Ticket to Ride Review

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As a kid growing up in the 80's there was a trinity of cartoons that came known to me as the never ending stories. These where series of foreign made animations that no matter how many you watched you never seemed to be able to see all of them, I don't know whether there were just hundreds of episodes or if Edd the Duck was screwing with my mind. These three unwatchable shows where Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, Mysterious Cities of Gold and Around the World with Willy Fogg.

This last cartoon transformed Phileas Fogg into an anprhopomorphic lion and stretched out his adventures into 26 episodes of animated fun. Spurred on by this enjoyable kids TV program a group of wealthy gentlemen set a bet to travel by rail to as many of America’s cities in 7 days. In Ticket to Ride you take the role of one of these chaps with more money than sense as you lay down plastic trains onto a stylised map of the USA. The thing is you do this by physically putting train cars on a board and building routes between cities. This leads everyone to think Ticket to Ride is about building railways but thematically this game is actually about travelling.

Ticket to Ride is one of the best selling board games.
Ticket to Ride is a bright colourful game that is painfully simple to learn. To claim routes you have to collect enough train cards of the same colour as the route you want, when you claim a route you gain points and prevent other players from claiming. You are also given tickets, extra points for connecting specified cities across the map. One of the beauties of the game is that you can only make one action per turn; pick up two train cards, claim a route or pick up tickets. It keeps the game flowing and also means that when it comes round to your turn your plans may be scuppered. Ticket to Ride is one of those games that brings everyone together to share in the building of something. You'll start with an empty lifeless board but as you progress the board fills with a riot of colour and plastic carriages. It’s a beauty to behold and scratches that special creation itch.

There really isn't much more to add about the rules, the game keeps going until a player runs out of trains, at that point everyone gets another go and the points are tallied up. Up until this instant the points for completed tickets have been kept secret meaning that the final scores are always a surprise.

Claiming routes into key cities is important.

It’s amazing how much tension the ticket system adds to the game. Some of those tickets add some huge point bonuses to your score and you spend the game slowly collecting train cards hoping you can get the key section of your route before another player. The worst condition is when another player realises your plans and purposefully claims a section just to block you off, it’s a perfectly legitimate strategy that often works. Forcing you to go round and take an extended path slows down your progress but can sometimes increase your overall score by getting you to claim more routes. The whole process adds a poker-esque strategy to the proceedings you want to claim that continent spanning route but you don't want someone twigging halfway through and blocking the major cities. I almost forgot the most important aspect of the tickets; fail to claim a route and you lose the points on the card making losing a route even more frustrating.

Tickets offer large rewards and sometimes large risks.

Ticket to Ride can be played with between two and five players. With two players the game can feel a little stale. The rules do a good job of trying to restrict the map with fewer players but with two players you really have a lot more routes available than train carriages. It’s because of this that the game works so much better with more players. At the full five player game you really have to keep on your toes to ensure your routes don’t get taken off you and it becomes a much more chaotic game, which I rather like. The perfect balance is at four players. There’s just enough room to manoeuvre but still the chance you’re going to get your route blocked.

The entire USA is covered (except for Alaska and Hawaii).

If there is an issue with Ticket to Ride it’s that there is only one board, one set of routes and one deck of tickets. The ticket system mixes things up and keeps the variety flowing and it would be extremely difficult to go through the entire ticket deck in a single game but there comes a point when players are starting to become familiar with the map and tickets. They know that taking certain routes are key to the larger ticket values and can start to spot what tickets their opponents are going for.

Ticket to Ride is a very bright and colourful game.

A lot of people refer to Ticket to Ride as a gateway game. Gateway games are those that introduce people to hobby board games. I would say that Ticket to Ride isn't just a gateway game, it’s THE gateway game! If you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance you’ve already got a solid collection of board games on your shelf. In which case this game may not be for you, but it is the board game you should use to become your friends’ and family’s gateway game. Forget Catan; it’s boring and full of bestiality jokes. Forget Carcassonne; you'll have trouble trying to get newcomers to understand the farming rules. If you want to kick your friends' monopoly habit then invite them over for a game of Ticket to Ride. It’s such a great introduction to the board game hobby because it’s an example of an almost perfect board game that actually comes on a board. It’s full of great concepts that they already know, such as set collections, the basic scoring is intuitive and the secret tickets give the game the cut throat edge needed to make the game properly competitive.
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