Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Board game review: Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is a 2 to 5 player board game produced by publisher Days of Wonder.  Initially released in 2004, it has sold over 750,000 copies and won several awards along the way including the prestigious Spiel Des Jahres in the year of its release.  There have been several expansions and editions released since but this is a review of the original game.

The box.
At the heart of the game is a card collecting mechanic with the aim of connecting routes between cities on the gaming board.  Players are dealt 'ticket' cards which define their objective in the game and are kept secret from other players.  Tickets define a route between two cities on the board and after completing a ticket, ie connecting two cities via the train routes offered, points are accrued at the end of the game.  Points are also awarded for completing single 'legs' with the amount depending on the length.  Individual routes are completed by collecting cards matching to that routes colour and the route is then filled in on the board with the plastic train pieces.  Any uncompleted tickets at the end of the game means the score for the ticket is deducted from that players overall total.

More tickets can be claimed if the original ones are completed in-game but be careful, because as soon as one player runs out of train carriages to place on the board, the game is over.  There is an additional 10-point bonus at the end of game for players with the longest route.

There's not much more to it and the rules are easily mastered within, at most, a couple of turns.  It is considered a 'Gateway' game, that is, one being easy to play and a great introduction to other, more complicated board games.  Playing time is around 45 minutes and from experience, even up to 5 players can complete a game in about an hour.

Ooh, lots of bits to play with.
Component quality, as always from Days of Wonder, is excellent.  There are 240 plastic train carriages in various colours that are placed on the board which allows players to claim routes.  In addition, there are 140 full-colour cards symbolizing the different resources and tickets used in the game.  A criticism here is directed at the size of the cards - they aren't of the normal full-size playing card, instead are about 3/4 size.  This makes for difficulty when shuffling and indeed, in the first expansion entitled 1910, DoW released a full-size set of cards to replace these smaller ones.  A good move.  The board itself is large, colourful and maintains the high-standard of artwork as seen on all DoW games.  The scoring track (ho ho) goes round the edge of the board - a nice touch.  The only problem here is portability - it's a large game to play, say on a train or to take camping.  No bad thing of course, a big board that is, but it's worth mentioning if you're thinking of taking it on your jollies.

It's a big, hefty thing.

It's all in the gameplay of course and Ticket To Ride doesn't disappoint.  As mentioned, it's very easy for players new to the game to pick up the rules.  It's also very engaging and is equally at home in our lunchtime board game club here at work or for a family-orientated gamefest on an evening.  My wife declares it her favourite boardgame, supplanting even the mighty Carcassonne.  Following the traditional German-style boardgame, it's hard to see who has won until the end of the game and no-one is eliminated until then - very friendly for families.  Also, play is fast with little downtime between turns, an added bonus for those with attention spans of goldfish.

Tactics in Ticket to Ride are subtle.  You can go for lots of small routes but with smaller points totals while the longer routes obviously have more points but with higher risk.  Blocking is also a tactic and can be quite effective, especially when an opponents route is obvious (such as completing the first and last legs of a well-known route).  However, even blocking can backfire as precious carriages are used up on non-ticketed routes.   The 10-point longest route bonus can often be a game-changer with many of our games being won and lost on this bonus.

Interestingly, in the sequel to this game, Ticket To Ride: Europe, players can place stations in cities that allow them to claim routes held by other players, thus almost negating blocking altogether.  This has led to a debate in our board game club with some members considering the Europe version quite boring.  I can see where they are coming from as blocking in this original game can be quite devastating.  In the sequel, a block can be easily navigated with prudent application of a station (and a low cost of 4 points).

Overall, this is an excellent game and like Carcassonne is a good gateway into some of the more advanced board-games out there.  It's easy to understand, playing time is quick and the game moves on at a fast pace.  It's perfect for families looking for an antidote to the terminally dull Monopoly or Frustration and its subtle nuances make it a decent game for the more serious gaming afficionado.  Like the advertising blurb says, it's definitely not your father's boring train game.

Costs around £35.00.