(2004 Days of Wonder)
Days of Wonder has built a reputation on producing titles with simple gameplay, yet underlying depths of strategy, and their 2004 release of Ticket to Ride is no different. Alan R. Moon (whom would go on to design another great transportation title; Airlines Europe in 2011) successfully combines rail expansion with card drafting, set collection, and a secret objective mechanic. Ticket to Ride went on to win the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) and Origins Game of the Year Award in 2004 and has seen countless expansions in the eight years since. Though today, I will simply be focusing on the components, mechanics, and my overall thoughts on the base game itself.
Ticket to Ride is set in the early 1900’s and tasks players with connecting railway routes from city to city in North America in order to collect victory points. Bonus victory points can be obtained by completing secret route connections between cities noted on a player’s individual Destination Tickets. A bonus also goes to the player with the longest continuous route at the end of the game.
First, let’s go over the components that come with Ticket to Ride. As its become standard with Days of Wonder games, the game board and component production are top notch and high quality. The game comes with:
– A Game Board depicting North American rail routes and cities in the early 1900’s
– 240 colored Train Cars consisting of 45 for each player (Blue, Green, Red, Yellow and Black) and 3 extra train cars of each color as replacements
– 110 Train Car Cards consisting of 12 Red, 12 Pink, 12 Green, 12 White, 12 Black, 12 Orange, 12 Yellow, 12 Blue, and 14 Wild cards
At the beginning of the game, each player takes the 45 Train Cars of their color and is randomly dealt 4 Train Car Cards and 3 Destination Tickets (the remaining Train Car Cards will now make up the Draw Pile for the game). You have to keep at least 2 of these Destination Tickets, but can choose to keep all 3 if you wish.
Destination Tickets consist of two cities that need to be connected by your trains in the game, and a Bonus for how many points you will score at the end of the game if this objective is met. You can connect these two cities in any way you wish, as long as there is a continuous route of your trains from one city to the next. Note however, if an route is not completed on the Destination Ticket by the end of the game, you will instead lose that many victory points. So it is important in choosing which Destination Tickets you want to keep.
After all players have secretly chosen their Destination Tickets and discarded the rest, the top 5 cards of the Train Card Car Draw Pile are drawn and placed beside each other, and thus the game begins.
On a player’s turn, they can perform one action, and one action only. They can:
B.) Claim a Route
C.) Draw new Destination Tickets
If a player chooses to draw Train Car Cards, they can take two cards from the Draw Pile and place them in their hand. If they choose a Wild color card however, they can only take that one card (Wild will count as any color). The player can choose to take any combination of their two cards from the 5 face up cards, or the top face down card of the Draw Pile (if a player takes a face down card off the top of the Draw Pile as their first card and it happens to be a Wild, that player can choose to take second card, since the other players would not know that you had received a Wild).
If a player chooses to claim a route, they will simply play the quantity and color of Train Car Cards that match the chosen route. They can only claim a route from one city that is immediately adjacent to another city. For instance, the route from New Orleans to Miami is red and consists of 6 spots to place Train Cars. The player must play 6 red Train Car Cards in order to claim this route (Wilds included). The player would then place their color Train Cars on the spaces of the route and score the appropriate points. That route is now blocked to the other players.
– A route of 1 Train Car will score 1 point
– A route of 2 Train Cars will score 2 points
– A route of 3 Train Cars will score 4 points
– A route of 4 Train Cars will score 7 points
– A route of 5 Train Cars will score 10 points
– A route of 6 Train Cars will score 15 points
If a player chooses neither of these actions, they can instead choose to draw more Destination Tickets. They can draw three from the Destination Ticket pile and may keep either 1, 2, or all 3 of these new tickets.
Play continues until a player has 2 or less Train Cars in their remaining stockpile. At that point each player, including that player gets one final turn. After totaling and subtracting points from the Destination Tickets and rewarding the player with the longest continuous route with 10 points, the player with the most Victory Points wins the game.
While a player’s options a turn are simple, there’s a bit of strategy intertwined in Ticket to Ride. Destination Tickets can be your best friend, or worst enemy. And there’s a bit of a risk/reward element in taking as many as you feel you can complete before your time is up. You’ll find that the more you play, the more you’ll feel comfortable with taking more Destination Tickets, as a lot of times you may draw a Destination route that you’ve near completed with a previous ticket. If your goal is to seek victory points in this way, it’s a good idea to spread out as much as possible so that you don’t get stuck with a ticket on the West Coast when most of your line is on the East.
I’ve also seen people play by trying to load up victory points with long routes. Completing a 6 Car route will score you 15 victory points and sometimes that can be even better than taking new Destination Tickets. This really hinges on luck of the Draw Pile and you can get easily burned if you stick too much to this strategy, especially if people catch on with what your doing and start taking cards you need.
The game scales well to different types of gamers and a cutthroat strategy used by many is blocking other player’s routes, even if you have no interest in the area. Though there are various ways to different cities, blocking a path can set back a player a few if not more turns to eventually get to that city. Which may give you the time you need to complete your own routes. Overall however, I’ve found the best strategy is a combination of all three of these. Take what the game is giving you at the time and try to think one or two turns ahead. And make sure to keep an eye on how many trains the other players have in their stockpile. I can’t remember how many times the game has ended and players didn’t realize that another player was almost out.
Ticket to Ride is one of the best games in my collection, and not necessarily because it is my personal favorite, though I do quite enjoy it a lot. But the game is very easy to teach, very easy to grasp for new gamers, which makes it a wonderful game to have around. And even though I’ve played it more than most games in my collection, Ticket to Ride has aged very well. I feel that when I play it today, I still have as much fun as I had when I first opened the box. The component quality of the individual Train Cars live up to Days of Wonder’s reputation of beautifully designed models and the game board is a visually stunning piece of art.
I don’t feel there’s a lot of luck to the game, other than the cards that are dealt from the Draw Pile. And while some may see that as mainly luck-based, I’ve never felt that another player beat me because they got lucky with their cards. It’s usually because I either went risky with the Destination Tickets or wasn’t efficient enough with the cards that I drew and played. Or some rat blocked me when I was one city away from completing my Destination route with his last 4 Trains, Aaarggh!!
Ticket to Ride scales extremely well from 2 to 5 players (there are differing route claiming rules for a 2-3 player game, than a 4-5) and is unique in that it caters well to new gamers, but can still bring the veterans to the table. There’s a very short list of games that I can name that can do so. Days of Wonder has also done a great job of supporting the game with multiple expansions and maps and I’m sure that won’t stop any time soon.