Genre: Puzzle/Board Game
Publisher: Playful Entertainment, Inc.
Developer: Next Level Games
Release Date: June 25, 2008
Ticket To Ride is following the growing trend of board game-to-XBLA transitions, much like Catan and Carcassone did before it. With every other download being some form of scrolling shooter, it's nice now and again to see a game with a relaxed attitude toward casual play.
Ticket To Ride follows a very simple premise in that you are attempting to link cities by railroad in 19th century North America. You draw destination cards, which may have you attempting to link El Paso to Boston. In addition to destination cards, you'll also draw different colored rail cards. Each stop between city points corresponds to a color and number of cards required, so three blue dashes mean that it'll take three blue rail cards to secure that route. There is also a rainbow train card that's good to place on any color. At various points around the map, you'll also find grey markers where any color card can be used.
On any given turn, you have one of three options: You can claim a route if you have the corresponding train cards. You can draw a new destination card, which increases the opportunity for points if you can complete it by the end of the game, or subsequently lose points if you fail. Finally, you can choose to draw more train cards for use in future turns.
Ticket To Ride is really one of those games that can be learned in five minutes by simply going through the in-game tutorial. Points are awarded for every successful rail line you secure, every destination you successfully complete, and securing the longest section of rails. As a simple turn-based board game, the concept is very easy to grasp, simple to understand, and fun to play out. It doesn't have the level of depth of Catan, for example, or chess. You won't have to think three or four moves in advance to achieve an ultimate victory; it's fun, but not deep.
The AI is hit-or-miss. On the Easy AI setting, I could regularly beat the computer, and if I lost, it was only by a matter of points. The Medium AI is likewise just as regularly trounced, but the Hard AI is kind of a prick who, rather than focusing on his own trains and rails, specifically looks to block your paths for no real gain. Maybe he had a grudge against me because I was going to Miami and he was going to Montreal.
As of the June release, you can play the map for either North America, or … North America. That's it. Obviously Ticket To Ride is poised to allow downloadable content in the way of more maps and cards and options, but it's just not there yet. If developer Playful Entertainment follows through on the real-life board game supplements, we can hope to see Europe, Nordic, Märklin, mystery train and USA expansions as downloads sometime in the near future. It'll really give the title more replayability than it currently has.
Similarly, there aren't any single-player modes other than playing the solitary board against one to four AI opponents. As with most XBLA board games, Ticket To Ride is really designed as a multiplayer game for remote play. Since the colored train cards you draw are somewhat strategic in planning your routes, it's no good to play head-to-head with a friend in the same room. The only real multiplayer method is to play with other online players. I don't know that I'd consider that a flaw, so much as just part of the limiting nature of most card-based games.
The graphics of Ticket To Ride have spruced up the original board game version with a very 1800s bright and vibrant look. The music fits the era being portrayed, though it's little more than background filler. One thing that I'm always glad to see in a puzzle or board game like this is responsive menus and game options. Selecting any option, whether through the menu or the game, will reward you with a simple audible confirmation. It's a minor thing, but it makes the game feel like it has some substance. There's nothing I hate more than menus and options providing no feedback at all, or, on the other end of the spectrum, the game chirping and paddle rumbling every time. This has a nice happy medium.
Ticket To Ride is a hard and fine line in terms of XBLA titles. In my opinion, it's just worth the 800 Microsoft points ($10) to download. If you love turn-based card games, board games, or have played the real-life equivalent of Ticket To Ride, it'll be an easy choice. For anyone else, I just can't say that it's fully polished enough or "there" yet. The lack of other maps and player options makes the title feel like a rainy day throwaway. You might break it out now and again, but odds are that, without other features, it won't be a game you flock to night and night again. Once additional maps and options are available, Ticket To Ride will definitely earn a few extra points on its final score and be a wholeheartedly recommended download.