Ticket to Ride is a nice real-world board game that is generally considered one of the best family and gateway games (and a decent game even for experienced gamers). We recently got it for our iPod Touches, and the weakness of the computer players quickly turned it from “I wonder if I can win this game” into “let’s shoot for the highest score possible”.
Chasing high scores is fairly typical for computer games – playing against human beings you are motivated to win, even if you win by scoring a measly 75 points… while against the computer it becomes about beating your own old scores. Unfortunately, this also turns repetitive after a while, due to some small design flaws that really should be easy to fix.
What I have found is that I believe there is an optimum high-score strategy in the game, due to the very uneven spread of tickets and a very bad computer player.
My way to play it to get a high score (not necessarily a highscore, though) is to essentially build the exact same network each time, and then stop and pull as many tickets as a I can that fits into this network. When lucky, 15 tickets can fit inside and none miss, and the score will be 250 or more. If not lucky, some tickets will miss, and the score will be lower.
The reason this style of play works is that the computer player is blind to what you do and does not try to stop you from connecting up obvious points. In a real game, if you see someone starting to build a route that looks familiar, you will tend to play a blocking move. In the iPod version, you can have two 20-car segments separated by a single two-segment track… and the computer just ignores it and keeps plugging away at its own goal. Also, when playing with humans, you cannot just say “aw, I got some godawful starting tickets, let’s all start over with something better”. With just yourself and the computer, that’s very natural.
The critical network is this:
Tracks in green are definitely on the critical network, while the yellow parts depend on exactly which tickets show up. Sometimes, Boston is included, sometimes not. The red circles mark cities which are never on any tickets, and which thus are useless.
The connect the corners strategy is good even in the normal real-world Ticket to Ride – but with observant human opponents, very hard to pull of. Also, it seems to me that the Tickets in place in the iPod version is different from what’s in the original board game, and they are bit less balanced.
What I Days of Wonder should do is to copy Angry Birds and just release some free updates containing a ton of new tickets. If there were more tickets connecting from mid-land (Helena, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas) to the unused cities on the east coast, if would be much more variable. Also, the computer components could well be made to be a bit more aggressive and blocking.
In the iPod version of Carcassonne, the computer styles of play vary much more between different personalities, and some of them are very good at playing offensively and blocking you. A similar development could make Ticket to Ride for iPod a bit more exciting to play. As it is right now, it feels like the game has been conquered and won and is pretty pointless to play. The chance of grabbing a higher score is rapidly diminishing, as the random luck needed to get the just right set of tickets with the computer getting a non-conflicting set and being fairly slow in building feels very small. It will happen if you just play many times enough – but where is the fun in that?