How to Play Ticket to Ride; Strategies and Winning Tips


Ticket to Ride games can be completed in 30-40 minutes.  The game play consists of three moves which make Ticket to Ride easy to learn for players of most ages.  This is a family favorite on Sunday afternoons, particularly on rainy days or on cold snowy days.  We can usually play 4 to 5 time before the night is over.

Simplified Strategy to Win Ticket to Ride

The best strategy to win Ticket to Ride is to start with three tickets, this is the fewest amount required.  Then use these cards to guide your building strategy.  Ideally you want to connect the following three cities: New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.  Connecting these cities will give you a huge advantage at the end of the game when there are a number of points up for grabs in unclaimed tickets.  Delay building your trains until the last possible moment and take advantage of colors and long routes.  As the game starts to approach its final conclusion start collecting more tickets.  You will find a number of the tickets you collect are already complete thus adding to your point total.  Some other tickets will only need a single small route which makes it possible to complete ticket without adding too much risk to your point total.  These simple game-winning strategies can back-fire on you when other opponents are implementing the same strategy.  In this case you want to end the game as soon as possible to prevent your opponent from collecting those high point unclaimed tickets.

Clarification of Ticket to Ride Game

When we play Ticket to Ride we always play with the USA 1910 Expansion cards.  The expansion set has some advantages that make this game a little more enjoyable to play.  The cards that come with the original game are smaller than regular playing cards.  So the first advantage is simply based in the comfort level of playing with regular sized cards.  As I mentioned earlier we often play this game on Sunday afternoons with grandparents and grand-children.  Regular sized work better players of all ages that may struggle with dexterity or eye sight.  The other advantage is that the expansion set includes more tickets with different connections that need to be made.

So throughout the rest of this article when I refer to Ticket to Ride I am specifically referring to Ticket to Ride with the USA 1910 Expansion Cards.

Digging Deeper Into This Game Play Strategy

Playing the Ticket Cards That Were Dealt

All players will be dealt five tickets at the beginning of the game.  On your first turn you will have the opportunity to keep all of these tickets, four of these tickets, or three of these tickets.  My recommendation is to keep three these tickets that are within the overall game plan of connecting New York to Miami and Miami to Los Angeles.  So, ideally any connection in the Pacific Northwest should be discarded.  However, sometimes the cards just don’t get dealt the way we would like.  When this happens you have two other options.

Option #1:  Continue with the same game plan of connecting the three major cities and keep the smallest point ticket in the Northwest with the idea that you can easily connect it or just take those points as a loss.

Option #2:  Use a similar strategy, but through the Pacific Northwest.  In this case you will want to connect Los Angeles to Portland and then Portland to New York (ideally through Boston).  Although this strategy may not work as well as Plan A, you may find less resistance if a majority of your tickets are already in that part of the country.

                Drawing Train Cards

At the beginning of the game each player will be dealt 4 train car cards.  Our ultimate goal is to connect the three major cities but we do not need to connect to these cities in any specific order.  So I recommend using the beginning of the game to strategically collect cards and delay building trains until the last possible moment.  Identify a couple of 6 train routes that will help you make connections for the tickets in your hand.  If you have some of those colors dealt to you great.  If not, and there are a couple of these train cards available to draw then you can still make this pursuit.  If some of your opponents are also collecting those colors they could simply be looking to build a different route with the same color you need.  Try to focus on collecting cards that will allow you to build the long routes first.

Pro Tip:  When drawing cards give yourself the best opportunity to obtain Wild Cards.  If you need a Blue and Black Card and all that is showing is a Blue Card.  DO NOT take the Blue Card first.  Rather draw from the unknown pile first and then take the Blue Card.  If you take the Blue Card first it could potentially be replaced with a Wild Card and you will not be permitted to take it.

                Placing Trains onto the Board

Getting a couple of 6 train routes is essential to a winning strategy.  These routes give you maximum points and ultimately allow you to make long connections with fewer trains.  This will allow you some extra trains toward the end of the game.  While you’re collecting the cards to build your long trains you want to identify the corresponding smaller routes that you will also need.  Even if all you want to collect are Blue Train Cards you will inevitably end up with some Yellow, White, Black, and Red.  Use these cards to build your smaller routes first.  There is a much greater likely hood that your opponents can block you with the smaller connections rather than larger connections.  Also you can better hide your overall game plan if you are building a bunch of random small routes early on in the game. 

                Taking Tickets

After you have placed the trains on the board to make the connections it is time to take more tickets.  Hopefully one of these tickets (you only have to keep one) will guide us as to how we need to proceed to the original game plan.  The first three tickets may have set us up to connect Los Angeles and New York and now we are hoping for a Miami connection.  If it’s not there then you have two options.

Option #1:  Take a high point ticket that you almost have completed that you can easily connect.  Sometimes just making the connection from New York to Boston may complete another ticket and Boston is another key city to connect to when possible.

Option #2:  Take the smallest point ticket and complete it quickly so that you can work toward more tickets.

At the end of the game having the major cities connected is the key to the final few rounds which could win you the game.  It is during these rounds that you want to collect tickets.  You only have to keep one ticket, but you could keep them all if you want to.  It’s great when you get four tickets dealt to you and two of those tickets are already complete.  Just like that you added anywhere from 10 – 25 points to your final score.  Next round do it again.  Eventually you’ll get 4 tickets with nothing completed.  When this happens take the easiest to complete with the lowest score. 

Now you are back to the card collecting and train building mode.  This is probably going to be your final move.  If for some reason the game would end before you can make this connection you will only lose the points on that ticket, which shouldn’t be enough to ruin your entire game.

Pro Tip:  The longest train is not pursued in this strategy.  Connecting these major cities may provide you the longest train if you are fortunate enough not to be blocked in any significant way.  However re-routing and building offshoots routes are expected in this strategy.  Overall the longest train is usually a fool’s errand and it usually doesn’t make the difference in winning and losing.

Next weekend when it is cold, rainy, snowing, or you just want to stay in and rest with your family.  Take out Ticket to Ride, implement this strategy, and have a great time with those you love.

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