By January 8, 2008

Ticket to Ride: America game review

There’s a class of games I like to call “starters,” games that are light-hearted, take an hour or less to finish, and are warm-ups for longer, more “serious” games. They are also easy to explain, so if there’s a newbie or two in the crowd they can jump right in without too much explanation.

Such a game is the infamous Ticket to Ride, which is one of Board Game Geek’s Top 50 games. Like any good starter game, the premise and rules are simple: win by earning points for completing railroad routes across the United States. Earn bonus points for completing “ticket” routes to and from certain cities. You claim routes by playing collections of same-colored railcar cards. Most routes only allow for one train, but some routes allow for two in the event of a game with more than three players.
The game is a typical European-style game, with simple rules and simple but nicely-built collateral. The train car pieces are cute. Everything in the game is a bright color. There’s only one type of playing piece, and they all do the same thing. Compare Ticket to Ride to Monsters Menace America (review coming), which has several different pieces, all of which may have different attributes depending on what different branch of the military you play and possibly what different monster you control, and any different cards you possess. Whew. Ticket to Ride is accessible, beautiful, and easy to learn. I understand now why it’s in BGG’s Top 50.

I haven’t played TTR with more than three players yet, but thus far it’s been a lot of fun. The nice thing about the folks I’ve played it with is that we have concentrated on getting to our routes instead of trying to block each other. The game requires a fair amount of efficiency — twice I’ve run out of trains before I could complete my ticketed routes — and to navigate around cock-blocks would make the game less fun for me. I derive a lot of enjoyment of drawing four or five destination tickets and geeking out on what I need to do to hit those destinations with the least amount of trains. As often in life, the best route is not the most obvious one.

I have really enjoyed my limited play with Ticket to Ride. What makes it great — its simplicity — also keeps it from being anything more than a one- or two-off starter game. Sure, it’s cute to make “WOOO WOOOOO” sounds as you claim routes, but it just doesn’t compare to shooting other players in the back through a saloon window, or swarming a farm gal with zombies.

If you are new (or just returning) to tabletop gaming, or are in need for a good starter game, then Ticket to Ride is a great purchase. I’ve taken up Gangrene from Bunker Guts’s quest to purchase every BGG Top 50 game, and Ticket to Ride was a great beginning. I would have passed on this game otherwise, and I was pleasantly surprised.

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