Ticket to Ride for Beginners

In the much beloved game of Ticket to Ride, or as my family affectionately calls it, TTR, I have seen many people make silly mistakes when they begin playing the game for the first time. First of all, you must realize that this is a fun game that involves strategy and various levels of risk. For this reason, kids and adults alike love the game. Second, depending on the version, it maxes out at 3, 4, 5, or 6 players. It’s usually a better game when the maximum number of players is playing. At least, that’s when the mistakes below will cost you the most. Third, it’s a game that you get better at with time. It’s also a game that you can add tons of expansions or variations to if you get bored with a certain version. Most people start with the USA or Europe version. However, no matter what version you start with, I see the same common mistakes for those who play for their first time. Please save yourself and learn from their mistakes.

Top 10 Most Common Mistakes Beginners Make When Playing Ticket To Ride

  1. Beginners often do not realize which routes are important and prioritize them. For example: If you see you need a certain city and it only has two routes going to it, you need to keep your eye on it. If one of those two routes gets taken, you’d better be ready to take the other one on your next turn. And when you take cards, you should take cards at the start of the game for that route first. Prioritize!
  2. Beginners often do not re-route when they don’t get the cards they need. If you need a certain route and you continually cannot get the cards you need, you have about three options.
    • Continue taking cards hoping they’ll come up. This is probably the worst option. But it depends on a variety of factors (like how early it is in the game, how many other people you see taking those colors, how badly you need that particular track etc.).
    • Re-route using the cards you do have to go a different way to the same city.
    • Take wilds! If they’re available and you can’t get the color you need, for goodness sake, hunker down and take a wild. It costs you a card, but it’s one card guaranteed closer to getting what you need as opposed to potentially two cards and a turn further from getting what you need.
  3. Beginners often do not connect their trains. If you just complete one mission on one side of the board and another on the other side of the board, but never connect your trains, you’ll only get points from your missions and a few from your trains. You see, everyone is going to get points from their trains. You need to see how to get more points from your trains. If you connect your trains, this is good for many reasons. 1-It gives you a greater chance of getting a bonus for longest train or most connected cities within a single track. 2-If you decide to draw more missions, having all your trains connected increases your chances of having one of the missions you draw already completed. The more cities you connect together, the greater the likelihood that if you draw missions, you’ll already have them completed. If you have five cities here and four connected over there, but draw a mission with one city on one of your tracks and another on the other, if they’re not connected, you don’t get those points.
  4. Beginners often do not have a strategy once they complete their missions. Many beginners think once their missions are complete, they’re done! Well, you’re probably done with the stressful part and you won’t receive any negative points (unless you decide to draw more missions, then maybe). But this is where the gap between beginners and advanced players really expands. Remember, the goal isn’t just to complete your missions, but to score the most points possible! I would even say the goal isn’t always just to win, but to score the most points possible! So, either,
    • Play long tracks
    • Get more missions
    • Try to get a bonus like longest train or most connected cities etc, or
    • Try to go out first by laying all your trains and sabotaging others from completing their missions. (Yes, this is sudo-defensive playing, but since it’s not blocking, people don’t take it as personal, and it doesn’t always sabotage people. Most likely this only sabotages the advanced players who have drawn lots of extra missions. Hence why this is a good strategy for a beginner to use with an advanced player. And advanced players will know how close you are to going out and prepare accordingly for it and not blame you.) Just be sure to announce that it’s everyone’s last turn. Without announcing, you will create enemies and arguments!
  5. Beginners often only keep low point missions. When you receive your missions, you should probably prioritize by the highest point value. (Although advanced players have various strategies for choosing missions.) Then from there, see if any of the other missions can be completed while completing the highest point value one. If not, choose the next highest in point value mission, etc. But try to keep at least one worth a lot of points. Remember, the goal is to score the most points, not just finish your missions. If none of them overlap and you choose to keep low point valued ones, you’d better draw more hoping to get a higher point value one to shoot for. (Or a TON of little ones!) Or get some other strategy for gaining points since your missions won’t give you many points.
  6. Beginners often draw missions without having a good spread or likelihood of having completed them. This is more of an intermediate mistake than a beginner’s mistake. If your train goes across the outer edge of the map, then you probably are risking more by drawing missions. But this all depends on how far into the game you are. If you’ve already played most of your trains and they’re on the outer edge of the map, it’s probably a poor choice. If you go through the middle and connect a lot of cities, then your chances are higher of drawing a mission you already have or will be capable of completing. The likelihood of drawing a mission that you’ve already completed goes up with each city you’ve connected, not with how long your train is.
  7. Beginners often are not patient enough to collect enough cards to play long track. Just because you have three reds in your hand doesn’t mean you should play them on that track requiring three cards of any color. Rather, if you need a six plus track of reds, use another color for that three card train track. If you need or want a certain long track, go for it! Don’t use those cards elsewhere if you can help it. Just wait for it! I will say that you should try early in the game for long tracks. It’s ok to try at the end, but not as likely that you’ll get the cards you need since fewer people typically draw cards at the end than at the beginning.
  8. Beginners often connect two cities more than one way (except for in India). This is just a waste of trains, time, and cards and will nearly never help you in the end. Always try to make your train one continuous route with minimal spurs. You will leave yourself the most options this way. Not only that, but it’ll minimize your chance of forming enemies! I’ve seen a player use all three tracks to Miami in the USA version and another connect four cities in a circle—for no reason except to get the points from laying track. Always try to accomplish more than one thing when laying track. Lay track and complete a mission. Lay track and try to go out fast. Lay track and try to get longest train/most connected cities or whatever bonus. Lay track and recoup points from an incomplete mission.
  9. Beginners often play defensively and try to block people more than trying to finish their own missions or score points. Ok, first off, if you want to play a game to block people, play Blokus. TTR is not meant to create enemies. What makes TTR so fun is that everyone can usually achieve their own missions without getting in each other’s way. Now, there will be times you’ll need a certain route to complete your mission, and when you take it, you’ll inadvertently block someone else. This is allowed and that’s totally acceptable. Defensive players might win with this blocking strategy occasionally, but it’s usually not a good strategy in general because you typically just sabotage yourself or one other player. And more importantly, once you start blocking others, they’ll turn and block you back.
  10. Beginners often take wilds every time they’re available and forego getting another card. If you need a wild, take it, but don’t just take it because there’s a wild available. It costs you a card! I saw a player do this turn after turn. That player ended the game with about five wilds in their hand—with no real plan to use them. They just liked collecting wilds and the options that were available from that. But she could’ve drawn 10 cards in the meantime and potentially played five of them to score 10 points instead of collecting wilds with no real purpose.

All of these mistakes can be summarized by measuring the risk. The measuring of risks is what makes it one of my all-time favorite games. Is it more worth it to do this or that? Any effective TTR player measures the risk when choosing to take cards, play cards, or take missions. It’s all about measuring the risk and prioritizing what’s most important first. Those who can do these two things well, will succeed in TTR. Overall, beginners also need to remember that the goal is to score the most points. And we like to say scoring 100 is par. So anytime you score more than 100, that’s good. It’s a game that definitely can cause anxiety—especially for beginners, but that’s also part of the fun! Happy Playing!


In addition, here’s our Top 10 FUN PHRASES those I play with have made a part of the game…in no particular order.

  • If you have to ask whose turn it is, it’s probably yours.
  • Twodles! Oodles! Twodles we say means, “I’ll take two cards off the top of the deck.” Oodles likewise means, “I’ll take one card off the top of the deck, thanks!”
  • Vanderbot! We call someone a Vanderbot if they play all the long tracks and go out quickly. This name comes from the online version of TTR where that is Cornelius Vanderbot’s strategy every time. Sometimes this works. But sometimes it doesn’t.
  • Europe! In other words, “you are up!” It’s your turn!
  • Two red syndrome. If you take two red cards, we say you have two red syndrome.
  • TTR! This means Ticket to Ride.
  • It’s about that time. This is said when later in the game many people start taking wilds as opposed to any two other cards. It’s usually done because they’re all getting nervous toward the end and they all aren’t getting cards they need, so everyone start taking wilds.
  • Flippy! This means, “Hey Dealer, could you please flip the next card over. Thanks!”
  • Cuddling! We say two people are “cuddling” if they’re trains are side by side on the same route that contains two tracks. (We also might call red and green cuddling together “Christmas,” or Yellow and Black together, “Purdue,” or something like that. Anything that makes mention of the two colors sharing the road together.)
  • Card Hoarders. We affectionately refer to those who continually collect more cards than they play as card hoarders. If we’re in need of a certain color of card, we often say things like, “Who’s hoarding all the white cards!”

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