Ticket to Ride is one of the most popular board games in the world. It has done wonders for the board game hobby and introduced many new people to the world of hobby board gaming.
Due to this, there are always people out there looking to figure out what game they should try next after Ticket to Ride. In this article, I’ve got a question from a fan asking that question, almost.
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The question and a note on what I mean by Train Game:
This topic comes from honorary Tabletop Bellhop Patreon patron and now published author Sean Hamilton (not Sean from Hamilton). Sean asks:
What would you recommend for someone as a next step up from Ticket to Ride, in so far as train-themed games? Got someone I know who’s super into trains, so looking for potential surprises.
Before I get into any game recommendations, I want to take a moment to talk about the definition of a train game. Sean is looking for next step Train Games to play after Ticket to Ride and to properly give appropriate game suggestions we first need to define what games are considered train games.
Back on Episode 131 of the Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast, Trainspotting, Sean (from Hamilton) and I discussed this very topic in quite a bit of detail. We took a look at train games from a number of different angles and eventually settled on a single definition which is the one I will be using for this article. I encourage everyone to check out that full episode or at least watch the Ask The Bellhop segment where we discuss the topic of Train Games on YouTube
If you don’t feel like checking out that discussion, the short answer for us is that any game that includes trains, specifically, locomotive style trains, in a meaningful way is a train game. Most of these games include some combination of similar mechanics such as an in-game economy, route building, pick up and deliver, stock-trading, contracts to be filled, or upgrading your tracks and engines. A given train game may or may not have some or all of these, as long as it uses trains in a way that’s actually important to the game it’s a train game to me.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s find some great next-step games for one of the world’s most popular train games: Ticket to Ride.
Here are some train games that Ticket To Ride fans should love!
I have tried to do here what I did for Settlers of Catan in my “Looking for Games with a Similar Feel to Catan” article, which is to look at different aspects of the game that people enjoy and then recommend follow up games based on each of those aspects.
To me, for Ticket to Ride those aspects include aspects such as; simply enjoy playing games and socializing, route building, owning stocks in companies, card-driven mechanics, set collection, cutting people off, and the train theme itself.
1. Ticket to Ride Map Collection Volume 5: United Kingdom and Pennsylvania
My first suggestion is meant for people who just love Ticket to Ride and everything about it. For those people, I actually recommend picking up a Ticket to Ride expansion. Specifically, the one that contains the maps for the UK and Pennsylvania.
This expansion features two new ways to play Ticket to Ride which include a number of the train game elements I mentioned above that are not part of the base game of Ticket to Ride.
The UK map features a totally new set of train cards and also introduces technology cards. This new technology deck allows players to improve the quality of their trains, which allows for faster route building and the completion of even longer routes.
The Pennsylvania map also has a new set of cards, this time representing stock shares. These stocks come from actual historical railroads of the 1800s. Whenever a player completes a route they have the option to invest in one of these companies. At the end of the game, the player with the most stock in each company will receive bonus points.
My next suggestion is another version of Ticket to Ride. Märklin is a stand alone game, not an expansion. This is a much heavier version of Ticket to Ride, yet it will still feel very familiar to fans.
Ticket to Ride: Märklin allows players to not only travel from city to city but also from cities to countries. Along with this, it adds a pick up and deliver mechanic where each player gets three passengers that can be used to pick up market tokens from the various cities on the map.
On a player’s turn instead of drawing cards or placing a train, they can instead move their passengers. To make things even more interesting, moving your passengers on your own trains is free but if you use another player’s routes you need to pay them.
If your group’s favourite part of Ticket to Ride is just getting together and socializing while playing a game, you probably want to stick to lighter train games where you can still sit and chat while playing. An example of such a game is Yardmaster Express.
This is a card drafting game, like Sushi Go or 7 Wonders, with a train theme. Each turn you are going to draft a cargo card and add it to your growing train then pass all of your cards to the next player. Cards represent goods and you can only place goods of the same colour or number next to each other.
This is a very quick, ten-minute game that you will probably want to play multiple rounds of in a row.
If Yardmaster Express sounds like something your group would enjoy but it seems a bit too quick and simple take a look at the original Yardmaster.
This is a card game where players are attempting to build the highest valued train by adding rail cars to their trainyard. Like in Yardmaster Express, when adding cards to your trains you can only connect cars of the same value (number) or good type (colour). What’s different here is that Yardmaster is not a drafting game. Instead, you have to pay for your cargo cards by using other cards in your hands, so trying to decide what to use for currency and what to play is a big part of the game.
5. Railroad Ink
Another light game with a train theme is Railroad Ink. This is a roll-and-write game where players are trying to build both rail and road pathways on a gridded map based on what comes up on a set of custom dice. My favourite part of this game is the fact that everyone is building their transportation networks based on the same set of dice each round, and yet, by the end of the game, everyone’s completed map will be completely different from everyone else’s.
There are a number of versions of Railroad Ink based on colour. Each of these games comes with an identical set of white dice and player boards but also includes two unique optional dice which are different in each set. For example, Railroad Ink Deep Blue comes with blue dice that depict rivers and lakes, while Railroad Ink Blazing Red comes with red dice that feature lava and meteors.
TransAmerica is one of the lightest games on this list. It could actually be considered lighter than Ticket To Ride, and is truly more a step sideways than a step up. The reason I chose to include it in this list is that it’s one of the purest route-building train games out there.
In TransAmerica, each player starts with five cities on the map and the winner is the first player to connect all five of their cities. Each turn you get two options, and two options only, place one piece of track or place two pieces of track. That’s it. You now know how to play TransAmerica.
The key to winning a game of TransAmerica is figuring out how to best take advantage of the rails your opponents are building, while also making sure no one is getting too much of an advantage from your tracks. For a very small step up from this, and a new map to play on, you can also check out TransEuropa.
7. San Francisco Cable Car (or Metro)
For something heavier than TransAmerica but still on the lighter side take a look at San Francisco Cable Car which is sometimes just called Cable Car and has also been published under the name Metro. This train game will appeal to Tsuro fans as well.
In Cable Car, you control a cable car company with a number of different cars running around the city as you try to build the longest possible route for each car using tiles that feature four tracks coming off the sides of the tiles in different patterns. In addition to trying to build long routes, you can also earn bonus points for connecting your rails to the station in the middle of the board.
One of the interesting things here, that differs from most train games, is that you can place track tiles anywhere. You don’t have to build off of your own track, which adds a big take-that element to this game.
Cable Car also includes an advanced mode where players don’t actually have a company of their own but rather can invest in stocks of each of the different colours in play.
This game is often considered an evolution of TransAmerica. It takes the basic mechanics of route building from TransAmerica and adds more to it. In 20th Century Limited, players set up small railroads, turn them into larger rail lines, sell them off to the big rail companies and start all over again.
While the players are working on their own routes, a deck of rail line cards represents the advancement of the big historic rail companies of America. If the mainline connects to your route, they buy it.
There is also a set of demand cards that work similarly to route cards in Ticket to Ride, giving some direction to your route building by awarding points for connecting different cities on the map.
Sticking with the theme of cards, if you dig the card-driven mechanics of Ticket to Ride along with a bit of route building, check out the deck-building card game Trains.
This deck-building game was released shortly after Dominion and features very similar mechanics including a static card market that is set at the start of each game. One of the main things Trains adds is a board where players will place cubes representing their growing train routes. Players score points by connecting cities with these routes.
If you dig the set collection element of making sets of matching cards to build routes I recommend checking out Spike.
How you place rails in Spike is almost identical to Ticket to Ride, except that the colours of the cards represent which direction you can build your track in. In Spike there are no fixed routes, you decide which way to go.
Spike also adds a very simple market mechanic to the game where players are delivering four different types of goods to cities and each time a good is delivered it drops in price slightly in relation to the other three types.
This is my strongest suggestion for people who like the overall feel and mechanics of Ticket to Ride and want something more. The open routes and simple economy in Spike make it the perfect next step game from Ticket to Ride.
11. Age of Steam
Next up I want to suggest a bit more of a step up from the games on this list so far. If you are looking for a significantly heavier train game experience, without getting overwhelmingly heavy, I suggest the Steam series of train games.
There are a number of Steam games all based around the same mechanics. These include Steam Rails to Riches, Railroad Tycoon, Age of Steam, and Railways of the World. Of these, my personal favourite is Steam Rails to Riches, which I find to be the most accessible and easy to learn, sadly it seems to be out of print at the moment so my next suggestion would be Age of Steam Deluxe Edition which was recently re-published due to a successful Kickstarter.
One bonus is that, in almost all cases, maps for one game work for another. The Age of Steam and Steam maps specifically work without any additional rules or modifications.
All of these games are route-building games that also feature a detailed economy with auctions, the ability to take loans, and a strong pick up and deliver element. Other common aspects include improving your locomotives, upgrading cities and introducing more goods to the market. The Steam games use an action selection mechanism as well.
All of this made me wonder if maybe this is a bit too much of a step up for most Ticket to Ride players, but I decided to still include this series as I think the Age of Steam games fall pretty much in the middle in regards to complexity between a heavy 18xx game and Ticket to Ride.
12. Paris Connection
One of the things that most heavy train gamers find is missing from Ticket to Ride is any form of economy or stocks (at least in the base game). While I personally feel those aspects are there, just abstracted to a level that people don’t recognize them, I wanted to highlight some games that feature a stock market based economy prominently, starting with Paris Connection.
Paris Connection is the most basic stock market train game I’ve played. It is simple to teach and play and is lightning fast. Players each start with a number of random stocks represented by locomotive meeple that are hidden behind a screen. The remaining locomotives are placed on stock cards around the board.
Each turn players build routes by placing one to five locomotes from a company out on the board or they can trade one of their locomotives with another on a stock card, thus changing up their portfolio. When cities are connected by a completed route the value of the company that completed the route goes up. At the end of the game, everyone figures out the value of their stocks and the person with the best portfolio wins.
If you think that any train game with stocks is way too complicated, just give Paris Connection a shot and I’m sure it will change your mind.
13. Chicago Express
Next up I have another Winsome game published by Queen Games which is a great step up from Paris Connection, and that’s Chicago Express.
In Chicago Express you’ve got the auctioning of shares, the expanding of rail systems of any company, developing cities and the paying of dividends. I think of this game as the ultimate gateway to 18xx style train games. It manages to fit most of the major elements of an 18xx into a simplified system that plays in about an hour.
This is a really brilliant game. It was the game that convinced me that I just might be interested in diving deeper into the world of heavier rail games.
Once you’ve mastered Chicago Express, look for a copy of German Railways, another Winsome game from Queen that’s another step up. In German Railways, each different rail line has a special characteristic based on the actual history of those rail companies.
14. Whistle Stop
Moving away from the 18xx pathway and lightening things up a bit, my next suggestion is Whistle Stop.
This is a rather unique tile-laying game where you are trying to get your trains from one side of the board to the other. Along the way, you will pick up and deliver cargo. This cargo can be delivered to small towns which enables you to gain shares in other railroads or you can hold onto your goods for a bigger payout when you reach the west coast.
Some stops along the route will provide valuable whistles which will give you special moves and abilities, but watch that your coal reserves don’t run out.
While lighter than the Steam games, Whistle Stop manages to cram a lot of train game themes into what seems like a simple tile-laying game. The only problem with this game is that there can be a lot to keep track of and it’s not always obvious what you should be focussing on. Due to that, this is a game that I think you have to play at least twice to fully understand (and that’s when it starts to shine). So don’t give up on Whistle Stop after only one play.
15. Colt Express
Next up I’ve got a recommendation that doesn’t fit neatly with the other games so far, due to how unique it is. That game is Colt Express.
Honestly, the only thing similar to Ticket to Ride here is that both games feature trains. That said Colt Express is a fairly light, family-friendly, game that should appeal to casual fans of Ticket to Ride.
Colt Express is a programmed movement, take-that, card game where players are playing bandits all trying to rob the same train. It features a very cool cardboard 3D two-level train as the main playing board and also includes train aspects like how long each leg of the train run is and sections where the train goes into a tunnel and players have to play their cards blindly.
Of all the games on this list, if anyone tried to argue that Colt Express shouldn’t count as a train game I wouldn’t fight back too hard. The train is more of the backdrop to this game and not really what the game is all about.
16. Rail Pass
My last train game recommendation for fans of Ticket to Ride is one of the most unique train games I’ve ever played, Rail Pass.
This is a pick up and deliver train game where you actually load up plastic trains with plastic cargo cubes, pick them up and hand them to the other players. It’s a real-time, cooperative, semi-dexterity game where players have ten minutes or less to get cubes from one city to the city matching the colour of the cube.
I found the entire concept of Rail Pass to be completely fascinating. I just had to try it out for myself, and I now strongly recommend any train game fan check this game out. It’s a true hidden gem that no one seems to be talking about. You can read more about this unique train game in my Rail Pass review.
If you like Ticket to Ride you will probably like these games as well:
Here are some other great next-step games to Ticket to Ride you may want to check out. For each of these games, I highlight why it didn’t make the main list.
My first honourable mention is a train game that I really want to try out for myself, On The Underground. While most of the games I’ve talked about tonight deal with cargo trains On The Underground is all about subway trains, the trains under London, England.
This is mainly a route-building game where players control two to four different lines and will get points for not only connecting their lines to stations and terminuses but also for having passengers use their rails.
A new edition of this game just came out this year. It features a map of Berlin as well as London.
Ticket to Ride was designed by Alan R. Moon, and the game he was most famous for before Ticket to Ride was Union Pacific.
This is a train-themed stock market game where each round players decide if they want to expand a company by building routes and adding a stock of that company in their hand, or playing a stock on the table to increase their ownership of companies. Players are paid dividends on their stocks during semi-random scoring events.
When researching this topic I found a number of people strongly recommending this game to Ticket to Ride fans. Interestingly, Alan rethemed and re-released this game with some updated rule as Airline Europe, which is a non-train themed game that I often see recommended for Ticket to Ride fans.
The other suggestion I noticed on almost every next step train game list, and really every train game list out there, is the crayon rail series of games that started with Empire Builder.
I’m ashamed to say that I own a copy of this venerable game that was my dad’s, yet I’ve never actually sat down to learn and play it (or any of the other crayon rail games, for that matter). This is something I probably should rectify at some point.
Next, I have another game that I own, but that I haven’t gotten to play, and that is Irish Gauge. This one hasn’t gotten to the table yet because it requires a minimum of three players (and we are still in a pandemic lockdown).
This is the first game in the new Iron Rails series from Capstone Games and it seems like a great step up from Ticket to Ride on the 18xx stairway.
Irish Gauge was originally released by Winsome at the same time as Chicago Express, Paris Connection and Germain Railways and has a lot of similarities to those games. Irish Gauge features most of the aspects of an 18xx without having to worry about actual track building. In Irish Gauge, if you have a train in a hex you have track there.
This game features share auctions, track building, upgrading towns and calling for dividends. I’m really looking forward to getting to play this once the stay-at-home order here in Ontario ends.
While I know that in his question Sean was specifically looking for next step train games, it seemed worthwhile to highlight a few games that are excellent next step games from Ticket to Ride but that aren’t actually train games in any way.
The first of these that I want to mention is Cinque Terre. This is a pick up and deliver game that features card drafting and contract filling mechanics that are very similar to Ticket to Ride.
In Cinque Terre, you drive a produce cart around the five villages and the surrounding farms of Liguria, Italy, collecting produce and delivering it to earn points. In addition, you will be trying to complete produce order cards that require you to deliver specific fruits to specific villages. Like route cards in Ticket to Ride, collecting order cards you cannot complete will cost you points.
Cinque Terre also features a neat economic element where the value of each good and what’s wanted by each city is determined by the roll of six-sided dice at the beginning of the game.
If it weren’t for the train-themed game restriction, this is the game I would have recommended first as a follow up to Ticket to Ride.
Next, I have Thurn and Taxis, where you are building post office routes in Bavaria and the surrounding area. This game features a ton of train game trappings but happens to be set before the age of rail.
Similar to Ticket to Ride, players will draft cards attempting to collect a set forming a route of at least three connecting cities. When a set is played players will play post offices in those cities. Along with this, you have bonus tiles for having post offices in all spots in a region on the board, the ability to upgrade your carriages to complete longer routes, and more train game elements.
Thurn and Taxis is one of my wife’s favourite games of all time.
Another really interesting route-building game I own, that I think would be great for people who love to cut other people off in Ticket to Ride, is Through the Desert.
In this desert caravan themed game, players are building routes with candy-coloured camels while attempting to close off areas of a hex-based board.
This is a lighter abstract game that could have easily been a train game with a different theme.
Finally, for the last game on this list, I feel the need to mention Power Grid.
While I know a lot of people are intimidated by this game, it’s really not all that hard to learn. It was one of the first games I discovered when finding Eurogames for the first time and I was able to learn it easily even back then. Also, the math in this game is just money math, so don’t let people scare you with monikers like “Math the Game”.
The route building aspects of Power Grid were directly taken from the crayon rail system from Empire Builder, with the original prototypes of the game even having players use crayons to draw on the board to build their network. Due to this many hardcore train game fans consider Power Grid a train game despite the fact there are no trains in it.
Power Grid is one of my favourite games of all time and something I think every gamer should try at least once. Check out my Revisiting Power Grid Twelve Years Later review for more on this great game.
There you have my board game recommendations for fans of Ticket to Ride featuring some of my favourite train games of all time, plus a few non-train games just for good measure. I’m personally a big fan of the train theme in games, despite not really caring much about trains in real life.
Are you a train game fan? What are some of your favourite train games? Let us know in the comments.