I can't help but think that Ticket to Ride came about as a result of Alan Moon pondering the map and components of Union Pacific. The map with pre-printed routes, the plastic trains, the cards in a variety of colours—the games are strikingly similar appearance-wise. In play they're actually quite dissimilar; Union Pacific was all about the cards and play on the board was somewhat irrelevant. Ticket to Ride on the other hand is all about the play on the board with the cards merely a means to an end.
The board shows a map of the US and Canada with preprinted routes between the various cities. These routes are in one of nine colours and from 1 to 6 sections long. Players will claim these routes over the course of the game by playing sets of cards. e.g. By playing four blue cards a player can claim any 4-length section of blue track. Points are awarded for this and you get more points for the longer sections. (1 point for a 1-length section up to 15 points for a 6-length section.) Cards are acquired from a face up draft or from a random draw from the deck.
Complicating matters is the fact that each player will also have several "tickets" which they hope to complete by game's end. Each of these shows two cities and a point value. If you construct tracks that form a continuous path between the two cities you gain the points on that card. However, should you fail to construct such a path then you lose the indicated points instead! Obviously, these cards go a long way to determining how well you do in the game.
Play continues until one player has played all 45 of her trains (more or less) at which point tickets are revealed and bonuses or penalties awarded. There's also a 10 point bonus for the player with the longest continuous set of trains.
Play tends to be very fast in Ticket to Ride which adds to its enjoyment. On a turn you're either drawing up to two cards, claiming a section of track or adding tickets to those you already hold. There does not tend to be a lot of pondering going on and so downtime is minimal. This does not mean that there isn't much to think about. Without the tickets the game would be trivial—simply draw cards with the intention of claiming the longer routes. The inclusion of the tickets totally changes things as you must balance the claiming of long routes (they're much more profitable than shorter ones) with the need to claim routes that allow you to satisfy your ticket connections. Due to the bonus/penalty nature of the tickets you really do need to focus on satisfying them in order to do well (in every game I've played the winner had completed all his tickets). The trick then becomes one of completing your tickets while using longer routes to do so. We're still firmly in family game territory here but the best moves are by no means obvious.
There is also the matter of blocking other players but I found this to be a rather minimal aspect of the game. Yes, you want to block others wherever possible but you can't really concern yourself too greatly with this. First off is the fact that you often don't really know where they're headed and secondly, it's usually better if you concentrate on your own goals. Of course it's best if you can block another opponent while advancing yourself at the same time. In any case, the game maintains a fairly light feel as you can rarely totally block an opponent from a particular destination, it's more likely that you'll simply cause her to take a more circuitous/less profitable route. This gives the game a decided non-nasty feel and increases its appeal for casual players.
Some might misinterpret this to mean that Ticket to Ride is non-interactive but I do not think that's the case, rather the interaction is more subtle. Since only one player can claim each route you need to identify the ones that are most important to you and do all that you can to ensure you get to claim them. Carefully watching what cards the other players are drawing can give you a pretty good idea of where they may be heading. Also, the playing style of the other players can have an impact on your actions. If they tend to prefer claiming shorter routes (presumably to satisfy tickets) then you'll likely be able to claim the 6-length routes yourself.
The most difficult decision you'll face in Ticket to Ride is in the drawing of extra tickets. The procedure for adding them to your hand is that you draw three and must keep at least one. These offer many points (from 5 to 23) but obviously equally large risks. The real trick is in deciding when you should draw them. Drawing at the start allows you to more effectively plan the routes you must build at the risk of letting the other players get a jump on claiming routes. Drawing them during the mid-game means that you could choose to keep only those tickets that will be very easy to complete but the competition for specific routes has become more intense by then. Drawing them during the endgame is likely to be a very bad choice unless you're absolutely desperate.
It should almost go without saying that Days of Wonder has done their usual superb job with the production of Ticket to Ride, it's absolutely gorgeous. Some people have complained that the locations of the cities are not particularly accurate but this is understandable as each needs to be a specific distance from others in order to accommodate the specific number of train links. A more serious problem is that the cards have black edges and these tend to shows nicks and marks fairly easily. This isn't too big an issue as a marked card really wouldn't cause much of a problem at all but I had to find something wrong with the game!
That last sentiment really sums up Ticket to Ride, I find it very difficult to find anything wrong with the game. Everything seems so well thought out and functional. For example, keeping the tickets hidden until game's end prevents players from over-analyzing the scores and grinding the game to a halt. The five card draft is refreshed whenever three wild cards appear and this seems a perfect balance to prevent it from stagnating. My only concern is that there can be a significant amount of luck in the draw of tickets—there are some combinations that work much better than others. It will take many playings to see how much of an effect this luck has on the outcome but for now I feel safe in saying that Ticket to Ride is an absolutely superb game and is highly recommended.
- Greg Aleknevicus