The holidays are a great time to look for family gifts, and we tend to gravitate towards board games a lot. Today we’re looking at what is a bit of a modern classic: Ticket to Ride, designed by Alan R. Moon.
Ticket to Ride was the winner of multiple ‘game of the year’ awards when it launched back in 2004, and has remained very popular ever since. We’ve seen a few spin-offs and localized versions, and we even reviewed a digital version that supports Sony’s PlayLink feature a few years ago. It’s accessible and easy to learn, and despite having elements of strategy it’s a game that players of all levels will be able to enjoy. There’s an 8+ age rating and the game was designed for 2 to 5 players, and with a playtime of about an hour it’s a great fit for parents and their kids to play together.
Thematically, you wouldn’t think that Ticket to Ride would be so engaging, as it focuses on train travel – which is generally considered to be an enthusiast’s hobby. You don’t need to be a train fanatic to enjoy the game though, as the concept here is simple and addictive: build train routes across the continent (we played the US version but there are other versions out there as well) and see if you can build a profitable network.
It sounds complicated, but you can get through the rules in 15 minutes and once you start your second game you won’t even need to keep the guide book handy at all anymore. You’ll know all about which routes on the map are more valuable, so people will be focusing on them first. You’ll also know about route cards, which are exciting potential game changers. Here, building a railroad between two major cities mentioned on the card will net you a nice little bonus, but failing your ‘contract’ will see points taken away from you.
As you work towards goals like that, another player might already claim part of the route you wanted, but your ambitions don’t end there. You can still reach the city, but you might have to build a detour – will you go for it, or cut your losses and focus on something else? The great thing about the design of Ticket to Ride is that there’s no clear cut way to win, and your tactic in one game might not work in the next. That one big route might win it for you today, but in the next game someone might beat you because they claimed a whole range of smaller routes instead.
This means that luck is a factor, but there’s definitely a strategy element to it all – even though an overthinking adult might lose to their 8 year old son or daughter who is just going with gut instincts. The open nature of Ticket to Ride means that frustrations are often temporary, and an alternative is almost always out there to consider – letting you switch tracks and head for success in a different direction. The gradual distribution of cards also means the game has a natural pace to it that makes it hard to player to run away with it early on, so everyone’s going to stay engaged for the entire duration of the game as well.
Of course, something else that keeps players engaged is the element of competition, as you can watch what other players are going for and try to predict their next move – maybe cut them off before they’re able to complete a route and force them to waste time and resources taking a detour. You can do this by seeing if they’re collecting a lot of route cards of a particular color – but at the same time that doesn’t guarantee you that they’ll go for the particular blue route you’re now trying to block. Open choices, all the time – and your opponent will enjoy seeing you try to block a destination he was never going for anyway.
It’s easy to see why Ticket to Ride has become and stayed so popular, and this is a board game that is great for families to enjoy this holiday season. With tons of replay value, it’s here to stay.