The ABCs of Gaming: T is for…

On to letter T in the ABCs of Gaming, and this one is no surprise.  T is for…

image by BGG user Fawkes

Ticket to Ride was originally published in 2004, from designer Alan R. Moon and publishers Days of Wonder.  It’s a game for 2-5 players aged 8 and up that takes around 45 minutes to play.  It’s a simple rummy-style board game where you are rail tycoons, trying to connect different cities around the United States by playing different sets of cards.  It won the Spiel des Jahres in 2004, and is quickly becoming THE gateway game people refer to when introducing new people to the hobby.  It’s easy to see why – it plays very quickly, has a simple rule set, and is a lot of fun to play.  It won the T poll with 27.6% of the vote, beating out top-rated Twilight Struggle with 18.7%.

Game overview – image by BGG user Kobra1

TTR comes with a not-very-geographically accurate map of the US (Chicago is apparently in Indiana), 240 plastic trains (45 in each player color and 15 extras to replace those that get sucked up by the vacuum or eaten by the baby), 110 train cards, 30 destination cards, a longest path card, and five wooden scoring markers.  Each player gets their 45 trains, four train cards, and three destination cards.  From the destination cards (tickets), they can either choose to keep all or just two.  These remain secret, and give you two cities you must connect to score points.  If you don’t connect them, you’ll lose points.

On your turn, you do one action.  There are only three choices: draw cards, claim a route, draw new tickets.

DRAW CARDS: If you choose this action, you can draw one or two cards.  You can either take one of five face up cards, or you can draw from the deck.  If you take a locomotive card (wild) from the face up group, your turn is over.  If not, you can take one more card (not a locomotive – you can only take those on your first draw).  When you take a face up card, it is immediately replaced by a card from the deck.  If there are ever three locomotives face up, you’ll discard the face up group and deal out five more.

CLAIM A ROUTE: To claim a route, you’ll discard a number of train cards of the same color and number as the link you’re claiming.  For example, there are four green spaces between Helena and Denver.  To claim, you would discard four green train cards and place one of your trains on each of the four spaces.  Only one person can take each link.  Some routes have double links, meaning that two players can claim a path (Denver to Kansas City, for example, has four black spaces next to four orange spaces).  Some spaces are gray, meaning you can use any color – however, all cards you play must be the same color.  Once you’ve claimed your route, you score points – one point for a one-train route, two points for two, four points for three, seven points for four, ten points for five, fifteen points for six.  Some people score those immediately, others just wait to score all the routes until the end of the game.  I like scoring immediately – it gives you a spot check of where everyone is, and you can always confirm the score at the end of the game.

DRAW NEW TICKETS: You can also choose to draw new tickets, particularly if the tickets you already have are complete.  You’ll take three new tickets, and must keep at least one.

You continue to play until one player is down to two or fewer trains.  When that happens, everyone gets one more turn, then the game ends.  You check the scores, gain or lose points for complete or incomplete tickets, then award the bonus longest path card to the player with the longest continuous chain of trains.  The winner is the one with the most points.

Ticket to Ride is one of the best family games to come out in the last ten years.  It is extremely simple to learn and a lot of fun.  It has a good mix of open and closed scoring – no one knows exactly what tickets others have, so you don’t know exactly how many points they’re going to get at the end.  Part of the fun is deducing what they have and doing your best to cut them off so they have to go through Phoenix to get from New York to Boston.

The only real complaint I have about TTR is the tiny cards.  Tiny cards are the bane of my existence.  My hands are too big to deal with them.  Fortunately, it’s an easy fix – the 1910 expansion comes with normal sized cards, as well as many more tickets.  I wish Days of Wonder had gone with big cards to begin with, but oh well.

Ticket to Ride was, to me, the clear winner of the poll.  You won’t find another game out there with as much universal respect as TTR has.  It may not be the favorite game of a lot of people, but it would be hard to find anyone who disagrees with its value.  The rummy style of collecting sets and trading them in is very intuitive, and once people realize that they need to complete their tickets, it goes very quickly.  The biggest frustration I find that people have is that they can only do one thing on their turn.  They want to take cards AND claim a route.  Or they want to claim two routes.  However, the ability to only do one thing is what makes the game so easy to grasp, as well as so challenging to play.  There are several other base games and expansions in the series: TTR: Europe, Märklin, Nordic Countries, Switzerland, Alvin & Dexter, new maps, as well as a card game and a dice game.  Each adds some unique twist to the base system, and while they don’t all work, they’re all still pretty interesting.

The other contenders:

  • Twilight Struggle (2005, Jason Matthews-Ananda Gupta, 18.7%): A few years ago, it seemed like Puerto Rico and Agricola would be #1 and #2 forever.  But after Twilight Struggle got an upgraded edition, it shocked the gaming world when it hit #1 at BGG.  It’s a two-player card driven game set in the Cold War.  I really want to play sometime.
  • Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization (2006, Vlaada Chvátil, 11.8%): Before Mage Knight, before Dungeon Lords, before Galaxy Trucker (but after Prophecy and Graenaland), there was Through the Ages.  This is Vlaada Chvátil’s civilization building game.  I’ve played once, and really need to play more – there’s so much going on, I can’t begin to get it all.
  • Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition (2005, Christian T. Petersen, 8.8%): The first edition came out in 1997, but the third edition is hailed as the definitive edition of this space epic.  If you sit down to play, expect to spend 6-8 hours.  This is one of the reasons I hesitate to try to play – that’s too much commitment for me.
  • Tigris & Euphrates (1997, Reiner Knizia, 8%): This is Knizia’s unquestioned masterpiece.  I’ve played once, and wasn’t crazy about it, but I can see why people do like it.  I need to play again and try to explore the system more.
  • Tichu (1991, Urs Hostettler, 5.3%): This is a ladder style trick-taking partnership game that has some rabid fans.  I’ve played on the iPad, and it’s pretty good.  I need to play face-to-face.
  • Thunderstone (2009, Mike Elliott, 5.2%): In the post-Dominion world, this was the first big deck-building game to come out.  It took the genre and made it into a kind of dungeon crawl.  I like the game well enough, but AEG keeps changing it.
  • Troyes (2010, Sébastien Dujardin-Xavier Georges-Alain Orban, 5.1%): A pretty popular dice-rolling worker placement game.  I’ve played once, and most of it was over my head.  I need to play again to make up my mind.
  • Other (3.7%): Nominees included Tales of the Arabian Nights, Talisman, Taluva, Tannhäuser, Thebes, The Third World War, Through the Desert, Thurn and Taxis, Time’s Up, Titan, Tokyo Express, Tongiaki, Torres, Trailblazer, TransAmerica, Twixt, Tyranno Ex, and TZAAR.  Of those, I’ve played Tales of the Arabian Nights (great storytelling game), Talisman (awful), Thebes (fun if very random archaeology game), Through the Desert (dry Knizia area control game), Titan (need to play again sometime), Torres (meh), and TransAmerica (a train game that’s even easier than TTR if you can believe it).
  • Tikal (1999, Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling, 3.7%): The first game in the Mask Trilogy (with Mexica and Java), this one is an action point game where you’re exploring a jungle for treasure.  I’ve played once, and I didn’t really care for it.
  • Taj Mahal (2000, Reiner Knizia, 2.2%): Another Knizia game.  This one is an auction game set in India.  I have next to no interest in this one.

We’re done with the Ts!  I feel like I’m on the downhill slide now.  Next up: U!  Thanks for reading!


  1. Not much of a surprise here. Very worthy choice. Ticket to Ride is simply great. My other T choices would be Telestrations, one of the best party games around, Tobago, and the old classic Trivial Pursuit.

    • I haven’t played Telestrations, but that’s probably another good choice. Tobago’s also very good, but I’m not a big Trivial Pursuit fan.

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