Ticket to Ride: The Gateway Game to an Earlier Era

Note: This is the second in a series in gateway games – the games that take us from Monopoly to bigger games. The biggest ones are Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne. We’ll start with those and move on to three less obvious games. This is not the normal format for game reviews, but is more of a sales job.

Note 2: I started this series 6 months ago and this is the second in the series. Yes, I have ADD problems sometimes.

One of my worst family trips as a kid was going to Disney Land when I was around 9 or 10. To be clear, going to Disney Land was not the bad part of it. I rather enjoyed it. In an earlier day, my parents let my brother and I roam the park with minimal supervision But getting there was another story. We traveled from Seattle to Anaheim on Amtrak. My father, my mother, my brother (who was two years older) and I were in a small sleeper car that made our Suburban 1 seem large. I have it on good authority that portions of Vacation were based on that trip. So trains are not looked at romantically on my part. And yet, Ticket to Ride is just so dang fun.

Ticket to Ride BoxAt its heart, Ticket to Ride combines two classic “serious” game mechanics – card drafting and worker placement. On a map of the United States  2, players vie to complete routes between cities by placing their trains. At the start of the game – and later if they choose – route cards are drawn that have two cities. Based on the length of the route, you earn points by completing the route. And if you don’t complete the route? You lose that number of points.

To complete routes, you need to place trains. And – true to real life – if you want to complete a long route, you need to actually complete a number of smaller segments. For example, Seattle to New York is made of many small segments such as Seattle-Portland, Portland-Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City-Denver, etc. So to claim a route, you need to discard from your hand train cards that match the number and the color of the route (For example, Atlanta to Miami requires six black train cards).  And you get additional points for how long each segment is.  A one train segment is one point.  A six train segment is 15 points.


Our beloved board, just like an old shoe, continues to be used beyond its lifespan.  Split in two and falling apart, it still represents perfection in a board.

Our beloved board, just like an old shoe, continues to be used beyond its lifespan. Split in two and falling apart, it still represents perfection in a board.

Each turn, you can do one of three things. You can place some of your 45 trains dow (The worker placement element). You can draw two train cards (either from five face-up cards or from the face-down deck) 3. Or you can draw three new route cards (called destinations) and keep at least one.

As with most great games, the challenge is in the balance. Do you take that long route when you only have a few trains left? Do you claim the route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas this turn, before someone else does and blocks you out? 4 The agony felt in making these choices is incredible and shows the wonderfulness of the game.  There is an element of luck.  The end game can be stultifying when the one card you need to complete 4 routes you have just…will…not…come…up.  And yet, we still go back to it.  Like Acquire, it’s a game of choices and strategy with a good amount of luck thrown in.

Our family started playing this when our kids were 6 and 8 (give or take). It is still one of our go-to games and I’d go out on a limb to say it’s my wife’s favorite game.  I should also note that it’s one of the best time wasters on tablets.  My wife and I, when we first got an Ipad, wasted way too much sleep time playing this game with each other.

How The West Was Won

How The West Was Won

  1. This is back when Surburbans were trucks, not luxury vehicles. We could fit the whole soccer team in the back. 
  2. You can also get maps for Europe, Asia, India, Africa, Germany, Netherlands, Norway…you get the idea. 
  3.  As a point of rule reference, though I don’t pretend to be the rules maven, you can also pick up an engine that acts as a wild card. In the same vein, a number of routes are grey, meaning that you can use any color train cards to claim. 
  4. True story. My 10 year old son completed all his routes and didn’t want to risk more. So he just placed trains on all the routes out of Miami. Just for fun. Unfortunately, my long-suffering wife who actually plays games for fun needed to complete routes out of Miami. And an unintentional robber baron was born. 

Settling into Catan

Note: I’m going to blog about a series of games I consider to be “gateway” games.  That’s defined as a game that changes the dynamics somewhat between chance and skill,  that is not as mainstream as Risk or Monopoly, but enough people play it that it is more than niche.  I’ve identified 6 games.  Originally this was going to be one post but I’m too lazy to write that much in one spell, so a series it is!

Note 2: If you’ve seen this before, apologies.  It disappeared last night.

Settlers of Catan is probably the best known of the classics.  It is one of the “Holy Trinity,” consisting of itself, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne.  We’ll get to those in a second.  What makes Catan so immensely cool is that – despite its reputation as a “Eurogame” 1 – it is really more Risk than Chess. Your lives are ruled by the dice. Here’s the scoop: You need to build cities and settlements to win. To build those, you roll the dice. If you (or anyone else) happen to have a city/settlement next to the area which contains the number you rolled, then that city/settlement produces that resource. Obviously, there is some strategy – you need to know odds that you are more likely to get a 6,7, or 8 than a 2 or 12 when rolling 2 dice. So you know which ones are more valuable. But what if you’ve got a lot of iron ore (one type of resource) but no wood? What then? Well, you trade with other players (or seaports, but let’s ignore that dynamic for simplicity sake)
[Read more…]

On a Rampage – a Game Review

Feeling destructive today?  Little aggression from work?  Asmodee has a great game for you – Rampage.  Rampage lets you become an old movie monster and wander around town destroying buildings and eating people.  And who wouldn’t want to do that?

The full game.

The full game.

 What’s It Look Like?

Imagine a Porsche.  Looking good, right?  Now imagine a Porsche that doesn’t break down.  That’s the components in Rampage.  The game designer did a great job of matching a great looking game with pieces that don’t fall apart at a moment’s notice.  From the box (which is striking and stands out in game stores) to the colorful map, Rampage is a pleasure to look at.  The monsters themselves are great cartoon representations of the old movies we older folks grew up with (the true Godzilla, not the Matthew Broderick version).  As I was an early purchaser, the game store threw in stickers for the meeples.  Strictly speaking, these are not necessary.  In fact, I would not have put them on if my son didn’t volunteer to stick them all on in the back seat of the car on the way home from the game store. [Read more…]

Board Game – Rampage First Impression

Who remembers the old video game Rampage?  You’ve seen it – either in the arcade for us people who know what arcades are or on game consoles.  It takes the classic monster movie – heroes saving the town from a monster – and turns it on it’s head.  You get to be the monster and destroy the town.  And a good time was had by all (except the people eaten by Mothra, but that’s another story).  Rampage the board game takes that premise and moves it into the land of Meeples.  You take control of a monster and battle with your friends to see who can destroy the most buildings and eat the most meeples.  And a good time was had by all.

Rampage is distributed by Asmodee and Repos, the same fine people who distribute the modern classic 7 Wonders.  In fact, Antoine Bauza is responsible for both games.  But don’t expect any similarity beyond that.  Rampage belongs to a growing category of games called dexterity games.  In these games, the game mechanic changes from rolling dice, playing cards, using movement points, etc to actually flicking or dropping your monster or nearby vehicles.  The route to success is found, truly, in your dexterity.  For those who have problems with chewing gum and walking, perhaps chess would be a better alternative?  But honestly, it’s a great change up from traditional eurogames.  It still requires strategy to ensure you don’t set your opponent up for a gobbly-good time, but ensures your strategy goes to **** in a handbasket quickly once your manual dexterity tries to execute your strategy.

Look ma, no hands!

Argh!  Dinner!

You see, it’s pretty easy to knock your monster off the board – or allow meeples to “escape” (their term for when you accidentally flick a skyscraper into your friend’s/son’s/brother’s lap).  And these actions cost you teeth or penalties.  And when you lose teeth, your opponent gains points.

The balance seems fairly good, as long as you’re not playing with a magician/juggler/professional knife thrower or someone with amazing hand/eye coordination.  And it starts out fun, leading to a great midgame where you are having a great entree of little wooden meeple.  The problem is the endgame.  After a great meal, I often feel slow and logy.  Apparently your monster does as well.  Maneuvering to get the last meeple took all our effort and slowed down the game considerably.  The earlier phases were worth it, but it definitely showed the danger in these dexterity based game – a slow endgame.

Scoring consists of how many sets of different colored meeple you have eaten, how many floors you have knocked down, how many teeth your opponent has lost, and a secret objective (like eat all postmen).  Because all your meeple are kept secret behind a little monster mask, you don’t know where your opponent’s score is…but you really don’t care.  Rampage is a blast for tweens to adults and will add a lot of laughs.  Grab it for when you’re done with seriousness or want to warm up for a big, strategic game.

Full review to follow.