Ticket To Ride
Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 30-60 mins
Setup Time: 10 mins
Value For Money: Mid
I say this often in my reviews of Spiel Des Jahres winners, but never is it more relevant than in this review, sometimes it feels insane telling people about some of these games. Still, I’ve decided to review all the SDJs, so its time for Ticket to Ride. For those who are new to hobby gaming I should explain, Ticket to Ride is arguably the gateway game to modern hobby board gaming. It is a gaming phenomenon, massively popular, widely famous, and deservedly so. Its not that I assume everyone is familiar with it so much that I assume that anyone reading my little and niche reviews is familiar with it.
Ticket to Ride is a classic Euro gateway game. In theory its about building a railway network across one or another country or series of countries (depending on the edition or map you’re using) but in reality, it bears little resemblance to anything like operating a nation spanning railway concern. Game play centres on a simple choice of either drawing two train cards (blind or from a face up pool), claiming a stretch of railway (by discarding a series of colour matched train cards) or drawing one of the titular tickets to ride (for bonus points at game end if completed, but punishments for failure). The game lasts until one player has used up most of their train shaped route markers by claiming a range of routes and the highest score wins. Points are claimed by completing routes on tickets at the end of game or for grabbing routes during the game, longer routes being worth more points.
The game is immensely simple to grasp but offers a simple and satisfying range of tactics between building long routes for points (whole games can centre on the trans-Siberian route of the Europe map), snatching up multiple tiny routes for points and to break up other player’s long runs, or the more directed play of filling out tickets. It has set collection in the train cards and a little bit of bluff and potential interaction over which cards who needs and which routes can be stolen to throw a spanner in the works of other players, but not enough to allow even the most cut throat of players to turn it into a take that game.
Ticket to Ride is a funny game really as a Spiel winner, its mechanics are smooth and clean, but far from revolutionary, even when it was released. Its immaculately presented and has a great table presence with its nation spanning routes of teeny trains conga lining across continents, but it doesn’t have the invention of presentation of Camel Up or Colt Express. That said, if the Spiel is about recognizing the best gateway hobby game in the world then Ticket not getting it would make a mockery of the whole award. Meaning that it both makes more than perfect sense as a winner while not really making sense as a winner, its success makes it an obvious SDJ, but it didn’t have that success prior to the win itself which is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. That said, it wasn’t Alan Moon’s first win and its certainly a slicker experience than Moon's Elfenland ever was.
So, should you play Ticket to Ride? Yes. Is it a perfect game to everyone’s taste? Well, no, but then Citizen Kane isn’t a perfect film that’s to everyone’s taste, you should still watch it if you claim to be interested in films though. Will you enjoy it? On average, yes, frankly games don’t get as successful as Ticket to Ride in the modern industry without most people who play them enjoying them, so you probably will enjoy it. Not only has it aged superbly and is extremely widely available but it has updated versions, including the excellent shortened and lower priced New York and London versions for those not sure if they want the full package. In fact, its aged so well that cheap second hand copies are nowhere near as widely available as for even far newer SDJ winners.
The reasons for Ticket to Ride’s success are obvious after a single play, and they are reasons that make sense and mean that the success is well deserved. It’s not unwieldy, niche and doesn’t require hours of commitment to mine down to layered depths, so if that’s an absolute demand then this isn’t for you. But if that wasn’t clear from the term ‘gateway game’ then it wasn’t going to get clear. If you’re looking for a gateway game, this just has to be on your list.