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Ticket to Ride - Board Game

Interview with game designer Alan R. Moon

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Ticket to Ride Box Cover

Alan R. Moon's Ticket to Ride

Image courtesy of Days of Wonder
In Ticket to Ride, an absolutely top-notch board game and one of the best published in recent years, players compete to build railroads across the United States and Canada.

Ticket to Ride's Wide Appeal

The game appeals to a wide variety of gamers -- parents and grandparents can play with young children just as easily as serious gamers can play against each other. With a playing time of less than an hour, Ticket to Ride provides a lot of gaming depth without being complicated. Players must make a variety of tactical choices and there are many viable strategies, giving the game considerable replay value.

Within eight months of being released in March 2004, Ticket to Ride sold more than 250,000 copies. It has spawned three major expansions and a minor one, with more in the works. By March 2006, more than 500,000 copies of the original game and the first two expansions (Ticket to Ride Europe and Ticket to Ride Marklin, which features a map of Germany) had been sold.

Game designer Alan R. Moon had no idea the game would be so successful. "People have often said that I must have known that Ticket to Ride was going to be a hit," he said. "But if I'd known that, I would have designed it 20 years ago. And I would have designed a dozen more hits since. It's impossible to know how popular a game will be."

Ticket to Ride's popularity can be attributed to a number of factors. Although unique, it draws on the set-collecting aspect of the classic card game Rummy and thus feels familiar to many players.

At the start of the game, players are dealt four train cards, which are used throughout the game to put their trains on the board. The map on the board features railroad tracks of various colors (e.g. green, blue, red, black) and various lengths (from one to seven spaces long). To play trains on a particular section of track, a player must collect a set of cards that matches the section. In other words, playing trains on a section of blue track five spaces long requires five blue train cards.

"I believe this greatly expands the number of people who will potentially enjoy the game because they will quickly understand the way the game is played," Moon said. "They can usually then incorporate the new element, the goals (Destination Tickets), and develop a basic strategy even during their first game."

Strategic Options in Ticket to Ride

Each player receives three Destination Tickets at the start of the game, and chooses to keep either two or all three. These Tickets determine the connections players try to make: Seattle to New York, for example, or Kansas City to Houston. To fulfill a Destination Ticket, a player must build a continuous line of his trains between the two listed cities. At the end of the game, you score points for each completed Destination Ticket; points are subtracted for incomplete Tickets.

The board allows for a variety of strategies. The connections between any two cities are limited, so you can either concentrate on your own building or try to disrupt your opponents' plans.

"There are multiple ways to play," Moon said. "You can hoard cards, you can build routes as quickly as possible, you can draw lots of Tickets, you can play for the longest route, you can block your opponents, etc. Basically, there is something for everyone."

The game's structure requires players to make a difficult decision almost every turn: you can only draw cards or play trains on the board, not both. "Every turn, I want to both draw cards and claim a route," Moon said. "But I can only do one or the other. I find that simple choice endlessly fascinating, and I feel the same tension when playing Ticket to Ride today that I did when I played the prototype for the first time back in 2003."

More Reasons for Ticket to Ride's Popularity

And the components are top-notch. The whimsical, early 1900s-style graphics and the brightly colored trains help the game appeal to players of diverse backgrounds.

Ticket to Ride's popularity is also due to how easy it is to explain: new players can be introduced to the basic elements in less than five minutes. And publisher Days of Wonder has established an excellent site for online games, www.ticket2ridegame.com. Online games of Ticket to Ride move quickly, often taking just 15 to 30 mintues.

Among the board game's achievements is the way it can appeal to both casual and serious gamers. Moon said he's been focusing on designing that type of game for the last half-decade. "To make a decent living as a game designer, you need to have at least one game that appeals to a larger audience," he said.

Ticket to Ride is now published in five editions (USA, Europe, Marklin/Germany and Switzerland, Nordic Countries), and a card game is on the way. Moon's favorite versions are Switzerland and Nordic Countries. "Both of these maps are only for two or three players," he said. "And while the bigger games can often be tense, the smaller games are always tense right from the start because there are less routes and some of the routes are so key."

Among Moon's other game designs is another railroad-themed game, Union Pacific (Rio Grande Games, 1999). "I love railroads," he said. "I always enjoy taking trains in Germany and other European countries. I also like games that have connections in them, which makes games with railroad themes a natural choice."

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