on April 12, 2005
When I first heard about Days of Wonder's newest game, Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004 - Alan Moon), I was excited. But how could I not be - for all of Days of Wonders games so far have been fabulous, and it seems that each successive game gets better and better. And Alan Moon with a train game (shades of Union Pacific) sounded like a winning combination. I had an opportunity to play the final version of the game, and was quite impressed with how the game looked.
And is the game any good? The short answer is that once you play this game, you'll never play TransAmerica again. It's a fantastic medium-weight game - one that plays equally well with two to five players. The components are superb, the artwork is great, the game is downright fun (and nasty sometimes), and the total package is a very strong contender for the Spiel des Jahres 2004. (which it won!) After my first playing, I ranked it an 8; but after multiple playings the rating moved up to a 9, then a 9.5 - and if I keep playing the game at this rate - may move into my top ten list. Game play is very tight, and I found that game scores can run very close - making for an exciting game, all the way down to the finish.
Each player receives forty-five train cars in one color, and places a matching round token of that color on a scoring track. A large board is placed in the middle of the table, with a map of America (circa late 1800's) superimposed upon it. Thirty-six cities are there, each connected by one or two "railroad lines". These lines are made up of one to six spaces, and are one of eight colors: purple, yellow, black, white, green, red, blue, brown, and gray (neutral color). A deck of "tickets" is shuffled, and three are dealt to each player. Players may discard one of them, but must keep at least two of them. Each ticket has two cities on them, and a point value that a player will receive if they connect those two cities, or lose if they don't connect the cities. The remainder of the ticket cards are shuffled and placed in a face down pile next to the board. A pile of train cards is shuffled, and four are dealt to each player. The remainder are shuffled and placed next to the board, then five of them are turned over and placed face-up next to the draw pile. The player who has traveled the most goes first, and then play continues clockwise around the table.
On a turn, a player may do one of three things. They may draw two cards, one at a time from either the face-up cards and/or the draw pile. Each card shows a different color of train car - matching the eight different colored spaces on the board. There is twelve of each color car in the deck. There are also eighteen "locomotive" cards, which function as wild cards. When a player draws a face-up card, the card is replaced immediately before they draw another card. A locomotive card counts as two cards if drawn when face-up, but only one if drawn when face-down. If there are ever three locomotive cards face-up at any time, all five cards are immediately discarded, and five new cards are drawn. If the cards run out, the discard pile is shuffled back to form a new draw deck.
The second thing a player may do is to draw three ticket cards. They must keep at least one of them, but have the option of keeping all of them, if they like. The others (if any), are discarded.
The third thing a player may do is play cards to place their train cars on the board. A player may play one through six cards of the same color (including wild cards), to place the same amount of train cards on a corresponding line on the board. For example, Las Vegas is connected to Salt Lake City by an orange line consisting of three spaces. Three orange cards must be played to put three trains of that player's color on those spaces. No more players could then place anything between those two cities, and if players want to connect those two cities with their lines, they'll have to go around the long way (if possible). Gray lines can have any color cards played to place trains on them, but the cards played must match the number of spaces in the gray line, and all of the cards must be the same color. When placing trains, the player doing so receives points - 1 point for one train placed, 2 points for two trains, 4 points for three trains, 7 points for four, 10 points for five, and 15 points for six trains. Some cities have two lines connecting them, both of which can be used in a four or five-player game. In a two or three-player game, however, once one of these lines has been used, the other cannot.
When one player, after taking their turn, is down to two train cars or less, the final round begins. Starting with the player to their left, each player has one final turn, and then the game is over. The trains on the board are counted to make sure that the points were totaled correctly during the game, and then ticket cards are revealed. If players can trace a continuous path between the two cities on their card with their color train cars only, they receive the points, and move their tokens accordingly. Otherwise, they lose the points, and must move their token down the scoring track that many points. The player who has the longest continuous track also gets ten points. The player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: As usual, the components for Ticket to Ride are supreme. Days of Wonder has, by far, more superior components for their games than any other company. The board is fantastic, with a nice map, and when the train cars - nice plastic cars in bright colors - are placed on it, the whole thing looks pretty fantastic! The cards are of the highest quality, and are about half the size of normal playing cards. Each color card not only has a different train car on it, but they have symbols in the corners to help differentiate between the colors (good for the color blind). Everything fits into a wonderful plastic insert that is in a beautiful, sturdy box - the same size as Days of Wonder's other Big Box Games.
2.) Rules: The rules are only four pages - large, colorful, illustrated pages - but only four! The game is being printed in many languages - and has the distinction of being the first major game release that I know of that has been produced in Korea, something which is rather dear to my heart. The game can be explained in about 5 minutes, and I am very pleased at how easy it is for people to pick up. Even people who have a hard time understanding simple games ("No, John, you cannot attack people in Settlers of Catan!") had an easy time picking up the game - and I was amazed at how fast strategies were picked up.
3.) Strategy: When I first was taught the game by Eric Hautemont, CEO of Days of Wonder, I didn't think that strategy would be that important. Then, he beat us, scoring 162 points to my 82, and my friends 54. I was floored! I thought that I was doing well, during the game, but realized several things that I missed afterwards. I found out in the game that there are different strategies, and was impressed with how they differed. One can ignore their ticket cards and just try to place long trains, hoping to get a lot of points. Or one can try to complete as many ticket cards as possible, not worrying too much about how long of trains they place on the board. Then, there is the middle ground - but is a compromise of the two strategies enough to win? Not to mention the fact that players must watch other players, and occasionally place trains to mess them up.
4.) Cutthroat: This gives the game a real "cut throat" atmosphere. Sometimes the best move for a player is to place train cars between cities they don't care that much about - just to stop another player - either from getting the longest chain of cars, or completing their tickets. This can cause some enmity, but it's all in good fun, and I really enjoyed the player interaction - from taking cards to placing trains.
5.) Holding cards: It's fun to get a big hand of cards (there is no upper limit). Players try to hoard cards so that they can place long trains of cars, scoring the big points. Also, players must always keep in mind that everyone else is watching them, trying to determine where they are going. The longer a player keeps the cards in their hand, the less they tip their hand. However, if one player suddenly uses up all their trains, causing the final round, and you are stuck with a huge hand of cards, it can be quite devastating. My wife found this out the hard way. She was about to connect three cities that would complete two of her tickets - probably winning the game. Another friend of mine, in the same game, had the same problem. Either one of them could have won the game, but because they held the cards just one turn to long - they lost. Of course, I was the evil guy who caused the game to end, but I got my just desserts, losing by only one point to yet another player - and the winning point was caused by her having the longest continuous train of cars.
6.) Fun Factor: And yet, even with the bluffing, and the other little nasty tactics, the game is extremely fun. The decisions are short, causing the game to move quickly, but can be quite stressful at times. Yet these decisions really make the game fun! Blocking someone else off, using your own lines, pulling two locomotives from the draw pile, or finally connecting those two cities - all of this adds up to a wonderful time of fun!
7.) Time and Players: The game runs quickly, because the decisions are important, but don't bog the game down to much. I was impressed with how well the game scaled, but found that the two-player game was much different than a five-player one. Both were fun, but needed different tactics.
As you can see, I really enjoyed this game. I think it has strong possibilities of being one of the best games of the year. Alan Moon has always been one of my favorite designers, and this is one of his best games in years. Days of Wonder has put a lot of time and effort into producing this game, and it shows. When I first played TransAmerica, I thought that it was a boring game -what was the point, and where was the strategy? Fortunately, the strategy and fun in this game are wonderful. I don't need a "dumbed-down" game to introduce new folks to the wonderful world of board games. I can just use games like this - tremendous, fun games, filled with tactical choices and enjoyable times.
After noting that Ticket to Ride continues to be one of the highest-rated board games at numerous board gamer sites, we bought a copy.
The board gamers are right. This German-made game beats familiar games like Monopoly and Risk hands-down.
Each player must complete a series of rail lines spanning cities based upon destination cards drawn at the beginning (and throughout) the game. Each destination carries points related to the length of the line, so a New York to Los Angeles line would score more points than Chicago to Boston. Incomplete destinations count against players at the end of the game, so completing them, even through circuitous routes is a must. The exciting part of the game comes from not knowing who is completing his or her lines, plus the ability to overlap lines, stymieing other players.
Game play takes between 30 and 90 minutes depending on the number of players and the speed at which they make decisions.
High quality throughout, the game includes:
- A fold-out board of the United States and southern Canada, plus a scoring track around the edge. The cities on the board connect through colored track lines, each line between one and six units in length.
- A set of destination cards showing lines that must be completed.
- Five sets of forty-five train pieces. Each player takes one same-color set of trains.
- A set of colored train cards that correspond to the colored lines that connect cities.
- Scoring markers that correspond to a player's train color.
Each player is dealt three destination cards in the beginning and must keep at least two. These form the basis for their lines. They also receive four train cards. To claim a line, players must create sets of the same color and number of train cards as the line connecting two cities. (The color of the lines has nothing to do with the player's train color, but the cards they have in hand.)
Each player, in turn, can perform one of three actions:
1. Draw two train cards per turn from either the set of five placed up for all players to see, or blind from the train card deck. (One card if one of the showing wild cards is chosen.)
2. Play a set of matching train card colors to claim a line between two cities.
3. Get dealt a new set of three destination cards, keeping at least one.
Players score points when they claim a line of track connecting two cities, the length of the track yielding proportionately higher scores. Scoring markers are moved around the 100-point scoring guide on the board perimeter.
When one player has laid all his or her train pieces, the other players get one last turn. Players then reveal their destination cards and add (or subtract, for incomplete lines) to their total. The longest continuous length of claimed track scores additional points, too. Highest point total wins.
A gorgeous, well-made game that's easy on the eyes, Ticket to Ride combines simple rules and nail-biting game play with a significant level of strategy. You can't ask for more in a board game.
All ages will love this game. Even children as young as six can play since the rules are simple.
Will please folks sick of the usual board games everyone has.
Game play is short enough to allow multiple sessions of play.
The manufacturer has other games in the Ticket to Ride series that work off the same basic gaming system, though with differing degrees of skill (through additional rules and trickier city layouts). Expansion kits exist, too, so players familiar with the game can get an additional kick out of their existing set. Lastly, an online, multi-player, interactive version of the game can be played through the manufacturer's Web site.
The manufacturer lists a game session as lasting 30-60 minutes. We've found it closer to 45-90 minutes.
Ticket to Ride has been around since 2004 and is beginning to show some age when compared against newer European-style board games. In addition, other games in the Ticket to Ride series eclipse the base game (though some expansions require the base game for play). For a game that plays similarly to Ticket to Ride but adds more depth of play, consider Ticket to Ride designer Alan Moon's Airlines Europe.
As someone who loves games, I found Ticket to Ride to be a great introduction to European-style board games. Nothing disappoints. Everyone who plays the game wants to know where to get a copy. Ticket to Ride has won numerous Game of the Year honors around the world, and it's easy to see why. Absolutely worthy of its stars.
UPDATE: For enhanced play, consider the 1910 expansion. It includes larger, easier-to-read cards, additional destinations, and more winning conditions. It makes a four-star game into five!