To start things off right on reviews, I’m beginning with one of the most prolific and widespread American games of the 2000s. Ticket to Ride was designed by Alan R. Moon in 2004 and won the prestigious German game of the year (Spiel des Jahres) as well as another two dozen award wins and nominations. Ticket to Ride has spawned several expansion maps, other content expansions, and a couple of spin-off games.
Ticket to Ride is frequently cited as a “gateway game”, as it is a game that is easy to learn, accessible by a wide variety of people of different skill levels, and is fun to play. The basic game of Ticket to Ride is playable by two to five players and is recommended for ages eight and up. Eight is a recommended age as players will use color and counting skills, though the game may also play well with precocious children even if they do not grasp all of the strategy and tactics of the game. Play time is around 30 to 90 minutes, and this is generally affected by the number of players and experience with the game. Individual player turns are quick, so there is not a lot of down-time for players between turns, though new players may take a little extra time thinking about actions.
The goal of the game is to be the player with the highest score when the game ends. Players score by connecting cities on their destination tickets that they take at the start of the game, and by claiming routes on the board through card-play. The destinations tickets that a player has are kept secret as each destination is serviced by a certain number of routes, and if other players have knowledge that a player must make a certain connection, they can use this information to claim the available routes to block that player from completing a ticket. This minor cutthroat element of the game helps to build excitement and tension for the game, but the game does not use a lot of direct adversarial conflict. With more play, players may recognize what hidden destinations a players is seeking to connect, so a group that plays together frequently may build rivalries as they grow to identify the subtle clues of fellow players.
The play of the game is straightforward, which lends itself to the quick player turns. Each player may take one of three actions on his or her turn. A player may take cards from the market of available cards. During the game, there is a constantly-refreshed market of five face-up cards that players may select for this action. Players may also draw face-down cards from the deck if they do not want any of the available face-up selections. The second action players can take is to claim routes. The game board has printed routes that connect cities, and on each connection there are a certain number of colored boxes. To claim a route, players play the number of cards of the color that is shown on the connection, and then mark that they have claimed the route by putting their own player-token train cars on those boxes. Players also score points for the length of the route they have claimed. Many cities only have one route that connects them, but there are many paths on the board that players can use to connect cities. The final action that players can take is to take more connection tickets. These tickets show two cities on the board that the player must connect by the end of the game to score the points on the ticket. Unfulfilled tickets count against the player. Taking additional tickets opens up opportunities for additional score by connecting more cities, but they also represent a risk as players may be unable to complete all of their ticket routes by the end of the game. Completed tickets are also kept hidden during the game, so other player do not know what cities a player needs to connect, but other players also do not know if a another player’s tickets have yet been completed.
The game comes to an end when one player has used all or nearly all of their player-token train markers. After the final round, players’ scores scores for their destination tickets are summed and added to their scores earned during the game for claimed routes. There is an additional bonus for the player who has the longest single line of trains on the game board. After all scores are tallied, the players with the highest score is the winner.
Ticket to Ride is a very fun game, and has been well received by nearly every person with which I have played it. The ability to scale from two to five players is a certain bonus as it allows the game to be dynamic to different-sized groups. The straightforward rules that give players the choice among three actions keep the game simple enough to be played by the whole family, but the tactical nature of seeking to make all connections keeps it entertaining for all age levels.
Ticket to Ride is available at hobby game shops, as well as Target, Wal-Mart, and online stores. The suggested retail price is $49.99, but it can frequently be found on sale or for a discounted retail price online.