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Ticket to Ride is a pleasant game that can be played casually with friends around a table or quickly and intensely online through the Days of Wonder site or a gaming system. It can be played with 2–5 players but I think it is best with 2 or 4.
The game board has a map of the United States with various cities highlighted and routes between the cities delineated in various colors. The object of the game is to lay down track by playing train cards of the appropriate colors (for example, playing three orange train cards and placing three plastic train tokens on the board to complete the link between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City); in order to finish the secret route cards in your hand and score endgame victory points.
Each player begins the game with three route cards and four train cards of various colors. Each route card describes two cities the player needs to connect in order to score the correct amount of victory points on the card. If the player fails to connect those cities, he loses that number of victory points. The player must choose to keep at least two of his three route cards. Later on, he will have the opportunity to draw more route cards.
After each player chooses his starting routes, the game begins. According to the rule book, the player with “the most traveling experience” is starting player. Play continues clockwise.
On each player’s turn, he may choose one of three actions. He may 1) draw two train cards, 2) lay down track, or 3) draw route cards.
1. Five train cards are dealt face up next to the draw pile. The player can draw face-up cards, cards off the draw pile, or a combination. He may take two cards unless he chooses a face-up wild. Wilds can count for any color.
2. Alternately, the player may lay down train cards from his hand and place train tokens on a link between two cities. For example, he can play six blue cards to lay six train tokens between Portland and Salt Lake City. The player scores victory points based on the length of the completed line. For example, a link with only one train scores one point, but a link of three trains scores four points, and a link of six scores fifteen. Hence, there is an advantage to use longer links to connect the cities on a route card.
3. Lastly, a player may opt to take more route cards from the draw pile. The player draws three cards and must keep at least one. Of course, any cards uncompleted at the end of the game score negative victory points. That is the risk but taking route cards can be lucrative.
The game ends when one player has less than three train tokens. Then each player has one last turn. There is an end game bonus for having the longest continuous train.
Ticket to Ride is an enjoyable game. I understand why it’s so popular. It can be a good “gateway game” to introduce people to Eurogames. I’ve taught one of the Ticket to Ride games to many novice gamers and it is generally well-received.
I first learned Ticket to Ride through its European version, Ticket to Ride: Europe. I prefer Europe. It has additional aspects of play that enrich the game play and allow for more flexibility. In the original Ticket to Ride, I feel too much depends on luck. In Europe, you start the game with 4 routes, 1 long route and 3 short routes. You only need to keep 2. Although to win the game you need to keep the long route, it gives you more flexibility – you have more routes to choose from, and people are on more of a level playing field since everyone has one long route and three short.
In this American version, someone can draw three incompatible short routes or three compatible long, high-point routes. The startup is hence less flexible. It’s also easy to block in America. If you are too late to place a token between Portland and Seattle, you can easily be blocked out of your route and lose victory points from a high-point route card. Going the “long way around” is time-consuming and difficult. Are you having bad luck in drawing pink train cards? You might find it difficult to get up the west coast. It can be frustrating when you play with aggressive players who enjoy blocking. I prefer the variety and flexibility of some of the expansions (though I try to avoid aggressive players either way). For example, in Europe it’s easier to take a detour if you are blocked, it’s generally easier to fit in a new route card, and if you get desperate you can lay down a station to get to a city that is blocked.
Still, if you want a nice game to sit around playing on a Friday night, a way to introduce Eurogames to a friend, or a new hobby to play online, come try out the original Ticket to Ride. After learning this base game, venture out to try the expansions, and decide for yourself which version is your fave. If you want a tight, competitive game with cities that you recognize and can easily find on a map, maybe the original Ticket to Ride is best for you. My personal favorites, however, are Europe, Switzerland and Team Asia.