Publisher: Playful Entertainment
Developer: Next Level Games
by: Marc Allie
Ticket To Ride for Xbox Live Arcade is a video game conversion of a very popular board game. The fun theme, charming graphics, sounds and music, and surprisingly deep gameplay are compelling, and the XBLA version might just be a bit better than the unplugged version.
In Ticket To Ride, players share a common goal: claim as many different routes across the United States as possible. Routes between cities can be claimed by trading in railroad cards of the matching color. Gray routes can be claimed by any color cards, while rainbow colored locomotive cards are "wild", counting as any color. Say you want to build on a route that is four spaces long, and orange. On your turn, you might discard three orange cards, and one rainbow locomotive to do so. Five railroad cards are exposed at all times, and during your turn, you may draw any two of these railroad cards (unless you choose the "wild" locomotive, in which case your turn ends), or take your chances and draw two off the top of the deck. The route claiming works cleanly, and since it's so similar to the mechanic of other games, such as Phase 10, it's easy for even new players to catch on.
Destination cards are used for final scoring, and add strategic options to Ticket To Ride. At the beginning of the game, players are dealt three destination cards, and must choose two. The cards show two cities, and have a points value. To earn the points, you must have a continuous route between the two listed cities. Cities that are farther apart are worth more points, but be careful: if you cannot connect the two destinations by the end of the game, you instead lose the point value of the destination card! On any turn, you may draw three destination cards if you like, but must keep one. This leads to some serious decision making. Should you press your luck and try to connect, say, Seattle to Atlanta? Or would Chicago to New Orleans be more manageable? The final turn of the game begins when any player runs out of trains to place. After this, fulfilled destination card points are added, failed destinations are subtracted, and a bonus is given for the longest continuous route. The winner is the player with the most points.
Four players can enjoy the game locally, or up to five in a mix of local and online. Ticket To Ride for XBLA costs but a fraction of the board game itself, so it's a great way to try the game out. Only a few things keep it from being the definitive version of the game. First, when you play locally, each player needs his or her own controller, though only one is used at a time. I'd have preferred an option to pass one controller around. Second, and perhaps most grievous, is the fact that players can see which destination cards opponents have, which, to my knowledge, the board game version does not allow. This means more cutthroat play; since you know what routes your opponents need the most, you can screw them over by claiming them first.
Still, Ticket To Ride is a great translation of a fine board game. The rules are easy to learn, but the strategy will keep you interested through many plays. I found that my wife and 8 year old son enjoyed the game just as much as I did. If you are looking for a relaxing, enjoyable game, that's accessible to even a very casual player, Ticket To Ride is a good choice.