inside the box, there are three primary types of components in Ticket to Ride: the game board, cards, and plastic trains. Like all Days of Wonder products, the production value of all of the components is excellent. Not only are the pieces well constructed, they look good on the table. Days of Wonder never fails to manufacture games with solidly constructed pieces, creative artwork, and clear layout.
The board is well illustrated and provides sufficient room to play the game. The board is a map of the United States, with major cities connected to one another via train tracks of varying lengths and colors. Like most Euro games, a score track around the outside of the board allows players to track score with included wooden discs. There is plenty of room to place the plastic trains on the board without too much crowding.
Ticket to Ride includes two types of cards. There are Ticket cards, which list two cities on the map that a player can connect for endgame points, and Train cards of different colors that players use to claim stretches of track on the board. Although the cards are well printed and effective for their purpose, they are small cards (roughly 44mm x 68mm). From my experience, the smaller cards can be difficult to handle for players with larger hands. Despite everything else being well-designed, it seems quite strange that Days of Wonder would choose to print small cards that are so essential to the play of the game. Luckily, later versions of Ticket to Ride, including the expansion for the base game, include full sized cards that can be used instead of the smaller cards.
GAMEPLAY: All Around the USA, Phileas Fogg Style
The game is played in turns, with each player taking their turn in order. On a turn, a player must choose from one of three possible actions: draw two Train cards from a selection of five face-up cards or the face-down draw pile; play Train cards to claim a stretch of track on the board; or, draw additional Ticket cards. In that way, turns are quick. Points are gained for every stretch of track claimed by a player and, at game’s end, for all completed Ticket cards. Given the simple gameplay, it is very easy to explain the game to new players.
The different Train cards come in one of eight colors. A player claims a stretch of track by playing a set of cards, equal in number to the length of the track, of the same color. When a player claims a stretch of track, she places plastic train pieces of her color on the track. Certain stretches of track, colored gray, can be claimed with any set of cards of the same color (i.e., all red cards or all white cards for a gray track) while others, having a specific color, must be claimed with matching cards of that color (i.e., all red cards for red track). Choosing Train cards is very important to developing a good strategy for claiming track. In addition, there are multi-color wild Train cards which can be used as part of claiming any track but are more costly to draw.
Ticket cards grant points at the end of the game if the player connects the two cities with her trains. However, they also count as a penalty at the end if the cities are connected. Thus, drawing additional Tickets can potentially cause problems if the locations are no longer accessible or simply difficult to reach. However, since points are also accumulated by claiming track, it is not necessary for a player to rely on Tickets.
EXPERIENCE: From Humble Conductor to Formidable Rail Baron
Despite the apparent simplicity of the game, there are a variety of complexities to the Ticket to Ride experience. Claiming a stretch of track makes it unavailable to other players, creating ways that players can “block” other player’s plans. It does not take that many plays of the game for most players to realize the value of claiming short lengths of track in strategic locations, creating potential barriers for other players later in the game. This depth of strategy adds a lot to the long-term value of the game.
Ticket to Ride is also a game that changes a lot through expansion content. New sets of Tickets, new game boards, and new rules variants take this very simple game into many different directions. Although this review focuses on the base game (the USA map), it is worth mentioning that multiple expansions and alternate base games have added a lot to the Ticket to Ride game experience.
Since claiming track and completing Ticket cards both give points, there are different avenues to victory. A strategy focusing on claiming only long, high-point stretches of track can be just as viable as a strategy that focuses on completing many tickets. Similarly, how much a player focuses on trying to interrupt other players is an important element in a winning strategy. The fact that Ticket to Ride is so readily approachable by new players but still has a lot to say to more sophisticated players is one of its greatest strengths.
OVERALL: A Classic Game of Strategic Colored Train Placement
Ticket to Ride is an excellent game for both people new to board games and those more experienced players. Like many games published by Days of Wonder, Ticket to Ride has high-quality components, simple rules, and a lot of replayability. The mechanics are simple to grasp and straight forward but they provide many opportunities for more in-depth strategy and play experience. Ticket to Ride is an excellent addition to any game shelf.