IT & Systems Management

Ticket to Ride brings train-centric chicanery to Android

Days of Wonders' classic Ticket to Ride is a board game about trains. Lots of them: hundred of little plastic pieces to dole out amongst your friends. There are also cards to shuffle through, points to track, and a great big cardboard map of the United States to lay out on a table. Fortunately for us civilized (or friendless) folk, digital versions of the game have been kicking around online, on PC and on iOS devices, allowing us to build railroad empires without needing to dedicate much in the way of furniture. Now Ticket to Ride has finally arrived on Android devices in all its glory, and it's still all rather fun.

If you're new to the game (or just terrible, like me) an introductory video in the Android version explains all of the rules. Curiously, it's a video for the PC version, making references to double-clicking and showing all of the action on a PC monitor. The iPad version of the game gets its own dedicated video, so I'd imagine something Android-friendly will be popping up soon enough.

The game's rules are simple: you need to connect cities by rail, plotting routes across the map. At the start of the game every player chooses up to three destination tickets: these link two cities, and are worth a number of points--Los Angeles to Miami nets you 20 points, for example. Each turn you can pick up a pair of colored railcar cards, or draw a new destination ticket if you're feeling gutsy. Cities are connected by colored rail lines of varying lengths--you'll need five train cars for a track with five segments, and so on. Drop railcars onto the tracks that correspond to their color (grey tracks will accept any color), and you'll eventually complete your route.

Sounds simple, right? And it is, until you introduce that onerous human element. The number of trains are limited: once a player only has two trains left, everyone else gets one last turn before the game is over and points are tallied. You'll get the points on your destination ticket when you successfully complete it, but you'll also get extra points for having a longer route. Fail to complete that route, and you'll lose that number of points--that makes cross country routes especially dangerous. Only one player can claim a set of tracks, so winning is less about planning an efficient, pleasant journey for your passengers, and more about cutting off your opponent's rail line.

I like to imagine I'm a 19th century robber baron plopping railcars across the board seemingly at random, all the while cutting off opponents in a Machiavellian scheme that sees my rail company as the only successful one. The reality is that I run out of trains long before completing that treacherous Seattle to New York trip, and presumably spend the rest of my years sleeping in freight cars, lamenting my misspent wealth and cursing my nemeses.

This is probably why I don't play board games very much.

That said, when I have to play a board game these days I've started to feel that digital is often the way to go. You'll lose that tactile feel of cardboard and plastic, and there's something to be said about gathering around a table with some chums, arguing over rules and hurling accusations of chicanery face to face. But the lack of setup and cleanup time is just the icing on the cake: Ticket To Ride's multiplayer offerings let you play with up to two to five people who own the app, and it's fast and seamless. Better still, it's cross-platform, so you can compete against fans who own the game on Android, iOS, or Steam. Being able to immediately compete against thousands of players is a strong shot in the arm for a game that was just released this morning, and I'm sure seasoned vets will appreciate swarms of doe-eyed newbies to crush under their heels and pad their ELO ranking.

Things aren't entirely rosy. I tested the game on my Nexus 7, and while everything moved at a fine clip, board games are (as expected) a little more appealing when played on my larger iPad--folks with bigger Android tablets shouldn't run into any issues. I also noticed that a few of the animations present on the iOS version are missing here, and while they're simply minor flourishes--things like tickets being stamped once you complete a route--it's lamentable. The iOS version handles multiplayer matches by linking to your GameCenter account, but you'll need to register for a Days of Wonder account on Android.

The most egregious fault here is the lack of a pass and play mode. I'd often set up pass and play games on my iPad to introduce the game to friends who either didn't own an iPad or had never played it before, and I've found it's one of the best ways to get folks hooked on a new experience. I sorely hope it's included in an update sometime soon, as expecting friends to shell out $7 on a whim--or only playing against the CPU when you don't have an internet connection--is a bit of a downer.

Ticket to Ride will set you back $7, the same price as its iOS counterpart. But that only gets you the classic USA-themed board--Asia and Switzerland are priced at $4, while the larger European map costs $5. There are also links in the store to buy the physical board games off of Amazon, if you'd like to make the experience a bit more tactile.The price might seem a bit on the steep side, especially if you don't have friends who are already fans, or are simply unfamiliar with the game. If you're on the fence, you can always check out the web version at Days of Wonders' website; the first four games are free.


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