Gaming Unplugged: Ticket To Ride

November 2, 2007

Experienced board gamers are always on the look-out for a simple “gateway game” that can introduce new players to more-strategic, less luck-based gaming. Many keep a copy of Ticket to Ride available for just such an occasion, as the game’s simple mechanics are easy to teach and quick to play. It has also won numerous awards since its 2004 release, including the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (a Germany-based Game of the Year award). Ticket to Ride is in many ways considered to be the archetypical “rail game”. Players compete to connect various American cities via train routes that criss-cross the country (as well as spilling over into some neighboring Canadian provinces). To complete a route, you simply need to collect the corresponding number of colored cards. The length of the route determines how many points it is worth. Additional points are available at the end of the game for completing Destination Tickets; any uncompleted Tickets in your possession are deducted from your score, so plan accordingly. There is also a one-time bonus of ten points for the player with the longest continuous chain of routes. Each player begins the game by being dealt four Tickets and keeping at least two; they also start with four route cards. On your turn, you have three choices: 1) draw two route cards from the face-up array or from the top of the deck (if you want to take a Wild card, you may only take one card that turn); 2) draw four Tickets and keep at least one (returning the rest to the bottom of the deck); or 3) complete a route using the cards in your hand. The final round begins once one player has used at least forty-three of his forty-five train cars (each car represents one segment of a route), at which point each player receives one more turn.

The game’s strategy comes from planning your routes and balancing your choices each turn. Only one player may claim a given route, so you might find your plans crushed to pieces if you take an extra turn to draw cards, allowing one of your rivals to claim that route instead. Some cities are connected by multiple routes (except in a 3-player game), and you can usually arrange for a detour, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of the cards you’ve spent precious time collecting may now be less useful to your designs. The other main strategic decision involves whether you want to attempt one continuous series of routes to connect as many Destinations as possible or to simply claim as many high-scoring Routes as possible and grab Destinations as they become convenient. As mentioned, Ticket to Ride is easy to play, with its core gameplay centering around collecting sets of colored cards. It may actually border on being too simple for more experienced players, who will have passed through this particular gateway a long time ago. Outside of a more casual group/setting, Ticket to Ride is unlikely to feature prominently in an evening’s festivities, but for those times when it is approrpriate, it will definitely hold its own.

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