Ticket to Ride + 1910 Expansion
Time: 30 – 60 minutes
Times Played: 180+
Growing up, one of the earliest toys I can remember receiving is a wooden train set that my grandparents bought me and a little table that my grandfather built for me to play on. To this day, I still have those trains in a box in my basement. I don’t know what it is or was about trains that made them so cool: could have been the design of the different cars, the way the tracks were laid out, or the sheer amount of trains I was given.
I always wondered why I received so many trains at once and maybe they got a sweet deal and I’m looking too far into this whole spiel but I wonder if it’s because trains don’t have any personality or character. They’re not soldiers that shoot guns or dolls that showcase sexuality. They’re basically as innocent as a toy can be. No one is getting offended by a blank wooden train in the early 1990’s (or hopefully now as well).
That thought helps me understand why there are so many train board games available (One BGG list has 107 pages of train games). They are inoffensive and a relatively easy subject to grasp. Also, if you start getting into the history of trains and the economy behind the railroads, games around negotiation and development can be created and implemented, introducing a whole new realm of mechanics.
Ticket to Ride, the 2004 winner of the Spiel des Jahres, is easily the most famous train-themed board game and I would say it is one of the three most well-known modern board games available, rivaled only by Settlers of Catan and Cards Against Humanity.
Ticket to Ride is a route-building game that involves some hand management via card drafting. Players start the game with four train cards (cards that are the shape and color of a route on the board or a wild card, which is all colors) and three destination tickets which act as the goal of the player for the game. Points are awarded for completing the routes but more importantly, points are deducted for not completing the routes. This adds a risk/reward for the route you take.
Of the three destination tickets, players are free to keep all three or return one of them to the bottom of the destination draw pile. Once that is done, five train cards are placed face-up near the board for players and the game starts with the last player to take a train going first.
On a player’s turn, they can perform one of the following actions:
Draw train cards: The player may take train cards from the deck blindly or cards from the face-up. If they draw one of the face-up cards, that card is immediately replaced by another face-up card from the deck. Then a second card can be drawn from either the face-up cards or the deck. If the replacement card is a wild card, the can choose another card like before but not the newly placed wild card.
If a player draws from the deck, they just take two off the top of the deck and this ends their turn.
Claim a route: To claim a route, a player will play a set of train cards that match the color and length (amount) of the route they are trying to claim. Once they have done so, they will place their colored trains on the route, claiming it as their own. Once the trains are in place, the corresponding scoring token is moved along the scoring track the appropriate number of spaces. Gray routes can be claimed by any collection of train cards (of the same color combinations).
Claiming a route might also make an area impassable, as in a two and three player game double routes are not used.
Draw destination tickets: Players draw three destination tickets blindly from the top of the deck. Of the three, they must keep one of them but have the option to keep two or even all three if they want. Any discarded destination tickets from this draw are placed at the bottom of the deck.
Destination tickets, once in your hand, can never be discarded.
Ticket to Ride will end once a player’s train cache reaches two, one, or zero trains remaining. Every player, including the player who triggered the end game with their low stock of trains, will have an additional turn before the game ends.
As points have been tracked for claiming routes during the game, post-game scoring consists of completed destination tickets and ten points awarded for having the longest continuous train route. Do remember that unfinished destination tickets are worth negative points.
The player with the most points wins the game.
I think Ticket to Ride is the second modern board game we ever bought and it is easily one of the most played games we own, if not the most. I will be transparent and say that we have slightly fallen out of love with the versions we own but it did take close to two hundred plays for that to happen.
First and foremost, the game is eye-catching. The art is a colorful array of train track selections and the dots are the United States (well, Northern American) cities that they intersect with. My guess is that the locations are important to older train routes as Duluth, Helena, and Sault St. Marie don’t really strike me as frequent destinations. Some of the city locations are a little off the mark in placement but that seems to be done for route design and nothing is overtly egregious.
One of my favorite aspects of the design of the board is the amount of small drawings that are located as little Easter eggs for everyone to find. They don’t impact or alter the game in the slightest but they are neat to look at.
The board includes a score-tracker that borders the map and runs from zero to one hundred. We have had plenty of games go over one hundred but also plenty fall short. It is easy to utilize and keep track of where everyone is so it is a welcome addition.
The train cards match the colors on the board and each color is a different type of train car, which just adds to the artistic and visual value of the game. The wild cards are locomotives. One additional boost is that the cards and the board also include a symbol unique to the color, so our color-blind friends can play this game without any issue.
The destination tickets are easy to decipher and the dots of the two cities you are trying to connect are easily visible to help you find the corresponding cities on the big board (which is incredibly helpful, no matter your comfort with geography). But more importantly, this helps you find the cities no matter where you are sitting as you can just align the card with the board.
The scoring tokens are just round wooden tokens that match the players color. Nothing fancy but they are big enough to hold their weight and more notably, be stacked upon one another easily when scores are tied.
The trains are plastic and perfectly molded to fit the route markers on the board. All forty-five in each set is detailed to look like a train car and is quite remarkable given the price of the game.
The rulebook is two-pages of quick reading but what I really want to talk about is the box insert. The insert is molded to fit the pieces, bags, and board of the game in a way that storing it horizontally or vertically won’t hinder the box or make any of the components roll around. I think the components in Ticket to Ride still hold their own against some of the more recently released games.
I have removed my TTR insert at this point in our collecting career as having six or so boxes takes up a lot of space. Currently, the base box holds all our maps and the Europe box holds all the cards and trains.
I do think Ticket to Ride is the quintessential gateway board game. It is easy to introduce, the theme is inoffensive, and the colors and visuals are eye opening. Compared to Catan, another frequently mentioned gateway game, I feel as if TTR is a far superior game as it does not rely on the randomness (dice rolling) or dependency (good starting locations) that Catan does. But, in the act of transparency, I also fully hate Catan due to those two reasons so my bias is clear.
There is some luck in the draw and placement of the cards and luck can be synonymous with randomness, I will admit that. Just from the multitude of times that we have played this game, a good and/or experienced player will overcome any instances of luck. Does this put new players at a disadvantage against experienced players? Of course it does, but isn’t that any game? New players will play the game differently but tend to learn the ins and outs quickly.
Ticket to Ride is a game that does not include many rules and can be taught in a short time frame. The straightforwardness of the actions available do not overburden new players and keep games at a relatively quick pace. I particularly enjoyed Ticket to Ride as it is a perfect game for a family gathering or for more serious, hardened players.
One of the main components of Ticket to Ride is the tension that builds with each player’s turn, especially when a route is not claimed. You don’t know where an opponent is going or what they’re thinking or if you’ll be blocked from going the optimal route. For this reason alone, I absolutely love Ticket to Ride. Every decision matters and while each player is acting independently, one move of your opponents could change the whole trajectory of the game for you.
Every choice offers this tension. Do you go after a face-up card and hope a wild doesn’t replace it? Do you play cards for a much-needed route that will deplete your resources for a few turns? Do you block your opponent? Do you grab more destination tickets?
And the reason these choices exist are because Ticket to Ride offers several ways to win. A player could go after completing as many destination tickets as possible (typically shorter, connecting routes) or they could try to complete two or three long routes, spanning the entire country or they could block their competitors from claiming routes and force a small point game.
But for the same reason that I love this game, my fiancée loathes Ticket to Ride. For such a “light game”, there shouldn’t be so much stress. A lot of this can come from the blocking aspect of the game, which can frustrate players that set up a play turns in advance only to have the opportunity ruined right before their very eyes.
We have played this game at every single player count and honestly, we think it’s great at each one. At two and three-players, there is more board to explore and typically you won’t run into one another. In a three-player game, if two players do end up competing for the same routes it does tend to create a runaway victory for the third player as they are not impeded in their quest to lay trains. Not being able to utilize the double routes can make this player count as tense as the higher counts however. But if we want or are going to play a low player count version, we will just switch to a different map (more on that later).
Four and five players is where Ticket to Ride shines though. Every turn matters and what looks like a wide-open map quickly becomes condensed and tight as the game progresses.
But is Ticket to Ride perfect? Not quite.
The base game includes thirty destination tickets and after a few playthroughs, you will either outright know or at the very least have an idea of where each route being claimed is going. This was an issue for us in the early goings as we played this game so often and so frequently that once someone laid a route down near Portland, we all knew where that was going.
The base destination tickets also have a weird balance distribution where the east and central areas of the map have far more tickets than the west. Starting in the west can be a detriment as players struggle to draw new destinations that they can affix to their existing routes (for easier point scoring). However, the largest tickets are typically east to west ventures that will allow players to rack up some serious points due to the card value and the six-length routes. This makes the map feel smaller as players gun specifically for these routes for the point values.
Lastly, blocking, which I touched on earlier. Blocking can be a game killer as no one wants to come back to Ticket to Ride that evening after having such a sour experience.
I do want to make note that while Ticket to Ride is a brilliant game right out of the box, we much enjoyed adding the 1910 Expansion to the game and consider it required for playing. I have mentioned in other reviews are disdain for the smaller cards and this set adds full-size cards for playing.
1910 also includes sixty-nine destination tickets, which more than doubles the original amount of thirty. This helps solve the earlier issue of the lack of diverse destination locations. These destinations also include many more small and medium destinations which help keep players from going straight for the long routes on the board due to the increased viability of the smaller networks. The new destination tickets also add more western cities to the game which now gives players more reason to keep those types of tickets.
1910 also includes variants that allow for the entire destination deck to be utilized and for only Big Cities to be ventured to. Lastly, there is a new bonus included (Globetrotter bonus) which grants fifteen additional points to the player with the most completed destination tickets. This also helps steer players away from just completing one or two long routes and winning the game.
If you’re still unsure if Ticket to Ride is for you, there is a digital app available for smart phones and on the Steam platform. It can routinely be found on sale and is a true adaptation of the physical version. I own it in addition to the physical copies as it’s ideal for plane, train, and long Uber rides.
So, in short, Ticket to Ride is a quintessential game to add to one’s collection. We have introduced this to both of our parents, our aunts and uncles, our friends, and our nephews. We have gifted this at weddings and loaned this to friends. Ticket to Ride is a part of our life, even if we don’t play it like we used to.