Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad
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Some call them "German games;" others prefer the more generalterm, "designer games." Either way, they represent a unique niche in the traditional board gaming world - artfully presented, intelligent and cleverly-themed games for the entire family. Several of the most popular German games have already made a successful leap to iOS, most notably Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan and Small World. Now, developer Days of Wonder has released the iPad version of their most popular game, Alan Moon's Ticket to Ride. The results are astounding. Along with Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride may be the best translation of a board game to iOS yet.
Ticket to Ride is a train game, but so much more. Up to four players compete as rival train barons, attempting to gobble up precious transportation routes on a late-19th century map of the United States. During each turn, players can take one of three actions: select a new route card (players start the game with two or three routes, the completion of which net precious points), draw train cards (color coded - a length of track that is three links long and colored red means you have to have as many similarly-colored cards to claim the track), or place trains on the map. These are simple decisions, but the limitation to only do one of the three can be confounding at times. The game ends when one player has only two trains remaining to play; then, the complex scoring goes into play. There are numerous ways to score points in the game, so it's very difficult to predict a winner until the final tabulation is made. Watching the scoring is almost as fun and as tense as the game itself - a statement that I doubt can be said for many, if any, other games.
The implementation of the game on iPad is, without a doubt, exceptional in every way. Menus are intuitive, voice acting (used only during menu screens) is pitch-perfect, if a bit repetitive after a while, and game controls are tight and very, very responsive to touch. Add to this era-appropriate music and graphics, and Ticket to Ride is one of the most polished 1.0 game releases I've seen in a long time.
Players can choose to play versus a range of AI bots, or challenge someone to an online multiplayer game (sorry, but there's no local multiplayer at this point). The implementation of multiplayer is solid, if not perfect. Players can use their Gamecenter account, or log in via a Days of Wonder account. In either case, games are launched from a open lobby area, though at this point it's hard to tell when a game is available or full. There were several, apparently open games when I first entered the lobby are, but the system would not allow me to log in. However, when I created my own public game, it was immediately populated and my opponent and I played quickly and easily, with no discernible lag. Multiplayer only needs a few small tweaks to work perfectly.
For those completely unfamiliar with the gameplay mechanics, the designers have wisely included a tutorial mode that teaches all of the basics. Just don't expect to be a great player quickly. It's a cliche, but Ticket to Ride truly is one of those games that is "easy to learn - but difficult to master." There is also a venue for in-app purchases within the game, offering new maps (Europe and Switzerland) plus expansion packs that change or add new destination tickets.
Taken as a whole, Ticket to Ride represents one of the very best (if not THE best) translations of a board game to the iPad. Every element works and works well, and the game is seriously engaging and addictive. Plus, you don't have to fiddle with losing all of those plastic trains, or storing that big box somewhere. What could be better?