June 16, 2008

Ticket to Ride Card Game Review

TicketToRideCardGame.jpgPublisher Days of Wonder has once again brought another solid release to the approachable gateway gaming franchise Ticket to Ride, with Ticket to Ride the Card Game [Amazon, Funagain]. Set within the traditional American rail frontier, this installment takes Ticket to Ride to a few new places while holding onto many good aspects of the successful line of board game predecessors.

But without the colorful & fun train pieces, and the classic scramble to claim routes on the board to lock your opponents out of cities, does the Ticket to Ride card game bring enough strong new experiences to the table to warrant your purchase?

The general answer is... Those of you new to the Ticket to Ride line of games should probably start with one of the board game varieties - we suggest Ticket to Ride Europe.

If you're already a fanatic of the Ticket to Ride line of games, then be forewarned: Ticket to Ride the Card Game leans heavily on the use of your memory. If you don't mind that then there's plenty of gaming to enjoy in this new, clean and fun installment.

The Lay of the Land
As with all prior Ticket to Ride releases players aim to complete train routes from one city to another by playing a set of required cards. These train routes serve as the major scoring element in Ticket the Ride the Card Game, and since they're randomly drawn and chosen from a deck, the routes a player is tasked to complete vary from game to game. Each card contains two city names, which exist mainly for thematic purposes, and a series of colored circles representing the number of cards of each color you'll need to complete the route...

And Here's How it's Done
Each turn a player may collect two colored train cards (8 different color types in all) from the standard Ticket to Ride card draw format: either drawing from the top of the face down deck, or selecting cards from five face-up cards from the common pool. These cards are added to the player's hand, which has no maximum size. Once the cards are drawn the player's turn ends.

Alternatively players can spend their turn playing cards from their hand onto the table in somewhat of a rummy like fashion. This is where the rules become complicated to explain but they're actually pretty quick and straightforward - please bear with us! When playing cards from their hand, a player can either play a string of cards of the same color, like 3+ reds for instance, or 3 cards of different colors (1 blue, 1 yellow, 1 green). Once in play these cards sit face up and are in jeopardy of being lost by another player's actions, but we'll get to that in a moment. At the beginning of that player's next turn, the player takes the top card from each of the strings of colors (some being strings of 1 card) from the table and puts them face down into their deck. These cards are now safe, and are part of the player's rail yard.

It's from their rail yard that a player will use their color train cards to complete their routes at the end of the game. To do this a player flips over all the cards they've played in their face down yard, and then matches them against the requirements of their route cards. Players score points for completing routes, and subtact points for those routes left uncompleted... sucka.

TicketToRideCardGame2.jpgAn Exercise of Memory
The route cards are drawn by each player at the beginning of the game, or optionally a player can extend their collection by drawing more at any point mid-game. However, a player may never-ever look at their face down rail yard during play, which means they have to be very aware of all cards they've added to their yard.

This can be quite the taxing exercise at first - during our first few sessions there was hardly a peep at our table as all noggins were focused on remember how many cards of each color we've placed in our rail yard. You start with a set number of routes at first, and it's difficult enough remember if you've met the requirements for each of them. Things became even more rigorous as players opted to draw more route cards, trying to find new routes altogether, or drawing routes to leverage some of the cards in the rail yard that haven't already been allocated to complete their existing routes. This may induce brain farts.

Over time the memorization requirements of the game became easier to manage as your brain warms up, and then the socializing and table talk eeks its way back in. Eventually - after hanging in there - the table reach near-social norm of idle chat and 'catching up on the week' for our board game group.

Those of you looking to break the ice with a nice social card game might not find much solace in this title, at least until your group plays it a few times and the brain gets used to working the sluggish strings of the memory cortex. Conversely, those of you looking for a fun game to exercise your memory should look absolutely no further - this title is a perfect example of how working your brain can be fun.

Minimal Direct Competition
Aside from drafting the cards, there's very little interaction amongst players in Ticket to Ride the Card Game.

The one competitive hook is this: When playing cards from your hand to the table, you can't put down any cards of a certain color if another player already has a card of that color face up on the table. This isn't so bad when an opponent only plays 1 card of a color, since that card will go into their rail yard at the beginning of their next turn. However, when they play a string of 3+ cards, that means the color is off-limits for at least 3 turns - as each card peels off that string one at a time to go into the player's rail yard at the beginning of their turn.

However, you can play a string of a color if you place more than whats on the table already. So if an opponent has 2 reds, then you can play 3 reds on your turn. You opponent's 2 reds go into the discard pile, lost forever. This is what's known as a train robbery, and it's pretty vicious.

This mechanic balances out the ability for a player to monopolize certain colors, and it acts as an offensive mechanism to ruin another player's plans in evil ways. Yep, we quite enjoy it. However, this is one of the only ways players interact (other than use of the common card pool); there's no route consumption of the game board that exists in the other Ticket to Ride games, which makes this title feels somewhat empty on the competitive front.

Long time fans of the Ticket to Ride Franchise should find enough new and interesting gameplay elements to pick up Ticket to Ride the Card Game and enjoy it quite thoroughly. It has almost all of the fun elements of the Ticket to Ride train card draws and route placements, minus to colorful board and pieces. This of course simplifies things, and in their place are some interesting gameplay mechanics of card memorization.

Players new to the franchise might want to try one of the board game Ticket To Ride titles, as that remains to tried and true Ticket to Ride experience.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (our rating system)

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at June 16, 2008 1:20 PM

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