Ticket to Ride is probably one of the most popular gateway games, and for good reason; in fact, it was one of the first eurogames that I played. The same is simple, easy to learn, plays in around 45 minutes, and is fun for both gaming newbies and experienced gamers. It’s also one of my wife’s favorites, which is one of the main reasons I play it :=).
The eponymous first game in the Ticket to Ride series was first published in 2004, and won that year’s Spiel des Johres award. The game consists of a map of the United States with a number of cities (and the routes between them) marked, train tickets, route tickets, wood scoring markers, and a number of plastic trains. One thing I like about Days of Wonder is that they give you extra pieces in case you lose any; each player (the game takes two to five) needs exactly 45 trains, and there are two extras in each color.
Players start by taking their trains and randomly drawing some ticket cards, of which they must keep several. Each ticket shows two cities (fortunately, it shows where on the map they are as well as the names) and the point score for connecting them. As long as you can trace a path from one city to the other over your trains at the end of the game, you’ll score the points…but if you cannot, you’ll lose the same number of points! You also get several train cards, each of which shows one color of train car (or a locomotive, which is a wild card).
On each turn, you do one of three things: draw two more train cards, either randomly or from a set of face up cards (1 card if you choose a face up locomotive), draw another three tickets (and keep at least one of them), or claim a route. To claim a route, you choose a route between two cities, which will take between one and six cards of the same color (again, with locomotives being wild), play the cards required, and place your trains in that spot. Grey routes can be claimed with any color, but all of the cards still have to be the same color. If you don’t have enough trains to cover a route, you cannot claim it. Routes score based on their length, with one- and two- length routes being worth only one and two points, respectively, but a six length route being worth a whopping 15 points.
The game goes on until someone ends up with two or fewer trains left, at which point everyone (including that player) gets one more turn and the game ends. Everyone scores points for their tickets, and whoever has the longest continuous line of track scores additional points for the Longest Route card. Most points wins!
My main problem with the original game is that the train cards sucked; they were small and difficult to hold (and you accumulate a lot of them at some points in the game!) In 2006, Days of Wonder solved this problem with the Ticket to Ride 1910 expansion, which includes 35 new 1910 tickets, a bonus card for completing the most tickets, 4 tickets that originally appeared in the limited edition Mystery Train expansion, and a complete set of replacement cards that are a lot easier to handle. This is a fairly inexpensive (under $20) expansion that I consider a must-have; most of my games in the series are of the base game with the 1910 expansion.
It seems as if nearly every successful game begets a number of expansions, and TtR is no different. The first, in 2005, was Ticket to Ride: Europe; this is a complete game that features a European map and some new gameplay elements. Tunnels add a bit of risk, as you never know exactly how many cards will be required to complete a route until you try it, while water routes require locomotives to act as ferries (don’t ask me what the logic is, that’s just how it works!) It’s a lot easier to get blocked from cities you need to get to in this version, but there’s a way around that; each player gets three train stations, which can be played to let you use someone else’s route towards completing your tickets at the end of the game. Each one that you don’t play, however, gets you four bonus points.
In 2006, that was followed by Ticket to Ride: Marklin. Taking place in Germany, this set has a non-gameplay twist: each of the cards depicts a model train made by the Marklin model train company. Aside from completing tickets as in the other games, players also attempt to move passengers around, and collect more points for moving them on longer routes and being the first to move passengers to or through each city.
In 2007, we got two new versions, each made for 2-3 players (whereas each of the others could take up to five). Ticket to Ride: Switzerland comes with a board and tickets but requires the train pieces and cards from either Ticket to Ride or TtR: Europe (Marklin has a different card distribution) to play. In this game, locomotives can only be used for tunnels, and some tickets allow you to end your route in any of several countries. Nordic Countries is similar, covering Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland; however, it was a limited edition that was initially available only in the Nordic Countries, and then had a limited worldwide release in 2008. I found Switzerland to be too easy for my taste – a friend and I actually ran out of ticket cards, and completed all of the ones we drew! – but Nordic Countries is the hardest of the batch, and it’s very easy to get locked out. With experienced players, it’s probably my favorite of the set.
There are also some more expansions that don’t include boards. Europa 1912 is an expansion for Europe that adds new tickets, much as 1910 did for the original game, as well as a few new rules. Meanwhile, Alvin and Dexter makes the game a bit more surreal, adding a monster and an alien to foil player’s plans.
Another new set, TtR: The Dice Expansion, lets players roll dice rather than collect train cards, while still using the trains, tickets, and map from any of the other games. Finally, there is something called Ticket to Ride: the Card Game, which is actually a not very good memory game that doesn’t have much in common with the rest of the series.