Ticket to Ride
Demonstration copy available in store - Try before you buy!
Board game, 2-5 players, ages 8+
A railroad adventure board game from noted game designer, Alan R. Moon. With elegantly simple gameplay, Ticket to Ride can be learned in 3 minutes, yet players face strategic and tactical decisions that vary with every turn. Players collect cards of various types of train cars that are then used to claim railway routes connecting various cities across a map of North America. The longer the routes the more points they earn.
++++++++++++++++++++ Counter magazine review ++++++++++++++++++++
2-5 players, 60 minutes designed by Alan Moon reviewed by Ben Baldanza
Days of Wonder has a formula that one can only hope is economically successful. They are publishing only a few games per year, but choosing what to publish carefully and sparing little cost in the production and marketing of their line. Ticket to Ride is one their newest releases, and it comes in the big square box used for Mystery of the Abbey and Pirate's Cove, with a beautiful and colorful board showing a map of the US with routes connecting cities, 240 trains, and 110 high-quality quality cards in nine colors (each showing a different type of train car or a locomotive). And when it comes to Alan Moon and trains, one can expect a design that is simple, works well, and has great replayability. Ticket to Ride is all of these, and the result is one of the best new games for 2004 and one that should be a shoe-in for at least an SdJ nomination. The board shows cities across the US and Canada, connected by routes of lengths from one to six. Most of the routes are designated with a specific color, though many of the shorter routes and a few longer ones are neutral, meaning any color can apply. Each player has 45 trains to deploy, and these are placed on the board on the sections of the route shown when the route is built. The routes are unique: once I've built the six-section green line from Houston to El Paso, no one else can build it. But thanks to the multiple cities and routes, getting from one place to another can usually be accomplished in multiple ways. In order to build a route, a player must play the appropriate cards. To build that six-section green line above, I would first have to play six green cards. The game consists of players both collecting cards and building routes. Building routes creates scoring value in three ways. The first is an immediate score based on the length of the route: single-space routes score one, but six-space routes score 15. As you would expect, routes cannot be partially built. The second way routes create value is that each player begins with a set of ``tickets'', showing the required connection of two cities. The more difficult or longer the connection is, the higher value the ticket is worth. At game end, players who can connect the cities on their ticket cards with a connected link of their own trains score the value of that ticket. Tickets which are not completed, however, cost their value in victory points. The third and final way that routes score value is that in the final evaluation, the player with the longest non-branching set of trains gets a 10-point bonus. The play could not be simpler: each turn, a player takes cards, builds a route, or takes new tickets to complete. When taking cards, players can choose from five face-up cards or draw blind from the deck. Two cards can be taken unless one chooses a locomotive, which is a joker. Drawing blind can get you two jokers if you're lucky, and also keeps hidden what you may be collecting. Of course, you get what you pick so this isn't always helpful. There is no hand size limit, but being able to build only one route per turn makes building now and then essential. When building a route, a player simply plays the cards equal to the length of the route in the appropriate color, and then places their trains on the board in those spots. This causes an immediate scoring as described above. Instead of choosing cards or building a route, a player can take new tickets to complete. They draw three cards from the ticket stack, and can keep all three but must keep at least one. Since tickets not completed count against you, this can be risky if done late in the game. However, they can also be worth many points if your network is well diversified or there are short clear paths to a few more key cities. The game finishes with one more round after any one player builds a route that leaves them with fewer than three trains. Then, each player scores their ticket cards (positive or negative) and the 10-point longest train is awarded. High score wins. What makes Ticket to Ride such a good game is that its simplicity adds to it. The decisions are difficult, and even with only three things to do it is not certain which is the right one every turn. Scoring during the game by building longer routes is very powerful, but often short routes are needed to complete the ticket cards taken at the beginning of the game. Building routes and taking new tickets by definition means you don't take cards in that turn, and cards are how you get flexibility in building. With only 12 cards per color, building to get that six-section green when others are also collecting green can be difficult. Here is where the locomotives can help, yet taking a locomotive is all you can do unless you luckily draw one from the deck. It is not clear to me that there is a single winning strategy for the game. I have seen wins based on avoiding short routes and getting the premium that the long routes deliver, and I have seen wins based on completing multiple tickets. In five player games, getting a lock on some critical paths can avoid long circuitous routes that may not get completed before the game ends. The game end is also interesting, as players must keep an eye on everyone's building pace. If you spend a lot of time getting new tickets and building short routes while others just collect cards and build long, the game will end with you having not placed many of your trains. While most of the routes are single, some routes have parallel lanes in different colors, allowing two players to build the same link. When playing with two or three players, these become single routes and this feature makes the game that much more tactical. Some have claimed that Ticket to Ride is the game that Trans America should have been. I think this in unfair to both games. Trans America is a fine game that has proven its value, and Ticket to Ride is a different game that by theme only makes it comparable. But Ticket to Ride is a better game, and one that truly benefits from a mature Alan Moon design. Alan is among the best at taking simple ideas and turning them into interesting, playable games with no excess fat. Ticket to Ride is this at its best, and by combining with the excellence of the Days of Wonder's production shop we have a real winner.
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