Welcome to my strategy guide for the board game Ticket to Ride, designed by Alan R Moon.
The first decision you have to make in Ticket to Ride is which Destination Tickets to keep and which to discard. It is absolutely essential that you keep one long route ticket (and complete it) as you are unlikely to win without the bonus points from that ticket. For the shorter routes, you will want to keep them if they fit in with your long route. It is always better if, when you claim a route, you are actually working towards more than one objective. Perhaps a short route partly overlaps with your long route, or perhaps it extends your long route helping you to win the Longest Continuous Path bonus. If there are no short route tickets that combine with your long route at all, pick the shortest one; if you do not complete it you will only lose a few points, and you can draw another ticket later on.
Once you have selected your destination tickets, have a look at them on the board and note if there are any colours you are going to need more of than others. If so, keep this in mind as the game begins (but it should not be your primary focus).
Also, have a look at whether there are any routes between cities which are crucial to your strategy, and think about claiming those early in the game.
Now you need to think about drawing cards and claiming routes. When deciding how to do this, there are two things you need to consider, and if you can master these two things you will most likely win the game.
The first thing you need to consider is efficiency. That is, you will want to make the most of your turn, selecting the best cards (avoiding wasting any) and scoring as many points as possible for each train you place. Some tactics you should employ to maximise your efficiency are:
- Always claim a longer route in preference to two or more short routes. If, for example you claim a route with length six you will score 15 points in one turn. However if you claim two routes of length three, you will only score 8 points, and it will take you two turns to do it.
- Draw lots of train cards early in the game. Don’t be afraid of having lots of them in your hand; in order to play your 45 trains you are certainly going to need at least 45 cards.
- It is a good policy to draw blind cards from the deck as much as you can because you stand a good chance of getting a free locomotive wild card or two. Don’t worry about not getting your choice of colour from the deck, as anything you draw early on will probably come in handy at some point later on, perhaps for the grey routes. Avoid picking up a single face up locomotive as you only get one card this way, and that is inefficient.
- As the game goes on there will be some colours you need more of than others and there will come a point when it is often better to pick up face up cards.
- If you are going to draw more destination tickets, do it early in the game. The earlier you know what your objectives are the sooner you will be able to work on achieving them. Be careful though, if you follow my earlier advice and choose a path with lots of long routes rather than the most direct path, then you might not have enough trains for more than two tickets. The only time you might want to draw extra tickets at the end of the game is if you have unexpectedly finished your other tickets early, and you are confident that you have time to complete one more.
The second thing that you need to consider is what your opponents are doing, and what they plan to do. You will want to stop your opponents from carrying out their plans, while not letting them stop you from carrying out yours.
- Look at the routes your opponent is claiming and try to guess what his long destination ticket is. There are only a small number of long destination tickets in the game, so it is worth memorizing them:
- LA to Chicago
- Portland to Nashville
- San Francisco to Atlanta
- Vancouver to Montreal
- LA to Miami
- LA to New York
- Seattle to New York
Look to see if there any routes on his path that you need for your ticket. If so, try to claim them early.
- If the very first route you claim includes one of your destination cities, an opponent might guess what your ticket is. Also if you claim all your routes in one long line, one after the other in order, an experienced opponent will be able to predict where you are going next. If an opponent knows what routes you need, and it happens to be one he needs himself, he might claim it earlier than he otherwise would have done.
- On the other hand if you build disjointedly it is more likely that an opponent will try to block you. If you have, say, two long sections with a gap of one route between them, it is obvious to everyone that you are about to join them up, and also very tempting to everyone to claim that route for themselves to stop you from doing so. Try to make sure that you leave yourself options in case one route is blocked. For example, claim double routes later than single routes.
- What face-up cards are your opponents taking? If they seem to be going for a particular colour does it suggest they are after a particular route, and is this a route that you might want to claim? Perhaps more importantly though, if there is a colour they are not taking, perhaps you should consider taking it, as it will be easier to collect than the other colours, and you can use it for the long grey routes.
- There are a few very short routes on the board, such as Nashville to Atlanta, or Portland to Seattle, both of which have length 1. Often players will claim these routes very early on, as they believe that they need them to complete their destination tickets and they worry that an opponent will take them unless they act immediately. I would suggest however, that this is not usually a good strategy. As I mentioned earlier, claiming short routes is inefficient, and you will score more points if you go the long way round. True, there might be an advantage in taking the short cut if you can use the trains you save to complete another destination ticket, but most destination tickets are worth fewer points than claiming a single route of length 6. My advice would be to go for the long single routes (i.e. not double routes) first, especially the grey ones, as they are the best routes that are likely to go early.
Of course, sometimes you will not be able to both be efficient and work against your opponents at the same time. In these cases you will have to find a balance between these two main objectives, and doing that comes with experience and practice.
Here are a few more miscellaneous tactics that will help you win games:
- When coming up with your strategy, do not forget to count the spaces you will need to claim, and make sure you have enough trains. I know this sounds obvious, but I have been in more than one game where a friend of mine (ahem) forgot to do this and came unstuck.
- Being the player who gets down to 2 trains first and triggers the final round is a big advantage. It will (hopefully) mean that you have finished your destination tickets, but your opponents have not finished theirs. A good way to mess up opponent’s plans is to fool them into thinking they have more time than they actually do, by springing a surprise ending on them. The way to do this is to save up a couple of long routes and play them in quick succession. You can go from having, say, ten or more trains to less than three trains in two turns.
- If your destination tickets do not overlap much, this does not mean you cannot join them up. For example, if you have LA to New York and Montreal to Atlanta, rather than treating them as two separate routes, consider them to be one route – LA to Atlanta to New York to Montreal. This will keep you in the running for getting the Longest Continuous Path.
- If you really want to go full Rain Man you can count the discarded cards of each colour so that when they get shuffled back in again you know what the distribution is. On second thoughts don’t do that. It does not sound like fun. Do not be that guy.
- Getting the ten point bonus for having the Longest Continuous Path of routes is often the difference between winning and losing. Always have one eye on that when you are planning your strategy. At the end of the game, when you have completed your destination tickets but have a few trains left, have a look to see if it is worthwhile using them to extend your path.
- Your tactics should be different depending on the number of players in the game. In a two player game blocking your opponent is important. In a three or four player game though, blocking costs you time and resources as always, but it actually benefits one or two other players as well as you. Furthermore, if you antagonise one player he might retaliate against you. In a three or four player game it would be best for you if the other players fight amongst themselves and leave you alone to get on with your strategy.
Finally, I just want to mention one often overlooked tactic, which is getting to be the player who goes first. According to the rules, the player who is ‘the most experienced traveler’ goes first. This delightfully quirky rule is obviously designed to leave the players in no doubt that this is a fun game and not to be taken too seriously. This is fine for family and friends. However, if you ever find yourself playing a game of high stakes Ticket to Ride where winning is important, you are going to need every advantage you can get.
Imagine the scene – four students arrive back at their flat after an evening of drinking Snakebite in the pub.
“Let’s play Ticket to Ride”
“Count me in!”
“And the loser has to shave his head!”
All of a sudden, you really do not want to lose this game.
The ‘most experienced traveler’ is of course a subjective rule, so here is a way of making it objective. Rather than sitting around for ten minutes swapping holiday stories the rule should be that the most experienced traveler is the person who can produce the photograph of themselves taken the furthest away.
For this reason, I always carry the photograph below on my mobile phone. It is of me and Mrs Dee on holiday, and if you look closely you can see the Sydney Opera House in the background.
You can mock me all you want to but I have never had to shave my head.
This page has been an extract from the book ‘Ticket to Carcassonne’, by Steve Dee.
Ticket to Carcassonne is an introduction to the hobby of modern board gaming, and an entertaining history of its origins. It is full of interviews, recommendations, and strategy guides.
Ticket to Carcassonne is available to buy at Amazon, in paperback or eBook form.