Ticket to Ride (for Android) review

The play of Ticket to Ride has survived translation to mobile and is more fun than ever, but the rest of the app is a confused mess.
Photo of Ticket to Ride (for Android)

Ticket to Ride takes a bland, tedious sounding subject—building a railroad system—and makes it fun and entertaining. As a board game, it’s considered a modern classic. Now on Android (and iOS), players from around the world can match their rail-baron skills whenever they like, if they can get past the app’s irritating interface.

All Aboard!
In Ticket to Ride you build your rail empire by claiming routes between cities. You score points for each route—the longer the better—and claim them by collecting the appropriate number of colored cards from the sideboard. You score extra points for completing Tickets, lengthy, multi-city routes, and for having the longest continuous route on the board.

As a board game, Ticket to Ride can be an imposing, with tons of little pieces and cards in addition to a lengthy scoring process. The mobile version of the game does away with all the fiddly, tedious parts of the board game and lets you focus on strategy and play.

In this respect, Ticket to Ride shines. The games are fun, surprisingly brief, and frequently challenging. The tension for each round comes from having so many options—from claiming train lines, drawing cards, or drawing tickets—and only being able to choose one action. Once you start playing you can see why this is considered a classic board game.

Ticket to Ride ships with just the classic board, but expansions are available for purchase at several locations in the app.

A lengthy tutorial, comprising an entire game, uses pop-up windows to tell you what to do. I was surprised that although I couldn’t turn off the tutorial and finish the game on my own, I could ignore its advice and the tutorial seemed to adapt in turn. Towards the end of the game, with my defeat all but assured, the tutorial started giving me bizarre, bad advice. It also didn’t inform me of some game mechanics, like under what circumstances the pool of available cards resets.

Even without the tutorial running, the game isn’t always clear about what is happening or what should happen next. Prompts to draw cards are small, displayed at the bottom of the screen, and fade quickly. It’s hard to get back into the game up after you’ve set it aside, since you’ll probably forget what you were doing.

Weirdly, the multiplayer controls appear to be split between the lobby (located in the “restaurant” section) and the screen where you begin a game. The iOS version is much simpler and also includes pass-and-play games and LAN games. The multiplayer menus of the Android version were so confusing, I wasn’t sure if these features were present.

Derailed by Design
Where the app really comes apart is its design, which is skeumorphic to the point of insanity and far too crowded. The main game screen, menu screens, and other pages are static “rooms” within a virtual train station. It’s cute, but it’s not particularly useful, and the functions of many controls were totally obscured. Some had no obvious function, and others were completely lost in the overwrought backgrounds.

In the cute-but-annoying vein are the denizens of this station, who occupy each of the screens. Every time you open a page, no matter how many times you’ve done this previously, they spit out the same time-period appropriate spiel, some of which are quite lengthy. I quickly sought, and found, a means to mute their voices.

The tablet and handheld versions of the game are identical, which proved problematic on the Settings screen where the controls were tiny on my Galaxy S III. It took me three tries before I finally got a toggle switch to work.

The game board is also problematic, with about 20 percent of the screen used to display a tiny scoring cheat sheet—which doesn’t matter since the game will score your trains automatically. On my Nexus 7 tablet the game board arrangement was only awkward, but on the S III the game board was so small as to be difficult to use. You can pinch and zoom the board, but it’s slow and surprisingly difficult. While I was able to correctly pick up the cards I wanted, it seemed silly that I should even have to worry about it.

Like Candy Crush Saga, Ticket to Ride features a lush musical score, based mostly around rag-time piano and pokey cowboy tunes. It’s an impressive effort, but I could only take so much before I desperately muted my phone.

When it comes to board game adaptations for mobile, I look to the iOS version of Carcassonne as the gold standard. In this game, the board can be shrunk or zoomed to a great degree and the heads-up-display is kept to a minimum so your focus is always on the game. It also uses finger-friendly buttons and has a great, unobtrusive musical score. Similarly, the iOS version of Ticket to Ride is sleeker, easier to use, and better designed.

Stranded at the Station
While developer Days of Wonder has succeeded in translating the game play of Ticket to Ride, they have fallen short at designing an application that makes sense on Android. This is all the more bewildering because the iOS version of the game is far superior in terms of design.

Whatever Days of Wonder did on iOS, they need to do for Android. The menus are massive and messy, and the cutesy layout and talking guides add nothing but irritation. Critical features are confusing, and in the case of local multiplayer simply not present. The board’s layout wastes screen space, which is particularly sinful on phones where elements of the game are made miniscule.

Ticket to Ride, with its decidedly un-exciting premise (except among die-hard train aficionados), already had an uphill battle to get players on Android. Saddling it with an awkward, unpleasant interface makes it all the more difficult. Hopefully Days of Wonder will realize that clean, polished design works just as well on Android as it does on iOS.

Specifications
Genre Simulation
Platform Android

Verdict
The play of Ticket to Ride has survived translation to mobile and is more fun than ever, but the rest of the app is a confused mess.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc