At fifty bazillion add-ons and expansions and counting, the immensely popular Ticket to Ride board game franchise has earned its place on Wal Mart shelves, where all crossover hits wind up. Here’s how to play the unadorned original:

(click to view transcript)

Hi! It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table, and this is Ticket to Ride, a set-collecting board game for 2-5 players where you travel along train routes. Let me show you how to play!

You and your friends play turn-of-the-century rivals who, inspired by Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, gin up a million dollar contest to see who can travel by rail to the most cities in a single week. You’ll be collecting tickets to different destinations, and marking railroad routes with your plastic trains to visit those specific cities. You’re committed to visiting the cities on your tickets. At the end of the game, any routes you complete are worth positive points, but any you miss are worth negative points! When a player runs out of trains, the end of the game is triggered. Everyone gets one last turn, and whoever has the most points wins!

If you’re not impressed by the paltry prize money, i’ll have you know that one million dollars is worth about twenty-nine million dollars in today’s money, so, like… put some starch in your moustache and let’s take this thing seriously!

OVERVIEW

Everyone starts the game with 45 plastic trains in their player colour, and a score marker that starts on zero on the scoring track. You also get a starting hand of 4 train car cards in a variety of colours: yellow, blue, orange, pink, red, green, black, and white. The deck also has wild locomotive cards that we’ll look at in a sec. The top five cards get dealt out near the board. These cards are like money. You’ll cash them in to claim different tracks on the board, placing your train cars there to show that you’ve claimed a particular line.

The Rules Gremlin wants to point out an important concept here: the coloured train car cards relate to the coloured routes on the map. The plastic trains in the various player colours are completely unrelated to these colours – they just indicate which train pieces belong to which players. Any player’s trains, regardless of colour, can be played on any track on the map.

There’s a separate deck of destination tickets, and every player starts with 3 of them. Each ticket depicts two cities on the map. If you manage to connect the two cities on your ticket with your trains, you get the points listed on the card. So if you drew this ticket, and you connected Denver and El Paso, you would earn 4 points.

The connection can be a straight beeline between the two cities, or it can kink, or fork, or go absolutely everywhere – as long as you can trace a line along your coloured trains between both cities, you’ll earn those points.

The more difficult it is to connect the cities, the more points the ticket is worth. So this ticket that takes you between Los Angeles and Miami is worth a big 20 points.

Now if, by the end of the game, you don’t manage to connect the cities on your tickets, you lose the points on the card. That’s why, when you get your three destination tickets at the start of the game, you’re allowed to discard one if you want to. You’re looking for route synergies, ideally. So if you drew these three destination tickets off the top of the game, it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine a route that starts in Portland, scoops down to San Francisco, and hits Phoenix on the way to Atlanta, which would let you claim both of these tickets – it’s fine if your routes overlap. But this north-south Winnipeg to Houston ticket is completely perpendicular to that route, so if you’re going to get rid of a ticket, this one’s a prime candidate. A discarded ticket goes to the bottom of the destination deck. You keep your destination tickets hidden so that other players can’t mess with your travel plans.

TAKING A TURN

Once everyone has decided on which destination ticket to discard, if any, the game is on. Beginning with the starting player and going clockwise, everyone takes a turn, until one player gets down to his or her last few trains.

On your turn, you can do one of three things:

Take train cards
Take tickets
Or claim a route on the map.

If you want to claim a route, you pick a route on the map and pay the cost of it in cards. So this route between El Paso and Houston costs 6 green cards. This route between Salt Lake City and Helena costs three pink cards. Discard the cost of the route, and put your trains on the map. Now that this route is claimed, no other players can pay to place their trains there. The exception is these important bottleneck routes that have two tracks side by side. One player can’t claim both… but they’re meant to house two different players alongside one another. In 2- or 3-player games, once someone has claimed one of these double routes, the other one is no longer available.

You can claim the grey routes with any colour, as long as all the cards you pay are the same colour. Connect Atlanta and Charleston with 2 orange cards or 2 blue cards, but not a pink and a white card. These special multi-coloured locomotives act as wild cards – they stand in for any colour. So to claim this route, you could play one pink card and a locomotive. To claim this one, you could spend two blue cards and one locomotive, or one blue card and two locomotives, or… you guessed it. Three locomotives.

Claiming a route is all or nothing – you can’t pay one red card to lay down one train just to get dibs on the route.

The longer the route, the more points you get for claiming it. A 1-train route gets you 1 point; 2 trains scores you 2, 3 trains gets you 4, 4 trains gets you 7, 5 gets you 10, and these big 6-train routes will score you 15 points!

Notwithstanding the rules i just mentioned, you can claim any empty route on the board – it doesn’t have to be one mentioned on your destination tickets, and you can claim routes in any roder you like!. Across successive turns, you can claim this route, then this route, then this route, if you want to. And it may be in your best interest not to beat an obvious path from one city to another, because another player might catch on to what you’re doing and claim an important route along that path, forcing you to find a detour!

If you do manage to connect the two cities on your card, however circuitous your path may be, you keep your destination ticket a secret. You’ll collect those points at the end of the game.

Instead of claiming a route on your turn, you can collect more train cards. Draw a card either from the face-up options, or face-down from the deck. If you drew face-up, fill the empty slot with a new card. Then, draw a second card, either face up or face down, to end your turn. If you choose to draw a locomotive as your first card, that counts as two cards, and your turn is over. If you secretly draw a locomotive from the face-down deck, you still get to draw a second card, since nobody knows about it. Shh! It’s a secret!! If a total of three locomotives wind up face up, scrap the entire row and deal out 5 fresh cards.

When you run out of cards, shuffle the discard pile and make a new deck. There’s no hand limit, so it’s possible, though unlikely, to really run out of cards, If that happens, you may not be able to draw up to two train cards on your turn.

So you can either claim a route or take train cards on your turn. Your third and final option is to take more destination tickets. Draw three cards from the destination deck. You have to keep at least one of these tickets, but you can keep two, or all three of them if you like. Any returned cards get sunk to the bottom of the deck. If all the tickets are gone, you can’t have any.

Towards the end of the game, it’s very possible to draw tickets for destinations you’ve already completed… or that are one or two routes away from being completed. So drawing tickets is a great way to potentially grab easy points. Be careful, though – just like the tickets from the start of the game, these cards are worth negative points if you don’t manage to connect the cities.

ENDGAME

When a player claims a route and winds up with two plastic trains or less. That triggers the end of the game. Everyone, including the player who’s almost out of trains, gets one last turn, and then you count up the points.

Everyone flips over their destination tickets. If they completed the routes, they get the points. If not, they lose the points. The player with the longest uninterrupted path of connected routes gets this bonus card worth 10 points. If there are any ties, all tied players get the 10 points. Of course, the player with the most points wins! The number of completed destination cards breaks ties, and the ultimate tiebreaker is whoever ended up with the Longest Continuous Path card.

SETUP

To set up the game, everyone takes 45 trains in their chosen colour, and draws 4 train cards and 3 destination tickets at random. Keep all of your tickets, of throw one away at a maximum. Any destination tickets you get rid of go to the bottom of the deck near the side of the board. Put the train car deck nearby, and flip over 5 cards. Put the Longest Path bonus card by the board to tantalize everyone. The most well-traveled player goes first, and play continues clockwise.

And now you’re ready to play Ticket to Ride!

Get Your Own Copy of Ticket to Ride

If you’re interested in adding Ticket to Ride to your own board game collection, you’re spoiled for choice. You can buy maps for anywhere in the world – even places that don’t have trains (Ticket to Ride: The Middle of the Goddamn Pacific Ocean is a particularly weird entry). My personal pick is Europe, but if you’re a purist, you’ll want to begin at the beginning. Click the Amazon link below to grab your own copy, and i’ll receive a small commission:

Ticket to Ride


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