Monday, June 11, 2012

Ticket To Ride PC: Review

Ticket To Ride (PC): Review
Version Reviewed: 1.2.1 
What I like: Simple rules but strategic choices, have to adapt to changing conditions, fast play, easy to use multiplayer, no obnoxious opponents so far.
Not So Much: Less than stellar AI, multiplayer lobby could have more features, no hotseat.
Other stuff you may like: The repetitive music????
The Verdict: C+ (solo), B (online)
About my reviews

Official site:
Ticket To Ride

Ticket To Ride is an award-winning board game which I have never played but have seen mentioned many times. It feels similar in spirit to games such as Settlers of Catan – simple rules, but having some strategic depth. As you can guess from the title Ticket To Ride is railroad themed, but it doesn’t really matter if you are interested in trains or railroads. Like any card-based game there is some luck involved, but your actions heavily influence your success. I believe the PC game is a faithful recreation of the boardgame.

2 to 5 players can face off, either as a single player game vs. the AI or online against human opponents (I assume they are human anyway). AI bots can also be added to online games to bolster the number of players. Unfortunately there isn’t any hotseat play for multiple players at a single computer.

Getting Started
There are multiple tracks one can take to learn the game. There is a tutorial video describing the game in about 5 minutes which is probably sufficient, but I prefer reading the short rulebook contained within the game. The tutorial video doesn’t have any type of playback controls, so no pausing, rewinding or skipping ahead. An interactive tutorial can also help guide you through your game. The rules are simple so players shouldn’t have a hard time picking them up.

The game comes with a USA map to play, but Europe and Switzerland maps are available too via DLC. These also incorporate some rule changes, so if you’re enjoying the game and want to add some variety these DLCs may be of interest. For a single player game, choose a map and number of players and you’re ready to depart. Woo – woo!

Game Play
Cities on the map are connected by routes – the colored boxes running between the cities. These are claimed by using the colored cards in your hand - a route made up of 4 red boxes would require the player to play 4 red cards. There are also wild cards that can be used as any color and grey routes that can be claimed by any same-colored set of cards. Points are earned for each route claimed with longer routes earning more points.  One of the frequent decisions a player is confronted with is whether to take a longer route for more points, or to grab a shorter route so their path isn’t cut off, as only one player can claim a route. When playing with 4+ players the double routes come into play – letting 2 players claim a route. As you can see from the board below, the double routes are made up of two different colors, except for the grey ones which can be claimed using any color.

The player also has access to destination cards. These represent cities spanning multiple routes and earn the player more points at the end of the game. The player can see how many destination cards a player has, but not how many they have completed so you never know for sure how other players are progressing with their destinations. The destination points are deducted from your total if the game ends and the destination route hasn’t been completed. Again, longer destinations net the player more points but are more difficult to complete. In the screen shot above I have two destination cards in the lower right corner. Montreal – Atlanta is currently selected resulting in the respective cities highlighted by green circles on the map, making for a helpful visual aid when planning the path you wish to take.

Each player starts with 45 trains to place on the map, which get used every time a route is claimed. Once a player is down to 2 or less trains, there is one more turn for each player before the game ends and the points are tallied. It is at this point the players’ destination cards are revealed. It is rather dramatic watching the points get tallied up, hoping that you netted enough to take the victory. The player with the longest continuous route is awarded 10 bonus points. It would be nice if each player’s longest track length was displayed during the game. During play the tracks must be manually counted to determine who has the longest section of track.

Players can take 1 of 3 actions on their turn. First, the player may draw 2 colored train cards from the visible ones along the right hand side or from the blue draw stack. These are the cards used to claim a route. If a wild card is chosen from the visible cards it counts as 2 choices, forcing the player to decide whether quality or quantity is more helpful in their situation.
The second action is to claim a route using the colored train cards. The last action is to draw more destination cards. This is accomplished by drawing 3 and choosing to keep at least 1. This can be risky later in the game as you don’t want to be stuck with any unfinished destinations.

Difficulty and AI
The AI has been a bit of a pushover in the 12 or so games I played against it. I did lose 2 close games, but there were times I beat the combined score of the 2 AI players. I’m a bit disappointed the solo game isn’t more challenging. I understand making a competitive AI is difficult, but this game seems more suited to the possibility than others. The AI for the Xbox 360 version of Settlers of Catan puts up a good fight and I don’t see Ticket to Ride being much more complicated than that. There is only one difficulty level. The solo game becomes more challenging as more AI players are added.

The lack of a competitive AI forces you to turn to online play for some competition as there isn’t any hotseat play either. Luckily games are easy to get into and there have always been available players. I’m not a big chatterer during games with strangers and so far I have been granted similarly subdued participants.

Each player has two scores. The first is karma – which you gain by completing games and lose by quitting games before they are completed. This can assist players avoid others who are bad sports. The second score is a chess-like rating to get a good idea of a player’s ability. Unfortunately a player’s score isn’t easily viewed when joining a game, so you don’t necessarily know what you are getting yourself into.

The leaderboard features are also sparse. The only way to navigate it is one page at a time. Players can’t jump to their score or to the end to see how many players there are. As of this time there are 12000+ entries and it probably took me 10 minutes to page from the start to the end.

One tactic available in the game is to block other players’ routes with your own trains, even if you don’t need to build a route there for your own destinations. It seems like in general this is frowned upon and I have only done it after the player did it to me. Some games are advertised as ‘non-blocking’, so it is a good idea to respect the game creators wishes.

Graphics and Sound
Ticket to Ride’s graphics definitely reflect its boardgame roots. The route and card colors are easily matched up and the presentation is generally clear. Since the train colors players use match the route colors, the claimed routes don’t always stand out as much as I’d like. It would be nice if the train colors were different from the routes or had some type of pattern to make them jump out more. Not a huge deal but it can be a minor annoyance. The player has the option to go full screen or play the game in a window.

I finally found a game that bothered to turn off the music. I kept it on the first 30 games and then asked myself why. The repetition started to drive me crazy. While the music fits the games atmosphere, the old time hotel piano isn’t really to my tastes.

Technical Performance
For the most part there was not any performance issues. Clicks were sometimes sluggish to register, along with dragging cards to the board to claim a route. Online there were occasional pauses where the game seemed to hang up. Since this isn’t a first person shooter these pauses didn’t seriously affect the games but they were a nuisance.
Edit: See first comment.

My Specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i7 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 5850.

In The End...
Ticket To Ride is a very simple game to learn, but is a challenge against the online players. Like any card-based game, luck is involved but the better player will win the majority of the Ticket To Ride games. It would be nice if the AI players were more competent to provide a stiffer challenge when playing solo, like the Xbox Live version of Settlers of Catan. Increasing the number of AI players in a solo game makes the game more challenging to win. A more feature laden online lobby, with skill-based match making and friendlier leaderboard would improve the online experience. As it stands the solo game is decent filler if you don’t have time for something with more meet on it and the online game provides a challenge in an easy to digest package.

Score: C+ (solo), B (online)


  1. I noticed that Steam updated Ticket To Ride today, shortly after the review. Now when I try and launch the game I get "Error - Couldn't load main class." It was working fine today prior to the update. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling / restarting the computer and it still doesn't work. There are many people on the Steam forums complaining about the same issue. I also logged the problem with customer support.

    1. Just to let you know that we (Days of Wonder) are working on a fix. Expect a new release today.
      Sorry for the inconvenience.

      Brice @ DoW

    2. The problem has been tackled.

      Eric B. @ DoW

    3. I'm afraid that same problem's back again - just installed it yesterday and I get 'Error - couldn't load main class.'

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