What do people talk about when they talk about classic board games? Not Monopoly or Life or Clue, necessarily — I mean more modern classics. Usually you’ll hear Catan. You’ll almost certainly hear Dominion. Probably Carcassonne, too. But I almost guarantee everyone will name some variant of Ticket to Ride. Why?
Ticket to Ride is a set-collection game about trying to fulfill your obligation to fill America with trains. Why do you love trains so much? There’s probably some lore about it, but I prefer to assume that you’re just obsessed with trains from sea to shining sea. Unfortunately your rivals have also come to build trains, and there really is a fundamental limit to how many trains any particular area can sustain. Will you be able to railroad your opponents and emerge victorious? Or are your plans not the only thing that will end up going off-track? Find out before I try to come up with more train puns.
So, first thing you’ll notice is that you have a big board with a map of the US (and some non-US cities) on it. Lay that out — that’s the main board. Now you’ll also see that you have a bunch of tiny cards and a bunch of tiny trains.
Give each player their bag of tiny trains. There are a few types of cards: train car cards, which have little trains on them; route (or ticket) cards, which have various city pairs on them; and the longest continuous route card, which has a long path and a 10 on it. They look like so:
Shuffle the train car cards and the ticket cards seperately (they’re tiny, but I believe in you) and give four train car cards and three ticket cards to each player. Flip the top five cards off the train car deck and place them next to the deck. Now, each player may put one of their ticket cards on the bottom of the deck, if they want.
Once your play area looks like this, you’re ready to begin:
Alright, so you’re a train baron, and you want to build some trains. That’s very exciting. Well, how do you build trains? As you might have noticed by now, the train car cards are a variety of colors:
These colors correspond to the same colors on the map. If you have X cards of a color, you can, on your turn, discard X cards to place X trains of your color on a route of length X. Note that rainbow-colored Locomotive cards are wild, and can be used as any color. Choo choo, indeed. You will then score according to the length of the route, immediately:
- Score 1 point.
- Score 2 points.
- Score 4 points.
- Score 7 points.
- Score 10 points
- Score 15 points.
As you might guess, long routes are pretty great, since you’re getting 2.5 points per train placed. But we’ll talk more on that in Strategy. Note that some routes are grey, meaning that you can use any set of the same-colored train car cards to place on that route (meaning that all cards played must be of the same color or Locomotive cards). Additionally, some routes are doubled, meaning with more players (4 or 5) you can have two sets of trains on that route (but only one per player, so you can’t build to the same cities twice). Note that you DO NOT have to placed routes adjacent to any routes you’ve already placed. You can place routes anywhere you want on the board as your own personal strategy permits, but beware! If a route has been claimed by another player it is lost to you forever, especially since you do not use double routes in two- or three-player games (you just play on one of the two), a fact that was worth repeating.
If you can’t or don’t want to place train cars on your turn, you can draw three new ticket cards. You must keep at least one, but you can keep more. These give you new locations that you must build between. If you do, you get bonus points at the end of the game. If you don’t, you lose that many points. Play wisely.
Pretty often, however, you’re not going to be doing either of those things; you’re going to be drawing train cards. On your turn, you may draw up to two train cards from either the five face-up cards (I think I usually call them “the River”, but I’m not sure why I do that) or from the top of the deck, with one exception: if you take a rainbow-colored Locomotive card from the face-up cards, you may only draw one card that turn. If you get a Locomotive from the deck, congratulations; you’re very lucky. Note that you restock the face-up cards between draws, in case that changes your choice of drawing from the face-up cards or the deck.
If at any point three of the five cards are Locomotive cards, discard all five cards and draw five new ones (we usually call this “flushing” the River, but I’m not sure why we do that either). This is both a good thing to happen (if it happens before your turn, since then you have new options) and a bad thing to happen (maybe one of the two non-Locomotive cards was EXACTLY THE CARD YOU NEEDED), but it happens, so deal with it, I guess? It’s a nice feature since it makes sure you have some face-up options on your turn and you’re not stuck trying to pick from the two not-Locomotive cards.
Gameplay continues until any one player has nearly (or completely) run out of their tiny trains (only 0, 1, or 2 trains left). Each player, including that player, gets one additional turn. This is fairly different from other game-ending scenarios that I’ve played, so don’t forget to give the game ending player that extra turn.
Once that’s happened, the game has ended! You may want to take this opportunity to check your scores on your train car placements, which thankfully you can do without any difficulty. Then, add each players’ completed tickets to their score, subtract their incomplete tickets, and then give the player with the longest continuous route (no, loops do not count as infinite) 10 additional points. If there’s a tie for longest, both players get 10 points. Most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I can’t tell that there’s a ton of difference in how I play the game at different player counts, other than that it’s a bit more crowded at 5. There are more ticket cards out, sure, but there are also more routes available so it’s pretty balanced. I do like TtR at two since you don’t actually have to interact with the other player if you don’t want to. It can feel a lot less aggressive, in that way, or it can be a cutthroat game of route-blocking. With 5, you just kind of … have to cut someone off eventually. It’s just kind of how it works.
I’d say that the game gets more route-blocky as player count increases, but at least there are more routes to compensate. Generally, I don’t prefer games at their max player count anyways.
This is actually a really interesting question! Strategy is pretty highly map-dependent, and this is the first of many Ticket to Ride maps and expansions, so it keeps things pretty simple and low-key. For instance:
- Generally, I find it better to hoard train car cards rather than building straight away, unless you specifically need a route. Better to have that route and struggle a bit than to get blocked and lose out on a ticket. In fact:
- You’ll often find that a fair number of games on this map are very focused on getting tickets completed first. Just sort of how it goes. I haven’t actually played the other maps that much, yet.
- I also find in the games that I’ve played on this map that it’s best to just go for the 6-car routes as quickly as possible. Generally they cover the most distance (good for most routes and longest routes) and are worth significant amounts of points. Hoarding cards until you can play them pretty quickly is generally good for this plan, too, since you’ll eventually get six. This also helps you gain the extra 10 points for Longest Continuous Route, since you’re taking most of the long routes anyways.
- Draw from the deck unless you need a face-up card to complete a route. Generally if you draw from the face-up cards you’re telegraphing what you’re looking for and that makes you blockable. If you’re pulling from the deck you’re much harder to figure out and you might get the wild Locomotives, which are great.
- Have backup plans. You should make sure that you’re not depending on any particular route to complete an expensive ticket because you almost certainly will get blocked severely at least once. Don’t set yourself up for failure, as failure is costly.
- Don’t take tickets you can’t complete. This should be obvious, I imagine, but you should try to make sure that you can complete all the tickets you take, as losing the points is a HUGE, game-ending penalty, generally, unless everyone has failed a ticket or two.
- Try not to initiate the endgame with 0 trains. This’ll leave you generally unable to score unless you want to go for the particularly bold strategy of drawing destination tickets on your last turn. I guess if high-risk, high-reward is your game, that’s fine. Otherwise you should at least be able to nab a point or two on your last turn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- This is like, the classic gateway game. It’s so easy to teach, super easy to learn, super fun to play, and endlessly expandable.
- Cute theme. Then again, I love trains. Who doesn’t love trains?
- I used to use a map of the US all the time for learning Dijkstra’s Algorithm, and so it’s very satisfying to see all these paths. But that’s just the software engineer in me. It’s not really a pro for anyone else.
- Great game to get new players into modern boardgaming. It’s definitely unlike anything they’ve played before if all they’ve played up until now is Monopoly and Clue. Similarly, it makes a great gift (which is humorously how I got my copy in the first place).
- I regret not getting the 10th Anniversary Edition. I originally typed this as the 75th Anniversary, and then had the presence of mind to realize that must be incorrect and double-checked. Either way, it’s beautiful. Everything is larger, the trains and cards are nicer, it’s just … it’s a very pretty version of this, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get on it when I had the opportunity. Maybe someday.
- Tiny cards are tiny. They are hard to shuffle as well, which is sad. The 1910 expansion fixes this, though, and adds in some more routes and play upgrades. I’d recommend getting that if you find that the tiny cards are causing you some strife.
- Can feel a bit too light for me. I have this issue with Takenoko as well where it’s not quite as deep as I’m looking for, but it’s still a lot of fun and I like to play it. It just doesn’t feel like this map lends itself well to a lot of complex strategy (which is probably fine for a gateway game), and there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles outside of the main “draw cards and play trains” theme. I hear later maps resolve this, so I might look into some of those for future reviews. I would argue that this isn’t necessarily a con for everyone (in fact, it might be a pro for many!) but given that it takes around an hour to play, I feel like I’d either like it to be a bit faster or a bit heavier.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I like Ticket to Ride, and I think it’s a good game. I think it plays solidly on its own and is generally fun, and I have used it to teach people about modern board games before. Naturally, I’m not alone in this opinion — TtR won the Spiel des Jahres (basically the Board Game of the Year award) in 2004, and it was well-deserved, in my opinion. As I mentioned in the pros, I like that it’s VERY easy to explain, score, and pick up, and I often look to it if I’m looking for something light and fun, or if I want to make a bunch of low-quality, low-effort train puns (which, to be honest, I pretty much always do). My main complaint is that I would like a bit deeper game than it is, but that’s not really the biggest deal to me — I’ve got plenty of other games I can go to if that’s what I’m looking for. This is a game I would highly recommend to anyone asking, “how do I get started?”, because if this is how you get into board gaming, then you’re right on track.
See? I told you there’d be more train puns.