Favorite Fridays – Ticket to Ride

ticket to rideThese last 7 days we have looked at a fair amount of train games and one of the mechanics that drives them. I figured what better way to wrap up than where we started with another installment of our Favorite Games series. Last Friday we looked at Empire Builder, followed by the Crayon Rails System, and then British Rails. Today we shall look at a game by another company using other mechanics in; Ticket to Ride (the original).

Released: 2004
Designer: Alan Moon
Plays: 2-5
EPT: 45 minutes

In the last 10 years Ticket to Ride has experienced fantastic success meeting the expectations to some and to the surprise of others. Following the games release it has been regionalized with European, Nordic, India and other maps and versions being released; with a tenth anniversary edition entering the market last year.

While many gamers have played the game I know not all have and for those let us briefly skim the rules. In Ticket to Ride players are spreading their rail dominance across North America with the goal of ending the game with the most points. Players score points by completing routes and laying rails; when the game ends a few extra points are awarded and the victor claims the title of ultimate rail builder.

The game begins with each player getting the trains of their chosen color, 3 destination tickets (of which they must keep any two and have the option of discarding the third), and 4 colored train cards. These three elements make up all the important scoring mechanisms in the game. The remaining destination tickets are placed next to the game board (a map of North America with various rail lines connecting cities; each line made in grey or one of 8 train colors). The train cards are then set next to the board as well with the top 5 cards flipped over face up next to the deck.

The primary scoring method is to complete the destination tickets; which is done by connecting the two cities on the card with a continuous line of rail; indicated by placing your trains on the rail lines upon the map. To build a rail line a player must discard cards from their hand equaling the number of spaces in the line (1 to 6), and of the same color as the line (purple, white, blue, yellow, orange, black, red, or green). There are wild cards which can represent any color of train as well as gray tracks which can be filled using any color; so long as the discarded cards are all one color. Only one player can claim any one rail line thus forcing player to compete for placements as while there are at times multiple lines connecting cities there are many lines that lack a pair so only one player can claim it.

Play begins with the most experienced traveler playing first with play proceeding in clockwise order. On a players turn they can do 1 of 3 things;
draw 2 cards from the draw area taking first one of the face up cards or one from the top of the draw pile (if taking a face up card it is replaced before the second card is drawn again from one of these two areas)
claim a route by discarding the correct number and color of cards and then placing their trains on those spots on the board then recording their score on the score tracker (the more cars in a route the higher the score value as shown on the board)
Draw 3 destination cards; of which they must keep 1 but can choose to keep two or all three
There are a few special conditions such as; if ever a player is drawing and they select a wild card from the face up pile they can not draw a second card, and likewise if they draw a face up card and a wild card is drawn to fill the spot the player can not select that wild card as a face up wildcard can never be taken as a second card; if a player draws from the top of the deck, and gets a wild card they may still draw a second card from the face up pile or from the deck.

When a player ends their turn with two or fewer trains the end game is activated and each player has one final turn; including the player who just triggered the end game. After these turn players will reveal their destination tickets and add points for any completed routes and deduct points for any failed routes. An additional 10 points is awarded to the player with the longest continuous path.

I first played the game mostly with new players who were equally inexperienced with the game placing us on a very even playing ground. The game plays fairly well with simple enough mechanics in the form of set collection and hand management; while the route building is quite easy to pick up even to players new to the table top game space.

The way the game pits players against one another competing for routes is quite enjoyable; though frustrating for some younger and more competitive players. The game looks good though some players complain about the size of the cards that ship with the game; personally I am a fan of the smaller cards and prefer them over the larger cards found in other games and expansions. The manner of route building that pulls cards from hands making player balance drawing and playing is fantastic in that it creates a need to balance the actions while monitoring other player’s potential actions so as not to be blocked from a crucial city.

I had a further revelation just this last week about the game in regard to its heavy dependence on the theme. A week ago I would have claimed Ticket to Ride has a fun theme but it is just a face plate that can be changed at will. While discussing another game with my co-host Sean, I realized that wasn’t so. The gathering of cards would work with another theme; say you are seeking produce. Then you discard X cards to earn points, well enough you could say the produce has been sold. In that scenario the map is cut as are the distribution cards. wouldn’t have the same meaning. You could rather have a list of goods a client desires; 5 apples, 2 oranges, and a grapefruit. which could match building routed between 3 cities. One of the joys of Ticket to Ride, however, is the temporary permanence of the constructed routes; meaning each game the routes I build last the duration of the game, thus I can draw a ticket that I have already laid the groundwork for and a simple connection can have a large payoff, or even better the route has already been completed as part of a previous build. This condition does not work with the produce example nor any other example outside of train building that I could come up with.

The game’s use of the theme; the easy to understand visuals, intriguing strategic decisions and quick turn pace make this a great game that shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon; giving Ticket to Ride a solid 8.25 out of 10.
Visuals – 1.75 // 2
Skill/Luck – .5 // 1
Pacing – 1.75 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1.75 // 2
Mechanics – .75 // 1
Fun Factor 1.75 // 2

Monday we will look at one of my long time favorite mechanics of card drafting!
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