I’ll be on ESPN Radio in a few minutes here, and on ESPN 1000 in Chicago around 9:25 pm CDT tonight.
Ticket to Ride is a series of board games from Days of Wonder, a U.S.-based game company that makes games that rival the top games coming out of Europe (mostly Germany). The original version of the game won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in 2004, spurring a series of expansions and spinoffs. Over the course of two months, I’ve played the original game with its main expansion, one spinoff, and a spinoff of the spinoff.
The original Ticket to Ride is the simplest, even with the 1910 Expansion. The game board shows the U.S. and Canada, with about 30 cities connected by train tracks of varying lengths. Each player receives 45 trains and begins with a handful of “destination tickets,” with two cities and a point value that represents the minimum number of trains required to connect them; if you complete a route between two cities on a ticket, no matter how convoluted the path, you receive the number of points shown on the card, but if you fail to complete it, you lose that many points. (You do have some flexibility around the tickets you keep.) The tracks come in different colors, and you have to collect train cards of each color to be able to lay trains on those tracks; the longer the track between two adjacent cities, the more points you receive for placing trains on it. Of course, the tracks between cities are limited, so you may end up blocked from your intended route. There’s also a bonus for the longest continuous route (regardless of tickets), and in the “Mega” game variant, a bonus for completing the most tickets. It’s a pretty simple concept and everyone we’ve introduced to the game has picked it up pretty quickly, but the game is completely different each time because of the mix of tickets you receive and the way the board develops. A complete game with two people takes 30-45 minutes; a complete game with four people takes an hour or so.
The first spinoff we got was Ticket to Ride Europe, which brings the same basic mechanics to a new map, that of Europe in the early 20th century, but with several twists to make game play more complex. The differences include routes through “tunnels” (where the exact number of train cards required isn’t known until after you start building, so you may have to use as many as three extra cards) and “ferries” (which require the use of locomotives, which are otherwise wild cards that represent every color), and train stations that allow you to use someone else’s route between two adjacent cities as part of your own larger route. I found it to be slower to develop, but it requires more route-planning strategy, and the flexibility of the stations means it’s easier to adjust on the fly.
We love both of those games and would recommend them, but the one I didn’t like was the Europe spinoff for Switzerland. This map is smaller, designed for two or three people using 40 trains each (you use the trains and train cards from the Europe set, so the Switzerland expansion just comes with the board and new tickets). It was obviously issued hastily, as the instructions are woefully incomplete. Many tickets are extremely short – some require just two trains – which means you end spending a lot of time pulling new tickets, and you will almost certainly end up blocked by an opponent at some point during the game. A smaller board for a quicker game sounded appealing to us, but this implementation didn’t work for me.