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Saturday 18 October 2014

2004: Ticket to Ride

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, will releasing the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles to be reviewed. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.

For the fourth entry in Reviews from R’lyeh’s series of anniversary reviews, we look back to the year 2004 and the publication of a successful board game that has sold over three million copies in the ten years since. Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder would win the 2004 Spiel des Jahres award, the Origins Award for Best Board Game of 2004, and the 2005 Diana Jones award, amongst others, and it has also joined Carcassonne and Settlers of CatanSpiel des Jahres winners both—in forming a triumvirate of gateway games. That is, games that can serve as an introduction to the hobby of playing board games, games that can be played by both board game enthusiasts and the family alike. This factor, along with its popularity, explains why Ticket to Ride has appeared on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop series twice. First with Ticket to Ride and then with Ticket to Ride: Europe.

Designed for two to five players, aged eight and up, in Ticket to Ride the players undertake a race across the USA in the spirit of Phileas Fogg’s race around the world in eighty days. At stake is a prize of $1,000,000 for the competitor who reaches the most destinations and scores the most points. It is played out over a map of the USA and southern Canada marked with various cities connected by routes in different colours and of varying lengths.

At game’s start each player will receive a set of train pieces and some Destination Tickets. Each of these give two cities on the board that need to be connected, such as ‘New York to Seattle’ or ‘Duluth to Houston’. Completing these Destination Tickets will score a player points, but will lose him points if not completed. A player must keep one of the Destination Tickets he is given and can draw more throughout the game. He also receives four Train Cards. The Train Cards match the colour of the routes on the board and are used to claim routes on the board. For example, two four-space routes run between Denver and Kansas City, one in black, the other in orange. It would take four orange Train Cards to claim the orange route or four black ones to claim the black route. A Locomotive Card, which can be any colour, can be substituted in place of any of the cards. A player will score points for each route claimed and each route can only be claimed once.

On his turn, a player can do one of three things. He can draw two Train Cards, either face up or straight from the deck, or a single Locomotive Card; he can use Train Cards to claim a route; or he can draw new Destination Tickets. This sets up a dilemma for the player—does he take Train Tickets that he needs before a rival takes them? Does he claim a route before someone else does? If he takes new Destination Tickets can he complete them before the end of game?

The winner is the player who scores the most victory points, invariably because he has completed the most Destination Tickets and claimed the most routes. There is also an award for the Longest Route. Game play in Ticket to Ride is thus fairly simple, but challenging enough for the casual or family gamer. For the enthusiast, Ticket to Ride offers a number of strategies, such as attempting to claim as many long routes as possible or grabbing the short routes in order to block other players. Either way, Ticket to Ride is a gently competitive game that is easy to learn and easy to play.

It should be remember that what Ticket to Ride is not, is a train game. It has trains as a theme, but the game is about managing a player’s hand of Train Cards and collecting the right set of routes. That said, it can be seen as a stepping onto more complex train-themed games, for example, Ragnar Brothers’ Canalmania or Alderac Entertainment Group’s Trains

In the decade since its publication, Ticket to Ride has been supported with a family of core games and expansions. These enable gamers to play using dice rather than Train Cards or with new Destination Tickets, to play core games in Europe, Germany, and Scandinavia, and to take their trains onto maps set in Asia, India and Switzerland, Africa, and the Nederlands. The game has also been adapted to be played on PCs and tablets—both iOS and Android devices. This allows a player to enjoy the game by himself, against the computer or opponents around the world.

In 2014 Days of Wonder released Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition to celebrate the success of the game over the previous decade. Graphically, Ticket to Ride has been given a beautiful redesign and increased in size half again. This includes the size of the box, the map board, the cards, the train pieces, and the scoring markers. What will grab the gamer right out of the box is the board, because it is now in full colour with a colour background to the routes. The original map for Ticket to Ride was decidedly grey, but the map here is full of detail and geography, and the length of the spaces on each route is now a whole inch long!

Below the map, what will grab the gamer next are five colour tins—black, blue, brown, green, red. Each of these deep tins—labelled Black Powder Rail (black), Metropolitan Rapid Transit (blue), Dutch Flat Barrel Co. (brown), Hobo Caboose Central (green), Savannah, Florida & Circus Railway (red)—contains forty-eight sculpted, detailed plastic train pieces. These are not only visually appealing as they look fantastic when on the board, but they also bring a tactile physicality to the game. Similarly, the Train Cards have been given a major redesign. They are also increased in size to make them easier to handle and read, much in line with the Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 Expansion.

Notably, Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition includes not only the Destination Tickets from the original Ticket to Ride, but also those from Ticket to Ride: USA 1910. Together, the Destination Tickets from Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 implement three different variants in which to play Ticket to Ride. These are ‘1910’, ‘Big Cities’, and the ‘Mega Game’. The ‘1910’ variant simply replaces the Destination Tickets from Ticket to Ride with the ‘1910’ Destination Tickets and gives a thoroughly new mix of cities to connect. Instead of the Longest Route Bonus in Ticket to Ride, in the ‘1910’ variant, the Globetrotter Bonus is given for the most Destination Tickets completed. Each of the Destination Tickets in the ‘Big Cities’ variant is connected to one of eight cities—Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Seattle—which makes for a much more cutthroat game as the players compete to access the same connections. Lastly, in the ‘Mega Game’, all of the Destination Tickets are used, including those from both Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride: USA 1910, and both the Longest Route and the Globetrotter Bonuses are given out. 

Essentially, Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition negates the need to purchase Ticket to Ride: USA 1910—or at least it should have done. For unfortunately, there is a flaw at the heart of an otherwise beautifully done, pretty reprint. What the full colour rulebook, which includes the rules in several languages as well as in English, does not include are the rules for any of the ‘1910’, ‘Big Cities’, and the ‘Mega Game’ variants. This is a major omission, one that undermines the inclusion of the Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 in the Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition.

Another issue is with the train pieces. All except one set is easy to spot and that one is the Dutch Flat Barrel Co. pieces. The problem is that the tin for them is brown and the main colour for the pieces is also brown, but they are not brown in the game. They are meant to be yellow as in the original Ticket to Ride. Admittedly, each of the ‘brown’ train pieces has a yellow stripe down each side, but surely they could have just been yellow and another type of wagon created instead of the Dutch Flat Barrel Co. wagons?

Lastly, in the ‘Mega Game’ when the Longest Route and the Globetrotter Bonuses are given out, there is not a separate card for each. Instead, they are printed on the obverse sides of one card. The question is, what happens when one player is awarded the Longest Route Bonus and another the Globetrotter Bonus?

Make no mistake, Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition is fundamentally flawed and incomplete. Which flies in the face of Days of Wonder’s reputation for attention to detail. Nevertheless, Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition is still playable and the rules for each of the ‘1910’, ‘Big Cities’, and the ‘Mega Game’ variants are available online, but again this is not a satisfactory solution given that this is a highly expensive version of an existing game and a prestigious redesign of Days of Wonder’s flagship title. Ultimately, Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition is beautiful and impressive, both on the shelf with its black box and in play when the trains start being placed. Despite its flaws, Ticket to Ride is still a great game and the Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition is a pretty addition to any gaming collection.

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