Publisher: Days of Wonder
Published in: 2005
Playing time: 60 minutes
Genre: train game
Mechanics: set collection, route building
Expansions: yes, Europa 1912; plus many other maps
BGG Page: Ticket to Ride: Europe
Ticket to Ride is a commonly recommended “gateway game,” meaning a game used to introduce people to new mechanics and deeper gameplay than childhood staples such as Monopoly, Clue, or Sorry, to name a few. Is its popularity well deserved? Let’s take a look!
Ticket to Ride (TtR) has a pretty simple setup. Simply hand everyone their trains in the color of their choice, 3 stations in matching colors, and set the matching score disk on the number zero on the outside border of the board. Shuffle and deal out 3 route cards and one long route (silvery blue background versus tan background). While everyone is looking over their routes and deciding which ones they want to keep, shuffle the train cards (well! You’ll be turning them in in multiples of the same color so if you’ve played before you want to make sure to spend some time shuffling them apart). Lay five face up above the board, making sure there are no more than two locomotive (rainbow) cards. Then deal out four train cards to each player.
Every player can choose to keep as many route cards (destination tickets) as they want, keeping anywhere from all to none. Once everyone has returned the cards they don’t want, place these back in the box (out of the game) along with the long routes – there is no other way besides the beginning deal to get long routes. Now you’re ready to go!
There are four actions you can decide from each turn, and you must pick only one.
First, you can draw cards. You can choose cards from the top of the face down deck, two cards from the face up cards, or from both. Normally, you can draw two cards total, but if you choose to pick up a face up locomotive, you can only pick up that one card. This is because locomotives are wilds that can be played with any other color; they’re also a requirement for building on certain routes (ones that have a matching locomotive symbol), so they’re very powerful.
Second, you can lay down a route. No partial routes, though! If you have the full number of matching color cards (or same color if building to a grey spot), then you can claim a route and place your train figures along it. You then score this immediately by moving your score disk along the track. If you chose to play on a tunnel route (designated by a thick, spiky black border), then you must also turn over the top three cards of the face down deck. If any of these cards matches the color you were trying to build, or is a wild locomotive, you must pay an additional train card to build your tunnel. Tunnels might need some extra work to build, after all! If you’re unable to play an additional card and you get unlucky enough to draw a matching color, you can’t build the tunnel and you end your turn. You keep the cards you committed to build, though, so you can try again next turn if you like.
Third, you can draw more routes cards. You draw three from the deck and must keep at least one, but you can keep two or three if you like. Discard the unwanted routes face down so no one can see what you didn’t want.
Fourth, you can build a station. Stations allow you to use one of another player’s routes coming out of the location you placed the station on, allowing it to count towards scoring for your route cards. It costs one card (any color) to build the first, two of any matching color to build the second, and three of any matching color to build the third. You probably want to delay or avoid placing these if you can, because they award you bonus points at the end of the game for each one you still have off the board. Your hand might be forced if someone decides to steal a coveted connection along one of your high value routes though! Those meanies.
Players take turns doing one of these four actions until one player has two or less train figures left. When this happens, that player declares the end of the game. Everyone else gets one more turn, and then the game is over. Time for final scoring – I hope you finished all your routes in time!
Everyone gets points as they lay down trains according to the scoring printed on the board. Additionally, once the game ends, everyone scores points based on what routes they were able to successfully complete. Routes you didn’t finish count against you for their full value, so be careful that you didn’t grab anything you couldn’t complete otherwise you’ll be in for a nasty bite! The player with the longest continuous route (counting each connection only once) gets a bonus ten points for the longest route. Players also get a four point bonus for each station they held on to (so up to 12 points). The player with the most points wins!
[If you want to figure out strategies on your own, you can skip to the review section here.]
Never pick up route cards if you don’t think you can complete them, unless you like negative points at the end of the game. You might want to get rid of cards at the beginning, too, especially the long route if this is one of your first games, as getting minus 20 points stings. If you get lucky enough to get routes that overlap, you’re in for a good time, and you’ll probably be able to draw more route cards later on as you finish up all your routes. Just don’t get overly ambitious!
Always keep an eye on everyone’s train figures. When anyone reaches two trains, you get one more turn and it’s game over. Make sure you’re not hoarding cards too late into the game or else you may be left with a whole lot of cards and very few points.
Remember that you score points for having the longest route and for simply building routes. If you’ve completed all your route cards but people have less than ten or so train figures left, you probably want to work towards the longest route or simply picking up the longest connections you can with your cards instead of trying to pick up another route card and getting burned for it.
Tunnels can burn you! If you draw a matching card after you commit to build a tunnel, you have to add another card to the tunnel. You might want to have at least one more card than is required to build your connection so you don’t end up wasting your turn.
Hoarding cards can be a viable strategy since there’s no hand limit, but don’t be too surprised if someone steals one of your coveted connections out from under you, especially if they’re building in the surrounding area.
You can be mean or nice. See someone building in a certain area, making connections that will obviously turn into a route? You can block them with your own train figures to break up their longest continuous route and force them to use up a station. Don’t expect to hear hymns sung in your praise if you do this, though!
There is only one place on the Europe map that is eight links long. It might be worth it to go for this connection even if you don’t have a route that corresponds to it, as the bonus for building a connection that long is quite nice.
TtR: Europe is a fun and quick little game with a good amount of tension and randomness to make it enjoyable. Though there are some “take that” mechanics, the Europe addition’s stations allow reprieve for most of the frustrations regarding being denied at a reasonable cost. If you’re looking for something more cutthroat, however, this map’s winding paths and stations might not be what you’re looking for. TtR: Europe is also a good couple’s game, but I wouldn’t say a great one; it shines brighter at four players.
Luck in TtR: Europe is at a satisfying level. It can be a little irritating in that it may take ages to get the right colors to build the connection you want, but I feel this is necessary to keep up the tension in the game as you hope for that good pull. A little more bothersome is overlapping routes; in our games, it seems like whoever gets lucky enough to have multiple routes overlapping (especially with their long route) will almost always win the game, as they’ll be able to complete more routes faster, focus on blocking other people, or pick up spare points around the board. This could, of course, be easily house ruled to avoid this if it’s enough of a problem in your games. With the amount of route tickets, however, it tends to be more of an uncommon experience than not.
TtR:’s Europe’s strategy is very basic, and boils down to making a decision on what to do on your turn. This is usually pretty easily decided. Light strategy isn’t necessarily bad strategy, but if you’re looking for some deep decision making in a train game, this definitely isn’t the right game for you.
The theme isn’t amazingly immersing, but the little plastic trains are a lot of fun and the board is colorful and appealing, if not 100% train planner/builder accurate. It’s fun placing the trains down and claiming your route, and since it’s a light and relatively fast game, the fact that the theme isn’t much deeper than that isn’t a big problem.
Though you’re not talking directly with the other players (at least not about the game usually), once the trains start getting down on the board, you’ll be constantly eying other players’ trains, trying to figure out where they’re going to build next, and hoping they won’t take the face up cards you have your eyes on. This is also part of why I feel four player TtR is better, as you’ll be bumping into people on the map more often, instead of building in your own little segment of the map. If this is something that you want in a two player game, I would suggest checking out some of the other maps; though I haven’t played them myself, I’ve heard Switzerland and Nordic Countries are designed to have more path crossing action with fewer players.
One of the downsides to having only one thing to do on your turn is the downtime. Unless other people are taking their turns very quickly (which they will learn to do eventually, but newer players will struggle with), it can be tough waiting for your turn just to draw two more cards. This does add to the tension in a necessary way, though, as you’re hoping on other players’ turns that they won’t grab the face up cards you need or take your route.
With a random draw pile and random routes each time, TtR: Europe won’t be the same each game. The base game comes with a lot of basic route cards but relatively few long routes, which is kind of a bummer as you’ll learn the long routes very fast. The expansion definitely helps with this, so if you have an extra $15 to spare, I’d recommend it for that reason alone (though the expansion also adds warehouses and another type of route, which may be more balanced than long routes for new players, so there’s a good amount it adds beyond that).
If you’re introducing a lot of people to more complex board games, I’d definitely suggest TtR: Europe, but I’d also suggest having another gateway game as well. If you play a lot of TtR, you’ll definitely get bored of it, so rotating games is a must in my opinion.
TtR as a series in general is very light. It’s not a filler (too long and a little too complicated), but it’s definitely simple enough to be a great springboard for more complex mechanics while not being too overwhelming. Definitely recommended as a light “in-between” or “warm up” game if you want something a little more than a filler but aren’t ready for your main attraction of the night.
The board, pieces, and cards are all colorful and beautifully designed. The map and the cards also have symbols unique to each color so it’s colorblind friendly. Though I’m not personally a fan of most “generic map” game boards, TtR: Europe adds enough color and abstract design that it keeps me satisfied and I forget it’s “just” a map.
Do note that it is still a map – of Europe – and all the city names are in their untranslated form (though the Russian cities have romanized names). At the risk of pointing out my European geography ignorance, it does often take a while to find where the routes are supposed to go, especially if you’re looking at the board upside down. the route cards themselves do have a nice little design that tells you roughly where the route should go, but you’ll probably still spend a few seconds finding it even with the guide unless you’re a geography master. This takes very little from the gameplay, however, so don’t let this be a driving factor in your decision.
Components in the game are pretty darn good. I love the little plastic trains and the stations, though I am sadder than I should probably admit that the trains do not fit into the stations. They’re a little too tall. A very minor point, but it would be fun to be able to play with your trains and drive them through your station while waiting for other people. First world problems indeed.
The cards are also good quality. We haven’t played it enough to see any wear, though we’ve only played maybe ten times so far. Since you shuffle them all together (for the most part), when and if they do start to wear, it should be evenly.
I think TtR: Europe is a great value. For a game with its components, aesthetic design quality, and number of cards, I could easily see it being around $50, but you can usually get it for around $35 and can even find it in places like Target, which I think is great (spreading the word about better games than the old standards is awesome!). Given the amount of times you’ll use it to introduce people to the hobby (and will continue to play it, as they’ll likely keep requesting it for a while), it’s definitely worth the price. You’ll also want to keep it around to use to introduce more newcomers later on, so, for us at least, it’s definitely earned a long-term place on our shelf.
I think TtR: Europe is a great gateway game as it gives an easy and visually appealing introduction to more complex mechanics and playstyle. It will probably lose its appeal as you get into deeper games with more elegant strategy, but I feel it still has a place as a light, “in betweener” or “night starter” game. For couples, I don’t like it as much, but this may be because Erik and I mostly either play full fillers (Hanabi, anyone?) or heavier games, and haven’t really spent to much time in the in between place lately. It’s also definitely more fun with more players, and can even be fun as a team game; if you have six people, for example, pair off into three teams – we did this and had a blast strategizing against the other teams and watching how they worked (or thought they worked!) together.
As a couple’s game (which all our overall ratings are), I have to knock it down a little. But it’s still very good in its niche and plays great with the right amount of people. Don’t expect more from it than it’s designed to deliver and you won’t be disappointed with this colorful and fun game.
Component Quality: 4.5/5