The best games—digital or analog—have simple rules and mechanics that interact in complex ways. Anyone can learn the rules with relative ease, but the game play is democratic enough that everyone stands an equal chance of winning. There are numerous games out there that are built on complex foundations with intricate interactions and precisely timed movements but whose rules are easily exploited to favor certain playing styles and personality types over others; Magic: The Gathering is one example.
It’s difficult to get people excited about gaming as a hobby when these products are what they know. Instead of a good time being had by all, they’ve found a cutthroat arms race where only the most bloodthirsty stand a chance to attain victory. Instead of the welcoming, even loving environment that makes gaming so great, they find a group of people who are willing to sacrifice relationships in order to triumph.
Ticket To Ride is not one of those experiences. It’s a kind, gentle, and genuinely fun introduction to gaming for people of all ages. With an adventurous theme that easily leads to conversations about economics and exploration, it’s also an incredible learning tool that sparks discussion and encourages inquiry. Even better, its minimal rules, lack of number crunching, and relaxed atmosphere make playing a true joy and an equitable experience for all.
Get on board
Participants take on the collective role of a group of friends who have made a bet on who can travel to the most cities in seven days. Travel is accomplished by claiming railway routes between major hub cities through moving “train” cards. To claim a route, a player must discard train cards in equivalent number to the “links” that make up the track.
Most routes have a color, and the train cards must match the color of the track (though special “locomotive” cards act as wild cards and can match any color). Other tracks are not colored and can be claimed as all of the cards put out match; for example, a route consisting of three blue links must be claimed with three blue cards, while a route composed of six uncolored links can be claimed by six cards of any one color. Each color is also represented by a symbol, so that even color-blind players can participate.
Claiming routes earns points, with longer routes earning more points. On a turn, gamers can either claim routes or draw cards to increase their chances of claiming routes on future turns, but they can never do both.
Players can also draw “ticket” cards, which act as bonus objectives. Building a continuous route between the two cities listed on a ticket card will net bonus points at the end of the game. However, leaving the route uncompleted results in a penalty of the same number of points.
The game begins with four train cards and at least two ticket cards—participants are dealt three tickets and can choose to discard one. Since each entrant will always have at least two tickets in-hand, these cards act as an equalizer and a strategic compounder. Should the player try to connect the cities in order to avoid the point penalty? Is the bonus worth building shorter routes instead of building long routes worth big points? Of course, it’s possible for routes to be blocked off, so should one try to go for key routes early or play a slower game and gobble up the most real estate? Finally, the player who completes the single longest continuous route earns a bonus, further complicating strategies and adding to the balancing act.
Players can only commit one game action per turn, and they never know which routes their opponents are vying for (or even what their overall strategies are—and there are many ways to approach this game), making for a tense contest of hidden information and risk/reward analysis. It might seem as though Ticket To Ride should be a game where tables are flipped and insults are hurled, but even among competitive gamers, it’s usually a fun and relaxed affair.
This is not a slow-paced challenge, but it isn’t conducted at fever pitch either. It’s not the type of match in which one can calculate ahead of time how to win and then laugh in the faces of opponents with each successive masterly move, as the landscape of the board can change at any minute. And even if they do not represent a personal objective, the ticket cards certainly can’t be ignored, as the most profitable routes are also the most risky. Your ticket might be worth 20 points, but if you fail to complete its task, you’ll forfeit 20 points at the end of the game!
If you’re looking for a great game for beginners, a way to get your other staff onboard for gaming programs, or a game that appeals to educators as much as it does to gamers, look no further than Ticket To Ride. There’s not much to it on the surface, but the experience of “riding the rails” is satisfying and relaxing all at once.
M. Brandon Robbins is Media Coordinator, Goldsboro High School, NC, and a member of the 2011 class of the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders