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Off the Grid reviews Ticket to Ride


Every other week Scott Jon Siegel contributes Off the Grid, a column about card games, board games, and everything else non-digital.

Alan R. Moon's Ticket to Ride is widely considered to be one of the greatest board games of the last decade, but the reason for this may elude players at first. After all, Ticket to Ride is deceptively simplistic, with a weak fiction to justify a gameplay mechanic that's little more than connecting dots on a board. Players who invest in the experience, however, can quickly find that Moon's award-winning game is greater than the sum of its parts.

The original version of Ticket to Ride takes place in North America at the turn of the 20th century. Players compete to travel around the U.S. (and parts of Canada), claiming various train routes between cities in order to earn points. The game would like you to believe that it's a grand race across the country; even the back of the box states that the objective is to travel to the most cities by train in just 7 days. Unfortunately, the rules and gameplay don't really justify this grandiose storyline.

Players take turns drawing train cards of various colors, which correspond to different-colored routes on the board. Once a player has collected enough of one color to complete a route, he or she can play those cards to claim that route, placing plastic train pieces on the board, and earning an amount of points based on the route's length.

Players can also earn points by connecting several routes together in order to connect one city to another. These paths are dictated by special Destination Tickets, which players have the option of taking every turn. The longer the route described on a card, the more points a player can earn by completing it.

Ticket to Ride is basically a points game. Once all players have exhausted their train pieces, the player with the most points wins. Players are therefore always trying to claim as many routes as possible on the board, but the biggest points come from the Destination Ticket cards, which each player keeps secret until the end of the game. The more Destination Tickets a player has, the more points that player can earn by completing those routes. That same player, however, takes a risk with every additional Destination Ticket collected, as any left uncompleted by the end of the game detract from that player's score. This gives the game a nice risk-taking element, as players must be cautious not to take too many Destination Ticket cards, for fear of heavy penalizations at the game's conclusion.

It's this balance that allows Ticket to Ride to succeed as a board game. As fewer and fewer spaces become available on the map, the tension increases, as players' options become more and more limited, and the uncompleted Destination Tickets in their hands become harder and harder to complete.

Unlike a lot of designer games, Ticket to Ride succeeds in its approachability, making it as appealing as classic titles like Monopoly or Sorry, while still being as compelling as Settlers of Catan or Carcassonne. In other words, it's a "gateway game" -- fantastic for new players, and equally fantastic for hardened veterans of the non-digital fare.

Final Verdict: Like games? You'll like this. I mean, come on. It's Ticket to Ride.

Scott Jon Siegel is an fledgling game designer, a professional blogger, and a mediocre cook. His words and games can be found at numberless, and he fully intends on reviewing another zombie game next week.

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