Board Stiff: Ticket to Ride

Board Stiff

I can show you a world, a whole new world, a fantastic point of view- wait, that’s Aladdin. Erm… Right.

Ticket to Ride was published in 2004 by Days of Wonder. The holy grail of board gaming websites, Boardgamegeek.com, rates it at a 7.49 out of 10. It’s #79 on the Board Game Rank list, #8 on the Family Game list. It’s won over 17 international board game awards. It has over 6,000 comments and 23,744 users have voted on it. This game, as my friend says, has been Discussed.

And I picked it to be my introductory post here on GrE. Why? Because it is the best all-round introductory board game on the market today. It is a pretty game. It’s got shiny little plastic train pieces and adorable little train cards. There are beautiful pictures of happy people, and time-appropriate technologies floating around the edge of the board. It takes minutes to learn and you can play it with both Grandma and your most hardcore gaming buddies. It supports two to five players and takes under an hour, at most, to play. Every game store stocks it. Stateside folks can even buy it at Walmart.

This game is also the most underrated game on my game shelf. It has the potential to be as soul crushing as being stood up at your own wedding.

Ticket to Ride

The ultimate goal of this game is to collect the most points. You collect points by completing Destination Tickets, and by claiming a route between two cities. On your turn you can either draw more cards, claim a route with cards you’ve previously drawn, or get additional Destination Tickets. The final round of the game begins when someone has two or less trains remaining in their depot. At the end of the game, any of your Destination Tickets that you’ve completed are worth the number of points stated, but any unfulfilled tickets are worth negative that amount. What looks like a healthy lead from claiming routes can all be for nothing if you don’t complete your tickets. (Pro Tip: When claiming routes, always aim for the longest sections of track. They get you more points during the game itself, which can be the buffer you need during ticket scoring at the end of the game.)

The real beauty of Ticket to Ride, aside from the actual beauty in it’s components, is that it is, essentially, a giant game of Gin Rummy, on a map, with trains. This game, at its core, is the making of sets with spatial implications, guided by your Destination Tickets. If you’ve ever played Gin Rummy, think about this for a second. Think about the possibilities.

On your turn, do you draw those cards that you desperately need to complete a set? Or do you claim the route that your opponent is inching towards, which just happens to be vital to your 20-point ticket? (Pro Tip: If you can finish your ticket with another route, drawing cards is the smarter play.) Or, maybe, do you take a gamble and draw more Destination Tickets, with the chance that you’re stuck with something you have no hope of completing?

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Adding more players to the game (up to 5 in the original) opens up double routes that two players can occupy simultaneously, cycles the deck more quickly, and makes it harder to complete your tickets. There’s a higher chance that the cards you need get picked up by another player, or the routes you want get claimed by that asshole you were dating at the start of all this.

I’ve found that when playing with non-gamers, they tend to be more focused on what they’re doing than trying to sabotage other players. Hardcore gamers tend to play offensively as well as defensively, both with drawing cards and claiming routes. Some veteran players even have the tickets memorized and can guess where opponents are attempting to route to and block them. (Pro Tip: Don’t ever play against anyone that claims to not be a gamer, but still loves Ticket to Ride. They will destroy you.)

Want to add more strategy to the game? That’s easy: play the full rules, which state that at the end of the game, the player with the longest continuous route gets an extra ten points. (Pro Tip: Always try to get this bonus. Keep Destination Tickets that you can connect together when completing.)

This also, means, of course, you have to keep your eyes peeled for anyone setting out to connect their large sections of track. (Pro Tip: Up the west coast and through Canada is the best way to get the longest route, if your tickets can support it.)

Ticket to Ride

Now that route from New Orleans to El Paso via Canada makes more sense. Obviously the green player’s train company specializes in scenic, if not unnecessary, jaunts through the countryside.

On a side note, the publisher of Ticket to Ride, Days of Wonder, is a board game company that specializes in making beautiful games. The artists on their payroll make some of the most appealing game art I’ve ever seen in the gaming world, tabletop or otherwise. The pieces and parts of each and every one of their games is worthy of admiration in and them themselves. The detail alone on the little plastic trains included in Ticket to Ride assure you that this company takes their games seriously. Each game in the Ticket to Ride series (yes, there’s a series) shares the overall theme of the original game, but adds unique details which set it apart from its relatives.

This is a beautiful and well-balanced, easy-to-learn, hard-to-master board game that is worth every penny. It belongs on every gamer’s shelf.

Don’t have a shelf to put it on? Worse yet, don’t have anyone to play with IRL? Never fear. As much as I hate to tell you this, Days of Wonder has released a fabulous digital version of Ticket to Ride for iOS, Xbox Live Arcade (though this one is not so fabulous), and Steam. If you wish, you may challenge me via Twitter sometime, as I recently learned you can play cross-platform via the Days of Wonder account system.

Ticket to Ride

More Board?

If you’ve already conquered the original Ticket to Ride, or if you just want to start with something a bit more difficult, check out any of these other games available in the series. Each one adds a new mechanic or rule to the game to make things a bit more interesting.

Ticket to Ride: Europe (below) is a standalone game that introduces city stations, and ferries and tunnel routes to the board, originally released in 2005. With ferries, you’re required to play however many locomotives are denoted on the route, in addition to any other cards you play to claim it. This makes things a bit more difficult, as normally the valuable locomotive is a wild card that can be used in substitution of any other card when completing routes. For tunnels, you never know just how many cards it’ll take to claim the route. Once you declare your intentions to claim a tunnel, you have to flip the top three cards of the deck and add the number that match the route’s color to its total cost. Locomotives revealed this way count towards the total, so that 4 card tunnel you want could jump to a cost of 7 in the blink of an eye. (Pro tip: Watch the color of cards available to draw, and pay attention to the routes played, to determine when the best time to try and claim a tunnel of a certain color is.)

The map of Europe is also a bit more crowded than the good ol’ USA. The tightly-clustered cities and lack of any truly wide open stretches make it pretty easy for players to get in each other’s way, and thus the concept of city stations is introduced. Players build stations on top of cities and at the end of the game, are allowed to use a single route of an opponent connected to that city to complete their tickets. (Pro Tip: While Europe has the Longest Route Bonus as well, it’s not as significant towards determining the winner. Focus on completing more tickets than getting the Longest Route, even if this means you need to build a station or two.)

Ticket to Ride Europe

Ticket to Ride: Märklin, released in 2006, is a special edition standalone game that focuses entirely on Germany. The theme of the game is focused on the Märklin model train company, each card of the deck featuring a unique train car from the company’s extensive line. The game also introduces the concept of passengers, who earn you points when they pass through cities and collect merchandise. The other main difference is that there is no Longest Route Bonus, instead an extra 10 points is awarded to the player that completes the most Destination Tickets at the end of the game.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries was a special release in 2008, but is still available from some resellers. It too is a standalone game and adds the ferry and tunnel routes to its map of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. This smaller map restricts play to two to three players, but adds interesting features like a route that’s nine trains long! For those that love Christmas, this game is also themed especially for this winter holiday.

In recent years, Days of Wonder has started releasing map expansions instead of standalone games. These expansions focus on a new region of the world and only have a double-sided board, the Destination Tickets required to play the maps given, and a rule book. Train pieces and cards need to be supplied from a standalone copy of the game. So far the Map Collection Expansions released have been Asia & Legendary Asia (introduces team play and mountain passes); India & Switzerland (introduces a new kind of bonus for circular routes); and Africa (introduces terrain cards that can double the value of claimed routes).

There’s also a handful of other little expansions, like the dinosaur and alien that block routes, or the dice that replace the deck of train cards, but those are really just unnecessary garnish on an amazing dish of a board game.

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Board Stiff is GrE’s first foray into the deep, dark, cardboard-smelling realms of analog gaming. Boards, cards or dice, it doesn’t matter, our writer Tiffany will play them all. Follow her on Twitter here.

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