Kids Learn Geography with the Elegant “Ticket to Ride”

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I remember fifth grade when we had to memorize the states and place them on the map. It was horrible for me, since I lived in Ohio and had relatives in Michigan. I knew where Florida, Texas, California, Alaska and Hawaii were. Those were the easy states, but that made seven out of 50. I had to spend a lot of time memorizing the others, and while I’d seen and used the map, I didn’t have much to associate with. If only I’d had the game Ticket to Ride, I’d have done a lot better then.

Ticket to Ride is a competitive train planning and building board game, during which players take the roles of train companies that are competing to make the best train system in the country by scoring the most points.

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Gameplay is straightforward enough. Each player is given a set of mission cards that they are supposed to try and complete along with a set of random resource cards that correspond to colors of rail lines on the map. Each turn you can either build a rail, draw more cards or pick up a new mission card. Using the resources that you pick up, you can build connecting lines, scoring points for each route that you build. Longer routes net more points and shorter ones get less, but they can be vital for building hubs.

When a player gets down to only four trains, the players have one final round before final scores are added up. The player with the longest continuous route receives extra points. Points are also awarded for completed mission cards and are taken away for incomplete cards. These last-minute points often decide the game, and in most matches I’ve played, there has been a neck-and-neck race for first place, with the winner often starting off with the fewest points beforehand.

Clearly this game is a wonderful learning tool, as it takes place on a map of the U.S. and parts of southern Canada. (There are even other versions of the game set in other countries). While kids are building connections between major cities, they are getting a brainful of geography. Kids quickly learn what routes connect easily and are required to play an almost chess-like game, considering alternate routes when plans fall apart. Learning the map and the relationship between cities and states becomes a necessary strategizing tool.

The game is also designed well enough for all ages to pick up and learn — as long as they can read. The resource cards and train marking pieces are all clearly identified by their bright and vibrant colors, which is important as some other games I’ve played recently have colors that are not as well defined. Additionally, the game commonly lasts only 20 to 30 minutes, so younger players are less likely to get bored.

The price of the game varies between retailers, but it is available from the producer, Days of Wonder, as well through Amazon for around $40.

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