|The Hotness has gone cold...
It's the early 1900s, and your job is to create as large a railroad system as you can. It won't be easy--your competition may claim valuable routes before you have the chance, and you might run out of rolling stock to complete your goals. Careful management of your rail cars and routes is crucial to success.
Each player takes control of a railroad (a certain color of rail cars), and must earn the most points by several methods: longest overall continuous rail line; points scored by laying segments of lines; or connecting cities by an overall rail line.
On each turn, you have the option of drawing cards (which consist of individual rail cars, or a "wild" locomotive), claiming a route, or taking destination cards. When claiming routes, you must play a certain number of rail car cards of a particular color--for example, a route between Calgary and Winnipeg might require 6 white cars. When drawing destination cards, you must balance out the risk of drawing routes you can't complete (you must keep at least one of the cards you draw) with the reward of a high-point route that you're close to finishing. And when drawing new rail car cards, you have to sometimes go with the luck of the draw in determining whether you'll get that last black car you need.
The artwork in the game, from the cards to the board to the plastic rail cars themselves, is fantastic. Everything is very clear and easily understandable, and the game is a real beauty to look at.
The gameplay itself is near perfection. My wife, who isn't as much a gamer as I am (even though I'm not that much further ahead!), picked up the game as quickly as I did and it's now one of her favorites. I was most impressed by the rulesheet--just three pages (assuming you skip the cover, which is mostly backstory). It succinctly explains the game mechanics and sets you on your way.
I dislike games where luck is a major factor, and thankfully Ticket to Ride is not one of them. Mind you, there's still some luck-of-the-draw involved; you might have a handful of orange cars when you really need six blacks. But in general, the board layout takes care of you, offering multiple routes from each city (for the most part), allowing you to not only change your strategy for a color combo, but also get to a city in another way that your opponent may not yet have claimed.
The game is just fine for two players, a factor that's important to me. Indeed, when I play online (the game comes with a 6-month credit for online play), I generally go with just two people: it plays quickly, but not terribly so. And that's another good factor--the game is short enough where you can play a second time in the same evening without having to set aside many hours.
Finally, Ticket to Ride offers lots of opportunities for different strategies. You might opt to go for a long route, and hope your destination cards can cover most of the cities; you might go for a hub-and-spoke transit system; or you might simply play as many routes as you can to hasten the endgame. The choice is yours, and the possibilities seem limitless.
The size of the cards is quite small--this is good when you have a large stack of cards to deal with, but it's a bit annoying overall. Also, while they're not horrible, the plastic rail cars could be a bit nicer--mind you, that would certainly increase the cost dramatically.
These are minor quibbles, of course, and don't detract from the overall setup.
Lastly, it will certainly take a few games to develop your own strategy, and in the interim you're likely to lose some games that you might otherwise win handily. This isn't really a "bad" thing, but I thought I'd mention it.
I'm a big railroad fan in general, so I was interested in the game based initially on that. Later I read a bit on this site and was even more intrigued. When my wife said that we should get it, I snagged it--it's a big thing when I can get my wife to enjoy something like this!
It seems like it's a perfect game to get non-gamers into gaming, and it's certainly a game that will be played long after it's first opened.
The USA 1910 expansion "fixes" my complaint about the small-sized cards, and thus negates the main negative of this game. Even without it, the game is just about perfect: It really gives you the sense that you're in control of whether you win or lose at all times, and the balance can change in an instant. It's a quick enough game that you can grab it when you've only got an hour or less, and while it's simple enough to grab those who are afraid of deep games, it's complex enough to keep them coming back to hone their skills.
It's easily the best game I've ever bought.