When my obsession for gaming was at its peak I was constantly introducing the people in my life to new games. Naturally, this included my parents. Every Sunday we would meet for dinner at their house and I would always bring a new board game for us to play. At first they were delighted at this wholesome family ritual. Unfortunately, I was still a tone-deaf gaming host back then, and the games I started bringing over grew increasingly complex. My parents were always good sports as I tried to introduce them to these new games. Sadly, they were often forced to trudge through each experience in patient appeasement of my interests. They weren’t really having fun playing.
Then one day I decided to bring Ticket To Ride. The game was not new to me. By then, I had already played it to death with friends and it had started collecting cobwebs on my bookshelf. It’s not that I disliked the game, only that I had moved on to newer, shinier things.
As I began explaining the rules of Ticket to Ride to my parents I saw them light up. They were nodding and leaning in with anticipation. Their eyes darted around the map and they began fiddling with the tiny train car pieces. I could see there was an instant connection happening. No dragons or spacemen. No seven-phase turn sequences to remember. No fantastical leaps of imagination required to understand the goal of the game. Everything about Ticket to Ride was familiar and made sense: a map of the USA, real world cities, train cars, routes.
How it works:
The goal of Ticket to Ride is to earn the most victory points by connecting different cities on the map with your train pieces. Each player starts with a hand of Train cards and 45 little plastic trains in their player color. They are also given a few Destination tickets that act as challenges to complete over the course of the game.
The Train cards come in 8 different colors (plus a wild suit), and these are the main resources used in the game. The colors of the cards correspond to different routes on the map. For instance: Las Vegas and Salt Lake City are connected by a route made up of 3 orange spaces. If you wished to claim this route, you must play 3 orange Train cards from your hand. This would allow you to cover the spaces of the route with your plastic trains and you would earn some victory points in the process. The longer the route you claim (more spaces), the more points you will earn.
While claiming routes for points is good, the best way to win at Ticket to Ride is to score the big points on Destination tickets. Each Destination ticket is unique, and it will show two cities on the map and a victory point value. To score the points, you must connect the two cities on the Destination card by claiming a chain of multiple routes. Example: If you held the Destination Ticket “Denver to El Paso”, this could be accomplished by claiming the routes Denver to Santa Fe, and then Santa Fe to El Paso.
But it really doesn’t matter which specific routes you use to complete a Destination ticket, so long as the cities somehow connect via your claimed routes. This can cause players to create complex spider webs of routes on the map. Destination tickets are extra important in Ticket to Ride not only because they award big points when completed, but because their point values are subtracted at the end of the game if left incomplete. This creates a lot of tension during the game where players are constantly concerned about the particular routes they need being snatched up by others.
Turns quickly since there are only three possible choices to make:
Once someone runs low on train pieces (2 or less), the game comes to a conclusion and players tally up all the points they’ve scored. The player with the most points is declared the winner. This will typically be followed by a short decompression period where the losing players complain about their bad luck and missed opportunities).
The first play-through of Ticket to Ride with my parents went fantastic, and they gushed about how much fun they had playing. They told me it was their favorite game I had brought over to date. The following week I brought over a different game to play, but they had already purchased their own copy of Ticket to Ride and were ready to play again! This was the first time I realized the power of a ‘gateway game’, and there is perhaps no gateway game more effective at creating passionate new gamers than Ticket to Ride.
Beyond simply being a great game, Ticket to Ride has expanded my view of what attracts new players to the gaming hobby. Nowadays, everyone is trying to make the next big hit board game, but I feel most creators don’t look outside their own personal interests for motivation. Ticket to Ride is a modern classic because the theme and rules are so accessible to all ages, and to people from all different walks of life. It makes me wonder what the next game to accomplish this will be.
All images © 2018 Robert D. Bruce