She’s Got a Ticket to Ride – should we care?
This month’s Modern Classic, bearing absolutely no relation to the Beatles, is Ticket To Ride. Another one of the classic “Gateway” games, this is a fairly simple, family-friendly offering from Days of Wonder, in which players compete to claim various train journeys.
On their turn, a player can take one of 3 actions: they can pick up train cards, they can spend those train cards to place their plastic trains on routes, or they can pick up journey cards.
Train cards come in a selection of colours, and at any point in time, there will be 5 face-up for you to choose from, along with a face-down deck – you can pick up two the same from the face-up selection, or two different. If you don’t like any of them, you can take two blind from the top of the deck. Alternatively, you may want to take one of the Locomotives (rainbow-coloured wild cards) – if you take one of these (face up), that’s all you get, but the versatility they offer is often worth it.
To claim a route, you need to pay a number of cards matching the route you want to claim. So if a route is 4 carriages long, and blue, you need to pay 4 blues for it. 3-long red? You need 3 reds. Simple!
There is a bit more to it than that: some routes are grey, meaning that you can pay for them with trains of any colour – so long as the cards you use are all the same colour. It’s also worth noting that the aforementioned “Locomotive” cards can be used as any colour – helpful if you can’t find the colour you want (or someone else keeps nicking that colour). “Ferry” routes (i.e. those which cross water) will contain spaces that can only be paid for using Locomotives.
Once you’ve paid for the route, you place your plastic trains on the spaces. This achieves a number of things.
- Firstly, you get some points – if the route was only 1 train long, you’ll only get a single point, but the increase is exponential – 7 points for a 4, 10 for a 5 and so forth. Ultimately victory goes to the person with the most points.
- Secondly, you now control that route. This means that you can complete tickets (see below) connecting those cities.
- On the flip side, you opponent does not control the route. Most routes can only be claimed by the trains of a single player. Some particularly dense areas have double tracks, allowing a second person to stake their claim, but the second route only becomes active with a high-enough player count.
The third and final thing you can do on your turn, is to draw tickets. At the start of the game, and then again when you take this action, you will be dealt 3 cards showing 2 cities and a number. When you take new tickets, you draw 3, must keep 1, and can keep all of them if you wish.
At the end of the game, you will score each of the tickets you have kept. If those cities are connected by a continuous line of your trains, you score that many points (typically equal to the minimum number of trains that could have been used to make the journey). If they are not connected, then you lose that many points, so you can’t just hoard tickets.
Overall, Ticket to Ride is a fairly light, easy game to pick up. The game ends when somebody is down to their last 2 trains (everyone gets one last turn), and you add up the scores: although you can get an impression of who’s ahead from people’s ongoing totals, the fact that tickets remain hidden generally leaves at least some suspense in the end.
The original Ticket to Ride was set in the USA, but since then it has spread globally. There are probably too many different versions to count, but I’ll attempt a quick overview here.
For us, Europe was the “original” version of this game- it’s the one that was owned by the friends who introduced us to the game, and the one we bought. In large part, it functions in the same way as the North American version (which I’ve only played a handful of times). Europe is regarded in some of the more “hardcore” circles as being an easier / friendlier version, due to its “Station” mechanic, which allows players to complete routes into cities that they have otherwise been blocked off from.
On the flip side, Europe has some fairly mountainous areas, and in the mountains you need to tunnel, an uncertain and potentially expensive business – every time you claim a tunnel route, you discard the top 2 cards of the train deck, and any revealed card that matches the colour you’re building with increase the cost by 1.
Set in Scandinavia, and with a strangely purple-y/pastel-y colour Scheme, the Nordic Countries version of Ticket to Ride is specifically designed for 2-3 players. As the large maps can accommodate 4 or 5 players, a game with 2 can feel a bit lacking in tension, as you both have ample space to roll around in, without ever needing to step on each other’s toes. This version keeps things a bit tighter for space, and stops the game from descending into multiplayer solo.
Both Ferries and Locomotive cards are done slightly differently in this expansion too – broadly speaking, Locomotive cards are easier to acquire, but less powerful once you have them.
Germany, UK, the World!
The “Marklin” edition, sets your game of Ticket to Ride on a map of Germany, and its most distinctive element, is that it allows you to transport passengers. More recently, a United Kingdom edition represented the patchwork independent railways of the 19th century which remain in regional clusters until a nation-wide consolidation in the mid-to-late game.
Most recent of all was the “Rails and Sails” version of the game – taking the Ticket to Ride you know and love, and shifting it onto a global scale, at the same time as mixing in boats to go with your trains.
Most other versions of the game come as double-sided map-packs. 2 different maps, typically each with their own slight difference.
Asia takes a heavy toll on your train supply, as rolling stock gets irreparably damaged by the steep climbs of the Himalaya. The Asia Map Expansion also introduces Ticket To Ride Team Play or, as we like to call it “divorce in a box” – I assume that the designer of the game wasn’t trying to ensure that the game ended with team-mates no longer on speaking terms, but if they were, it’s hard to see what they could have done differently:
- You build using a shared pool of trains, and a route is claimed for your colour, not just for you individually.
- However, when you take tickets, they go into your own hand. When you take train cards, 1 goes into your hand, and 1 into a shared reserve.
- You are not allowed to discuss the contents of your hands (train cards, or tickets).
It can be annoying towards the end of a game of Ticket to Ride, when you’ve carefully planned a late-game building blitz, and an opponent blocks your route. It’s much, much, more annoying when your teammate uses your cards and your trains to build in the wrong place. We played this version once. That was once too often.
There were other maps, for the Netherlands, Africa, and a few other locations – I haven’t played all of these, but it’s probably fairly safe to say that they’re designed for fairly dedicated Ticket To Ride fans. Aside from anything else, Map packs don’t generally come with trains (cards or plastic miniatures) – just a map and the new tickets.
There have also been other expansions for Ticket to Ride, designed to integrate with existing versions of the game. New destination Tickets for Europe and USA placing different emphasis, depots that allow you to horde train cards for points, Dice to replace the train cards (out of print, and highly valuable) or even a Dinosaur and an Alien!
Ticket to Ride also has a massive online presence. It was available to play fairly early in the days of Board Game Apps, and at least in a limited format, it was free to play. Nowadays, there’s a lot more competition out there, but building up such a strong following early on has definitely helped.
Ticket To Ride is easy to learn, easy to understand. It doesn’t take too long, and it’s generally a fairly pleasant experience, with neither too little interaction (why are we sitting in the same room, I could be doing this at home…) nor too much (leave me alone, I just want to build a railway). Whilst this doesn’t get nearly as much play in our house as it used to, and it’s not likely that we’ll be picking up the most recent whole-world version, it’s easy to see why it has such enduring popularity, and I’m sure it will continue to be regarded as a key gateway game for years to come.