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Guide to “Ticket to Ride”

I am playing a lot of “Ticket to Ride, introduced to me by Ethan Andelman. The strategy/resource-management “train game” won a bevy of game of year awards in 2004 and 2005. Rules are available here for the unacquainted. TL;DR version: draw cards of different colors to make specific types of train routes against 1-4 other players on familiar world maps.

Hard core players will memorize but all players should have a general sense of the tickets. The ticket value for completion is the shortest number of trains between the two cities. E.g., Los Angeles to Helena on the shortest route via Las Vegas and Salt Lake City is 8 cars, so the ticket is worth 8. I made a grid of the tickets in both the original pack, as well as the 1910 expansion pack, available here. (Keep in mind the 1910 variant alters four of the original pack, down 1.)

Start of a multiplayer online Ticket to Ride Game
I would squeak by with a two point victory here…

I’m hovering around the 2000-3000 rank on the online rankings on Steam so I have a lot to learn but here are some tips & tricks a couple of hundred or so games in:

* The original game heavily favors (the long) East-West connections. This is not merely because the value of the tickets themselves are higher, but the process of completing them with bigger sets of trains. In a multiplayer game starting out with three middle country cards you’re pretty out of luck. You may want to immediately draw for more cards, and if you don’t make your set of Duluth-El Pasoish cards fine.

A lousy starting hand - draw again quickly to find a longer route to complement them.
A lousy starting hand – draw again quickly to find a longer route to complement them.

The North-South routes are also more broken up. To make Boston to Miami is at shortest five card placements along the east coast but so is Seattle-New York (22 points.)  Three two-train placements are worth six points, but one six train unit is worth fifteen, and so forth.

Commonly, especially against highly rated players in heads up matches they’ll eschew almost any short “ticket”, taking just the long route and anything compatible on the way. The noobs fiddle away on Chicago-to-Boston routes while their opponent is hording cards ready for huge east-west runs.

An extreme example of this was the following frustrating game:

I have seven, mostly good cards AND some long routes...
I have seven, mostly good cards AND some long routes…

But lost by seven points. I even started with a bunch of middle country routes (like Dallas and New Orleans…so my Houston to El Paso route didn’t take the six green southern-most route: hey I’m here, I’ve got 4 red cards, let’s just do that not accumulate green.)

...he has only two cards, but still pulls out the victory
…he has only two cards, but still pulls out the victory

In the above game I also really should have been more aware of the ending of the game, which I could have ended one turn earlier and would have eliminated his last play of El Paso to Houston (+16). I didn’t think he had the six green…

* ‘Blocking’ is the Check-Raise of TTR. Poker players in casual games can be offended when someone acting before them checks a strong hand and then raises. Without being skilled at doing so the value of position (acting later) is so strong as to make early seats almost not worth playing. Online games are often created with a “no block” rule in their title. These players are often not that good, and one can abide by the spirit of the rule and come in with a huge advantage: those players aren’t looking closely at what you’re doing.

With this more direct form of awareness of other players’ goals, then occasionally counter-moves against them, the game is closer to luck. In games of all kinds, people are really more comfortable playing against fate than other people.

* Count your Cards, a la Blackjack. Twelve cards of one color is a pretty limited group from which to get a group of five or six, which may be essential for your route. However, once you have it, it is far more important to order your moves properly. If you hold the six black for LA to El Paso you don’t necessarily need to play it upon completion. You can watch whether anyone else is close. Grab two cards more instead to help advance other portions of your routes. This can be unnerving but an enormous strategic advantage. Note when they do take the color you’re worried about if this is likely to be applied to another route (say, the three black necessary from Pittsburgh to Chicago.) By holding off playing the cards you may also slow another route getting completed at all.

Relatedly you may want to take additional cards of the same color to ensure that route is held for you later in the game and impede others. I find this works best in multi-player games but that’s unscientific.

* The three chokeholds. In the following game the first three plays of my opponents grabbed each of the three of them. Depending on your card configuration not having these results in a ton more moves to complete your routes and especially in multiplayer games you could be almost entirely out of luck: Seattle to Portland, Nashville-Atlanta, New Orleans-Houston.

Three Chokeholds to get early in your Ticket to Ride Game
Three Chokeholds to consider early in your Ticket to Ride Game

Nashville-Atlanta and New Orleans-Houston can be related. When one is taken, if you have a SF-Atlanta or west coast to Miami card you better have one of them. Preferably the latter. The LA-to-Miami train route is probably the most effective in the game IF you have that small bridge covered. Accumulate your 18 black, green and red at your own pace after that; it’s unlikely you’re getting challenged and have good LA-to Houston alternatives if in the worst case someone beats you to it.

* It is (Slightly) Easy Being Green (or White). Is there (even slightly?) a most valuable color? Of course that will depend on the strategy based on the tickets you have. A couple times colors are paired on the same possible routes which opens up different game play prospects in shorter handed games (where the routes are exclusive) versus 4-5 players where you could “share the road.”

Yellow and Red are together: SLC to Denver & New York to Boston.

Black and Orange: NY to DC & Denver to KC

Green and White: NY to Pittsburgh & Chicago to St. Louis.

The colors each have one place on the map where there is a possibility of placing a six-train route.

Each color has at least one possibility of each length of a train set. Each color has only one six-train possibility. Black, red, blue and orange color have two different possibilities for three or four train routes. Green and white are favored by having only one four train possibility but two five-train prospects as well as two two-train prospects.

Perhaps strangely I seldom see the five green Pittsburgh to St. Louis connection played.

* Be aware of likely last moves – or force them early. The online game allows you to see the number of remaining trains but also the remaining number of cards. Is it likely the possible game ender has enough cards to match the tickets they want to get? What colors have they been accumulating – does this rationally figure to be something they could suddenly finish with, such as six of one color at the end of a route, whose terminous is a likely card? In that case, even when they have eight cards you could be in danger.  Conversely, after someone has taken a lot of tickets, but doesn’t have many cards, you may want to end the game shortly to flip the tickets they’ve taken to be negative on the score. This goes to the awareness of other players’ goals.


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