How to Win the Board Game Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride game pieces

 David Mulder /

Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure from Germany that you can play like a board game or online. It is one of the most popular modern games with millions of board games sold and online games played. In 2005, the game was awarded the International Gamer's Award and around that time won many other accolades.

The objective is for players to collect cards of various types of train cars to claim railway routes connecting cities in various countries around the world. The longer the routes, the more points you can earn. You get more points if you can fulfill your destination tickets by connecting two distant cities and for the player who builds the longest continuous railway.

The game does not have any dice, and players can choose what cards to take on their turn. Even still, Ticket to Ride has a significant amount of luck involved. This means that no strategy is guaranteed to win all of the time, or even most of the time. There is some basic Ticket to Ride strategies, and tips on how to win at Ticket to Ride.

Illustration of how to win the game Ticket to Ride
Illustration: The Spruce / Maritsa Patrinos

Pick Up Train Cards

The most basic and primary action in Ticket to Ride is drawing train cards. Your other two options are drawing additional destination tickets and placing trains, although that should happen less frequently.

With only a few cards in your hand, it is hard to determine which color tracks you will want to lay down, even if you know what tickets you are trying to fill. Until you have more cards, you will not know which color you will need for your wildcard locomotives.

Drawing abundant cards early on is an important strategy. And unless you have a good reason not to (such as later in the game when you need one specific color), you should always draw face-down cards from the deck. This way, you might get a wild card. Drawing a face-up wild card takes your whole turn, so if you can draw two cards from the deck on your turn and one of them is wild, it is like you got a free card or extra turn.

Once your hand fills up, it becomes easier to see what colors you have a lot of, what colors to use your wild cards on, and what colors you need so badly that it is worth picking them up from the face-up cards. Until that happens, keep drawing from the face-down deck.

Draw Additional Destination Tickets

At the beginning of the game, you will draw three destination tickets. These routes are of varying lengths (requiring varying numbers of matching colored cards), and each discrete route marked on the board can be claimed by only a single player. These destination routes become your end goals. You can discard one destination ticket. But, you must always keep two. You may draw more destination tickets throughout the game, which is a sound strategy only if you think you can complete the route since you will get more points. But if not, failing to complete your tickets will lose you points, making it more difficult to win.

Contrary to what you might think, you don't always need a lot of destination tickets to win the game.

One common strategy is to take a turn to draw destination tickets near the beginning of the game, to see if you can match any new routes to the ones in your hand, ideally finding some overlap. Usually, a better strategy is to take a few turns to draw train cards first, and then if you want to draw destination tickets, you'll have more information about what color tracks you might be able to play before choosing which destination tickets you should keep.

Since the goal of the game is to complete tickets, if you have completed all the tickets in your hand, then you should try to end the game as fast as possible or draw more tickets to complete. If the game continues but you do not complete additional tickets, then you lose ground against the other players.

Place Trains

At the beginning of the game, each player selects a group of 45 colored train pieces with a matching scoring marker. The game ends when one player has only two or fewer of his or her train pieces. Previously hidden destination tickets are revealed and points are awarded (or subtracted) based on the completeness of destination ticket routes.

Placing trains on the board is a balance between not wanting to move too soon, and not wanting to move too late. If you play on the board too early, other players can easily see where you are trying to make connections and can place trains to block you.

On the other hand, if you wait too long to play your trains and just draw cards for a dozen turns, some of the key small connecting routes (like Atlanta to Nashville) will disappear before you get a chance to take them.

A good rule of thumb is to take a few turns to draw cards at the beginning of the game before playing any trains. You want to avoid playing one early connection on the board, and then having to draw more cards for three turns while other players block that connection. Instead, draw sufficient cards that you can take a few turns in a row to play trains, so other players do not have as much time to block you.

If a short grey connection is part of your route, build that first. Other players will not necessarily be able to save up enough cards for a six-length colored connection you need, but every player can easily play on a short grey connection, so those are the most urgent ones to grab.

Try to build outwards from your original connection to form an unbroken line of connections stretching from east to west (or west to east). This cross-country line will not only give you more points (especially if you can get the longest train) but will also make picking up and filling additional tickets much easier, because any two cities you need to connect probably are not far away from somewhere on your line.

Be Flexible

The main thing to remember when trying any strategy in Ticket to Ride is you need to be able to adapt as the game goes on. It is important that you can alter your strategy based on what the game deals you.

If you quickly choose the cards you need, then it might be time to focus on placing trains or drawing tickets. Whether you win or lose, you will have fun.