Ticket to Ride is one of my favorite board games, and like most of my favorites, it features a combination of game mechanisms that seem to blend together perfectly under an interesting theme. In this case, set collection is combined with network building and everything is tied together with a train theme. It’s readily available, easy to learn, and fun for all ages.
Ticket to Ride was designed by American game designer, Alan Moon. I don’t mean to imply that he designs American games, but rather that he is an American citizen. At least I think he is. He may secretly be Canadian, hiding his love for hockey and improvisation comedy under a red, white, and blue slipcover. Ticket to Ride was published in 2004 by Days of Wonder. It won a bazillion awards, mostly game awards, but probably a few employee of the month awards just because of all of the excitement. It was the second Spiel des Jahres win for Alan Moon (the first was Elfenland), and a huge commercial success that spawned an entire franchise that covers numerous versions of the game in regular and digital formats.
You can play Ticket to Ride with from 2 to 5 players. I usually prefer to play with 3 or 4, but the game is good regardless. It’s a great family game, and is simple enough to play with children ages 8 and up. You can probably get away with kids younger than that, but they have to be able to hold cards and resist the urge to put small plastic trains up their nose.
The game is produced by Days of Wonder, so the quality of the components is excellent. The game comes with a large board that shows the continental United States, connected by a network of routes of various lengths and colors. You also get over a hundred little plastic train cars in the five player colors, along with a set of locomotive and rail cards, and wooden markers to keep track of the score.
Ticket to Ride is easy to teach, which is why it’s such a great gateway game. On your turn, you can either take cards, take tickets, or claim a route. Cards are what you use to claim a particular section of track. Players collect sets of the same color until there are enough to equal the length of the particular route a player wishes to claim. Claiming a route will score you victory points, with longer tracks scoring much better than shorter tracks. Tickets will score points for you at the end of the game if you can connect a complete route that will travel from the two cities indicated; however, those tickets will count against you at the end of the game if they are not completed. You also get a bonus for the longest route. As promised, if you really want to learn how to play you need to go elsewhere. I highly recommend the TableTop episode that features Ticket to Ride, but you can always go to BGG and find pages of links to reviews and videos.
I think that there are a few things that come together that make this such a great game. First, you have a limited number of choices of things to do on your turn, and you only get to do one thing, so turns tend to go quickly. There is also a certain element of anticipation and payout. You gather cards and you look at your tickets, waiting for that turn where you can lay down six cards and claim that much needed route. Tickets will score you big points, but there is the risk that someone will cut you off. Some players can be very aggressive about claiming routes just to block their opponents, and I think the best strategy to deal with those players is to just not play with them ever again. I suppose you could give them the stink eye or something, but they probably won’t care. Play nice and be happy.
You can find Ticket to Ride at your friendly local game store, from an online retailer, or at your local Target or Barnes and Noble. The original game is easy to find. The other maps or versions of the game can be found only online or at your FLGS. You can also play the game online, or through an iOS app on your iPhone or iPad. iEnjoy that sometimes, but it’s always so much more fun to sit down with my family and friends and play this game. Highest recommendation.
This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 2004 winner, Ticket to Ride, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.