If there’s one theme that board gamers are well versed in, it’s trains. Steam is one of the biggest games around at the moment and is (of course) a re-implementation of the incredibly popular Age of Steam. Railroad Tycoon – based on the Sid Meier PC game – is still around and as strong as ever. TransAmerica and TransEuropa are much simpler and more accessible, but still you can’t escape the theme… in games, trains are everywhere, and one of the most entertaining train games out there is Days of Wonder’s 2004 release, Ticket to Ride.
Designed by Alan R. Moon, Ticket to Ride was a worthy winner of the Spiel des Jahres in 2004 down to its balance of simple gameplay with devious scheming. The players are presented with a stylised 1910 map of the United States (and a chunk of Canada), forty-five plastic train cars, three secret Destination Cards and a simple mission: connect the cities on the Destination Cards while stopping your opponents from doing the same.
This is done by playing sets of coloured cards (locomotive cards are wild and count as anything) and claiming routes between pairs of cities which are made up of between one and six spaces. Many cities are linked by only one line, so if an opponent claims the set that you’re after you’ll need to consider an alternate route – one that will usually end up quite the long way round, meaning your supply of trains will soon dwindle. Hopefully your little plastic trains eventually create a sprawling network all across the board. I say hopefully because managing to link the cities will give you a nice amount of bonus points when you finish – you also score for every intercity line you claim, by the way. However, at the end of the game, any Destination Cards that have not been linked to your network will count against you – particularly bad if you’ve not been able to join a major cross-country route like New York to Los Angeles.
Each turn gives you the choice to draw two train cards either from a face-up selection or the random pile, or increase your collection of Destination Cards, though this is sometimes at your peril. You may get lucky and get a pair of cities that are easy to get to, or perhaps even that you’ve already connected to). Ticket to Ride is a very simple game to pick up, but the real trick is combining strategy and adaptability – attempt to plan ahead as much as you like, but always be ready to change your plans quickly when someone else takes a route that you desperately need. Games can be completed in around an hour, even with five players.
As with all Days of Wonder releases, the production quality is very high. The board is beautiful and the artwork is generally lovely throughout. Cards are printed up on a good stock and are long lasting – my copy of the game was bought in 2005 and everything is still in great condition, even with regular plays. Then there’s the moulded plastic trains, and it must be said that they are one of my favourite playing pieces in any game ever. They’re brightly coloured, a brilliant idea (can you imagine just playing this with cubes?!) and totally iconic – show one to any regular gamer and they’ll know exactly what game you’re talking about.
Ticket to Ride is a Spiel des Jahres winner for a reason – it’s a simple game which anyone can learn which has the added bonus of being plain old screw-over-your-opponents fun. There are plenty of expansions available that add in extra rules (the Europe version introduces stations and passengers, for example) but if you haven’t played any of the variants you should really try out the original. It’s a great gateway game to introduce new people to the hobby as well, but if you’re reading this… well, I’m pretty sure I’m preaching to the choir. Games like Ticket to Ride often get overlooked after they’ve been around for a while, so if you’ve not played it recently, why not break it out again? I promise it’ll be an hour well wasted.
Ticket to Ride was released by Days of Wonder in 2004 and has won pretty much every games award you can think of. It can be played by two to five players and takes between 45 minutes to an hour. And if you can’t find someone to play with, you can have a live game on boardgamegeek right now! Oh, and it’s on Xbox Live too. But it’s free on BGG!