• If there’s one surprise hit genre on the Xbox Live Arcade, it’s the board / card game. For some reason, the minimalist approach to turn-based gaming seems ideally suited to XBLA, and has provided some of the best titles you can slap your 800 points down for.

    Take the genius of Catan for example. It’s fast, it’s frantic and it’s challenging whether you opt to take on an AI opponent or throw your hat into the ring on LIVE against a friend.

    Then there’s Lost Cities, similarly paced and also very satisfying to play and of course Carcasonne, my own personal favourite of the recent crop of board-game reproductions.

    Now you can add Ticket to Ride to the list, an XBLA title based on an already successful boxed board game by Alan R. Moon, produced in 2005 that’s apparently very popular internationally, and is finally gaining a bit of a cult following over here.

    The idea is relatively simple. Grab a stack of train cards, taking turns with an opponent to collect enough to claim a track between two destinations on a map.

    With each turn you can collect new train cards, until you’ve got the required amount to claim a route, or you can try and claim new destination cards in order to head your opponent off at the pass, switching to an entirely different route altogether.

    Ticket to Ride

    The game’s naturally rather US-Centric, with the first map encountered basically being a large rendition of the United States (later encompassing parts of Canada too, eh).

    Dotted across the map are cities that form start and destination points for your routes, and between them there are little square “train slots”. If you are lucky enough to draw enough train cards to cover a particular route, you can leap in and claim that section of track for yourself, nabbing a stack of points in the process.

    Gradually the gameplay ramps up to become something of a territory grab, with the decision constantly being balanced between trying for the longer and more lucrative routes (requiring more train cards, naturally) or just chipping away at the map grabbing the shorter routes to generally amass as much track space as possible, preventing your opponent from doing so.

    You can also leap in and grab routes that they might want to claim later. This tactic is apparently as polite amongst serious Ticket to Ride players as pouring a hot tartan flask full of coffee into someone’s lap and burning their train numbers notebook, but all’s fair in love and…er trainspotting, right?

    There can only be one winner though, so once all routes and destinations are nabbed, and there are no more cards to draw, the person with the most points and the most routes claimed wins.

    The Xbox Live Arcade version of Ticket to Ride is very simply presented, but with a game of this ilk you don’t really need to go overboard on the visuals, just keep things nice and simple, ensuring that the stripped down graphics don’t distract you from the flow of the gameplay.

    Playing against an AI opponent feels a little bit hollow, though you can at least add more opponents in to mix things up a little and make it that little bit more challenging by increasing the difficulty level. Naturally there are achievements to be nabbed so it’s worth playing a few rounds through on each of the difficulty settings to see if you can boost your gamer points a little.

    Knocking up the pace by playing against LIVE players is something else though. With camera support, and as much interaction between you and other players as if you were all sitting around a gaming table in the corner of a dank Lemon Tree café in a grubby railway station, Ticket to Ride stands alongside its board-and-card gaming peers on XBLA as a roaring success.

    Online leaderboards are of course included too, so there’s plenty of scope and incentive to play and keep playing, something that you can’t really say of a lot of XBLA titles sadly. Hopefully the game might follow its board-based predecessor, and feature future expansion packs for a reasonable price, giving it serious amount of extra longevity with different maps and additions.

    But does it have enough broad appeal? The main problem with games of this ilk is that most Xbox Live Arcade players, set in their ways and craving twin-stick shoot ‘em ups or hoary old arcade classics might find something as twee as a board game a little bit lacking on action and challenge. That’s a fair enough criticism, and if there is one problem with Ticket to Ride it’s that it’s a little too similar to the games I mentioned previously, particularly Lost Cities which for all intents and purposes features a very similar playing style and pace.

    Even too much of a good thing can end up ruining a nice little niche genre, so perhaps if there’s one serious criticism to make of Ticket to Ride, it’s that it could be one title too many for even the most fervent train fan or board game fanatic.

    Score: 6/10

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