Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Days of Wonder, 2-5 players, ages 8 and up, 30-60 minutes; $39.95)


Alan Moon has earned lots of recognition for his game designs. His Elfenland, for example, won German Game of the Year honors back in 1998. But Moon really shines at game development, in taking game ideas, mixing them together and adding that “something extra” to create a game greater than the sum of its parts. Nowhere is that skill more evident than in his newest offering, Ticket to Ride. Ticket to Ride combines the feel of Moon’s own rail games (Santa Fe [Summer 1993 GA REPORT] and Union Pacific [Summer 1999 GA REPORT]) – with TransAmerica (Summer 2002 GA REPORT) and adds a dash of Showmanager (Winter 1999 GA REPORT) to create a wonderful cross-country train game suitable for gamers and family alike.

Inside the deep box is a beautiful, large, mounted map of the United States showing colorful train routes linking major US cities (shades of Santa Fe!) framed with a scoring track on the perimeter. There are nicely molded plastic trains in blue, red, green, yellow and black, a deck of 110 Train Car cards (12 in each color – purple, white, blue, yellow, brown, black , red and green and 14 locomotive “wild cards”) and 30 Destination Ticket cards. Scoring markers, Longest Path bonus card, 4 pages of rules and a few play aids round out the components.ticketridebox

Each player begins with a set of 45 trains in his chosen color. (Days of Wonder supplies an extra 3 trains in each color to protect against loss.) All scoring markers begin at 0 on the scoring track. The Train Car cards are shuffled and each player starts with a hand of four cards. The remaining Train cards become a draw stack. Five cards are drawn and placed face up alongside the board. Now, the Destination cards are shuffled and each player is dealt three of these. Destination cards show two cities and a point value. A player able to construct a route linking those two cities will earn that point value at game’s end. Warning: fail to construct that route and those points are DEDUCTED from your score! Players must keep at least two of the Destination cards dealt. These cards remain hidden until final scoring.

Players seek to score the highest point total by creating routes between cities, meeting their Destination Card requirements and completing the longest continuous rail route.

Each game turn allows the player to do ONE of three things: draw two Train cards, claim a route or draw additional Destination Cards.

Players may draw up to 2 Train cards per turn. He may draw from one of the 5 exposed cards or draw the top card from the face down draw pile. (If drawing from the exposed cards, the top draw pile card is immediately turned over to replace the taken card so there are always 5 cards available to choose.) If a locomotive card, which acts as a wild card and can match any other color Train card, is taken from the exposed cards, that player’s turn ends and he can only draw that one card. Should THREE wild cards appear among the five exposed cards, ALL of the exposed cards are discarded and a new set of five is drawn to replace them (a similarity to Showmanager). There is NO hand limit.TickettoRideCom

In claiming a route, a player must play as many cards of ONE color equal to the number of spaces on a particular route that MATCHES the color of the route on the board. For example, if linking Portland to Salt Lake City, a player would need six BLUE Train Car cards to match the six links on the blue rails. (Should a route be colored “gray”, then ANY color set may be used to link. And, of course, locomotive wild cards may be used to complete any set of any color.) Once the cards are played, the player places his own color trains (the train color of the player has NO relationship to the color of the cards or the track) to claim that route (reminiscent of Union Pacific). Players score based on how long the link is, from 1 point to a one route length to a high of 15 for linking six sections of track. Some cities have “double-routes” which allow two players to link. The same player may NOT control both routes. Also important to note is that you do NOT have to connect previously placed tracks. You can link cities all over the map without having previous connections.

Your third option is to draw 3 Destination Tickets. The only requirement is that you MUST keep at least one of them. Any returned cards are placed at the bottom of the Destination card stack.

The final turn is signaled once one player has 3 or less trains left to play. Now, each player gets one last turn with the game ending with the player who triggered the final round. At this point, scores are calculated.

In addition to points already scored for constructing track, players score for Destination Tickets. All held Tickets are revealed. As mentioned, players who have linked the named cities on each card with their own rail lines receive the stipulated points. Players with Tickets showing cities NOT linked LOSE the stipulated points. Finally, the player with the longest continuous rail line receives a bonus of 10 points; the player with the second longest rail line receives 5. Player with the highest total wins!

Many factors combine to make Ticket to Ride outstanding. Days of Wonder has been producing games of high graphic quality. This may be their best so far. The attractive board takes on a life of its own as the three dimensional trains snake across the continent adding a certain vibrancy that adds to the fun. Strategy, as in TransAmerica, is simple: connect the dots! But linking track for points combined with making sure you have a connection to those cities on your secret Destination cards adds more for your consideration. Without question, the game is offensively slanted. Out of necessity, your mind is on what YOU have to do rather than preventing the other players from making their connections. If you spend your resources stopping others players, you may find yourself with small, unconnected rail lines. This will make it more difficult for you to make your own Destination Ticket connections and guarantee that you will not get the longest train bonus. But that doesn’t impact negatively on the fun. If you think you’re falling behind, drawing more Destination Tickets is a gamble to consider. Ticket values can be worth up to 22 points. But it IS a gamble. Unless you already have a pretty well connected line or there is time enough left in the game for you to construct the missing links you may need, you might find yourself losing those points. But that too adds to the thrill of the game.

Alan Moon’s love for rail games has served him well. In Ticket to Ride, he has managed, with a big assist from Day’s of Wonder’s wonderful production, to put it all together masterfully. All aboard for this train ride! – – Herb Levy


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