There are some people that like trains a lot. For some reason, they enjoy the thrill of travelling from location to location on a moving warm rectangle guided by unflinching beams of silver destiny. Can’t see why. Although about trains, Ticket to Ride ignores the thrill of travel, instead focusing on building the biggest and/or bestest train network across North America. Choo Choo!
Now, this is a pleasant game. Probably one of the most pleasant I’ve ever played. This is a game for a Sunday afternoon, your hangover slightly receding, friends still over from the night before. You all decide that playing Twilight Imperium might be a bad choice. The more confrontational among us recommend King of Tokyo, but the more fragile psyches along with everyone else in the room decide that they want as little conflict and confrontation as possible. They’re just not in the mood. Not until they’ve eaten anyway. They agree that the game to play is Ticket To Ride.
To win the game you must have the most points at the end and to get points you must:
a) Complete routes between 2 adjacent locations (The longer the route the more points, 2 trains is 2 points, 5 trains is 10 points, etc)
b) Complete tickets between 2 non adjacent locations (the tickets themselves tell you the locations and the points available, it’s up to you how you connect them through your various routes)
c) Longest continuous route (Having lucky tickets early on makes this one the most satisfying bonuses to achieve)
But winning is not important in this game. This game is like a warm hug. It’s so nice. It’s a nice feeling every time you complete a new ticket, every time you complete a long train route without using a rainbow card, and it’s particularly fun to see your humble little ma and pop train company gradually change into a thriving cross continent transport network. Everything happens in such small steps that nothing feels overwhelming.
There are only three things you can do on a turn, you can either draw more cards, complete a route (paying with the cards you’ve previously picked up), or you can get more tickets. The key point here is that none of the three options feels like a waste of time. You NEED cards, you NEED routes and you NEED tickets, so as it comes round to your turn (and turns are incredibly quick in this game, usually) everything feels productive. You can even forgo picking up your usual two cards in order to pick up a single rainbow card (which acts as a wild card). Even this is rarely a waste of time because in some crucial situations, getting a route completed quickly can be the difference between making a nice, neat, straight line and having to divert all the way to Atlanta in order to get to New York.
And here’s something that I know some of you will despise. Infotainment. Or Edutainment. Or Funtimelearningmisdirection. Whatever you call it (and those of you sickened by those words will want to know that the first two were NOT flagged by my spell checker as made up words), this game does teach you about North America geography in a very non-invasive manner. Before playing this game I had no idea that Duluth was even a place, let alone be able to point to it on a map. In some game situations though, this really does speed things up. When you get a ticket that suggests you connect a route from Los Angeles to New York, you sit back in horror. You don’t need to look and analyse the board searching for those two very far apart locations, because you know that Los Angeles is warm and sunny and on the West coast and you know that New York is cold and islandy on the East coast. And for those of us who are geographical buffoons, the tickets even have a tiny map on them with the locations highlighted. It’s very subtle and not patronising to those who know the locations, but very helpful to those who don’t, which of course ties into the whole aesthetic aspect of the game.
The huge board is basically one huge map, with lots of sepia tones and pleasant pastel shades. This brings out the vibrant plastic train pieces very successfully, and emphasises this gradual expansion of your empire. Also, they are tiny train carriages (choo choo!). What once was a boring empty map is now a multi-coloured spaghetti vomit. Everyone’s trains are all tied together in a dance of locations and points. And whilst the game is incredibly pleasant, this dance must lead to conflict or it’s just Dominion. The conflict in this game mainly comes down to that fact that routes can only be claimed once per game. As mentioned before, if you are too slow getting the right cards for the job, you can quickly see yourself being diverted. This is quite a natural thing in the first few games; people get denied options because of coincidences in destinations- only natural, especially with more players. One problem occurs when more experienced players are thrown into the mix. After a few run-throughs you get a sense of the range of the tickets on offer, and if playing a newbie you can often predict routes they are trying to take, especially if the full route is mapped out except for a few gaps.
Then the game gets way more tactical and instead of being about building your empire, it becomes about sabotaging your opponents, slotting in that vital two train route on the go before they do, even though it may not even connect with your empire.
Another area of conflict I’ve found arising is when you choose to pick up cards on your turn. Your friend might quite clearly be going for the six-train yellow route, and since there are two yellow cards turned face up you naturally pick them. Not because you need them, just because, you know, you’re an ass. What’s peculiar is that this is exaggerated with fewer players. On the whole it’s a lot easier to notice the specific comings and goings of your opponents if there are only two or three of them, whereas with more players everything becomes lost in the mix. Also, there are big advantages to screwing over the opponent in a two player game, but if you’re sacrificing your own points to only hit one other person in a five player game, you are taking a much more serious hit, so it better be worth it.
In a two player game it can get (dare I say it?) slightly heated, especially if you’re both very familiar with the game, but in a four or five player game it becomes much more insular, each player only focusing on expanding their own network and adapting to coincidental hazards thrown their way. It is in that groggy twilight that I recommend Ticket to Ride. The four or five player game is just so nice to sit back and play. You don’t have to worry about people messing with your trains, because it’s not in anyone’s benefit to do so. You all sit down, look at the nice cards, play with the nice trains and learn about North American geography. I have often found that the building of an efficient and pleasant looking network is perhaps more important than any attempt at winning the game, not just for me, but for others as well. The competitive nature of the game is almost an afterthought it is so warm.
Buy Ticket to Ride if:
You want a game that is perfect for a lazy, medium-sized group that does NOT want an intense, bickering gaming situation. There are definitely better two or three player games out there, but if you want to just kick back and let the game thrive, then all aboard! (choo choo!)
- Mike Wood
For more reviews by Mike Wood and others, http://4vp.tumblr.com/Board
Before playing this game I had no idea that Duluth was even a place, let alone be able to point to it on a map.
Unfortunately, if you're using TrR as your sole source of information you still can't point to it on a map
(Don't get me started about Chicago!)