Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Family Game Showcase: Ticket to Ride

At this time of year, one popular image is that of a toy train under the Christmas tree.  In that spirit, this month, we'll look at one of the most popular train-themed games, Ticket to Ride.

Designed by Alan R. Moon, Ticket to Ride was published in 2004 by American-based company Days of Wonder.  Since then, it has gone on to win 4 awards, including the German Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year), and spawn several followup board games, a card game, and computer and iPhone versions.

Ticket to Ride is very easy to learn, with only three choices on your turn, and simple mechanics.  Players start the game with a number of trains in their color, a few colored train cards, and three Destination cards, of which you may optionally discard one.

The board is a map of the United States, with routes of one to six links in length connecting various cities.  These routes are claimed by players using the same number of colored train cards as there are links in the route.  Colored routes require the train cards be a matching color.  Gray routes can be claimed by any color, but not mixed the cards must all be the same color.

On your turn, you may do one of three things: score immediate points by laying down some of your trains and claiming a route as described above; draw three destination cards (you may choose to discard up to two); or draw two train cards one at a time from either five face-up choices, or the face-down draw pile.  There are wild cards, which count as two draws if taken from the face-up selection.

Destination cards show two cities to connect by whatever contiguous series of routes you can before the game is over.  At the end of the game, these will either score their value as bonus points if completed, or subtract that value as a penalty if not.  A common strategy is to fulfill your initial destinations, then draw more, discarding difficult ones, in order to score extra points at game's end.

The last round is triggered when one player is left with 2 or fewer trains at the end of their turn.  Each player (including the player who initiated the endgame) gets one final turn before scoring.  After everyone's final turn, Destination bonus points and penalties are scored, and finally, the player with the longest contiguous length of trains gets a 10-point bonus.

This is an excellent game to introduce people to modern designer games, due to its simplicity, as well as the tactile feel of the little plastic trains.  Later spin-offs and expansions add new elements to gameplay, such as a Globetrotter bonus for most completed Destination tickets.

As always, if you'd like to join me for a game, you can contact me at  I've also started a Family Games Showcase group on the Mira Lagos Nextdoor site.  Come join us!

Family Game Showcase: Carcassonne

This month, I'd like to introduce you to a tile-laying game, based around a theme featuring the medieval French town of Carcassonne, which was known for it's fortified city walls.  This game, for 2 to 5 players, was designed by Klaus-JΓΌrgen Wrede, and published in Germany in 2000.  At it's core, this game is an exercise demonstrating the principle of return on investment.

The game board is built as you play, starting with one tile of terrain.  Each player has seven pawns in their color, which are placed on the board during play, to remain until certain conditions are met, at which point they score and may be used again.  Turns are simple: draw a tile, place it on the table (sharing at least one edge with another tile, and making sure the terrain matches),  then optionally place a pawn on the tile just played.

A unique term now used commonly among board gamers originated with this game.  The wooden person figures are referred to as followers in the game rules, although now, most people in the board game community call them meeples.  As the story goes, Carcassonne was being played at a convention, and a girl playing called her followers meeples, short for my peoples.  The term stuck, and now some variant of meeple is frequently used to refer to the wooden pawns in different games.

Each terrain tile shows one or more of four different features.  When placing your meeple, you choose one of these features, which determines how and when you will score that pawn, returning it to your supply. 

      City: Meeples placed here are Knights.  A city scores when it is completely surrounded by walls.

      Road: A follower here is a Thief.  Roads score when it has two endpoints.

      Monastary: Pawns placed here are Monks.  A monastary scores when the tile it is on is surrounded by 8 other tiles.

      Plains: Placing a meeple in the grass designates it as a Farmer.  They score points only at the end of the game, based on how many completed cities the plain touches.

When placing your meeple, the feature you're claiming cannot connect to the same kind of feature claimed by another pawn.  If, however, you claim a type of territory and then later place another tile that connects the two territories, you may potentially claim points when that feature is completed.

Since your seven figures are essentially trapped on the board until the city, road, or monastary is complete (or until the end of the game), there are some important decisions to make during play.  Use your figure now, or save it for later?  Finish a city to get that meeple back and score, or make it bigger for more points later?  At the end of the game, players score reduced points for incomplete features.

Sound like fun?  As always, to play this or many other games, contact me about starting a family game night club at