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Which Ticket To Ride Game Is For You?

ticket to ride 1912

Hello, me again! Your local boardgame town crier (or village idiot depending on you talk to). Today I’m here to talk about Ticket to Ride, a game that may well be the best selling modern boardgame of all time. A fact that I am going to choose to believe is true rather than look it up. (I did look it up, it’s more likely to be somewhere in the top 4t best-selling boardgames with Catan, Carcassonne and Pandemic).

It's fair to say that Ticket to Ride is a bit of a phenomenon. It’s frequently talked about as a ‘gateway game’, which is a game that is good to introduce somebody to the wonderful hobby of boardgaming. But a quick search here on Zatu will bring back loads of choices when you’re looking for Ticket to Ride. What are they all? Do they all work the same? Which one should I buy If I’m looking to try it out? Well, that’s why I’m here. So please take your seats, have your tickets ready and make sure all baggage is correctly stowed. That’s right, I’m no longer a town crier, I’m now a train steward wheeling around a trolly full of boardgames. Mind your elbows!

Like I said, there are a lot of options out there, but they largely fall into 5 groups. The ‘my first’ series, the mini series, the main games, the map packs and lastly Rails and Sails is in its own huge group. Gameplay wise, they’re all very similar. There are elements of hand management where you are trying to collect sets of different coloured train cards. And then route building where you can spend those sets of cards to claim routes on the board. You’re aiming to complete tickets, which are pairs of cities that you’re trying to connect. That is the core of every game, but each of the different game series adds its own little flourishes to mix things up a bit. We’ll have a look at each of these in turn to see which option is right for you.

The Main Games

Let’s start the beginning, that feels logical. The main series of games started with Ticket to Ride which allowed you to build rails all over The US of A. This has been followed up by a version in Europe, Germany and the Nordic Countries. On the surface these offer a very similar experience but where they differ does make a lot of difference. The original North America map is probably one of the most straight forward maps out there. It’s open, there are a lot of alternative routes that can be claimed if you get blocked and there is nothing really beyond that.

Europe adds in tunnels, ferries and stations as well as a map that lends itself more to blocking and being a bit cutthroat. Tunnels and ferries are routes that have a few special rules to them. Ferries need rainbow wild locomotive cards to be paid to claim the routes whereas tunnels will have you blind drawing cards off the top of the deck which can lead to you needing to pay more for your routes. Stations are basically a way to get access to cities that you’ve already been locked out of, it’s sort of a way to help you if you draw a ticket to a city with no available routes to it late in the game.

Nordic Countries brings back the tunnels and ferries but also brings a lower player cap to the table. This game is for 2-3 players only. Now that may sound like a bit of a blow, but this lower player count allows for one of the most competitive maps ever made for ticket to ride. If you’re likely to be playing Ticket to Ride mostly as a 2 player game, this is the one I’d go for.

Lastly, you’ve got Germany, originally released as Ticket to Märklin. This version of the game adds a passenger set collection mechanic for end game scoring. At the beginning of the game there will be passengers strewn about the map in every city and town in the game. The bigger cities have loads of passengers whereas the more remote locations may only have a single person waiting. Whenever you claim a route you get to take a passenger from the locations at either end. At the end of the game, if you’ve got the most of a particular colour of passenger you get a coal hopper’s worth of points. It adds another thing to consider when placing down those routes and crucially it is one of the few ways of randomising the start of a ticket to ride game. Because of this I find I’m less likely to go for the same routes I know and love as the best way to play is subtly different each time we play.

So, if you were looking for one of these to be your first ticket to ride, which one would I recommend you? Well, if you’re brand new to the hobby, go for the original USA map. It’s the simplest and you’ll have a lot of fun with it. Europe and Nordic countries are both great options and the one I’d choose depends solely on how many players I’d expect to be playing with. If you need the 4th and 5th players then go with Europe, if not Nordic is probably for you. With all that said though, it’s Germany that I find myself coming back to. I like the map and the passenger set collection really tickles my ticket. It is another thing to worry about rules wise but it’s probably less complicated than the ferries, tunnels and stations that are also on offer here with Europe and Nordic Countries.

But don’t feel like you’re stuck with whichever of these games you decide to go with. There is also a whole heap of map packs that can be added to any ticket to ride game to extend the fun. So, on that note…

Map Packs

It should go without saying that these should not be your first purchase. You can’t play any of these without a base game to pair them with. Also of note is that you use the trains and train cards from your base game with these maps. So, if you’ve got the Nordic Countries base game, you can only go up to 3 players here as well. But with that out of the way we can talk about the maps themselves.

Well, sort of. You see, I’ve only played the India map pack so I can’t really speak with much authority on what they all specifically offer. But in general, what you get is one double sided map board as well as all of the new ticket cards needed to play those maps. Each of the maps will have its own player cap as well as a twist on the rules at play. The exception to this are Poland, the Heart of Africa and Netherlands map packs which only have a single map each, but from what I hear on the boardgame grapevine, these are the most complex maps on offer.

In terms of which one to go for, I’d say that by the time you’re looking to pick up a map pack you’ll most likely be quite used to Ticket to Ride and you’ll know what you like and don’t like about it. I’d just have a little read about what each of them offers as well as the player caps and then go with the one that sounds best to you. A bit of a cop out for a recommendations article but for me this one is probably the most subjective. I’ll try and be more useful next time. Speaking of which…

The City Series

If a 45-60 minute game is just too long for you then you should probably consider the Ticket to Ride City Series. There have been 4 of these so far: New York, London, Amsterdam and San Francisco. Each of these is a shrunk down, 4 player box of Ticket to Ride goodness. They also each have their own twist on the basic rules. San Francisco has you collecting sets of tokens in a way that reminds me a lot of Germany’s passengers. Amsterdam has you collecting goods from the outer routes on the board for bonus points. New York and London work quite similarly. New York gives you bonus points for connecting to certain landmarks whereas London needs you to connect a group of several stations to get the points.

One thing that should definitely be mentioned here is the production. You see, instead of the standard trains that you get with the other games, the city games come with themed components. New York has Taxi cabs, London has busses, San Francisco has cable trams and Amsterdam has trading carts. All very cool.

The big, or should that be little, selling points of these games is the play time though. You can get a good Ticket to Ride experience in less than 20 minutes. They also have some interesting unique mechanisms on display here too. The one downside is with the smaller maps the replayability suffers. This affects San Francisco the least as part of the setup is randomised. That said, they are all solid offerings and you’ll likely be happy with whichever one you went with but if I had to choose one, I’d probably go with San Francisco.

First Journey

These are the newest additions to the Ticket to Ride empire. They take the core of the Ticket to Ride experience and package it up with a child friendly bow. Generally, you’re looking at less card colours and simpler maps. The special rules are a lot simpler too. Basically, connect one side of the map to the other.

There is a First Journey USA and First Journey Europe. These are much of a muchness and really pick the one you like the look of, they are mechanically identical. The Halloween one has a one extra rule about joining some locations to the town hall on the board. These are kids games though, so really only go for one of these if you’ve got a child who is showing interest in boardgames and is maybe looking to graduate from the excellent Orchard Games series. Halloween is just that little bit more to teach, so keep that in mind.

Rails & Sails

The big one. Ticket to Ride Rails and Sails is what we in the trade refer to as a chonker. This huge box is filled with trains, boats, cards and two maps to play on. If I had to explain this to somebody quickly, it’d be by saying you’re essentially playing 2 games of Ticket to Ride at the same time. You’ve now got boat and train cards to contend with and the maps are both huge.

The routes now come in both boat and train flavours and you need to collect the matching cards to claim them. But you’ve still doing this to complete those tickets. The other major difference with Rails and Sails is that you have harbours. You get three of them and they are pretty tricky to get down. You need 4 cards of the same colour, 2 boats and 2 trains, that also have a harbour icon on them. Grab these and you can place a harbour out on the board. Then, for every ticket you can complete that ends up at the harbour you earn yourself a stack of bonus points.

One downside with Rails and Sails is that you can’t add map packs to it to play some more, you don’t get enough trains for that. It’s definitely not the one I’d recommend as your first foray into Ticket to Ride if you’re new to the hobby. There is probably something in the previously mentions categories that is more appropriate. But, if you’re into heavier games and have somehow missed Ticket to Ride on your boardgame journey? Absolutely! This game is peak Ticket to Ride. You get more interesting decisions to make and maximising those harbours takes some truly fantastic plays to pull off. If you’ve played the originals and enjoyed them but feel like you’ve outgrown them, this one might be for you too. It definitely breathed life back into the system for me. It was nicely familiar but the addition of boats and harbours and the sheer upping of the scale of it all really topped it off.

The Other Stuff

In recent years there have been a few other releases that are either smaller expansions or Ticket to Ride branded stuff. The two small expansions 1910 and 1912 are for Ticket to Ride USA and Europe respectively. Both add a whole new set of destination cards allowing players to up the variability of their games. 1912 also comes with a new warehouses module which introduces a new way to get cards by building warehouses on the map. Interestingly, this module can be used with any of the main series or map packs. Maybe worth a look.

You’ve also got a puzzle game called Track Switcher. This is very reminiscent of a game called Rush Hour. The idea of Track Switcher is that you are given a setup of trains and carriages with a goal state to aim for. You need to move those trains about on the tracks, shunting the carriages about in the smallest number of moves to earn points. It’s an interesting little solitaire puzzle and if you like the aforementioned Rush Hour, you’ll probably like this as well.

Lastly on my epic train ramble I’d like to talk about the Ticket to Ride Puzzle Book. This book envisions you as a passenger on an around the world adventure. As you travel throughout the different locales, you’ll be given different themed puzzles. Now, I’m going to warn you that these are not simple puzzles. This is not something you breeze through in 15 minutes. Some of these are tough. As an example, one puzzle has you doing a word search. Sounds simple enough, but the words you’re searching for are not there you need to answer crossword style clues to figure out what they are. OK, that’s a little trickier but still manageable. Oh yeah, and because your trip currently has you in France, all of the answers are in French.

Now they aren’t all that tough. There is a mixture of language quizzes, logic puzzles, code breaking and pipe puzzles as well as a few others too. I got mine for Christmas and although I’ve not made much of a dent in the harder puzzles, I have really enjoyed the little bits of prose that expand on the details of your journey. There are some really interesting facts about these cities and their histories. While it is not a ticket to ride game as such, if you or somebody in your life is a bit of a puzzler and is looking for a challenge, I’d definitely consider picking up a copy of this book!

So, there we go! We’re just about to pull into the final station and not a moment too soon as I’m running out of steam. I hope you’ve enjoyed this whistle stop tour through the world of Ticket to Ride and have maybe found a new game or two to play!