(She’s Got a) Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride has been a staple of our family game nights for about a year now. My girlfriend and several of her friends enjoy the game, it hits a sweet spot of planning and secret objectives for her step-father and I to enjoy the meta-game, and the game expands smoothly to include up to five players.

The rules of Ticket to Ride are relatively simple, collecting suits of cards that match the designated railroad track which you wish to claim as your own. Deeper strategy comes from how players approach the randomized secret objectives, the points from which make or break a player’s game, and can potentially be denied by clever opponents or those with overlapping objectives. Playing too aggressively to complete these routes can reveal your intended destinations to your opponents and give them a chance to claim tracks vital to your plans. On the other hand, being overly passive can often result in having your plans blocked anyway, or having insufficient time to complete your objectives before the end of the game.

This weekend, we tried Ticket to Ride – Europe for the first time. The new map and new routes certainly breathed some life into the game, although being less familiar with the localized city names made finding things on the map a little difficult for us as Americans (insert joke about American education system here). Knowing that “København” is the same thing as Copenhagen, or if it’s “Wien” or “Wilno” that your objective says to connect to isn’t impossible, but on a first play through, you’ll probably be giving away your approximate goals with your eyes as you survey the board and try to figure out how to connect the dots.

I’m definitely a fan of some of the new rules added in this expansion. With Ticket to Ride – Europe having been published only a year after the original version’s release, I think that it’s impressive that they addressed two very key factors in the game design. Locomotive (wild cards) receive a much needed emphasis to justify their cost in card economy; and blocking an opponent’s plans becomes less of an effective strategy, potentially saving friendships everywhere.

Part of the game mechanics include drawing new train cards to play later in claiming a route, and players may either select from a rotating pool of visible cards to draw, or pull blindly from the deck if their desired card isn’t present, two cards per turn. Locomotives can help tremendously with adjusting to changing board conditions, but are overpowering to be able to draw as fast as other cards, so taking a single locomotive from the face-up pool takes your entire turn. Accordingly, in the basic game players tend to favor card economy and pass up on the locomotives unless they absolutely must have a single card to complete a vital route. Ticket to Ride – Europe increases the value of these cards by introducing a new type of route, Ferries, which require one or more locomotive cards to be used as a part of claiming that connection, thus increasing the usefulness of a card which had previously been avoided.

Stations, on the other hand, are a new concept all together, and a welcomed one. Especially in the tightened confines of a four or five player match, it is inevitable that part of a player’s master plan will be disrupted, and the last available connection to a city will be claimed by an opponent, dooming the player who missed out to lose most or all of their score to failed destination ticket penalties. A handful of station tokens allow a reprieve in this situation, allowing a player to use an opponent’s connection as a part of their railway. This does have a small cost in points, but it’s a welcomed alternative to having an hour or longer of game resigned to defeat over one positional play by an opponent, intentional or otherwise.

Overall, I find that expanding the game to a new map and adding in the Stations, Ferries, and other rules that were not present in the original Ticket to Ride have refreshed the game for me. Ticket to Ride – Europe is a welcomed addition to our board game rotation.

– The Tabletop General