A slightly bumpy Ticket to Ride solo experience

Posted on 2022-05-04

Tonight I played Ticket to Ride solo. I found a solo variant on Board Game Geek that was reviewed and recommended by a Tumblr user.

Tumblr post recommending the variant

Board Game Geek post describing the variant

My experience with this variant was mixed. I like that this variant is nice and simple, which contrasts with many of the other solo variants I've found for the game. But the actual gameplay had a few problems. Luckily, I think they're easily fixed.

In Ticket to Ride, you are laying out train tracks to build train lines between cities. In a normal game, you score points based on how long and/or difficult the connection is. Each player also has secret objectives to create a continuous route across multiple cities by the end of the game. Players use their turns to take cards from a shared pool, or to play cards from their hand in order to build connections between cities. Each player has a finite number of train cars in their possession, and the game will end when any player is about to run out.

This solo automa blocks connections each turn, and also acts as a timer. The variant is presented in the Board Game Geek thread as a beat-your-score variant, but one of the comments suggested an alternative. Draw more than 3 route cards at the beginning (I used 4); you win if you are able to fulfill each of the continuous routes, and lose if you aren't. Since I prefer win/lose solo games over score-based games, I opted for this version. You could make it harder if you used 5 cards, and easier with 3.

The game went well. It was strategic and the automa provided significant enough pressure to challenge me. I ended up winning on the last turn, so it was a close finish.

My primary complaint is that the automa changes the way the train cards are handled in the game. The only reason my game ended on the final turn was because I needed a specific color card to win, and it wasn't in the market, so I spent every turn hoping I could pull it off the top of the deck. Eventually, I did... but that last third of the game was not very strategic or fun.

I propose an additional rule: at the end of the automa's turn, remove the rightmost card from the "market", shift the others to the right, and replace the card you removed. This way, the market keeps moving. There was simply no reason for me to take a market card, and this change would supply additional pressure to the market, and give the player a little more control over which cards they receive. Next time I play, I will try with this additional rule.

My only other concern with this variant is that it may be swingy depending on which routes you receive. I feel I received a decently balanced set, but it's easy to envision a scenario where the player is dealt all very challenging routes or all very easy ones. Since there are no points anymore, the player receives no reward for completing more difficult routes. One potential fix is to use a buy-in system based on the amount of points each route is worth. Instead of receiving exactly 4 routes at random, draw 6 and pick as many as necessary to get to, say, 40 points. The exact numbers would need some playtesting and tweaking, but I think the idea is sound.

I think this variant could work extremely well if given a little extra attention. It's easy to administer, easy to scale up or down in difficulty, and provided just enough challenge to be engaging. As it is now, it didn't blow me away, but I still had plenty of fun. 🎊