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TICKET TO RIDE: THE CARD GAME

reviewed by Herb Levy

Days of Wonder, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes; $25

 

One of the most successful games in recent years has been Alan Moon’s Ticket to Ride (Spring 2004 GA REPORT). Not only did it garner a bunch of well deserved awards but this game also struck a responsive chord in the marketplace with lots and lots of copies sold. Which, in turn, led to an outpouring of excellent sequels: Ticket to Ride Europe (Spring 2005 GA REPORT), Ticket to Ride: Marklin Edition (Spring 2006 GA REPORT) plus several ticketridecardboxexpansions. It comes as no surprise that a card version of the game should finally arrive. What is surprising is just
how good the card adaptation has turned out to be.

Within its small box, Ticket to Ride: The Card Game has, as you would expect, lots of cards, 148 of them, comprised of 96 Train cards, 6 Big Cities Bonus cards and 46 Destination Ticket cards. Unlike Ticket to Ride (and its sequels), there are no plastic trains. Laying railroad track is not actually done, only suggested. Instead, the emphasis here is on completing those Destination Tickets.

Each player begins with one Locomotive card and is dealt seven additional Train cards as a starting hand. Five cards are drawn from the remaining Train deck and placed, face up, next to the draw deck. There are 10 Train cards in each color –  red, green, blue, yellow, black, white, orange and purple. There are also 16 Locomotive cards acting as Wild Cards which can be used as any color. The Destination Tickets are a separate deck and six of them are dealt to each player who may keep as many of them as he or she wishes (but at least one).

All Destination cards list two cities (Dallas – New York, for example) along with a point total and colored circles. The colored circles indicate what color and how many Train cards are required to complete that particular trip.

A player’s turn consists of two phases. First, cards played in front of him (the area called his “Railyard”) are moved to his “collected” stack (called the “On-the-Track” stack, in game terms).  Cards are collected (think of them as being “harvested”) in a specific way. Cards are laid out by color. The LAST card in EACH colored set is collected/harvested and placed, face down, in the On-the-Track stack. These collected cards become VERY important as the game progresses.

The second phase offers a player three choices: draw up to two cards from the tableau (and/or top of the draw pile), lay cards in his Railyard or draw additional Destination cards.

As in the original Ticket to Ride, a player may draw two cards into his hand from the five face up cards or, sight unseen, from the top of the draw deck. Drawing a face up Locomotive, however, ends a player’s turn at one card drawn. (There is no hand limit.)

Placing cards to the Railyard may be done in two ways. A player may meld two or more cards of the SAME color OR play exactly ONE card of THREE different suits. The trick here involves the colors played. A player can NOT play a card of a color already in another player’s Railyard UNLESS that player has a meld consisting of more cards than those currently on the table. (So, if a player has two Yellow cards in his Railyard, an opposing player cannot meld Yellow unless he has three or more cards in his set.) But if you CAN play a bigger meld, the smaller set of your opponent is DISCARDED! For this reason, a set of three different colors must consist of colors NOT already on the table. (Playing sets of three colors is a good way to harvest lots of cards quickly. On the down side, however, they are more vulnerable to melds. You only need two of a color to banish a single card to the discard pile.)

Drawing additional Destination cards is the final option. A player draws four Destination Tickets and can keep any, some or none of them, solely at his or her discretion.

Once the Train deck runs out, players gather up their “harvested” cards and match them to the requirements of their Destination Tickets. Each fulfilled Destination Ticket earns the specified number of Victory Points for that player. Incomplete tickets are worth their value in NEGATIVE points. (The deck is run through once with two or three players. With four players, this is a “middle” scoring. When the deck runs out a second time, an additional scoring is done.) The last points source is the Big Cities Bonus cards. ticketridecardcards

The Big Cities in the game are Seattle, Los Angles, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Miami. The player who has the most completed Destination Tickets to each of these cities (as noted on the Tickets themselves) receives that city’s bonus card and the extra points that come with it. Ties are friendly for, in the event of a tie, ALL players earn the bonus! The player with the highest combined total of points wins the game. (Tie-breaker? The most completed Destination Tickets. Still tied, the most Bonus cards.)

Ticket to Ride: The Card Game streamlines the play of your basic Ticket to Ride experience. In this game, Alan Moon merely suggests the laying of track (a hefty chunk of the boardgame’s mechanics) with card play. Instead the emphasis is firmly on the Destination cards. This shift in balance between track laying and Destination cards was first noticeable with Ticket to Ride Europe.

The card game uses standard sized cards (rather than mini versions) which is all to the good, making shuffling and handling them a pleasure. Card colors, a very important component to the game, are generally easy to distinguish although it must be said that orange and red can be a little challenging. (Different icons appear on the cards to help in this regard but the icons are small. Color is the dominant attribute.) Destination cards are held in your hand so you can track (sort of) the colors you need to collect to complete them. But the game does NOT allow you to search through your collected card stack. Although not a big fan of memory elements in games, this is an essential ingredient to keep the game flowing, especially with players prone to analysis-paralysis. (You know who you are.). Some have compared this facet of play to Reiner Knizia’s Mamma Mia (Spring 1999 GA REPORT) but the comparison is inaccurate because the order that cards are collected here are of no consequence (the game is much more forgiving in that regard) and the use of Locomotive Wild Cards make using cards easier. A Locomotive collected with a set of Yellow cards, for example, is not married to Yellow. The card, once collected, may be used as ANY color when completing a Destination.

While the game works with two, three and four players, the dynamics of the game shift. With two players, you need to draw hefty amounts of Destination Cards since more and more rail cards will be amassed and unused rail cards are worthless. As players are added, there are greater opportunities to prevent other players from harvesting the cards they need by laying down melds to force their cards into the scrap heap! This ratchets up the pressure to complete those Destination cards which, in turn, requires you to be a little more judicious in picking up and keeping Destinations as unfinished Destination cards result in negative points. And, as mentioned, with four, there are TWO rounds of scoring.

By merely suggesting the laying of track and shifting the emphasis on destinations, Alan Moon has managed to capture the feel of the boardgames in the series while giving the Ticket to Ride: The Card Game its own personality. Like the original boardgame, Ticket to Ride: The Card Game is colorful, easy to teach, easy to play with lots of interaction and, as a bonus, small and easy to carry in a backpack or tucked in with your lunch for a little lunch-hour gaming. It’s good to report that Alan Moon is still on track with the latest member of the Ticket to Ride series. – –  – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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