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My family and I have very much enjoyed playing the original Ticket to Ride, but I've noticed one issue that keeps coming up. It is very easy to be cheated out certain critical routes that could easily cost you 30+ points if they stopped you from completing a big destination card. In the American map every city has a least 3 ways out of it, but losing a critical route, even one that's only one train long in the case of Portland, can force you to use alternatives that are over 9 trains long, IF they are even available.

I understand part of the strategy of the game is making sure you get the critical routes you need, but its gotten to the point where people want to quit if someone takes the last route out of a major city they needed as they now have almost no chance of winning. A good strategist will try to avoid this at all costs, but it seems unfair that if you get a tiny turn of bad luck at a critical point you're basically doomed to compete between last or second to last place.

I've found in most other games, like Settlers, Citadels, Dominion, etc., even if you get a streak of bad luck you can usually find some path that will lead you to victory...if you can find it. This doesn't seem to be as true with TTR. When I was in this situation I started to focus on blocking everyone else and getting as many points as possible through 6 car routes, but I was only able to squeak out 100 points for 4th place, only beating the least experienced player.


Have I just not played the game enough? Is there always a path to victory in TTR that will out-weigh whatever bad luck you've been hit with, be it bad train cards, terrible destination combos, or loosing critical routes? What can I do to reduce these total screw-overs to make the game slightly less cut-throat and luck based if I'm playing with new gamers? This is currently one of the few things holding TTR back from being one of my top choices as an intro game.

Here's some of my ideas:

  • You can create a duplicate route between any two cities that can only be claimed with the same number of locomotives. This would help if you lost that critical one-train route, but would still make you pay for not claiming it earlier.

  • You can always create new routes by using twice as many cards of the required color. This still makes claiming long routes normally important, but lets you snag that other one you needed in proportion to how difficult it was to take from you.

  • add trading to the game. I know TTR was not designed with trading in mind and doesn't have the most conducive environment toward it, but it would make for a very different game and allow more ways to catch up. I'll probably start a different question for how specifically to add trading to the game and keep it as playable and well-balanced as possible.

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What are typical final scores in your games? –  Ryan Feb 24 '11 at 16:09
    
@Ryan I haven't kept careful track, but usually the lowest is in the 80s and the highest is in between 100-120ish. I'll be sure to record them next time if this issue comes up. :) –  Gordon Gustafson Feb 24 '11 at 18:04
    
No need. I expected a lower number actually - thinking that you were all focusing too much on trying to screw each other. Those seem high enough to suggest that there isn't much of a problem! How many route cards do you typically keep? Maybe you are keeping so many that having to go 4 trains out of the way kills your strategy? I play a lot of two player and tend to almost never get screwed...I leave myself options, and usually end up having a lot of flexibility with my last 2 or three turns (extend my longest, get a 5 or 6 route of grey, or attempt a block). –  Ryan Mar 1 '11 at 3:19
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6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Part of being good at strategy games involves dealing with bad luck. Everybody has the same opportunity to get screwed over in TtR. It's all in how you deal with it. Here are some things you can do to mitigate the effects of the other players:

  • Claim your critical routes first. I often build outward from the middle of a ticket, not from end to end.
  • Avoid high value tickets with lots of players. The big ones are worth 20 points for a good reason. It's all about risk vs. reward.
  • Consider that there are other ways to score points besides completing tickets.

If the people in your group are getting so frustrated that they want to quit, then by all means, play something else! You don't have to use Ticket to Ride as your gateway game just because everyone else has.

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After a few games everybody started liking it again once they wised up to the strategy, so its resumed its place as an awesome gateway game in my collection. If there was no learning curve, the game would be pretty boring anyway. :D –  Gordon Gustafson May 21 '11 at 14:29
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In my opinion, there shouldn't "always be a potential path towards victory". I've never found it a big problem to get my routes finished - though obstacles and impediments are often flung in my way! There are a few things you should be doing to ensure that you always have the best chance of success, though:

(1) Obviously, don't overcommit. Know how far 45 trains can actually get you. Also, when calculating how many trains a route is going to take you, don't count up the optimum route. Leave yourself plenty of wiggle room if a colour you were banking on doesn't become available... or worse, if another player starts building routes that you were planning on being the backbone of your strategy.

(2) Don't start building too soon! My wife often does this, starts methodically building her cross-country route from point A, slowly and steadily towards point B. This only succeeds in giving me plenty of warning where we are likely to come into conflict in the middle. As such, I usually have plenty of time to save up for and grab those routes, she gets mightily teed off, and I get to sleep on the couch YET AGAIN. But really, if she didn't telegraph her plans, I wouldn't find it so easy to thwart them!

Obviously, you can't fall too far behind the other players' builds, you don't want them to run out of trains way ahead of you. But extra information is often a lot more valuable than being first out of the starting gate.

(3) Conversely, if a route really is essential to your plans, don't hesitate, grab it straight away. This is particularly important in variants like Nordic Countries, where there are several key one-train routes linking the left and right halves of the board. It's no accident that you get dealt some train cards BEFORE you have to choose which routes to take on; quite often I will only keep a route that relies on getting from one side of the board to the other if I have the right colour to snap up the link in my first turn. Don't take risks on the really important stuff.

In general, I think you may be overvaluing routes. Huge cross-country routes are worth a lot of points because they are hard to pull off without a hitch! One of the players in my group has what I think is a possibly better, and certainly funnier strategy: she takes a few short, simple routes at the start of the game, that can't possibly give her any trouble. She builds those and as many random obstructive long routes as she can, bringing the game to a speedy conclusion. Very funny when this results in people getting -50 instead of +50 points, because all their destination tickets were too ambitious in the light of this playing style...

I know we've said "Ticket to Ride is a well-balanced game, don't mess with it", in response to your questions before, and you haven't really appreciated it, but I really do believe it. There's more going on delicate-game-balance-wise than I think you appreciate, and I think you should try to learn to love it for a bit longer before you tamper with it!

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I need to try this "funnier strategy". :) –  Tadeusz A. Kadłubowski Aug 5 '11 at 9:40
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Just use the Train Station rules from TTR:E.

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After re-reading your question, I realized that I didn't actually answer it! I just responded to the general sentiment of feeling screwed over. So here's a separate answer that responds to your game balance proposals:

You can create a duplicate route between any two cities that can only be claimed with the same number of locomotives. This would help if you lost that critical one-train route, but would still make you pay for not claiming it earlier.

If you add a new turn action to create a blank route (that you would then presumably claim on your next turn), you're telegraphing to the other players that you need it. If it's short (1-2 trains), I'd claim it immediately just to mess with you. Maybe your group is different from mine, but I'd really be afraid of this rule leaving you feeling worse about your gameplay experience.

You can always create new routes by using twice as many cards of the required color. This still makes claiming long routes normally important, but lets you snag that other one you needed in proportion to how difficult it was to take from you.

That last bit implies the route was yours to begin with. The competition for limited space is the essence of Ticket to Ride. Remember, the goal is to score more points than the next guy, not just to complete tickets. I honestly feel like this rule would leave you with a completely different game.

add trading to the game. I know TTR was not designed with trading in mind and doesn't have the most conducive environment toward it, but it would make for a very different game and allow more ways to catch up. I'll probably start a different question for how specifically to add trading to the game and keep it as playable and well-balanced as possible.

I like this idea, but you'd have to be careful with it. It could help someone catch up just as easily as it could put the leader way out in front. I can't imagine the game designers didn't think about it. They probably left it out for a good reason. But, I say try it out and let us know how it goes.

Overall, I'd like to echo @thesun's sentiments. Ticket to Ride is a good game. If you constantly feel the need to modify it, then maybe you should try to find something else. Railroad Tycoon comes to mind. It's a much more complicated game, but you have a little more freedom about where to place your routes. "Screwosity" does happen, but I've never found it to be a productive use of your turn.

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Keep your map crowded with plenty of players.

The likelihood of a player being eliminated from competition ("doomed to compete between last or second to last place") depends on the combination of which map you're using (USA, Switzerland expansion, Europe, etc.) and how many players you're playing. If you have a lot of players for the map you're using (e.g., 4–5 players on the USA map), then it's likely that everyone is going to have major losses from routes they can't feasibly complete.

On the other hand, if you have few players on the map you're using (e.g., 2 players on the USA map), it might be better to switch to a map intended for fewer players (e.g., use the Switzerland map instead for 2 players).

Keep destination tickets and their completion status secret.

Part of the benefit of keeping destination tickets (and their completion status) secret is that you can't be sure you're "out of the game" because you don't know how many incomplete tickets others have. If you're having destination tickets public to aid in teaching the game, resist the temptation to do it for a whole game.

Note that this doesn't help as much when your map isn't very crowded.

Update: Note that the rules state, "Destination Tickets are kept secret from other players until the Game’s final scoring." It's there because it truly affects gameplay.

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If one likes the base TTR game, but finds it too cutthroat, the best answer is to play one of the other base versions: either Nordic Countries (TTRNC) or Europe (TTRE).

The USA map is all base runs, and not a lot of double track. This makes getting there a large part of the battle.

The Europe and Nordic maps both have many more routes to get places, and have more double routes as well. This allows for easier rerouting and makes successful blocking harder. The Swiss map likewise has lots of alternate routings, and is just an expansion set; it's essentially TTRE rules, tho'.

The Europe version also adds stations. A station allows "borrowing" an opponent's route (city placed in to next city) when tickets are scored; it can only be used for a single run, but it can be used for all tickets which use that particular run of track. This drastically reduces the cutthroat nature, as even a totally blocked chunk of track may be borrowed. It is not 100%, however... each player is limited to 3 stations, and no city may have more than one station total, so it's still possible to block.

Another option is the Dice expansion. This removes the train cards from play, replacing them with dice. It's far more possible to get around the map that way, but the effect is minor compared to the above.

Why not also Märklin? It is vastly different a play experience. the passenger routing mechanic is slow, involves ≤1cm diameter counters, in ordered stacks, on the board, and increases the need to block.

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