Game Night Review: Ticket To Ride
When it comes to games…board games especially…I’m a theme guy (as you may have noticed). I need that to hook me it. And if you’ve spent any time on this site, my themes are likely pretty obvious: superheroes, sci-fi, horror and of course all the licensed properties associated therein. One thing absolutely no one would assume? Trains. Now, I’ve known people who dig trains…and they were all elderly and are kinda dead now. And with an interest in sci-fi, it’s pretty safe to say I’m into looking forward…not way, way back.
So imagine my surprise when I really started to dig Ticket To Ride.
[Of course, we went back to not digging so much when it got that damn Beatles song stuck in our heads here at the office. – Ed.]
And yeah, this is another ‘oldie’…having been published in 2004, I’m reviewing a 14 year old game. [We’re timely like that. – Ed.]
Objective: Connect destinations via train routes. Each players’ routes will be determined by ‘tickets’ drawn from a pile…but draw them at your own risk, because if you cannot complete the route, the points that would have been awarded to you upon completion will now be counted against you at the end of the game. Also, the player with the longest, unbroken route gains 10 bonus points. The game ends in a final round after one player has 3 or less train cars in their cache. The player with the most points, kept track of along the fringes of the board, is the winner.
Mechanics: There are two decks, one containing train cars of various colors and one containing ‘tickets’, which will determine each players routes. At the start of the game, each player chooses their plastic railroad cars and associated marker that will be used for keeping score. Then, 4 of the train car cards will be dealt to each player and 3 tickets. Each player can choose to discard one of their three tickets, or keep them all. From here, 5 cards from the train deck are turned over in a line-up along the top of the board. On their turn players can opt to take one of three actions: drawing two train cards…from the line-up, from the deck feeding the line-up or one of each (the exception to this is if picking up a wild card…train car of all colors…from the line-up, then that counts as two. If you draw one from the blind deck, consider yourself lucky, you still get one more draw!), drawing another ticket (well, you get three, but you keep one) or playing cards to place your trains on the rails between destinations. The number of cards you need to do this and the color of cards are determined by the length and color of the rail. Gray rails, however, can be purchased with any color car…so long as they are all of the same color (so no throwing junk or leftovers!).
Thoughts: You see how I used the phrase ‘line-up’ in the Mechanics section? Yup…I didn’t think of it until about 2 hours after playing it…but Ticket To Ride can qualify as a deck builder, a genre I tend to enjoy! And while I have absolutely zero interest in trains or steampunk or…well…just anything steam [Sorry Valve! – Ed.], the game’s core mechanics and diverse styles of play make this pretty fun to play. Since I said nothing of these diverse styles in the mechanics, let’s talk about them here. I ended up playing in a pretty goal oriented fashion; I had my tickets and I set about completing my routes. All very by the book. But you can also play as an impulse buyer, buying routes whenever you can then trying to weave them together or, of course, you can play as a spoiler…trying to figure out where the other players are trying to go, then doing your level best to buy the routes that they need. Adhering to the style of play that I did, the goal-oriented, will only get you so far…as I ended up in the middle of the pack score-wise on each game my group played. It seemed like a mix of goals and impulse buying paves the way to victory…or at least that seemed to be the mechanics used by the player who not only won every game…but won them DECISIVELY. And if those play styles don’t stretch the game’s longevity out for you, there are NUMEROUS expansions…taking the game’s core gameplay and putting it in other portions of the world with new maps!
Still, there is one negative to the game…and it’s the same negative that befalls any deck-building game: the shuffle. If the train deck isn’t shuffled properly…you’re looking at A LOT of train cars of the same color clogging up the line-up. The game has a mechanic to try and mitigate this…but that can sometimes lead to two or three additional line-ups…all clogged with same-y colored train cars. So…seriously, shuffle the fuck out of those cards. Also, more than King of Tokyo, this one feels a little pricey…running you about $45 to $50. [Or maybe you’re a cheapskate? – Ed.] And like King of Tokyo, everything you get in the box is of pretty decent quality…though honestly, I’d have liked it if the cards were bigger…that way they’d be easier to shuffle, either by hand or by machine.
In spite of my ennui toward the theme, Ticket To Ride very quickly proves why it’s sold so many copies since its initial printing fourteen years ago: it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s competitive and, most importantly, it’s fun. It’s easy enough for kids to pick up and learn to play quickly, but chock full of opportunities to play the spoiler and commit a lion’s share of dick moves. If you’re looking for something to entertain guests of varying ages, Ticket To Ride will certainly fit the bill, provided you’re okay with the cost of your ticket.
A big thanks to Jordan for supplying our play copy and to Chelsie for clearly demonstrating that she was a rail baron in a past life!