Ticket To Ride iPad game is great, could be greater
The brand new iPad implementation of Ticket To Ride is close to perfect, but it needs a few more features before I can wholeheartedly recommend the game. As it stands, if you like Alan R. Moons' wonderful board game and enjoy playing online (or against AI opponents), then get thee to the App Store post haste and fork over your US$6.99. If you're looking for a way to enjoy the game with multiple people around the same iPad (as you can do with the other official app based on a Days of Wonder game, the great Small World), don't bother.
I hope DoW manages to update this app soon with a same-device multiplayer option (either using open cards or using an iPhone/iPod touch "hand" method the way Scrabble does), because it's clear that there are many gamers out there who feel it needs to be implemented. I like what we have now in Ticket To Ride, but read on to see if this is a journey you'd like to go on.
In the Eurogame community, Ticket To Ride is considered one of the classic gateway games (along with Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan) and, as such, deserves a place in the App Store. The rules are simple: you're trying to connect a series of cities -- which ones you're connecting is kept secret from your opponents -- using your limited number of trains and colored cards. Each turn, you can either put trains onto the board (if you have the right colored cards), draw more of those cards, or get new secret connection assignments. You wash, rinse and repeat until someone has two or less trains remaining. At that point, you add up your points for the trains you laid down, your secret connections on your tickets (which can be worth negative points if you don't connect the cities you were assigned) and get a bonus for having the longest train. Different maps have slightly different rules, but that's the gist of the game. It really is that simple. The reason the game is so popular is that these easy-to-understand rules deliver tense and exciting gameplay with lots of replayability. The app has maps available for the U.S., Europe and Switzerland – the last two as $.99 in-app purchases.
The Ticket To Ride app is almost as simple to use as the rules are to learn. The online game is almost too easy to set up and play. I was able to set up a four-player game and start playing in about 45 seconds, which was just wonderful. Once you're playing, picking cards and placing trains works just the way you'd want it to – except for drawing new tickets, which I managed to screw up because the "I want to keep this one" blue border wasn't obvious enough, and made me really notice the lack of an undo button. This omission can be quite costly, especially when playing online. I can understand the difficulties of implementing this, but it really should be there when you're playing against the AI bots. Speaking of AI opponents, they're not terrible, but also not great, and an experienced player should be able to beat them more often than not.
The online games work with DoW's long-standing computer-based Ticket To Ride games, and you can log into the server using your DoW or Game Center account. This guarantees that there will always be a good challenge waiting for you, but I certainly fall into the group that wants to play against people with one iPad between us, even if being beaten by player321822 isn't as much fun as losing to a friend across a table.
Other than this feature, there are a few other things I'd change. For example, I would like to see a slightly more noticeable blinking to show you whose turn it is, and an indicator telling you what's happening in your turn. The game does prompt you with a message to draw your second colored card when necessary, but it fades from view quickly, and sometimes I wasn't sure if it was my turn or not. At least this makes the game feel a bit like an IRL experience. One way that the app is clearly better than the tabletop game is that you can see the cities you're trying to connects light up in your player color, and you can tap your ticket card to highlight them further. This is a tremendously useful feature.
Bizarrely, for some reason the app doesn't necessarily arrange the opponent icons at the top of the screen into gameplay order, so the active player jumps around. I can handle this in a game like Agricola, but why doesn't this sort itself out in TTR? It should. Also, while instant online games are cool, why can't there be an asynchronous play option?
Aside from the Europe and Switzerland board expansions, the app also offers the 1910 card expansion for $.99. I would gladly pay $.99 each for the Märklin, Nordic Countries and dice expansion. And how cool would animated Alvin and Dexter monsters crossing the board be? Very cool. Here's hoping at least some of these features are added soon.
I like the Ticket I've got, but seeing as DoW has sold well over a million copies of the physical game, there is obviously a lot of demand out there for top-quality app improvements. Now, excuse us, I've got to get back to a game.
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