First Impressions: Ticket to Ride for iPad

To continue our Spiel des Jahres theme of the week, I’d like to take a quick first look at the newest iPad release of a previous SdJ winner – Ticket to Ride.

Ticket to Ride won the big award in 2004, and it has been one of my alltime top 10 games since then.  I have always been attracted to the game as I feel it one of the few games that plays as well with veteran gamers as well as those new to our hobby.  It is one of the most successful games in the genre as Days of Wonder claims to have sold over 1.5 Million copies of the physical game and to have hosted over 23,000,000 online games thus far of Ticket To Ride Online.

I’ll admit to not being a huge player of virtual versions of boardgames, but some of the releases in the past year for the iPad have certainly started to sway my stance on that.  I’ve had a copy of the game since Monday (six days now), and I’ve been able to put it through its paces during that time – mostly due to a lot of time sitting in soccer facility parking lots waiting for practices to end!

iPad Version of Ticket To Ride
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Price: $6.99 in the App Store, $0.99 for each expansion (Switzerland, 1910, Europe)
Times Played: about 15 times all on USA map with review copy provided by DoW

The game starts by showing you outside the train station… You can choose to take the ticket from the conductor’s hand to start a game, or you can enter the station to see all the other goodies included in the package.  Let’s look at the actual game first!

The game choice screen gives you a few options.  At the top, you can choose between the different versions of the game.  While the base app only includes the basic US Ticket to Ride map, you can conveniently (and easily) purchase the other available maps – Switzerland, 1910 and Europe – straight from the app itself.  The current price for each of these maps is $0.99, though like most other App Store purchaces, this could vary in the future.

See how easy it is to buy the expansions!

Once you’ve chosen which map you want to play, you choose how many players you’d like in the game.  You also have the option of playing “Solo”, which means you against AI players on the iPad, or “Online” where you can use your GameCenter or Days of Wonder account to play people over the Internet.  Thus far, I’ve played most of my games in the Solo version, but I’m sure as more people buy the app, there will be plenty of other people available to play in the online lobby.

I’ll assume that you already know how to play the game, and as such, I won’t go over the rules.  What I will mention is that if a newbie does pick up the app, there is a very nice tutorial that guides the new player through the first few rounds to show how the game works.

The interface is easy to view and is very intuitive to use.  You can still use the usual finger gestures to zoom in and scroll around the map – though you can easily see the entire map at one time in the non-zoomed in view. To draw cards, you simply tap the card you want, and it transfers to your area.  Playing cards is easy as well, you simply drag the stack of colored cards that you want to play and align the crosshairs with the route you wish to complete.  If you are able to complete a route, the cities on the end light up green.  If you cannot make the route – you don’t have enough cards OR you are trying to play on a double route in a 2- or 3-player game – the ends turn red to tell you to try somewhere else.

The game also conveniently reminds you which cities you have tickets for by coloring those cities in green.

As I mentioned earlier, gameplay is fast and intuitive.  Being able to simply drag and drop your cards onto the appropriate track spaces is an easy way to play.  When you play with just the AI, the game moves along pretty darn quick; I’d guess that most of my games are coming in under 15 minutes for sure. The game might even move along too quick – sometimes it’s hard to track what everyone is doing as the graphics just whip on by, and the game does not provide a log for you to refer to.  Of course, each player’s holdings (# of cards, # of tickets, points scored and trains remaining) are easily seen – so I don’t think this is a big deal at all.

The Bots in the game have pretty decent AI. So far, I have come across 3 different bots – you can tell which is which by their inventive names:

  • Direct Bot
  • Basic Bot
  • Nebulous Bot

You can have multiple iterations of the same bot in a game.  I kinda wish that they didn’t tell you what their strategies were in their name as after a few games you can start to make educated guesses about where the Direct Bot will go as opposed to the Basic Bot, etc.  But, in the end, they seem well constructed, and they provide me with a competitive game – which is really all that matters.  FWIW, through 12 games with varying numbers of AIs, I am currently 9-3 against the AI, and the Direct Bot is the only AI which has won.  (I will also say that two of my nine wins were due to super-lucky draw outs on tickets near the end, so I could just as easily be 7-5 at this point).

Proof that I can beat the Direct Bot!

The only thing that is possibly missing from this version is a pass-and-play multiplayer.  In this version, the only way you can play against another human is to meet them online (and therefore, each would have to have their own iPad).  I don’t think that I’ll personally miss the pass-and-play capability because I have a pretty strong feeling about that: If I’m in a room with someone else, and I want to play a game, I’d rather just play the game than pass around an iPad.

So, what else does the App offer?  Other than playing the game, there are also a few features to be found in the train station.  Here you have 6 main options

  • Geraldine’s stand – where you can learn the rules to the games
  • The Restaurant – which is the lobby for online play
  • The Candy Store – where you can purchase other DoW iPad Apps (Small World) and other online play (Memoir ’44)
  • The leaderboard (for both solo play on your iPad as well as online play)
  • Settings (where you can choose your avatar and set volume settings)
  • Credits

I’ll leave the commenting on the online play to someone else, as I honestly haven’t played enough with the online features to comment.  All I can say is that it appears to be quite easy to set a game up and jump right into a game!

Of these extra features, the one I think is worth talking about a bit is Geraldine’s stand.  It’s a nice place to find the rules for all of the different versions of Ticket To Ride that are available on the app.  There are also links to full tutorials (for beginners) as well as an interesting video which shows a infomercial about T:TR.

Overall, I think that the Ticket To Ride app is well done, and is a gaming bargain at $6.99.  I’ve already managed to get a LOT of play out of it during the first week, and I think that it will be one of my go-to options for solitaire gaming (while waiting for my kids).  I’ll probably try to give more comments in a few weeks, when I’ve had more time to play with the app.  My opinion right now: I like it!

Matt Carlson is planning another iOS gaming recap in a few weeks, and I’m sure that this title (and many others) will be covered in that piece.

Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor


Comments from other Opinionated Gamers

Erik Arneson: I absolutely love the iPad implementation of Ticket to Ride. I’ve played all three maps both solo and online (and have never had to wait long for an online game) multiple times. The AI is solid (but not spectacular) and starting or joining a live game is a breeze. At less than $10 for the base game and three expansions, this is a great deal. My criticisms are all of the nitpicky variety: Unlike Dale, I do regret the lack of a pass-and-play option — if a copy of the board game is handy, I would prefer that with live gamers. But if it’s not (e.g., at a restaurant), a pass-and-play option is great. I’d also love to have the Nordic Countries map, which is my favorite. Now, I’m off to play a few more games of TtR for the iPad…

Brian Leet: This is a real first impression as I just downloaded the app this evening and have played two solo games and two online so far. The game play interface is wonderful. Very clear and intuitive. I played through my first game with the tutorial just to see how it is, but that is probably not necessary. On that note, I will say that the front end menus and even the tutorial I found a bit overbearing. I’d rather have a clearer picture of what I’m selecting rather than tapping the schedule on the wall only to remember that you find new games in the restaurant and this is the credits. Also, like Erik, I have enjoyed Small World on the airplane in a pass and play mode, and would love that option here. Those two minor gripes are the most I can raise!

Otherwise the game is great. The AI is decent enough, but not nearly as compelling as playing against other players. Online games were a breeze to set up and I found competitors very quickly. Days of Wonder continue the very high standard set with their very early launch of the Small World app right after the iPad was released. Well worth the small cost.

Matt Carlson: I was given a review copy of the base game, but enjoyed it enough to go on and purchase all three expansions (1910, Europe, and Swiss map).  I’ve only had it for a few days but managed to play a little bit on each map, about 9 games so far including everything but the “Big Cities” and “1910 Mega” modes.  On the whole, I have to recommend the game as it has several things going for it:

  1.  VERY easy to get into and play a game for beginners – video tutorials and a tutorial mode for the game (on the standard map only) cover the basics very well
  2.  The online gameplay is connected to Days of Wonder’s online service, so iPad players get to compete (and obtain a ranking) alongside the very prolific PC and Mac Ticket to Ride game players.
  3.  A straightforward game user interface that helps players focus on the game and not the mundane details of drawing cards, placing trains, finding locations on the map, etc…  The way target cities on tickets are lit up in green cuts the time it takes for me to pick tickets to a minimum.  In the mark of a good app, nearly everything I might want to do can be accomplished with one or two taps on the screen.  Most game information is present at all times so players don’t have to flip back and forth between screens to make critical decisions as they play – kudos to the interface designer…

Of course, I wouldn’t be a good little blogger if I couldn’t nitpick about all the little (or semi-big) things that could have been better about the game.  In rough order of importance:

  1. No pass and play multiplayer.  This is nearly a deal-breaker for me.  I admit that I rarely play boardgames with other players on my iPad, but I’ve only had it a little while.  On long road trips, or even just to the local game club it is nice to have games I could play as a backup.  If you had told me five years ago I could carry around Ra, Tikal, Medici, Kingsburg, Settlers, Small World, Carcassonne, Wabash Cannonball, Zooloretto, and Roll through the Ages with me wherever I went, I would not have believed you…  With my iPad along I can bring one or two new games with me to visit my nephews, and know that I have an entire collection of established quality games along as back-up.  Since Small World has pass and play multiplayer, I can only hope Days of Wonder might have it on their “to do list” as long as the base TTR app sells well.  Shoot, I’d pay another buck or two to unlock pass and play mode if I have to, although I’d probably gripe about it…  (*And if you’re reading this, DoW, I’d love to see Small World get a 3-player map, <hint, hint>.)
  2.  I understand that this is primarily a way to get an iPad interface to the online Ticket to Ride game, but it is unfortunate that the game has fairly poor computer opponents.  I have won 8 of the 9 games I’ve played so far (using games of all numbers of players.)   To be fair, I’m glad I don’t have to come up with strategy for computer players, but if one of the objectives is to introduce Ticket to Ride to new gamers (as was done over on Xbox Live) then newcomers should be aware that the computer opponents don’t put up too hard of a fight.  I’m sure the online players more than make up for any lack of AI competence.  An option to select which strategy computer opponents would use would also be welcome.  (Shoot, strategy computer games occasionally resort to cheating to create a harder challenge – there could be a “Cheater” AI that draws 3 card a turn instead of 2, something to challenge the TTR pros…)
  3.  The game seems well designed to introduce players to Ticket to Ride, but it fails to take advantage of opportunities to help basic TTR players become even better.  For example, while playing the game, there is no way to access basic game information that an experienced player will have already learned.  One glaring example is the lack of a breakdown of ticket cards in each game. Sure, a newbie would be overwhelmed with that information, but after a little while a more experienced gamer would want to know that information in order to improve their game.  It shouldn’t be thrown in a player’s face, but it should be information available somewhere in the game, preferably accessible during game play.  (Shoot, even the basic rules cannot be accessed without exiting a current game.)  With the fine graphical interface provided by the iPad, I don’t see why a map of all the ticket routes couldn’t have been included.  Something along the lines of Ted Alspach’s fine map of basic TTR ticket paths. The ending score calculations zip by, and once they’re finished there is no way to go back and analyze performance of each player.  Did you get soundly beaten by an opponent?  Tapping an opponent’s score should bring up a breakdown of how they reached that total, but the option is not there.  Watch the routes fly by as their scored, since that’s your only chance to see what happened.  (There has even been a game or two where I missed which player had the longest train award…)  Finally, a way of indicating the _current_ longest route during a game would also be appreciated.
  4.  This is a minor quibble, but while the menu screens are beautiful, they are also unlabeled.  A small label next to each selection wouldn’t have greatly diminished the impact of the menu and would help beginners navigate around.

    The The basic menu screen - gears are submenus, touch the conductor to play the game...

  5.  My last minor quibble is common to most boardgame ports into the world of video gaming.  There are no included achievements.  I was somewhat surprised since even the Xbox Live version has achievements.  They are entirely extraneous bits of fluff to add on to a game, but they add immense replay value to a computer game.  Completing difficult achievements can help make up for poor AI since they add additional constraints on a human player (win without using any engine cards, etc…)  They are becoming more and more prevalent in the video gaming world, enough so that they are no longer a bonus for being present but have become a negative when they are absent.

Ticket to Ride on the iPad is clearly designed as a way to give more people access to the online multiplayer Ticket to Ride community.  Anyone looking for a way to access this on their iPad will not be disappointed.  However, as a stand-alone app that isn’t used for online multiplayer, the Ticket to Ride app comes through as a solid, but not a stand-out title.  (Add in a pass and play mode and I would have to upgrade it to a highly recommend – where else can you get all four versions included in this game for only $10?)  My current verdict:  I like it.

Doug Garrett:  I have been playing both Solo and against a few internet opponents all week and have really enjoyed the experience.  If I want an ego boost, I’ll play solo and enjoy decimating the bots – though I possibly haven’t run into the Nebulous Bot that Dale references.  The Swiss map has always been a favorite, so it was a no-brainer buy for me.  Unfortunately, there haven’t been any internet opponents online when I have attempted a game.  I hope that the Nordic Countries map also finds its way to release, and look forward to playing this often.  Love it!

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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4 Responses to First Impressions: Ticket to Ride for iPad

  1. Matthew Frederick says:

    Building a good “cheating” AI wouldn’t require anything as blatant as taking extra cards: just knowing its opponents’ routes and train cards is plenty to make a nearly-unbeatable AI.

    We like pass-and-play iPad boardgames for situations like sitting in the movie theater waiting for the previews to begin and similar situations, and wish it was available in all such games.

  2. > If I’m in a room with someone else, and I want to play a game, I’d rather just play the game than pass around an iPad.

    So long as that room happens to be the room with the game you want to play in it! :-)

  3. Frank Conradie says:

    The iPad version of Ticket to Ride accomplished something that I thought was impossible: it taught the game to my son, who is 4 years and 8 months old, and who has no patience and pretty typical attention deficit for his age.

    I am pretty sure he would never have been able to learn the game sitting at our table, with the map and cards in front of him. But having used my iPod Touch from about 2.5 years old, and being used to playing on Mom’s iPad, he just started messing around with the game, and after some tuition from us was soon playing a “proper” game. Not competitively mind you, but definitely with an understanding of all the concepts.

    Then the real surprise: he made the connection between the iPad app and our “real” TtR all by himself, and started pestering us to get the box off the shelf so we could all play together! I still had my doubts, but low and behold, he sat through an entire game of Big Cities, working on 1 ticket at a time, and had obvious fun.

    By extrapolation I would guess that the iPad version should bring a lot of new people to the world of TtR. It makes the game accessible and easy to get into, and will hopefully push these new people to buy the “real” thing. And a healthy boardgame industry is of course a “good thing (TM)”.

  4. Republic of Texas says:

    I always go second when I create a game, but don’t always go first when I join a game. How do I change “others go first” button on an iPad?

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