A few week's ago the boys came down for a weekend and Mal brought with him a copy of Ticket to Ride, I was interested to play it as I'd heard lots about it, and yet it didn't get a look in as we ended up playing Carcassonne, Border Reivers and Caylus. Mal came down again this weekend, so I asked him to bring TtR down again in the hope we'd get a chance to play it. He did and we did. So here's a short review/session report after only a couple of plays.
Ticket to Ride is the first game I've played by celebrated games designer Alan R. Moon. I've heard lots of good things about it (especially the new TtR Europe and TtR Marklin editions). First impressions are very good, the box design is attractive, and has a slightly League of Extraordinary Gentlemen feel about the artwork, so it evokes the right time frame (turn of the century) nicely. The board too is visually interesting, the cards are well done (the use of both a colour and a symbol to differentiate between different types is good - especially for the colour blind). The pieces look like carriages, even if they feel a little cheap and plasticy. Plus, it has the 'Spiel des Jahres' winner badge on the box - which is always a good recommendation.
Mal explained the rules to me, which took a remarkably short amount of time, and then we settled down for a couple of games. We only played a couple of 2-player games, so I don't know if the rules vary for more players, but as a 2-player I thought it was excellent. The aim is to connect American cities with your carriages. The board consists of a network of cities with tracks between them, only one player can claim each track (although some tracks are double - and in a game with more players both tracks can be claimed, although in our 2-players game we could just claim either of them). The longer the track (they range from one to six), the more points you get, so it pays to claim the longer tracks; however, to claim a track you need the appropriate number of carriage cards of the correct colour. There are 'wild' carriage cards which can be used as any colour, and several of the routes are grey and can be claimed by carriages of any colour - although they still have to be all the same.
In addition, each player starts with some route cards, which specify two cities and a number of points, if you can connect those two cities with your carriages then you get that number of points at the end of the game, however if you can't then you lose that number of points. You begin the game with three route cards (though you can discard one of them), and you really need to make sure that you only hang on to routes you can complete.
The game proper consists of each player in turn taking one of three actions:
- Picking up two new carriage cards, either from the five face-up cards, or a random one from the top of the deck
- Picking up three new route cards, and discarding up to two of them
- Claiming a track between two cities by discarding the appropriate number of carriage cards of the correct colour and placing your carriages on it
Play continues until one player has two or less carriages left, at which point the scores are calculated. There's 10 point available for the longest continuous route, and you add (or subtract if you failed to complete them) the points for the route cards you collected to the points you gained for claiming the tracks.
It's a very simple game to play, however there is still plenty of strategy to be had, as you need to get the routes before your opponents do; try to scupper you opponents routes and balance the drawing of route cards, carriage cards and claiming routes. There's a fair amount of tension as you amass the carriage cards you need to claim vital routes, all the while hoping your opponents won't beat you to them. Do you claim some spurious routes to distract your opponents from your real targets? Or would that waste valuable carriage cards?
The only thing I'll say against it is the 'veneer' nature of the theme. A cursory read of the box reveals a theme about a prize race: $1 million to the first person to visit every American city, in the vein of Phileas Fogg. But you don't have to visit every city to win the game, and the game would work just as well as freight routes between star systems as it does rail routes between American cities. Still, that's a minor niggle.
I loved the game (so much so that it has immediately appeared on my wishlist), it was a very simple, elegant game, and, as is the case with many of the Eurogames, fairly quick to play. I give it an 8.
Mal and I played two games, in the first one we both took about 5 route cards, and got all of them, Mal got the longest road and beat me by 6 points. In the second game Mal had a fairly long route, and then claimed a track near that one. I was lucky enough to have the carriage cards to claim the track between his two routes and I took it, hoping it would scupper him - and it did! I'd taken two fairly ambitious route cards at the beginning, and I managed to claim them towards the end of the game. At that point rather than risk getting some route cards I might not complete I just claimed long tracks where I could. When the game finished Mal revealed the route I'd stuffed for him, it would have been worth 17 points so he effectively lost 34 points from his score. I won that one in the end with a fairly hefty margin.