Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pay attention when you discard

A couple of weeks ago at PrezCon, I played in two heats of Ticket to Ride (designer Alan R. Moon, publisher Days of Wonder), and it was in the first of these that I came face to face with my own absent-mindedness. 

As those familiar with the game know, each player starts with three tickets, each of which identifies two cities to connect by rail for points.  Longer routes in general are harder to connect but are worth more points, and having multiple tickets with overlapping connections make it relatively easy to compile a substantial score.  Of the three tickets at the start of the game, each player must keep at least two.  The disadvantage of keeping too many tickets is that uncompleted routes lose points at the end of the game, so it is prudent to keep no more routes than one is reasonably confident of finishing.

In my first heat, the three tickets I drew were all north-south routes with virtually no opportunity for overlap.  One was to connect Vancouver and Phoenix in the west, another Sault-Sainte-Marie and Houston in central Canada-U.S., and the third New York and Miami along the eastern seaboard.  So these routes had nothing in common, and clearly the logical thing to do was to discard one and strive to complete the other two.  After some thought, I decided to keep the eastern and central routes.  I discarded the third card, laid down the two tickets that I kept, and proceeded for the first half of the game to try to complete the two routes I'd decided to keep.

In a five-player game of TtR, there can be quite a lot of overlap among the competing players for key routes, and it became necessary for me to assemble a pretty convoluted network to get Sault-Sainte-Marie, Houston, New York, and Miami all connected.  I glanced at my tickets to double-check that I'd connected the right cities, and was horrified to discover that I still had Vancouver-Phoenix in my hand.  I had discarded New York - Miami without realizing it.

There was no hope at this point of making the Vancouver-Phoenix route; my opponents had by this time completely locked up the western U.S.  So the rest of the game involved scrambling for more tickets that I could reasonably complete by making extensions of my existing route in the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada, in the hope of accumulating more points.  I was actually rather successful, but I couldn't quite make up for the eleven points that I lost from having held on to Vancouver-Phoenix.  In fact, I came in second, only ten points behind the winner.  A most frustrating lesson in paying attention to one's cards.

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