It’s official, you’re never too old to play with trains.
I had never heard of Ticket to Ride before the iPad version of the popular board game landed in my inbox one day. I’ll be honest, despite hearing of it’s popularity, I kinda shoved Ticket to Ride to the back burners for a few weeks. I mean, it’s a game about trains for pete’s sake. I’ve barely ridden in one, much less had any interest in playing with them since I was five. Now, after a three-hour session of playing this game, I’m feeling a bit guilty for being so quick to judge. They need to change the name of this game to ”Ticket to Addiction”. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m currently playing it as I write this review.
When I realized that Ticket to Ride was based off of a board game, I got a bit nervous. Board games mean one thing: rules. Luckily, there was both a helpful 5-minute video tutorial (linked from YouTube) waiting for me, as well as an incredibly in-depth tutorial mode that takes you through every inch of the game as you play for the first time against bots. Essentially, at the beginning of each game you choose to keep one to three destination tickets that you are dealt. The map (The United States in
the version I played) shows a large number of multicolored pre-made train routes between various cities. Your goal, by collecting cards of various colors, is to lay down trains matching the route colors to create train connections between the cities on your destination tickets. When you connect two cities with a train, you gain the amount of points shown on the destination ticket. However, if you still have that ticket unfinished at the end of the game you lose those points from your total score.
While you can see how many destination tickets or train cards your opponents have during a game, you don’t know exactly what destinations they are seeking out, or which color train cards they are holding. Essentially, you are going off of which routes they take on the game board, and briefly on what two cards they draw from the deck during each turn (if they decide to). If you complete all of your destination tickets, you have the option to choose a couple more, or simply stay with what you have. While creating your routes, it’s important to try to link as many together as you can, as there’s a big bonus awarded to the player with the longest train route at the end of the game. The game ends when a player gets down to 2 or less trains (out of 45) to place. At this point, each player can take one final turn.
Ticket to Ride features one of the easiest to use, and fastest, matchmaking systems I’ve ever seen in an online iOS game (which is shocking considering it uses Game Center). I played a bunch of 4-player games online, and never waited more than about a minute before the game filled up with friendly strangers – each one of them represented by a random character sitting around a table. You are able to chat with your opponents in the lobby, and throughout the actual gameplay, but for some reason you cannot chat with them when the game is over. I was immensely disappointed by this, as I had some good little conversations
with some people while playing the game, but wasn’t able to congratulate them on a job well done when things were over. On top of this oversight, the chat system has a very limited amount of words that can be sent before the sentence gets cut off and is confusing for the other players. Finally, I didn’t see any way to add players to your friends list. This may be a limit of Game Center, considering how primitive the platform still is, but it would have been a nice feature to have if it was possible at development.
I started off playing unranked matches to get a feel for things, and managed to finish in second place each time. I felt pretty happy with myself, so I decided to launch my first ranked match. After miserably landing in last place, I realized that there’s a lot more strategy to Ticket to Ride than I’m tapping into. In each game, I essentially just did my own thing while ignoring my opponent’s path-making. Several times an opponent would seem to purposely block a specific route I was shooting for, and at the end of one game I realized that someone had created a route along the entire southern and western coast of the US without anyone getting in their way. This game requires a fine balance between offensively laying down your own trains while simultaneously keeping an eye on the activities of your opponents. Sometimes sacrificing some trains to block off an opponents planned route is well worth it. I believe the saying is, “easy to learn, difficult to master?” Yeah, something like that.
Despite some great experiences while playing Ticket to Ride online, and an unexpectedly easy learning curve, this game starts to lose a bit of steam when you start looking for additional features. First off, Ticket to Ride doesn’t support any sort of local play at all. When I first started up the game, I had my iPad connected to my TV so some friends that were over could also learn the rules. I simply assumed that an iPad title based off a 5-player board game would have a pass-n-play feature. Much to my dismay, it does not. It doesn’t even support local wifi or Bluetooth play between other iPads. There are two modes: play against bots or play against people. This will probably be a turn-off for a lot of people who enjoyed playing the board game with friends, and were looking forward to a tightened up digital version with the same multiplayer feature.
Secondly, Ticket to ride only comes with a single “beginners” game board; The United States. Even though the gameplay in Ticket to Ride is addicting, playing the same map over and over could get old faster than one might want. There are, however, three expansion game boards offered for in-game purchase: USA 1910, Europe, and Switzerland. These cost 99 cents, $3.99, and $1.99 respectively. Now I understand that Days of Wonder doesn’t want to give away the farm here, and that the physical board game costs $30-
$40, but offering just one game mode/board with only bot or random online play for $6.99 seems to come up a bit short as far as games on the App Store go. The paid add-ons certainly add more depth to the game though, with each offering new gameplay mechanics on top of a new map. The USA 1910 pack reportedly adds three new ways to play the game.*
Despite some feature shortcomings, Ticket to Ride does feature some wonderful artwork and a very slick interface for dealing with cards and placing trains. It seems to be very well-optimized for the iPad, and provides for a very satisfying gaming experience. After looking at a few screenshots of the physical board game, and all the tiny pieces and stacks of cards that are included, I can see how taking things into a digital will be a treat for fans. The music sounds like it comes right out of a history channel documentary on the old west, and the various train sound effects work well with their respective actions. I particularly like the train whistle that signifies it’s your turn to play.
Ticket to Ride is the first time I’ve enjoyed playing with trains in 20 years. Should it have more content and a local play mode for the $6.99 asking price? I think so. Could it use a bit more in regards to social features and chat? Certainly! But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a highly polished, and highly entertaining board game experience that will keep you coming back whenever you have 20-30 minutes to spare, and possibly even tempt you spend a few more bucks on it’s add-ons. When I first heard of it, I assumed it wasn’t my kind of game. Now I’m a grown man who turns down of Call of Duty to play with trains. I just need to be able to do it with my friends so I don’t look like such a loser!
*I was not able to purchase any of the add-on content packs due to some technical issues, so unfortunately I won’t be able to review the extra paid content. Sorry!