Ticket to Ride is a pretty nifty boardgame. You start out with a blank board of Europe, and slowly but surely, you start to populate it with a colourful mess of trains. The game gets exponentially better the more people you have playing. A 2 player game feels like a lackadaisical skip through the woods, whereas a full 5 player game feels like Tokyo in rush hour. The main pressure of this game, the reason you play this game on the edge of your seat, is space- or a lack of it.
At the start of the game you chose routes that you want to complete. Want to go for a short jaunt from Paris to Madrid? That’s an easy 5 points. Want to chain together train routes to go from the cold depths of Russia to the sunny shores of Spain? That’s a brutally hard 20 points to pick up. You also get points for how long each link in that chain is- so while long routes may take a significant amount of time to complete, it also rewards you with points for making the long journey. In the end there is a sort-of-balance between the players who complete a lot of short trips and complete a large amount of tickets, and the players who do single ticket, taking the long routes.
The major pressure and the dramatic crux of the game is space. Two or more players might NEED that route from Danzig to Frankfurt to make their tickets work, and the first person who has the hand to make that route will take it. This will annoy your friends in two ways; 1) You’ve just screwed their ticket up, and 2) they will have to compete for the next best route and then someone will be screwed over again. Managing to snag the ideal routes for your tickets is the name of the game (note that the ideal route is not necessarily the most efficient route).
This game is remarkably easy to teach and easy to learn. It’s another great gate-way game that shows people that board gaming isn’t just snakes and ladders, Risk and Monopoly. It has very clear objectives, and seeing the game board fill up with hundreds of miniature trains is just a fantastic experience. The theme of the game helps make it easy to grasp- make a continuous train lines from here to there to satisfy your tickets. The game is also quite repayable- with 46 different tickets leading you you in all different directions from all over Europe. This is a game where different strategies lead to similar rewards, allowing you to explore playing in different ways. You’ll easily get value out of this box.
Speaking of the box, I have to say that Ticket to Ride- at least the european version- has an incredibly lovely board and pieces. The edition I have is incredible well put together. The trains are colourful, the board is huge, and I can guarantee that after playing a few times, your european geography will improve.
However the game isn’t perfect. The major gripe about Ticket to Ride is the fact that your decision making throughout the game doesn’t feel like it has a lot of weight to it. If you’re a seasoned veteran of the game, you’ll start to see and predict where the chokepoints are in the map and snap them up quickly. There is also the fact that tickets are hidden from other players, and therefore trying to disrupt them require pretty intimate knowledge of the ticket cards (‘was there a ticket from Paris to Budapest or Paris to Sarajevo’ you’ll find yourself wondering after a time). This makes playing Ticket to Ride a strangely solitary experience. Apart from a few seemingly random moments of ‘Oh my god why did you take that card/path’, there is very little interaction with other players.
That isn’t to say that Ticket to Ride is a bad game- it’s a great game, but a pretty general game. If you are looking for a more strategical game than Ticket to Ride there are a tonne of options. If you want to talk to your friends while you play there are more social games out there as well. Ticket to Ride falls in the middle of the two- a somewhat strategical game in which you may or may not cause some social conflict. It’s a great way to settle a group into thinking about boardgames before you hit them with a much longer, meatier game.
If you love Ticket to Ride already, it’s probably worth checking out their expansions. They are essentially news maps to master, often with new scoring mechanics to make the game fresh again.
If you want a 40-minute or so game, with simple but solid mechanics, Ticket to Ride shines. You can pick it up for around $90. The European version adds a few rules and a bit of depth to the American version, so I’d personally go for that one.