Ticket to Ride: A Board Game Review

Around since 2004, Ticket to Ride is an established fan favorite. I’m often asked for game recommendations for people who like to play games, but wouldn’t describe themselves as “serious gamers.” Well, look no further. Ticket to Ride is a perfect game for novices, experts, and everything in between.



The Basics

Time: 30-60 minutes
Ages: 8+
BGG Rating: 7.5*
Baby Brown Bear Status: Owned (original and Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries)

In Ticket to Ride (or TTR, as we affectionately call it), you and four of your old college buddies are racing by train to see who can visit the most U.S. cities–and claim the most routes– in just seven days. It’s a winner-takes-all competition for a $1 million prize, an especially astounding amount in 1900, when the game takes place.

The main game play mechanisms are card drafting and network building. The object of the game is to score the most points, which is done in three ways: claiming routes, successfully connecting cities on your destination tickets, and/or completing the longest continuous path of routes.

The game ends when any player has only 0, 1, or 2 trains left at the end of his or her turn. Each player, including that player, then has one final turn before scores are calculated.

*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10.


The setup is quite simple. Here, you can see the major components.


Below the map, from left to right are: a player’s initial hand of four train car cards; a player’s initial hand of three destination tickets; and the pile of train car cards with the top five face-up.


In the center of the table is the map (in the original game, it is of the U.S. as shown here). On the map are several train routes connecting various cities. The colored rectangles in any given route represent the number and color of train car cards needed to claim that route. For example, the route between El Paso and Houston requires six green train car cards.

Some of the routes are gray. This means that a player may choose any color train car card as long she has the specified number all in the same color.

There are also some double-routes. In games with two or three players, only one of the double-routes can be claimed. In games with four to five players, both routes can be claimed, but not by the same player.

Finally, surrounding the map is the scoring track, where players keep a running tally of the points earned from claiming routes.

Destination tickets

Each player is initially dealt three destination tickets and must keep at least two of them. The discarded destination tickets are placed on the bottom of the remaining cards and the deck is put off to the side of the board.

These cards contain the names of two cities and a point value. If the player successfully connects the two cities by the end of the game, she adds that point value to her score. If she does not successfully connect the two cities, she subtracts that point value from her score. These cards should be kept secret so your competitors cannot see where you are trying to go. This is important because your strategy should be largely based on your destination tickets.

Train car cards

Each player is initially dealt four train car cards. The rest of the deck should be set to the side of the board and the top five cards should be placed face-up on the table. There are eight types of train car cards that represent the colors of routes on the map. There are also locomotive cards that act as wild cards and can be used to complete any route (the locomotive card is the rainbow-colored card in the above picture).


Finally, each player chooses a color and takes the corresponding set of 45 trains and scoring marker. The scoring marker is placed along the scoring track (beginning at zero). Optionally, the trains are lined up in a pretty little row, as shown below.


Always bet on blue.

Turn summary

According to the rules, the most experienced traveler begins. In clockwise order, each player can do one the following. Remember, these are simplified rules to give you a flavor of the game. Before you play, make sure you read the real rule book.

  • Draw train car cards. A player can draw two train car cards from the face-up pile or she can blindly draw from the top of the deck. Face-up cards must be immediately replaced. If a locomotive card is face-up and a player wants it, she may only draw that one card. If the locomotive card is drawn from a blind draw, the player may still draw two cards (and consider herself lucky).
  • Claim a route. A player can claim a route by turning in a set of train car cards that match the number and color of the desired route. She then places her trains on the route spaces. Finally, she scores her route according to the scoring table printed on the board and moves her scoring marker accordingly.
  • Draw destination tickets. A player may draw three destination tickets, keeping at least one of them. This is a good strategy if the game is still young and she has completed all her other destination cards already.

Again, this continues until a player has only 2 or fewer trains left in her stock. Each player then has one more turn and final scores are calculated (taking into account completed or uncompleted destination tickets and the longest route).



My Thoughts

Another easy one, and I think you know how it’s going to go.


  • Spite. If other players are able to detect where you are trying to go, they are able to cut you off by claiming the route you need. Since there are so many single routes connecting cities you need to reach for your destination tickets, this can be a real pain in the ass, especially when it’s done out of spite and not necessity.


  • Family friendliness. Yes, this is another train game, but it’s a lot easier to set up, learn, and start than Snowdonia. Like I mentioned at the start of this post, it appeals to people of all ages, interests, and game-playing experience. There’s hardly any learning curve, scoring is straightforward, and it encourages a lot of interaction with other players. The theme is light enough to make it fun and engaging, and yet it requires enough strategy to be interesting. This is one of the only family friendly strategy games I regularly play that requires those meaningful decisions I discussed previously.
  • Fast-paced action. Because this game is pretty easy to learn, it means you don’t have a lot of analysis paralysis. In turn, it moves quickly and you’re able to keep up without issue, even if you’re just starting.
  • So many versions! I mentioned above that we have Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries in addition to the original game, and we love it just as much. There are many different versions of this game, with new maps, slightly different rules, and unique player counts.
  • Wanderlust. I always feel a sense of wanderlust when we play this game, regardless of which map we play. I absolutely love to travel, but since it’s not entirely practical (or affordable) to travel nonstop, I can usually–temporarily–scratch the itch with a quick game of TTR.

In short

This is a great game to have in your personal collection. If you’re not ready to commit, check it out at your local game store. No self-respecting game store would be complete without it in their trial library. It’s a classic game, respected–if not loved–by every board game fan I know, yours truly included. I’m already looking forward to the day I can teach Baby Bear how to play.

Are you a TTR fan, too? Which version is your favorite?






An Intro to Board Games

Both Papa Bear and I grew up playing board games. In fact, when asked if he liked growing up with three brothers, he says, “Yes, because we always had a perfect amount of people for games.” I’m sure he likes his brothers for other reasons too, but it’s hard to say.

As an only child, I prefer to think that I was just super creative when I wanted to play a game and couldn’t wrangle together anyone else. After all, playing by oneself is almost a surefire way to win.


I’m also going to lose, unfortunately.

Though we grew up with games like Mastermind, Scrabble, Life, and Monopoly (So. Much. Monopoly.), our tastes have changed in recent years. It all started when a good friend gifted us with Dominion for our wedding.


More on this later.

Any good game involves a certain level of strategy, but what Dominion introduced us to was a whole new world that took those strategies to the next level. (For what it’s worth, bad games involve strategy too, but the goal is usually to end the game as soon as possible. Here’s looking at you, Candyland.)

In this new world, games are more complex. When I asked my game group to describe what makes these games different, they said that, unlike Monopoly or Life, for example, these require “meaningful decisions.” Because there is much less left to chance (e.g., rolling a die or spinning a wheel), you are responsible for your outcomes. Each action must be carefully planned as it can greatly affect your and your opponent’s future strategies. In turn, each time you play is very different from the last.

Now, I don’t mean to sound snobbish. There is a time and a place for games like Monopoly and Life. To me, one of the greatest things about board games is that they encourage conversation and interaction. Nearly any game allows for fun interchange, even those where “fun interchange” may be better described as “contentious debate.” Plus, many of us grew up playing these games. Playing them later in life can be fun for purely nostalgic reasons. Furthermore, they are great for teaching both kids and adults how to play board games. They introduce turn order and help people learn how to read game rules, win and lose with grace (sometimes), and generally have fun playing games.

guess who

These faces strike a chord with my sentimental heart.

Let me step back, though. Before we go too far down the board game path, let’s start with some basics.



A Quick Board Game Primer

A board gamer’s best friend: BoardGameGeek

Simply put, BoardGameGeek is a database for board games and it pretty much contains anything you’d possibly want to know about any game. I like to use it to research games before we buy them, read forums for recommendations of what to buy next in any certain category, search for rule clarifications, and log my game plays. If you think that’s a lot, you should see how Papa Bear uses the site. He basically lives and breathes “BGG.”

Board game categories

BGG helpfully classifies games in a few ways: type, category, and mechanism. Here are BGG’s “types” of games:

While these categories and descriptions are generally helpful, and will earn you points if you use them correctly in the gaming community, it’s important to remember that some games span across categories. So if you think you only enjoy party games, you may be surprised to find out that some of your favorites are also considered to be thematic games. You may be a bigger board game geek than you thought!


This guy is so excited about games that he decided to dress up as a blue meeple at the beach!*

Where to begin

Based on the above descriptions, you may be drawn to a particular kind of game. You’ve likely already played a party game in recent years. If you have any friends who like to play games, ask them to play. I’ve never met a board game fan who will turn down a game night. If you don’t know any game lovers, check out a local board game store. For me, it’s the Chicagoland Games: Dice Dojo on Broadway and Bryn Mawr.

Going to your local store is great for a few reasons: 1. Any purchase would help support a local business; 2. They usually have demo libraries full of games you can try before you buy (with no pressure to buy at all); and 3. They typically host open game nights. The Dojo, for example, hosts an open board game night each Wednesday. There, you can meet like-minded people and try your hand at a new game. You are most likely not the only person unfamiliar with the game, so the environment is very conducive to learning and asking questions.


Open game night at the Dojo. You can see a sliver of the demo wall on the right. They have so many games to try.
[Source: Me, after participating in a great open game night at the Dojo]

Now, since I tend to like strategy games (and party games) best, and since that’s kind of what I started off talking about here, I’d personally recommend starting with Dominion. Admittedly, I have no other frame of reference, but I think it’s a fun game that’s easy to learn and play in a relatively short amount of time. Another popular starting point for strategy games is Catan, formerly known as Settlers of Catan or “Settlers.”

Learning to play a new game

I’ll admit, when we first started playing Dominion, I found the eight-page rule book to be rather daunting. Now, I find eight-page rule books to be refreshingly short.


“Time out. I don’t want to read eight pages of rules. What else can I do?”

There are several ways to learn how to play a new game. Over time I’ve realized that, in order of preference, I like to:

  1. Play with someone who already knows the game;
  2. Watch an overview video; and/or
  3. Read through the rule book.

Playing with people who know the game. Assuming your friends are somewhat articulate, it’s easiest to learn how to play a game from people who have already played it, especially if they’re played more than once. After a brief summary of components and rules, I often find that it’s easiest to just start playing and asking questions along the way. Sure, you may not be able to form a solid strategy yet, but there’s no better way to improve than by making mistakes. Plus, if you totally suck it up the first time, imagine how surprised they’ll be when you dominate the second time around.

Watching an overview video. Now, let’s say you know you’re going to play a game but you don’t own it and your friends aren’t with you yet. Save everyone the time and energy of having someone explain it by watching an overview video first. Good ones (like the Watch It Played series) will provide a succinct review of the basic game play and may even throw out a few ideas for strategy. The Dice Tower also has some nice videos.

Reading the rules. Finally, it never hurts to learn a game by simply reading the rules the designers took so long to write. In my experience, they become easier to understand the more games you play and rule books you read.

Regardless of how I initially learn a game, I find it to be very insightful to read through the rule book again after playing once. With a basic understanding of the game down, it’s easier to understand some of the intricacies of the rules. It’s also helpful because you realize what you did incorrectly the first time. Oops.

Ready to Play?

Enough talking about what kinds of games are out there and how to learn how to play them. It’s time for you to just start playing!

Have no friends? There are several solo games. Have a lot of friends? Grab a party game. Have just a medium amount of friends? You’re in luck, because there are a gazillion for two to four players.

Because I talked up Dominion a couple of times throughout this post, look for a follow-up that gives a little more detail about the game and why Papa Bear and I like it so much.

(Edit: Here’s the Dominion review.)

Again, the best part of playing games is the social element (although I do love a good mental challenge and some healthy competition). So while you (eagerly) wait to learn more about Dominion, feel free to ask questions or comment with your personal favorites.


Yes, I’m using a Monopoly board as the final image on a post where I kind of bash Monopoly. 

*A meeple is a little wooden figure used in board games.