Picks

The Game Even the Losers Will Want to Play Again

An ode to Ticket to Ride.

Ticket to Ride on a pedestal.
Photo illustration by Slate

Read Slate’s complete list of the 40 Best Family Games.

I blame my Ticket to Ride obsession on my son, who once got so into the game that he nearly ruined it for us all.

My son was 10 years old when we bought our copy of the original Ticket to Ride. He enjoyed it so much that I downloaded the app for him to play on my iPad; within a few months, he’d more or less memorized all the different potential routes and destinations. The next time we took out the actual board game, he was unbeatable. While I was struggling to gather enough red trains to get from New Orleans to Miami, he’d calculated how to score the most points and how to build the longest train—no matter what cards he drew, and no matter what the rest of us did.

Rather than giving up on Ticket to Ride forever, I bought another edition: The Heart of Africa. A few months later, I picked up the double-sided India and Switzerland board. Then Europe. Then New York. This Christmas, I’ve got my fingers crossed that some savvy Santa will send me United Kingdom and Pennsylvania or France and the Old West.

Why do I have so many different versions of Ticket to Ride? In part, it’s so even my mathematical-genius son can’t master them all. But it’s also because I’ve come to enjoy the comforting rituals of the game and how they carry over from map to map. No matter the board, and no matter the minor twists of each, Ticket to Ride’s basic steps remain the same. First I draw my tickets and find the cities I’m supposed to connect. Then—just like my son—I start thinking about the most efficient way to lay down my trains from dot to dot. Then I get to work filling in those blanks.

There’s something uncommonly satisfying about completing tickets in Ticket to Ride. But the process alone can be just as pleasurable. Each big task is broken down into little tasks, which are easy to knock out, every couple of turns. Players collect the cards they need to cover a small space on the board, and then they cover it. Everything feels like progress. Even when an opponent blocks one route, quickly figuring out an alternative is almost more fun and rewarding than having everything go exactly right.

When people find out we’re a gaming family and ask me what they should buy for their own household, I always suggest Ticket to Ride. It’s a little on the expensive side, but it’s one of the rare modern games that both grade schoolers and grandmas can learn to play fairly quickly, because the choices on each turn are so simple.

Perhaps more importantly though, even the losers will want to play again. Nobody ever really feels like they got walloped in Ticket to Ride, even if they lose by 100 points. Trust me: I’ve definitely been beaten that badly by my son. What I learned from that experience is that just making a plan and trying to see it through, a couple of inches at time, can feel like winning … even if I never do make it to Miami.

Ticket to Ride with dice showing optimal age

Ticket to Ride

Types: Board, Strategy
Players: 2–5
Time: 45 min.
Variations? Y
Expansions? Y
Play without kids? Y