App of the Day: Ticket to Ride

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There are games that are so simple, yet blindingly amazing, that they become kind of industries unto themselves. In the board game equivalent of sequels, a regular flow of expansions and fan-made scenarios pay homage to and expand the foundations, turning a single game into a niche genre. Ticket to Ride's cheery conductor, all rosy cheeks and handlebar moustache, may not look it, but the man's a monster.

Ticket to Ride was originally a board game, which made its debut in 2004 and promptly scooped the Spiel Des Jahres for its creator, Alan Moon (a Southampton man, which shows it isn't all boats and Le Tissier down there). It has received the treatment due a classic. Alongside The Coding Monkeys' flawless Carcassone, this app translates the board game so perfectly, and with such considered production, you couldn't imagine going back to the pieces.

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The player who has the longest complete route at the game's end gets a nice little bonus, which in tight contests can be the difference.

Everything about the app is thought through and smartly implemented, from a magnifying glass and crosshairs that help you put down routes to the simple, civil and fast online matchmaking. The game is set on a map of the United States and Southern Canada circa 1900, with loads of individual cities connected by coloured routes. Each route is made up of blocks, each block needs a train of the same colour to capture it, and it has to be taken in one turn (so to capture a four-length red route you need four red trains).

There are eight colours in all, plus certain routes which are grey, meaning they can be taken with any colour. Roleplaying as a super-omniscient conductor, your job is to pick tickets going from city to city, and then fulfil them by linking up routes.

Simplicity itself, eh? You'll understand what to do within seconds of your first game of Ticket to Ride, but the unknown factor that turns everything upside-down is other players. They're doing the same thing you are, no-one can see anyone else's tickets, and most routes can only be claimed once. Let's put it this way: Ticket to Ride isn't necessarily about how good your Plan A is. It's about some sod stealing a key route, and whether Plan B works.

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Expansions are also available as IAPs, introducing new maps and mechanics like passengers, but the core game alone is worth several times the (admittedly considerable) price.

Everything's turn-based, and you're only able to do one thing per turn from several options. You can pick two coloured trains from an ever-changing selection of five, building up your strength to claim long routes (by far the best tactic), or capture one instead. The last option is to take on new tickets, which is the secret to success and the reason for many failures. By the point you want to do this in a game you'll already have a network on the board, so connecting new stops can be easy. But every incomplete ticket at the end of the game counts against your points total, and even one can mean curtains.

Ticket to Ride gets its unique rhythm from this. Better players don't put any routes down for ages, hoarding up trains before exploding into a series of long criss-cross captures that connect everything at once. When one player acts, everyone else has to work out where their priorities lie, and secure potentially vulnerable territory before it's too late. It's a peaceful game with outbursts of violence.

The final, delicious twist is that each player gets to put down 65 trains total in the game - and the first to get down to two triggers the end game. Each player gets one more turn, and the scores are tallied. It's a killer, because unless your opponents are ready it can cost them countless tickets, and the threat of an endgame trigger dominates players who've been hoarding trains rather than using them. Just another tactic in a game full of them. Ticket to Ride is welcoming, easy to pick up, beautifully produced and much deeper than it looks. If you've any interest in turn-based strategy games, this is one of the most elegantly designed out there.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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