Heading into the New Year with a few nights behind us one of the things I resolved to do was a weekly or regular boardgame evening at home. My long suffering wife kindly agreed to this – not least because she ensured that the festive season saw me receiving some gateway games that didn’t feature “those geeky little figures”.
The nerd in me wants to argue that Ticket To Ride features geeky little figures, that they just happen to be railway carriages in a game about steam railway travel and that I’m not sure it classifies as non-nerdy, but let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth hey? That she’s completely enthralled with the game after but two sessions is good enough for me.
It’s not as though I’m forcing myself to play either. This second evening out, last Friday, saw me set up the board, layout the pieces and get ready to go in around 10 minutes. I even got to use my new automatic card shuffler, which worked an absolute treat.
If you’re not familiar with Ticket To Ride then you’re probably a) as new to the tabletop gaming renaissance as I was last August and b) gonna need to head right out and get it. Alongside Carcassone and Settlers Of Catan it’s considered one of the standard gateway games. Elegant mechanics, simple to grasp rules (the rule book is a paltry number of pages thick) and a relatable setting mean it’s a subtle entry to the hobby. After a single turn, everyone around the table will have a good grasp of what’s going on and understand the challenge. Frankly, it’s much simpler than Monopoly. And more enjoyable too.
We played the Europe variant which is great because we can look really stupid as our lack of basic geography means we struggle to figure out where the different destinations are. It’s really simple. Look, it’s so simple I’ll explain the basic ruleset in two sentences.
You collect cards which have different coloured train carriages on them which you use to claim routes on the board with corresponding colours (green carriages for green routes etc), while slowly whittling down your limited supply of trains with which to do so. As you claim routes you score points but you also get bonus points at the end for claiming specific, longer journeys as well as having the single longest continuous route.
That’s pretty much it. Sure, there are a couple of things to note – use of stations, the specifics of how your draw cards, wildcards and tunnels but the base game is inherently straightforward.
After a few turns we were doing well. My wife (red) had built a vast locomotive empire stretching most of the way across Europe while I’d tried to block her once or twice in vain. Instead, I concentrated on building things piecemeal and then joining them up, a sly attempt at some degree of strategy. I had a very clear problem, though.
She’d managed to both cut right across the route I’d taken AND was starting to double up on destination cards. These are cards that give you anything from a small 6 or 7 point lift to a mighty 21 points if you manage to complete a longer distance route. We’d both started out with just 3 of these cards but she was up to her fifth and looking like she’d go for more.
I was worried. Our scores had stayed low for a good chunk of the game but I was really worried about the end game tally. Our longest routes looked remarkably close, neither of us had used up our stations (which allow us to use someone else’s line to complete a route) and it was going to come down to that final tally once again.
One thing was going in my favour. I’d actually put down far more carriages than she had and, as soon as one player has two or less carriages to play onto the board, it’s the last round. You play everything you have then and do the adding up to see who’s won.
She hadn’t actually spotted this, I played four carriages and claimed one more route, declaring this the last turn. She looked aghast. She’d spent so much time collecting cards and not claiming routes that she was firmly stuck in a corner. Despite one last attempt, there was nothing for her to do and we counted up the scores.
By the time we added on the destination card and station scores we were only 4 points apart. It was all to come down to the European Express bonus, the person who has the single longest continuous run getting a 10 point boost and the victors spoils.
There were 4 carriages in it – only 4! – once we counted and re-counted. I’d won again, but only just.
Ticket To Ride is a firm favourite in our house now, and will likely be one for a long time to come. I can see us buying one of the 2-3 player expansion packs as well (India, most likely). Not because this base version doesn’t work but because we don’t really get in each others way – so much of the game comes down to the cards you draw rather than whether or not we block each other, and that added layer of strategy will likely make it a more exciting and engaging game.