Strategy for…Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride was one of our gateway games and I can’t even begin to calculate how many times we played.

Look how gross the cards look after all this time.

It doesn’t see the table much if at all anymore due to burnout from those initial plays and the fact that we’ve moved onto other games. That being said, it will always have a place in our heart and sits firmly in the “not for trade or sale” section of our collection. In reminiscing about the game, I thought it would be time to talk about some strategy for the acclaimed board game. This post will only be in reference to the base version with the map of the United States of America.

Keep a full hand

Step one: Have cards.

Step two: Don’t not have cards.


TTR is about placing trains on tracks and to do so, you need cards to accomplish that feat. In playing cards, your hand size will diminish with each route you complete. While this is the nature of the game, having a small hand size is not an optimal strategy. I prefer to have too many cards so my options are open. Having a large hand size is also beneficial as when the end game is triggered, a player is not left having to draw cards to complete routes. They should already have them in their hand. Basically keep this in mind:

I know having to fan through a large hand of cards is not ideal but it is a necessary evil for TTR.

But what cards to pick?

When drawing cards, go for cards that are face-up and benefit you in someway. This could be because the colors match routes you need to eventually complete or complement cards that you already have. You may not have a red route in your current destinations, but those cards can be used for the gray routes and maybe later a red route will be needed to complete a new destination that you’ve chosen.

If there are absolutely no colors that are beneficial to you face-up, only then do I recommend going to the deck to draw blindly off the top.


But what about locomotives? Honestly, I avoid face-up wild cards. I’d rather take my chances and luck into them by drawing from the pile than waste a card draw by taking a face-up one. On the rare occasion that you need a card now to finish something that is in jeopardy of being grabbed is the only time I advocate taking a face-up locomotive.

Speaking of Locomotives…

Keep an eye on how many you see publicly. There are fourteen (14) locomotive cards in the deck and knowing how many are active will help you know how many to expect when the deck gets reshuffled. This will influence your decision to take a face-up card or draw from the deck.

Okay, I have a handful of cards…now what?

Build. In fact, once you have a hearty size of cards, I would spend three to four turns building before resorting to grabbing more cards. Three to four turns building, then three to four turns grabbing cards, then back to building. The reason for this is simple. You don’t want to start building towards a destination (and giving away where you are going) without being able to secure the routes you need. If you nickel and dime your way to each city, it gives the other players ample time to swoop in and take routes you need (either inadvertently or on purpose).

That being said, don’t wait too long to build. If you need a particular route (more on that in a bit), don’t hesitate to jump on it and lay claim to it.

Where do I start my route?

It may seem counter-intuitive but I want to advise that when building routes, you always start from the middle. Starting from one end will limit the direction you can go and thus, limit your options. Starting from the middle gives a player greater flexibility especially if a route they want is taken.

Necessity Routes

Ticket to Ride features several routes that are either one, two, or three spots in length that don’t have an easy work around if they are filled. These routes include:


Houston to New Orleans


Atlanta to Nashville


Vancouver to Seattle and Seattle to Portland


Omaha to Kansas City


Los Angeles to Phoenix and Los Angeles to Las Vegas


Toronto to Sault St. Marie

If your destinations feature any of these routes, these should be top priorities for you as a player. These routes are important regardless of player count. When both sides of a route can’t be used, they’re vital as they’re the only option. When both sides are available, one being filled will start a run on the other being completed as players don’t want to miss out.

Long vs. Short

Long routes are inherently better than short routes. For instance, if you were to build a six-length route, you would net fifteen points for four rounds of work (3 rounds of drawing cards and one round of laying the trains). In comparison, to complete an equal distance route using two-length routes would take at minimum six turns (three to gather cards and three to place) and only net a player six points. Sometimes the smaller routes are needed to connect your destinations but the real points are made from longer placements.

Drawing tickets vs. Ending the game

If you have completed your destination tickets and believe you to be the first to do so, you have two options. The first is to draw additional tickets. When doing this, you need to be aware of how many trains other players have left at their disposal and it’s important to keep an eye on how many cards are left in players hands as those will also dictate how quickly a players trains run out. Depending on the destinations you’ve completed, there’s a good chance that a card you draw will either already be completed or only needs one or two connections to be completed. This is especially true if you have connected any of the longer coast to coast routes or have a sizable network in the middle of the board. The benefit of drawing additional tickets is that you are eligible for more points (if you complete them) but an important aspect to keep in mind is that this allows the other players more time to finish their original tickets and deplete their train reserves without being left with negative points (as uncompleted destination tickets are worth negative points).


Due to that, ending the game as soon as you complete your initial tickets is a viable strategy. Ending a game that quickly may cause your opponents to fail to complete their tickets and instead of getting eight points for their connection, they’re losing eight points for not completing it. This isn’t a matter of eight points either; it’s a sixteen point swing that can mean the difference between first and last.

What if I’m clearly in last?

Let’s say that you realize that your routes are being taken and other players are clearly completing their destinations while yours sit a few turns away from completion. How do you catch up? The only answer is to push your luck and take as many destination tickets as you can feasibly accomplish. Negative points don’t particularly matter at this point as you ‘know’ you’re in last so the penalty of being more in last is really only a matter of ego. Maybe this works; maybe it doesn’t. As a player, you have nothing to lose.

And that’s all I got. Hopefully this helps someone get a firmer grasp on some TTR strategy!


Author: Two off the Top

Just a guy that wants to talk about board games more than his significant other tolerates.

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