Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

When somebody involved with board games has the opportunity to introduce the hobby to somebody, you don’t just pick any old game. Like any activity, board gaming tends to have a learning curve associated with it. Going from Monopoly or Sorry! straight into Die Macher would likely leave most people saying “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool and fuck you, I’m out.

So the goal is to pick a game that has some very basic, straightforward rules, but still has enough substance to it to encourage the development of strategy, but enough of a luck element that a relative newcomer isn’t going to be getting trounced that first time playing.

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For years, one of the more popular “gateway games” has been The Settlers of Catan. But right there alongside Settlers is the 2004 Spiel des Jahres (Best Picture Oscar for board games) winner Ticket to Ride. I personally argue Ticket to Ride is even simpler to learn than Settlers, and is more flexible in both its strategy and risk-reward factors. Plus there’s this little nugget: Ticket to Ride’s publisher, Days of Wonder, claims Ticket to Ride has now overtaken Settlers in sales.

So, let’s talk about my personal favorite choice for gateway gaming, Ticket to Ride.

Game: Ticket to Ride
Players: 2 to 5
Gametime: 45 to 60 minutes
Designer: Alan R. Moon (UK/USA)
Key Mechanics: Set collection, route building

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Story: In Ticket to Ride, you’re the owner of a railroad company. You are competing against fellow railroad operators to claim the access rights to rail lines between major American and Canadian cities. You have specific routes you’re trying to complete before the game ends.

What do you do?: Ticket to Ride is played by collecting train cards of eight different colors, along with locomotive cards that can be used as any color. These cards are used to claim train routes on the board. The color and number of boxes on each route will determine what cards you have to play to claim the route. For example, claiming the route from Omaha to Chicago requires playing four blue cards. Gray routes can be claimed with any color, so as an example the route from Vancouver to Calgary can be claimed with three white cards, or three red cards, and so on. You show a route is yours by placing plastic train cars of your color along the route equal in number to the amount of spaces on the route.

The real goal of all this collecting of cards and claiming of routes is to complete route cards. A route card has the name of two cities on it and a point value. The longer the route, the more points it is worth. Completing a route means points on the end of the game, but failing to complete a route means losing points.

Here’s what makes things tricky. You’re only allowed to take one of the following actions on your turn:

  • Draw train cards. You can either take two of the five colored cards being shown face-up, a single locomotive wild card showing face up, or you can draw two cards that are face-down in the deck.
  • Claim a route on the board using your train cards.
  • Draw additional route cards. You are given three route cards to look at and you must keep at least one.

The agony that often pops up is you’ll find yourself wanting to do more than one of these actions. You might, for example, need just one more red card to complete a route, and it’s right there face-up waiting for you, but then after taking it, you have to wait until your next turn before you can claim the route. So you have to sit there and hope one of the other players doesn’t swoop in and take the route, which then means the only shot you have left of completing that 21-point route from L.A. to New York is to take a detour through fucking Duluth, and who the hell wants to do that?

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Further complicating matters is your train count. Each player only 45 trains, and the pentultimate turn is when somebody plays Train #43. So screwing around on getting your route cards completed can wind up leaving you high and dry.

How to taste sweet, sweet victory: Ticket to Ride is a point-scoring game. There are three ways points are scored:

  • During the game, you score points every time you claim a route on the board. The longer the route, the more points are scored. The one-train route from Seattle to Portland is only 1 point, but the six-train route from Portland to Salt Lake City will net you 15 points.
  • At the end of the game, you look over your route cards. If you succesfully completed a route between two cities, add the point value of the route your score. If the route wasn’t completed, the route’s point value is subtracted from your score
  • 10 bonus points are given to the player who has the longest continuous route on the board.

The player with the most points wins the game.

So, what’s awesome about this game?

  • Very basic rules. Get cards, match the colors, build a line.
  • Requires some flexible thinking if you initial plan to complete a route card winds up being taken away.
  • You can play kind of mean if you want to. Say, you’ve figured out a player needs to complete one last two-train route to connect something coast-to-coast. It is entirely legal in the rules to claim that route first, even if it doesn’t connect to anything you already have. You don’t get a lot of points for it, but you very possibly have blocked the other player from scoring a ton of points. Depending on the player, it may or may not result in an asschewing. Depending on you, you may or may not have a shit-eating grin on your face while receiving said asschewing.

Variety is the spice of life: Ticket to Ride’s success has led to the creation of additional standalone titles (such as Europe and Nordic Countries), and additional expansions and maps, such as maps of Asia, Africa and Switzerland, among others. Many of these new maps have extra features such as ferries (need to use a locomotive as part of claiming a route), tunnels (may or may not require extra cards to claim) or mountain routes (will require extra trains to claim). Other expansions also add additional route cards, or extra gameplay elements, including the zany Alvin & Dexter expansion, which adds an alien and a dinosaur (I shit you not) to the board, which blocks certain cities from being claimed until the alien/dinosaur is moved out of a city.

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Watch it being played: One of the better episodes of TableTop featured Ticket to Ride. The famous moment of this episode happened near the end, via Wil Wheaton's wife, Anne. Nerd rage? Not nerd rage? You decide.

Other ways to play: Ticket to Ride is, honestly, one of the best game apps out there. The base game is $6.99 on iOS or Android, has a fantastic step-by-step tutorial, great graphics and sound, and additional maps can also be purchased. The app is also available on Steam, with a price of $9.99 for the base game.

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Previous Board Games With OB: [Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!]

Images via BoardGameGeek