Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gateway Games Part II

This week, two more Gateway Games: Ticket to Ride and Blokus

Ticket To Ride

Ticket to Ride has become another darling of the Gateway Geeklists. It's a train-themed game in which players score points by claiming routes on the map using brightly-colored trains. Players have specific cities (printed on "Destination" cards) which need to be connected - succeed, and you'll score points; fail, and you'll lose that many points.

The game is complicated slightly by the other players. A number of linkages on the map are only available to one player, so if I grab Los Angeles to Phoenix and you need to get into Phoenix to complete one of your destination tickets, then you'll need to find another way through.

It's playable on Xbox Live and on Days of Wonder's website. There is also a standalone version of the game which interfaces with the web version.

The rules are fairly simple - on your turn, you have three actions from which to choose:
1) Draw cards from the deck
2) Play sets of matching cards (and wild cards) to claim a route between two cities
3) Draw more "destination" tickets.

You need to draw cards to complete tickets, but if you spend too much time drawing, your opponents will claim the tracks you need. At the same time, if you claim too fast, you will telegraph your moves and experienced opponents will cut you off.

Destination tickets have the potential to score a lot of points - but if you can't complete them, they count against you.

There are now four standalone versions of the game, too, each with its own unique wrinkles. There are also a couple of expansions, some of which require the original (USA) map, some of which work with any of the standalone versions.

There aren't a lot of trouble spots in the rules, either. Beginning players frequently try to claim routes one train at a time - LA to Phoenix requires three cars at one time, rather than one train per turn for three turns.

There are no gray train cars, either - a gray route on the board can be claimed with any color cars. They still all have to be the same color, mind you.


Blokus is an excellent spatial-recognition game. It's colorful and eye-catching, and very easy to learn. It's playable on the official website. It holds between two and four players, but I do not suggest playing it with three.

Each player is given a set of tiles - they remind me a great deal of Tetris tiles, but have between one and five squares, rather than the four squares used in Tetris. The goal is simple: Place all of your tiles.

The first tile is placed in the corner. Each successive tile must be diagonally adjacent to at least one of your other tiles, and cannot be orthagonally adjacent. The rules are that simple.

There are four versions of this game, as well. In my opinion, Blokus Trigon is the best of the four, as it scales to three without trouble. I do suggest playing the basic game first, however.

If your visual and spatial perception are good, you will do well at this game. If they are not, then you will not. I love this game, but it frustrates my wife. Not enough that she won't play, mind you, but she will usually only play a few games before growing frustrated.

Rules-wise, there aren't any sticky spots. There is a small issue, however, if one member of your group is colorblind. It's (admittedly) an issue with many games, but most games can add a small symbol or emblem to each color to help colorblind players. This one does not compensate in any way for colorblindness. If you do have colorblind players, it's best to have them play either blue or yellow, as those are noticably different shades from the red and green pieces.

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