Sunday, May 18, 2008

ticket to ride: europe

Ticket to Ride is an example of an inventive Eurogame that has helped reinvigorate the boardgame market within the last decade. Designed by Alan Moon, Ticket to Ride was introduced in 2004 as a family-friendly game of train building that featured brightly colored components, a beautiful map of North America, and rules that could be learned in 15 minutes. It has rightly earned the moniker of "gateway game": a boardgame that convinces skeptics and non-gamers that there is an enjoyable world beyond the Monopolies, Risks, and Candylands of our Milton-Brothers-dominated youth.

I'm not actually going to talk about Ticket to Ride, but rather its later (and more entertaining) cousin, Ticket to Ride: Europe. Aili and I recently played this with some friends and it was a resounding success. It's a brilliantly fun but challenging game that new players can grasp in a couple turns.

The goal of the game is to score points by building trains across a map of Europe in the early 20th century. Here's a pic of the board, along with some of the train-routes filled in:

The routes connect specific cities and vary in length (from 1 to 8 cars). At the beginning of the game, each player draws a set of cards (called tickets) which depict your primary goals for the game: what specific cities will you need to connect, in order to get your biggest scores. Here are some sample tickets:

The one on the left is relatively short: by the end of the game, you need to connect London and Berlin. That involves building 3 or so adjacent routes that run between the two cities. The one on the right is far more challenging. You need to connect Brest, France to Petrograd, Russia. This will involve dozens of train cars, and most likely, some serious strategizing. However, it also lands you 20 points at the end of the game if you successfully complete it. It should be noted that every ticket card you fail to complete counts against your final score; so if you drew this card and weren't able to complete it, you'd subtract 20 points from your final tally.

How do you build trains and complete routes? Simple. In your hand, you hold colored train cards (black, white, red, yellow, etc.). The individual routes on the gameboard are color-coded. If you want to build a 3 train-car length black route, you simply need to discard 3 black train cards from your hand. Some routes are gray, which means that you can use any color to complete the route: however, the set must always match (for a 2-car gray route, you can play 2 blue cards or 2 red cards, but you can't play 1 red and 1 blue card). So really, it's all about collecting sets of colors.

Each turn, a player can only take 1 of 4 actions:

  • Draw 2 colored train cards. There are 5 train cards kept face-up at all times, so you can pick the 2 that you want from these. Or, if none of them help you, you can draw from the face-down stack. You will periodically draw locomotives, wild-cards that serve as any color.
  • Build a train route. Discard a set of colored cards that match a route on the board and put your trains into play.
  • Play a train station. Sometimes, an opponent has claimed a route that you desperately need to complete one of your tickets. You have 3 train stations that you can play on any city, which allow you to use another player's train-route. However, at the end of the game, whatever stations you still have (did not put into play) are worth 4 points each - so it behooves you to be conservative about this.
  • Draw more tickets. If you've already completed the tickets you drew at the beginning of the game, you can draw some more. Remember, completing these ticket missions get you big points at the end of the game - but if you overreach and fail to complete a ticket, you'll get severely punished.

That's basically it. I've left out a couple of the more complicated rules, but this gives you a sense of the game. There's a surprising amount of strategy here. Since you can only take 1 action per turn, you're constantly presented with difficult decisions. Do you draw a locomotive, hoping to claim the big 6-car ferry between Smyrna and Palermo a couple turns from now? Or do you play it safe and build that critical route between Berlin and Warsaw immediately? Ticket to Ride: Europe can accommodate up to 5 players, and with more players direct competition for routes becomes an increasing problem. You can choose to play aggressively and block your opponents, if you have a guess of where they're trying to go. But if doing this doesn't help you complete your own goals, you run the risk of falling behind in completed tickets.

Since turns are so short, there's limited down-time. Plus, you can always spend a little more time figuring out which route you need to concentrate on next - and whether taking the face-up train cards would help you. Needless to say, I think Ticket to Ride: Europe is a great game. And it says quite a bit that Aili loves it as well and always seems willing to play. It's quick to set up, easy to understand, challenging, and perhaps most importantly, very rewarding. You really feel satisfied every time you build a route, and especially when you complete a big ticket that stretches across the continent. The player who, at the end of the game, has the longest continuous train route gets a 10-point bonus. It's a blast trying to extend your railway masterpiece to absurd limits, within a fiercely defensive and paranoid environment.

Definitely worth buying and bringing out the next time you're hosting a small party and don't want to bore/embarrass your guests with Pictionary or some such nonsense.


  1. Thanks for the review. I am excited to check this one out.

  2. Ticket to Ride is a good example of combining a simple and arbitrary goal (connecting two points) with a rich context. It's simple to play but It's what casual gameplay should be: easy to play and with a fun world to delve into.