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.