If you are not into tabletop gaming, you might be unfamiliar with Ticket To Ride. This game, along with a few others, was instrumental in starting a resurgence of tabletop gaming. It is approachable, a perfect gateway game, competitive and incredibly fun. You compete with other players to build train routes on the map by collecting cards and attempting to complete secret destination tickets. Other players can block off your routes, if they figure out where you are going, or take cards you needed to for your train routes, impeding your progress. In the end, the player with the most points wins. It is so simple that anyone, of any age or background, can pick it up and play it. Ticket To Ride is also designed in a way that allows a myriad of different expansions. The original game was based on the map of North America, but now you can find a map of pretty much any continent and many individual countries.
Of course, the original game has also found its way onto digital stores with a successful app available for mobile devices, PC and Mac. Again, there are multiple versions of the game available with an array of locations and additional rules.
• Developer: Payoff Technologies
• Publisher: Asmodee Digital, Days of Wonder
• Reviewed on: iOS
• Also Available On: Android, Steam, Mac OS
• Release Date: Available Now
This is where we finally arrive at Ticket To Ride: First Journey. As you would expect from the name, this is the version designed to introduce the younger audience to Ticket To Ride. The gameplay is simplified to suit. For example, in the original game placing down a certain number of train tokens would reward players with a corresponding number of victory points. The game would also end when one of the players either runs out of their train tokens or has two or less left. In First Journey, however, the only point givers are completing the city routes themselves. No matter how long the route is when it is completed, it rewards with a point and a player needs six points to win. While that may seem unfair at first, given that routes are distributed at random and surely having shorter ones leads to victory faster, it does not actually affect the outcome of the game that much. If the player completes a longer route at first, they might start slightly behind on the point track, but going further early will help to connect other destinations quicker. It is important to note, that blocking off opponents routes is still very much part of this version of the game as well, so controlling a larger portion of the map will be an advantage.
The staple of Ticket To Ride games, a mechanic where incomplete routes earn players negative points at the end of the game, is altogether missing from First Journey. While I miss that push your luck element of the game, it does not fit with this new streamlined version and the designers were right to leave it out.
The app itself is beautifully designed. Both the U.S.A. and European maps were reworked and simplified for the game. Each city is marked by a model representing either an iconic monument or an image associated with that city. It is a great way, even if slightly stereotypical leaning, for children to remember the names of the cities by associating themselves with an image. Of course, you can zoom in on the map itself to read the name of the city too. Also once the route is complete, the game locks into an adorable animation showing these models and a completed route. This again is a helpful way to learn locations and places.
The app also has other features, that while small on their own, make the gaming experience better. The A.I. has two speeds, one to show clearly everything your opponents are doing and the other one speeds through that process all together making sure your turn comes faster. There are three varying A.I. difficulties as well. While you may as well be skeptical about difficulty setting in children friendly game, I played a lot of Ticket To Ride, and I struggled to beat the hard A.I. in First Journey. There are, of course, also pass and play features, although if you want to play Ticket To Ride with a friend, you are better off buying the board game itself. Passing the phone around is alway ponderous, taking you out of the experience.
There are, however, a few annoyances. The first one is big for me. When the app is running it mutes any other music, podcast or audiobook app that may be running simultaneously. I played a lot of original Ticket To Ride app on my commute, and having something to do with your hands while listening to a morning podcast was a big part of the enjoyment. Especially, since these games are perfect for the commute. They are short and sweet, yet after finishing a game you always want to play just one more. Not being able to listen to something other than the app’s background music, pushed the game out of commute playlist immediately.
I fully understand that this is a very specific problem and younger players will be less affected by it. However, adults will also absolutely enjoy the game too. It is changed enough that even experienced Ticket to Ride players will get something different out of it. So just like me, they would be inclined to mute the in-game sound, which gets annoying and repetitive fairly quickly and listen to their own music, only to find that it can not be done. This is a feature has not appeared in Ticket to Ride games, at least the ones I played, and I would rather do without it.
The other annoyance is that despite the app having two maps on the menu, with American being accessible straight away, to play the European map the game prompts you to sign in to an Asmodee account. While not a major issue, having to create an account to get another portion of the game is unnecessary from the consumer point of view and could be annoying. This is a paid app, even if fairly inexpensive (£1.99 on Android and iOS and £3.99 on Steam), and having a portion of the game being gated away seems unwarranted extra step.
Ticket to Ride: First Journey is a charming app of an already excellent board game. The changes made to the gameplay make it more accessible without sacrificing the fun. It is also a great learning device, teaching children geography in a very entertaining way. The app has a few quality of life issues, but they are minor enough to not take away that much from the overall game experience.