Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ticket to Ride

An American (cult?) favourite. Prepare for some serious railway congestion.

Name: Ticket to Ride (2004)

Publisher: Days of Wonder

Expansions: There are plenty of Map Collections available (Asia; India and Switzerland; 'Nederlands'; Africa). Other variations include Ticket to Ride: Europe or Ticket to Ride: Marklin

Notable Honours: Spiel des Jahres 2004 (Game of the Year 2004)

Designer: Alan R Moon

Players: 2 to 5

Age: 8+

Time to play: About 45+ minutes

Price Range (AUD): $57.99 to $82

Availability:  Quite a popular title (relatively speaking) and widely available online. However, at the time of writing, I gather that it's not popular enough to be mainstream and appear in department stores.


Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

8.0* out of 10. (Great - See my Rating Scale)

This is quite a good game; at first I didn't really appreciate the mechanics but after a while I realised that the gameplay is pretty clean and incorporates the "build your own train empire" theme quite well.

Players compete to create train routes all across the USA (at least in the original edition - there are other other regions available, depending on the Map Collection you purchase) and thus there is from the outset a competition for space and area control. Which train routes you want to secure will also partly come down to luck (as is invariably the case when you play with cards) - you draw a set of designated destination cards and train cards that you use to create routes.

This game will have you quietly scheming and panicking at the same time as you try to predict which parts of the map your friends want to occupy (whilst you worry about whether you will be able to secure that spot you want in a couple turn's time....). The conflict is often this: whether you should begin securing routes NOW (and forego the opportunity of stockpiling cards) or whether you should continue drawing the cards you need in the long-term. This conflict is especially the case when you play with a 5 player group - space always feels congested to the point of claustrophobia.

The game is also apparently a good illustration of the Travelling Salesman Problem - which, from my limited understanding, involves figuring out the shortest possible route that passes through a given set of cities only once, and returns to the origin city.

* July and August 2014: Increased from 7.85. The reason being, I think this is a great game that builds up plenty of tension between people but in a relaxed atmosphere. Often the issue is whether to hoard/stock up on cards or to claim routes that are key to your plan. Not getting a key route, or getting it a turn later than normal, can really mess things up and add lots of strategy/panic to this game. I consider this, along with Las Vegas, to be good games to use as a standard yardstick when deciding whether to give a game a score of 8+/10.

The Good:
  • Tense yet friendly battle for limited area and space
  • The series will appeal to fans who like and enjoy geography (as I do)
  • Simple and easy-to-learn gameplay
The Bad:
  • Counting scores can be annoying - when we play we usually count our score at the end
  • Minor complaint: I kind of wish the trains would stick to the board - that would have been much cooler if there were indentations or grooves to put the trains in.

What makes this game fun? 

Building your train empire whilst trying to nullify the efforts of your competitors brings a strong railway tycoon feel to the game. However the game is very light and relatively simple. It isn't exactly punishing but that doesn't mean it's completely devoid of strategy either - it has just the right balance, at times, offering that competitive edge.

- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -

Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

The deck is prepared like this for everyone to access (5 cards face up - you can do it in a straight line - and the rest face down in a draw pile):

Everyone also gets 4 "Train Cards", randomly dealt, as their starting hand.

Everyone gets their own set of 45 train cars from this selection in the box:

The board looks like this:

At the start of the game, everyone gets dealt 3 Destination Tickets. Each player looks at them secretly and decides which ones they wish to keep - they must keep at least two, but they can keep them all if they want to. The game is all about completing these routes you are given on the board.

This is an example of some of the Destination Tickets - the shorter routes (eg. Kansas City to Houston) score less points but are usually easier to finish (less risky).

The longer routes score more points but are harder to complete. If you complete the route, for example, San Fran to Atlanta, you get the points stated (17 points). If you fail to complete the routes you LOSE that amount of stated points on the card.

On your turn you may choose ONE action:

1) Draw 2 cards
2) Claim a route
3) Draw 3 more Destination Ticket and choose to keep at least 1 of them.

1) Drawing cards

If the above was the starting deck, and if it was my turn to draw, I could either:

a) Take the wildcard and END my turn [special rule - because wildcards are valuable so you should only take 1]

b) Take one face-up card that is NOT a wildcard, replace the card drawn, and then DRAW ANOTHER ONE (either again from the face-up cards, or from the unseen draw pile)

c) Take an unseen card from the draw pile and then DRAW ANOTHER ONE (either again from the unseen draw pile, or from the face-up cards, so long as it isn't a wildcard)

So for example:
For example here I take the Pink card...

...then I replace it from the draw pile with the Orange (random)...

...I decide I don't like any of these colours so I draw from the deck. Note that, you cannot take the wildcard on your second draw - you can only take a face up wildcard on your first turn....

However, if in my unseen draw, I am lucky enough to draw a wildcard, I get to keep it - as it happens here. 

2) Claiming Routes

To claim routes, you must have a sufficient number of MATCHING COLOURED CARDS.

For example, below, suppose I had this hand after two turns. It is now the third turn. I have spent two turns collecting 2 pink cards each turn for a total of 4 pink cards to add to my starting hand of 1 Wild, 2 Green and 1 Pink.

So I could claim a Pink route between 5 to 6 blocks long or a Green route between 3 to 4 blocks long (because of my wild card - if I didn't have my wildcard I would only be able to claim a route 5 blocks long because of my 5 Pink Cards)

So here is what would happen. I choose to claim that Pink Route between San Francisco and Portland 5 blocks long as below. 

Note: When you claim a route, you must claim ALL OF IT - you cannot put down for example 3 cards to secure 3 out of 5 blocks - you must commit to all of it.

Note that, here,the Portland-San Francisco route is 5 train blocks long - hence you need 5 pink coloured cards because the route blocks are coloured PINK.

Note, in contrast, that the route from Portland to Seattle is only 1 train block long - and is grey in colour. Hence you only need ONE card of ANY colour to complete that route (as grey means any colour can be used)

So for example, I'd then place 5 of my trains to cover that route (here, 4 Pink, and 1 Wildcard = 5 Pink).

Note that some routes are double routes (eg. from Portland to San Fran or Seattle to Portland, where there are two tracks - there is also a Green Track as you can see that also requires 5 train blocks) - but the same player cannot claim both of the double routes. One player claims one, and another player claims the other route. Hence here, the Black player CANNOT claim the green route from Portland to San Francisco because Black already has that route.

In games with 3 players or less the double routes should be treated as single routes just to make the gameplay a little harder given that there is already so much space available on the board.

Scoring and End Game

The game starts to end when one player only has 0, 1 or 2 trains left at the end of their turn. Everyone, including the player who only had 0-2 trains left, gets one final turn.

Then the scores are counted in the following manner:

1) Decide who has the longest route - this is measured by the number of train pieces (not routes) placed on the board in a continuous unbroken straight line. Whoever has the longest gets 10 points.

2) Score Destination Ticket points - players reveal their routes and everyone checks to see that they have completed those routes by joining their trains from one city to another (the shape or length doesn't matter - as long as that connection exists between the two cities).

For example, if the route was from Dallas to Nashville, you could have a route from Dallas to Little Rock (2 Grey) and then from Little Rock to Nashville (3 White trains). This is sufficient to make out the Destination Ticket.

Or you could have taken the longer route (for example, if you were blocked): Dallas to Houston to New Orleans to Atlanta to Nashville. This still counts as the Destination Ticket being satisfied.

If they did complete those Destination Ticket goals, they get those points stated on the Ticket. If not, subtract those points.

3) Score points for each route (ie. a connection made from one city to a NEIGHBOURING CITY - eg. San Francisco to Portland above [which has a route length of 5] or Portland to Seattle [which has a route length of only 1]), according to this system based on route length:

1 Train Block = 1 Point 
2 Train Blocks = 2 Points
3 Train Blocks = 4 Points
4 Train Blocks = 7 Points
5 Train Blocks = 10 Points
6 Train Blocks = 15 Points

So for example, in the above picture, I would get 10 points for putting down a route that is 5 carriages long (Portland to Seattle)

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