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Ticket to Ride is a steam train themed board game, but don't let that turn you off. It's been a massive hit with my boys who can't get enough of it, and it's got the grown-ups playing too -- sometimes even when the kids are in bed.
It's quite a relief to be back reviewing a game made of cardboard and plastic. I've been playing more videogames than I would like recently, and I've missed sitting around a table with a cup of tea, a packet of biscuits and some real social interaction, warts and all.
Ticket to Ride is one of those old-style games with a big board and lots of pieces. In this version of the game the style is also consciously old-fashioned, the board being based on turn of the century Europe with local place-name spellings. Anyone fancy a trip to KÝbenhavn or Wien? And try getting your kids to say they want to go from Sevastopol to Erzurum.
It's a bit of a surprise to find that my seven and five year olds can play this game more happily than any other. They hardly ever end up shouting, and they have become a little more controlled in victory and defeat, which has rubbed off when playing other games. My heart was warmed a few days ago to hear five year old James say "Well played" to seven year old Jon after losing a game of dominoes. That is real progress and no mistake.
As it happens though, Ticket to Ride is a game based on values that you couldn't wholeheartedly endorse. The idea is to become Europe's (or the USA's or Germany's) most powerful train operator, controlling routes between major European cities with a view, presumably, to maximising profit and stifling the competition. It's the logical conclusion of uncontrolled privatisation and you see played out before your eyes the chaos that is caused by train operators cherry-picking favourite routes. It's all about accumulation of resources. Passengers don't feature at all.
It's quite a relief to be back reviewing a game made of cardboard and plastic. I've been playing more videogames than I would like recently.
The game starts with each player being assigned certain routes to aim for. This might be a short route from Vienna, sorry, Wien, to Zurich , passing through Muchen, and maybe Venezia if you have to, or a long route from Lisboa to Stockholm, taking in the sights of most of Western Europe along the way. Taking turns you get to collect and then trade in cards to buy the tracks between neighbouring cities to help you make up your chosen routes in the most efficient manner. The more routes you complete, the more points you get and the closer you get to control of Europe's railways.
There is plenty of scope for strategy, always the mark of a satisfying family game. If you have time to think beyond your own objectives you can attempt to disrupt your opponents by buying the track along routes they appear to be aiming for, but you'll probably need to have played this quite a few times before you can work that out.
I've tried the maximum disruption/loose canon tactic, and just succeeded in annoying my wife and ultimately, to her immense pleasure, completely messing up. Nevertheless I intend to persevere, mainly because it's fun to (mildly) irritate people, but also because otherwise the game can be played in such a way that other people's objectives hardly impact on you at all, particularly with only two or three players, and you might as well be playing patience.
I've just discovered an unofficial British Isles version I can download.
But when all is said and done, I absolutely love this game. I've just discovered an unofficial British Isles version I can download (to print off) so there are genuine educational possibilities too. But I think as much as anything I will long remember this game as the almost daily entertainment for my kids in the wet summer of 2011.
You can get official expansion sets if you want, but my children successfully made up their own rules to tweak the game to suit them. And if you are isolated/desparate/immobile you could play this on XBLA, but really -- better to go and find a real person. That way you'll only eat half the packet of biscuits.
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