Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The most successful game in my collection

In my time as a game collector and game teacher, there is one game that has gained the most popularity among players. Since teaching this game to various groups, four people have purchased the game, and others have purchased the game through those people. Still others have said, “I'd definitely buy this game” or “I need to get this game.”

The game is the 2004 Spiel des Jahres winner: Ticket to Ride, by Alan Moon.

Spiel des Jahres (SDJ) is the prestigious German Game of the Year award. Typically the winners are family-oriented games with interesting themes, somewhat innovative mechanics, approximately 60-minute play time, and fairly simple rules.

Ticket to Ride is a game where players place train pieces on various colored routes to connect routes from city to city. The purpose of this post is to state why I think this game has been so popular with everyone I've taught, including non-gamers (NG).
  1. It's easy to grasp what you need to do. A very brief summary might be something like:“Collect destination tickets and try to complete them by placing routes. Longer routes count as more points.” Most players quickly understand the goal of the game.

  2. Limited options. You choose from one of three things to do on your turn. Draw train cards, draw destination tickets, or place a route. That's it. Pick one.

  3. Low downtime. Turns are simple, with only one action per person, so they go tend to be short. Often, by the time you've decided what you want to do next, it's already your turn again. This really keeps the interest up. When playing with experienced players, this game can go very rapidly.

  4. Neutral theme. Almost everyone has equal experience with trains. As opposed to something like pirates or fantasy adventure, trains are a neutral theme that everyone seems to connect with equally. I can't think of anyone I've played with who is uninterested in, or bothered by, the train theme.

  5. Familiar territory. For Americans, the map of the USA on the game board is already familiar. They know the states and are immediately comfortable with the layout. They know what trains are, they understand all the game vocab. In some eurogames, one must learn new terminology, or gain understanding of an unfamiliar theme or mechanic. In Ticket to Ride, this is not the case. It requires very little, or no, education in terms of theme and setting.

  6. Integration of theme and mechanics. Many people, including myself, most enjoy games where the theme and mechanics are well integrated, as opposed to a “pasted on” theme, which is present in many eurogames. In Ticket to Ride, the mechanics really feel like they are relevant to placing trains and completing routes. Everything about the game involves the theme - the theme is necessary to the game.

  7. Comfortable play time. Most NGs, and many gamers, don't like games to go longer than an hour. I am included in this group. After an hour, a game starts to feel too long for me, especially if any players have analysis paralysis (AP). But with Ticket to Ride, 2-3 experienced players can finish a game in 45 minutes or less. A 5 player game with unexperienced players will take an hour or just slightly longer. But even then, the game doesn't feel too long. Ticket to Ride tends to always feel just right in terms of length.

  8. Good production. Ticket to Ride is published by Days of Wonder. This company typically produces games with very high-quality components - board, cards, and other bits. Ticket to Ride is immediately pleasing to the eye with a variety of colors, and very nice artwork. On top of that, each player has a bag full of little plastic train pieces which look very cool when placed on the board to form routes. The production quality was taken up another notch with the release of the 3rd game in the series, Ticket to Ride: Märklin. This installment introduced new train cards, each depicting a unique model train.
Now, this is not a review of the game, but you may wonder what my personal opinion is of the game. I like it - quite a bit. Perhaps what I like most of all is how easy the game is to play and teach. I know I will please new groups by introducing this one. And the game is really fun for me in terms of gameplay.

With Ticket to Ride, Alan Moon has created an ingenious blend of mechanics and theme that seems to appeal to every person I introduce to the game.

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