Trains have been a thematic mainstay of the board game hobby for many years, ranging from the simple pick up and deliver of Ivor the Engine to the heavy and meticulous Russian Railroads. But chugging along comfortably at that lighter end of the track is Ticket to Ride Europe.
As the highest-selling train game on the market, Ticket to Ride takes pride in its colourful accessibility, bringing families around the table to compete in a nostalgic trip of locomotive card-play.
So, What's it About?
Trains. Well, not quite. Ticket to Ride is more specifically about train routes, in this case across the continent of Europe. Still, there are plenty of trains, so don't worry. In fact the base game packs 240 of the lovely little locomotives, which will spread out across the map like erratic paint strokes on canvas.
Up to five players will take 45 trains in their colour and take a beautiful tour through Europe, completing routes in an attempt to become the greatest train magnate. From brief travels across the Channel, to continental escapades through Spain, Russia, and Turkey, players will need to contend with unpredictable tunnels, greater lengths of track, and erect stations.
How Does it Play?
Refreshingly simply! This hand management, set collecting, route building game serves as an excellent gateway title in the same vein as Carcassonne, Splendor, and Codenames. From set-up to game turns and end scoring, Ticket to Ride maintains an accessible, laid back, but satisfying feel.
Once players have received all their train and station pieces all that is left is to deal out everyone's Train cards and initial Destination Tickets they hope to achieve, and set-up the display of five Train cards used to claim them. Train cards come in eight different colours as well as a multicoloured 'wild' locomotive. These colours match specific sections of track on the map. For example, a trip from Budapest to Sarajevo would require three pink train cards, which when discarded will allow that player to place three of their train pieces along that route. The longer the track the more points that player will score immediately.
But, this is not the only way to score points. Remember those Destination Tickets dealt out at the beginning? Completing these routes will earn extra points at the end of the game. Destination Tickets can be worth anywhere from five to 21 points depending on the length and difficulty of the journey. A quick excursion from Athina to Angora would net you five points, whilst a lengthy South to North slog from Cadiz to Stockholm promises 21.
Every turn, in clockwise order, players will do one of four actions. The two you will most commonly come across is either taking cards, or playing cards to claim a route. Players can take two cards (or one if choosing the 'wild' locomotive), either from the display or blind from the top of the deck, replenishing the display as they go. There's no limit to the number of cards you may hold, but as you build up particular colours it's best to play them before someone else claims a route!
Playing the cards is as simple as discarding the required colour and amount for a particular route and scoring the points on the track framing the board. Only one route can be claimed each round. If you happen to complete one of your high scoring Destination Tickets, don't tell anyone! They'll be scored at the end.
At some point you may want to acquire some more Destination Tickets. If that's the case, you may use your action to take three from the deck and choose to keep any number of them. Although, bear in mind that incomplete tickets will grant negative points at the end of the game!
Finally, players may wish to construct a station. These cute plastic pieces may be placed on any city without any other players' stations, to essentially share an already claimed route in or out of that city. This can help with completing Destination Tickets in areas heavily congested with other players' pieces. Building your stations is simple. Discard one Train card of any colour to build the first station, two matching cards for the second, and three matching for the third. Furthermore, any unbuilt stations at the end of game are worth four points each!
The game end is triggered when one player's collection of trains is down to two or less. Each player will then have one more turn to finish up any Destination Tickets or quickly claim a few points. Points for Destination Tickets are added (or subtracted!) to the points collected throughout the game, as are points for unused stations.
Finally, whoever achieved the longest continuous path of trains takes the European Express card scoring a bonus 10 points! The player with the most points wins and proclaims themselves Europe's greatest train magnate!
Why Should I Play Ticket to Ride Europe?
Despite my personal preference for heavier games in recent years, I'm always happy to return to Ticket to Ride Europe. Its colourful and tactile simplicity is captivating, and makes it that much easier to slip back into its gentile mechanisms when it does reach the table.
As a gateway game, Ticket to Ride Europe actually reaches the table quite often. It's just a terrific game to introduce to new players. I mean, who's going to be put off by the prospect of playing with some tiny trains? It helps that the rules are easily explained and that the game runs at nice smooth pace, with turns zipping around the table like a bullet train.
More seasoned gamers may be put off by the game's limits to strategy and planning, made clear through Ticket to Ride's emphasis on luck. It doesn't happen all the time but sometimes a player may strike it lucky with their Destination Tickets, stringing off a number of conveniently located smaller ones on their journey to their high scoring ticket. Of course, this is down to personal taste and will likely not be a probably to many players.
Similarly, matters of taste may come under scrutiny when considering the occasionally mean take-that elements at higher player counts. Understandably with the full compliment of players, Europe becomes pretty crowded making some tickets harder to achieve. On the other hand, even at two or three players Ticket to Ride Europe allows for players to block each other, laying down routes they anticipate others are eyeing up. As with the elements of luck, some players may be fine with the occasionally aggressive take-that potentials of the game, whilst others may not.
Final Thoughts on Ticket to Ride Europe
Days of Wonder have a habit of putting out colourful and inviting games and Ticket to Ride is no exception. But it's more than aesthetically pleasing. Some may take issue with its simplicity or particular mechanics, but overall Ticket to Ride Europe is undeniably satisfying. Placing down your little trains is lovely, introducing newcomers to it is joyous, wrapping up that agonisingly long route is thrilling. It looks good on the table and feels good in the hand, whilst scratching that light gaming itch in the brain.
An obvious but accurate addition to a growing game collection, Alan R Moon's Ticket to Ride is sure to bring plenty of fun to the table for you and your family for years to come. And if you find yourself tiring of the same old journeys across Europe just seek out some of the excellent expansion maps!