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TICKET to RIDE: FIRST JOURNEY:  Alan R Moon
Way back in 2004 Alan Moon stopped his own company White Wolf, which had published the majority of his other designs and was indeed pretty successful, and went into the mainstream of publication by joining forces with DAYS of WONDER and producing the most popular game of that year TICKET to RIDE. TTR (2004) has been redesigned and expanded multiple times with different maps and ideas, and of course it has been translated into a multitude of languages. My copy of 
TICKET to RIDE: FIRST JOURNEY actually has a rules book that encompasses these Scandinavian languages: Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. (English rules are available on the Days of Wonder website).

The Ticket to Ride board (of the USA) has more cities, less percentage of dual tracks, is less colourful and attractive and looks more confusing to new players. The Ticket to Ride: First Journey board has been designed to be eye-catching, user-friendly, informative (each city has a local famous landmark), with less cities and shorter journeys.

My first thoughts on First Journey were, as I opened the box and saw the board, cards and pieces, was "this looks like it's going to be too simple to be worth playing". Hands held up, "I was wrong!".

FIRST JOURNEY is for 2-4 players and is a somewhat simplified version of the original TICKET to RIDE, and as such it is super for families to play and for newcomers to the strategy board game hobby to try as their First Game. Don't be put off because it's a condensed version, even if you have one of the other versions, because condensed doesn't mean poor.

The components of FIRST JOURNEY are also, mostly, much brighter than the original game's pieces. The train pieces are the same plastic carriages in all of the Ticket to Ride games that I have seen and played (please note that I am saying "only the TTR games I, personally, have played") but the cards are not just reprints of the previous designs, these are, once again, brighter, more colourful and fun - they would make great animated movie characters in the mode of "Cars" and "Planes", it could be called "Trains" and feature the exquisite carriages found in the First Journey game.

One major difference in FIRST JOURNEY is the winning condition (conditions) which instead of being the player to have scored the most points at the end of the game it is the player who is first to complete 6 Tickets; the game may also end earlier if one player runs out of pieces - each player begins with 21 carriages in their chosen colour.

 

The Map Playing board.
The map shows numerous European cities, each connected by one, two or three lengths of  single colour rail track, with some of the tracks having parallel a different colour running alongside them so that two players can run trains to the connected cities. Players play cards from their hands, choosing as many as required of the same colour, joker cards count as any single colour. I say "as required" because when you play cards you must play enough to complete a track, that is you may never leave any gaps in the track (if you hope to link Rostov to Ankara for example you need either 3 Black or 3 White cards as there is a dual track between those two cities in those noted colours. You would not be able to lay 2 cards of the same colour and hope to get the third card next time, nor could you lay one Black and one White card and place a carriage on each track - players may only run one link between cities, they must leave the other track open for another player.

Tickets.
Players begin with 2 randomly dealt Tickets and gain another each time they complete a journey. Tickets show the two cities you need to connect with your colour Railway. Obviously the shorter the distance of the journey you can take the less carriages you use, which should mean you are able to manipulate your card and carriage usage to your advantage. It is also possible that whilst completing one journey /Ticket you also complete a second Ticket that you hold. Unfortunately you can only complete one Ticket a turn but the rules are ambiguous as to whether or not they prevent you from claiming the second route on your next turn. This has occurred often in our games, mainly when taking a new Ticket card after completing a Route. You draw a new card and immediately see that you have already completed the Route shown on the new Ticket card. The rule book says "To claim a Route you must play Train cards from your hand that the colour and number of spaces of the Route". You can take this literally to mean that unless you have just played the carriages/trains to complete the route you cannot claim it if you have "accidentally" completed it before you gined the Ticket card. However as you have played the correct cards to complete the Route, even though it was on a previous turn, you can claim that you have complied to the rules. We tend to play that if the situation arises where you have two completed Routes visible on your turn, and you have the Tickets for those Routes (either holding them both or gaining one after discarding a completed Journey) then you may complete the second Route on your next turn, as long as you legally place carriages on the board somewhere.

 

Placing Carriages:
Unless you are deliberately trying to end the game, a valuable lesson is to not try for too many 3 track journeys as they will quickly erode your supply (each player begins with 20 same colour carriages). Many games with tracks or roads etc have a rule where you always have to lay your pieces in a connecting contiguous line, occasionally with spars creating junctions. FIRST JOURNEY allows you to place your carriages on any track you have the cards for, though only one per turn. There are only two options for players in their turn; claim a route, as in laying your carriages onto a track on the board, or you can take two cards from the top of the deck. There is some luck in this game, drawing cards randomly mainly - as you draw carriage cards or Ticket cards - and there is some strategy, for example keeping track of how many carriages the other players have left, and how many cards they are holding. These help you decide whether to leave yourself short on cards and play cards from your hand to the board or to draw 2 more cards (no hand limit) in the hope of being able to expand your rail net system. I have said that you do not have to connect your rail system but there are special tickets you can gain, there is one per player available, which are for when you connect West to East or East to West, so although you don't have to play adjacent to your previously laid track it is always good if you can see the whole picture in your mind when selecting the city connection to make.

The game ends immediately one player has six Tickets. We felt this was a little unfair, mainly because we don't really like short games where not all players have the same number of turns. Therefore we play on until the turn ends after one player has declared 6 Tickets and if 2 or more players end up with 6 tickets we determine the winner by the number of carriage pieces each player has unplayed, the lowest wins.

TICKET to RIDE: FIRST JOURNEY is a really good, fun, game. It plays quickly - takes about 30 minutes, has few rules, and is visually impressive. It is also inexpensive for such a quality boardgame and should be found on the shelves of your Local Game Store for between £20.00 - £25.00.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015