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Ticket to Ride – How Elegance and Simplicity Means More Sales – A Game Designer Review

Ticket to Ride box coverI love the elegance of Ticket to Ride.

Yes, it’s got a beautiful map and nice components to support its theme of building train routes across the USA (I believe that Ticket to Ride calls it collecting tickets for travel) but beneath it’s a great application of the push-your-luck mechanism.

The game is a race to collect sets of cards used to build routes and fulfill missions in the form of destination cards. You start out with a few missions and an empty board showing cities and available routes between them. As the game progresses the board becomes increasingly cluttered, with routes filling up and no longer being available (only a single player may claim a route). This forces players to build lesser value routes or build routes through cities they have no interest in reaching just to be able to complete their missions.

Ticket to Ride cards: train cars.The elegance comes in the form of actions: on their turn players choose one of only three actions: draw cars, draw missions or claim a single route by discarding cars of the same set (color). Players are presented with very little information: the available routes, the missions they have and the available cars.

This makes the game very easy to learn, and here’s another fantastic design aspect: the building combines with the train theme and the graphics to create an intuitive feeling for how the game works in beginning players: “I collect cars, then I spend them to build on colors that match the cars.” “Of course a longer train is more valuable than a short one.” “Of course a longer route (mission) is more valuable than a short one.”

Ticket to Ride is excellent at generating tensionSince players can pick up the game intuitively, Ticket to Ride is a very good gateway game, especially if you’re playing with children or the elderly. It uses common elements (cards, a board, trains) to create an understanding for rather abstract set collection mechanisms. From a designer standpoint it’s well worth watching a group of new players learning Ticket to Ride – if you can create a game with as simple rules, as intuitive actions and as emergent gameplay as Ticket to Ride has you’re on your way to create a game that will appeal to both mass market gamers and hard core grognards.

If you look at how popular Ticket to Ride is, and how much it has sold (in excess of 2 million physical copies, according to this 2013 article in Forbes), you’ll know that there’s a lot of incentive to learn from Alan R. Moon’s design strategies.

And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a great game.

Designer: Alan R. Moon
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Year: 2004
Type: Gateway, Set Collection, Building

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