Presentation of Ticket to Ride Europe: Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics, Economy, and Uncertainty

Ticket to Ride Europe

Ticket to Ride is a game by Days of Wonder. The Ticket to Ride Europe version differs by having ferry routes and tunnel routes, train stations, and has long route destination cards. The game involves building routes and connecting cities. The aim is to have the highest score and players can score points in many different ways. Players collect train cards that must be spent to place train pieces on the map to connect cities. Players must complete the routes between the cities on ticket cards to obtain points, otherwise they are penalized for not completing those routes.

Mechanics

Cards: The game contains train car cards, long route cards, and destination tickets. Train car cards are used to purchase routes and connect cities. Five train cards are laid out on the table. Each turn, a player may collect two cards either from the face-up cards or may do a blind draw. If the player chooses a locomotive card (which is a wild card and may be played as any colour or can be used to build ferry routes) from the face-up cards, then the player may only pickup one card that round. Long route cards and destination tickets give players additional points for completing certain routes. These cards are kept secret from other players until the end of the game. Players can pick up additional route cards throughout the game on their turn.

Catch-up: Ticket to Ride Europe uses various catch-up mechanisms to ensure that the resources between players is in dynamic equilibrium and one player does not get significantly more ahead than others and this avoids a spiralling upward where one player would claim all routes and gain the most points.

  • Locomotives: Locomotives are multi-colored wild cards that can be played along with any set of cards when claiming a route or when used with ferries. If drawing a locomotive card from face-up cards, only one can be chosen. However, if a locomotive is drawn from the top of deck in blind draw, it still counts as one of the two cards a player can draw, and the player may draw again. Player can only draw one face-up locomotive from face-up cards. If three of the face-up train cards are locomotives, all five cards discarded and five new cards turned face up to replace them. Locomotives play many functions in the game, but they can be seen as a catch-up mechanism as it allows players to focus less on collecting all the same type of resource, and can also be used to purchase ferry routes.
  • Ferries: Ferries are gray routes that have a photo of a locomotive on them. They cross waterways on the board, which is ideal to connect very long routes. To claim this route, the player must play a locomotive card for each locomotive photo on the route, on top of the usual set of cards of the proper color for the remaining spaces of route. For example, if the ferry route is 4 pink spaces long and has 1 locomotive photo, the player must play 3 pink train cards and 1 locomotive card to claim the route. Although these are ideal routes, they are difficult to achieve so other players may focus on connecting smaller routes while a player focuses on these more difficult routes to obtain.
  • Train Stations: A train station allows its owner to use one of the routes belonging to another player into or out of a city in order to connect the cities on their destination tickets. Stations are built on any unoccupied city. If a player uses the same station to help connect cities on several different tickets, the player has to use the same route into the city with the station for all those tickets. The advantage of using train stations is that it allows players to use sections of track that would otherwise block them from completing a certain route.
  • Double routes: Some routes have double routes which allows two players to connect routes between two cities. One player can never claim both routes. This allows multiple players to follow the same direction in routes and avoids blocking out players from claiming the same route.

Resource management: Ticket to Ride Europe involves managing resources of game points, spending train car cards, and points for completing destination tickets. Players must always manage the resources in their hand versus the amount of resources required to claim a route.  The player must also manage the resources of their plastic game pieces, as the game ends when the player runs out of pieces.

Risk and reward: Tunnels are routes where a player is never sure how long the route they are trying to claim will be. Players must lay down the number of cards required by the length of the route. The top three cards from the draw pile are turned face up. For every card revealed whose color matches the color of the cards played to claim the tunnel, an additional card of the same color or locomotive must be played from the hand to be able to claim the route. For example, if the player is playing two red cards, and a red card is revealed, the player must play 1 more red card. If the player plays 2 green cards, and a locomotive is revealed, the player needs to play an additional green card. If the player plays 2 locomotive cards, and a locomotive card is revealed, the player needs to play another locomotive card. Players must also balance the risk of other players building on desired routes between cities listed on destination tickets.

Goals: The goal is to score the highest number of points in the game. A player scores points by claiming routes between cities, completing continuous path of routes between cities on destination tickets (the cities listed on destination tickets represent travel goals for player, they can result in bonus or penalty), completing longest continuous path, laying trains and collecting points (as indicated by the scoring table).

Bonuses: The player with the longest continuous path receives a bonus 10 points at the end of the game.

Piece elimination/Countdown: There are 45 colored train cars per player. When there are two or less plastic trains in one player’s stock, that signals the final round of turns in the game. The players each get one final turn then calculate score.

Territory control: Players claim routes (territories) of the board by building routes between cities. The route built by the player belongs to the player.

Turn sequence: The player can complete one action per turn sequence. They may draw train card, claim a route, draw destination tickets, or build a train station.

  • Draw train cards (Two train cards). There are eight types of train cards that match routes between cities. A player can draw two train cards, either from the top of the deck (blind draw) or a face-up card.
  • Claim a route: route is a continuous colored spaces between cities. Player must play a set of train cards whose color and quantity match the color and number of spaces on the route. Routes that are gray can be claimed using a set of cards of any one colour. A player can claim any open route on the board and it is not necessary to connect any previously played routes. A route must be claimed in an entirety during a single turn, and no more than oen route may be claimed in a given player’s turn.
  • Drawing destination tickets: player uses turn to draw 3 additional destination ticket cards. The player must keep at least one of them and discards the rest of the cards.

Other game reviewers have commented on how these sequences contribute to the game’s dynamic, highlighting that the turn sequence contributes to the flow of the game and short downtime between moves, and that it creates tension between players and between building:

“Because a player can do only one thing during his turn, and the actions themselves are short and punchy, the game moves quickly and has minimal downtime. Only the action of drawing and selecting extra tickets sometimes takes a while as a player has to ponder several options. This action is usually not taken very often, so it’s not a huge problem. The fact that a player may only do one thing during his turn creates tension. A player may pick up a red card with the intent of claiming a red route during his next turn, but by the time the turn comes back to him that route may already be claimed by someone else. Or the player wants to claim a route, but there’s also a colored card he really wants to draw… What to do? This introduces nice dilemmas (Thompson 2012).

Hand Management: Players are rewarded routes by playing cards in a certain sequence. Players must manage their hand and ensure they have enough cards to construct their desired route.

Card Drafting: On their turn, players can pick cards two cards from the five face-up cards or form the draw pile (blind draw). Card drafting creates tension in the game since players have to make choices since “there might be a card in the display a player really wants, but he can never be sure whether it will still be available when the turn comes back to him. Another player could pick it up before him.” (Thompson 2012).

Set collection: Players must collect cards to ensure they have enough to build a desired route. Collecting uses one turn contributes to the game’s excitement: “the dilemma that collecting the sets burns up a turn that you also would like to spend looking at tickets or claiming routes keeps it tense. Add in the fact that the cards you want may no longer be there when your turn comes around again, and now you’ve got some nerve-wracking gameplay. The key dynamic is the frustration of not being able to do everything you want to do, since collecting a set takes up your turn.” (Zaiga 2005).

Points: Players receive points for the length of their route. When a player claims a route, they immediately score the number of points indicated by a scoring table. The player receives points for completing destination tickets, but incomplete destination tickets result in a penalty. Each player gets four points for each station built, and the player with the longest continuous route gets a bonus of 10 points.

Route/Network Building: Players must connect lines to connect cities, other routes, or to obtain the longest route and gain a bonus 10 points.

Quests/Challenges: One of the best ways to score points during the game is for players to complete the routes outlined on their destination tickets. This is so that players can complete the route, collect points and avoid penalty. 

Dynamics

Making meaningful choices in the shortest amount of turns: Since players must claim routes to obtain points, players must balance the risk of another player claiming a route before they get a chance to claim it for themselves. Claiming a route, especially a longer route, can take many turns that involve collecting the necessary resources. By the time a player collects all the necessary train cards, another player may claim that route. Since routes do not need to be connected to other routes and a player can essentially build anywhere on the map, player unpredictability plays a role in decision making during gameplay.

Aesthetics

In terms of what makes Ticket to Ride Europe “fun” is its aesthetics. According to the taxonomy set out by Hunicke et al. (2004), Ticket to Ride Europe would be classified as a game that’s a challenge, that is a “[g]ame as obstacle course” (2). Ticket to Ride Europe involves making the most meaningful choices in the shortest amount of turns. However, Ticket to Ride Europe forces players to focus on their own resources while paying limited attention to how other players are managing their own resources. Although players are aware of who may be in the lead from the points counter that surrounds the game board, players are essentially focused on managing their own resources and attempting to make choices that will have the highest return. Some players may seem to be in the lead during gameplay, but it is difficult to say at any point in the game which player is truly in the lead due to the point counting system when the game ends. When I played this game with friends, we all noticed that we spent a lot of time claiming resources for ourselves, and little time socializing over gameplay strategy. One such way to solve such a problem would be to incorporate a trading system, such as the one in Catan, so that players could trade train cards, balance the risks and benefits of such a trade, and build routes with the help of other players’ resources.

Uncertainty:

Player Unpredictability: Player unpredictability can “exist in games that permit one player to take actions that either close off or open up opportunities for others, without affecting them directly” (Costikyan 2013: 78-80). In Ticket to Ride Europe, players are unsure of other players’ strategies and the routes that the other player wishes to claim. Players close off routes as they build connecting trains between cities, which pressures other players to make different choices to connect cities.

Randomness: Ticket to Ride Europe depends on randomness. This creates “moment-to-moment uncertainty” (Costikyan 2013: 84). First, the long route cards are shuffled and one card is distributed to each player. Then, three ticket cards are handed to each player, and the player must make a decision to keep two of them (but may keep all). On a player’s turn, they may draw train cards from the deck in a blind draw. Costikyan describes that randomness in a game such as Ticket to Ride Europe breaks symmetry. Players must make decisions based on their long route cards and ticket cards, which have been distributed randomly. In this case, “the initial distribution of route cards means players will seek to build tracks in different regions of the board” (Costikyan 2013: 84-85).

Hidden Information: During gameplay there is hidden information. The cards that are in the deck are hidden from players and only revealed during a blind draw or when one of the five face-up cards is replenished. Players hide the cards they have in their hand and their ticket cards from other players. This is so that other players do not build on those routes and block the player from connecting cities.

Analytic Complexity: Players must balance the number of turns it would require to complete a certain route, and must make a decision whether or not that route is worth pursuing immediately. Since players can only take one action per route, “players need to think about what to do, have to parse a complicated decision tree, and perhaps are uncertain, even as they make a decision, that it is necessarily the correct decision to make” (Costikyan 2013: 86).

Internal Economy

The tangible resource in the game that a player can use to build a route between cities are the plastic train cars and train cards. The plastic train cars are required to build routes between cities and when a player reaches 2 or less plastic cars, it signals the last round of the game. The train cards are spent as currency to build the routes. A concrete resource in the game is the score. As indicated before, a player scores points by claiming routes between cities, completing continuous path of routes between cities on destination tickets (the cities listed on destination tickets represent travel goals for player, they can result in bonus or penalty), completing longest continuous path, laying trains and collecting points (as indicated by the scoring table). It is also worth noting that train cards influence progression, since having a certain number of the same train cards will influence whether or not a player will build on a certain route, or may influence the player by making them build on another route that they had not initially had in mind. Ticket cards, on the other hand influence progression, since players are motivated to complete the routes and score the points indicated on the cards and avoid penalties.

Bibliography

Costikyan, Greg. 2013. Uncertainty in Games. Book, Whole. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Thompson, Derek. 2012. “Evaluating Game Mechanics: Set Collection and Ticket to Ride.” Meepletown. http://meepletown.com/2012/01/evaluating-game-mechanics-set-collection-and-ticket-to-ride/.

Zaiga. 2005. “[TiGD] Deconstructing Ticket to Ride.” Board Game Designers Forum. http://www.bgdf.com/forum/archive/archive-game-creation/topics-game-design/tigd-deconstructing-ticket-ride.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s