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Friday, May 7, 2010

Review: Ticket to Ride - Fast Turns Make an Enjoyable Game


Ticket to Ride is the 2004 Spiel des Jahres winner, and a game that is immensely playable by families, but still good for a group of gamers.  The main theme of the game is that each player is a rail tycoon attempting to build the longest rail lines.  The game rewards longer routes, and thus bigger risks, more than it does the smaller, safer routes.

Ticket to Ride lends itself to very little Analysis Paralysis and, in general, is a fast moving game that keeps everyone engaged.  Full review after the jump.

The Basics:  The goal of the game is to build train routes.  Each route is scored depending on its length.  A one train route is worth a measly one point, but a six train route is worth 15 points.  It behooves the player to build on longer routes in order to score more points.  Of course, that means more turns without building and the chance that another player might snag a link that you need.

To encourage the players to build from place to place, each player receives two or three destination cards.  The cards indicate a route (say from Los Angeles to Houston) the the player must connect in a single unbroken line of trains.  If the player succeeds, they get the number of points located on the card.  If they fail, then at the end of the game they lose the number of bonus points on the card.  This creates tension and encourages risk taking.

To build rails, you have to discard enough cards of the appropriate color (or wild cards).  So, for a five link route, you have to discard five cards.  On his turn a player may draw from the top, or take any of the five face up cards that are shown.  Each turn, a player may take two cards.

Where this game shines is in the turn mechanic.  On your turn you may either draw cards OR build a train (or draw more destination cards).  That's it.  It's one or the other.  So, you don't have long turns where a player draws cards, examines his hand, then strategizes his route.  Once he or she draws, its on to the next turn.  The player then can strategize to his or her heart's content during the other players' turns.  This greatly cuts down on the AP and allows the game to move very quickly even while the players choose from among their strategic options.

Components: 3.5 of 5.  The trains cars are a tough plastic.  I prefer wooden pieces, but the plastic is high quality and hasn't suffered any damage after repeated plays.  The cards are on good stock, but are very small.  I'm not a fan of the small cards.  It makes them hard to shuffle (and a typical game sees players going through the deck two or three times).  On the plus side, the board is very big and has nice artwork.  The point track is included around the edge of the board which I enjoy.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 5 of 5.  This game has a strong element of both luck and strategy, but they balance nicely.  Since the cards come up at random, there is a luck element.  If you need green cards for your route but green cards aren't being drawn, it can be a pain.  But there are other links to build.  And, the ability to choose from the five face up cards gives the player the opportunity to grab something needed.  So a player is free to use his or her strategy with available resources. 

Mechanics: 5 of 5.  The game is very straightforward.  In fact, the mechanics make this game extremely playable in the family context.  One quick read-through of the rules is really all it takes and you're ready to build train routes. And, as I mentioned above, I love that players can either draw OR build on a turn.  It makes everything move along quickly.  If players were able to draw and build a route, this game might bog down relatively quickly.

Replayability: 3.5 of 5.  This game tends to be familiar each time you play it.  Build long routes, save up cards and plop down trains.  But the destination cards give this game some much needed replayability.  Those cards are drawn at random and so you have to plan your routes differently each time.  Plus, I've been in a situation where the game was ending and I drew destination cards just on the off chance that I had completed a route and thus would get extra points.  (that worked once, but has cost me most other times).

Spite: 2 of 5.  Players can only build on the printed routes on the game board.  And if one player builds his train, then another player can't build there.  Some of the more congested routes (notably in the Eastern U.S.) have double routes allowing two players to build links there.  Spite is generally not worth it in the early game.  When players have blocked my quick route, I'll build around it.  That usually means longer links and more points overall.  But in the late game, a late block can leave a player without time to complete an alternate route for his destination card.  So spite sometimes does appear towards the end.

Overall: 4 of 5.  Ticket to Ride is an enjoyable game that provides quality entertainment.  The fast pace keeps everyone engaged and prevents one person from slowing the fun down.  The simplicity also allows this game to be played with younger children and with families in general.  However, the destination cards and the various routes allow seasoned gamers to see some challenge as well.  It's one of my favorite lite games when my friends and I are looking for something fun, fast, and less time intensive. 

(As an aside, my wife wins this game quite often, so its a 5 of 5 for her).  

If you want to pick it up, you can grab it from Boards and Bits here.

You can also grab it from FunAgain games here.
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