Ticket to Ride Teardown


Ticket to Ride: Europe (2005) – Accessibility Teardown

Context of Document

This is not a review of this game. You will find the review linked in the introduction.

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then please stop reading now. This will not be the blog for you, and we have no interest in debating with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

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Version reviewed

English edition 2012

Introduction

Ticket to Ride is perversely popular, but I couldn’t really wish for a better ‘gateway game’ to be in the common consciousness. That’s why we’ve rated it four stars in our review. Hardcore gamers may think it’s a little simple and a little too ‘nice’, but it is easy to learn and teaches novices about some of the innovations that have occurred in board game design over the past twenty or so years. It’s a game though that is fundamentally about matching colours and fine-positioning little train cars on tiny slots on a huge, imposing map. Can it possibly be accessible? Let’s find out!

Visual Impairments

In many ways, Ticket to Ride is a great, but flawed, example of how to handle colour blindness well. Despite being a game where colours are in many ways the be-all and end-all of play, it actually does a very good job of supporting those with all forms of colour blindness. It’s not perfect though, but it does at least show some effort has gone into addressing the issue. Let’s start with the negatives, because I think the positives are worth focusing on without the bad stuff lingering over them.

Sadly, there’s no escaping it – Ticket to Ride has a palette problem. The problem is confined to player tokens, but unfortunately that’s a major part of the state of the game. Knowing which routes are yours is the only state based information you really need to be able to visually ascertain on a regular basis. The colours given for players though suffer from a lack of discrimination for certain categories of colour blindness:

Colour blind tokens

There’s a problem here, which is a huge shame

For those with Protanopia and Deuteranopia, it’s a little difficult to tell the red from the yellow. As usual, it’s not *impossible*, but it’s harder than it has to be especially on a cluttered board. For those with tritanopia, green and blue are very difficult to tell apart. That means that you’ve got an effective player limit of four if playing with a player with one of these varieties of colour blindness, and if you’re dealing with more than one at a time you may be stuck with as few as three possible distinct combinations. Unlike with many games, you can’t just grab a different coloured token from another game, or make use of other visually distinctive items – there are dozens of train cars per player, and these are what you have to use to represent your routes. This has a real impact on ascertaining game state:

Colour blind map

Uh, how many players were there again?

Even if we go close up it’s still difficult (not impossible) to easily pick out which is which:

Close Up Colour Blindness

Wow, my green line is bigger than I thought.

You can play it, with care, but it’s such a shame to see this because in so many other respects Ticket to Ride has absolutely nailed the colour blindness problem.

Let’s look at the good stuff – this is the Ticket to Ride map with no train cars placed:

Empty Ticket

A Blank Ticket Map

Do you see the little symbols on the routes? That’s literally all you need to make a game colour-blind accessible, because these are matched with the symbols on the cards:

Colour Blind Cards

Colour Blind Card Symbols

You don’t need to be able to perceive the colours in order to deal with the core game play mechanics – you can match the symbols instead. It’s not *as* intuitive, but it’s certainly a great deal better than not having a way to do it at all. For most colour combinations, this is really just a kind of ‘tie-breaker’ for where the palette isn’t full perceived.  The symbols are always possible to pick out even for those with colour blindness, because even though they are colour coded they are visually distinct. We’ll have cause to come back to that though.

Close up symbols

Close up

That’s great – if only more games did this kind of thing. It’s a shame that the player token palette doesn’t show the same care in choice, but we’d still be happy to recommend Ticket to Ride in the colour blindness category.

In the visual impairment category, the story is less positive. The cards that make their way into player hands are visually distinctive, with no especially fine detail that must be picked out. If you can discriminate colours, you can discriminate the trains you have in your hand. The problems come in when it comes time to deal with the map itself, which is both large and cluttered:

A completed map

Plenty of opportunities to ride the rails

Parts of the map too, such as the tunnels, also contain relatively small and low contrast visual markers to indicate slightly different rules apply. None of the information on the board is tangential, either – all of it is important because it’s a key part of route planning. You need to be able to identify how many cards you need, of what colour, and what the implications are for the next part of your route. Since tickets that you’re trying to complete are secret, it’s not feasible to ask others around the table, and even if it were it’s difficult to hold a map of this kind of complexity in your mind at any one time. It would be possible to deal with these issues via magnification, but the board is very fragile – before too long, it’ll be laden with dozens of precisely placed train cars. If the board is nudged or knocked a lot of state information may be altered, or perhaps lost entirely. It doesn’t lend itself well to interrogation with tools, but it’s not impossible.

The train cars that are placed are small and fiddly, and it’s unlikely that someone with visual impairments will be able to place them sufficiently accurately by themselves. Another player can do this when intention is declared, as it doesn’t impact on the secret hand of tickets at that point, but it would be difficult to do while permitting any kind of agency. It could be possible to alleviate some of this by taking a close up photo of the board and making it available as a large separate printed map, but you’d need to go to quite a bit of effort to make it work, and even then you’d miss out on the important player-route information.

For those with minor visual impairments, we could offer a tentative recommendation for Ticket to Ride. For everyone else, we can’t.

Cognitive Accessibility

Long-term planning is a key skill in Ticket to Ride, both in terms of competitive play and in terms of simple empire building. The role the tickets occupy in both play and scoring is significant enough that you need to be thinking several moves ahead to ensure you don’t get caught out. You need to be mindful of what cards are likely still in the deck given what’s been played and drawn, and what routes are therefore feasible or not. You need to have contingency plans in mind for when your first routes are blocked or made less desirable as a result of the activities of other players. None of this cognitive processing is inherently complex, but there is a lot of it and it’s required all the way through the game. Those with minor cognitive impairments will be fine. Those with more severe issues will find the game difficult to play effectively.

You can of course play a stripped down version of Ticket to Ride that doesn’t make use of the train tickets – that way all theneed for careful planning and strategising is removed and you can focus instead on collaborative map-building and competing over the lucrative routes. It’s a game that lends itself easily to house-rules too regarding winning conditions – everyone can play their tickets openly, or have only a single short ticket to deal with, or simply not apply the penalty for failing to complete routes. All of these would remove a major portion of the game’s flow, but would also correspondingly reduce the need for planning and strategising for those with cognitive impairments. With modifications, we can offer a tentative recommendation for Ticket to Ride in this category.

The game does not unnecessarily tax player memory – all necessary information is available on the map, in the player’s hand, and in their secret ticket cards. Nobody is forced to have all the game-play goals in their mind at any one time, although there is an expectation that players would be able to contextualise their actions. Knowing why they were playing a particular route in terms of what goal it is leading towards is important. For those with very severe memory impairments it would be best to remove tickets from the equation, but for everyone else we can offer a clear recommendation.

Emotiveness

Ticket to Ride is a very charming game, and there’s very little direct competition except over scarce resources. We’d be a little less likely to enthusiastically recommend the base Ticket to Ride in this category, given that the map is a good deal tighter and more prone to frustration. Ticket to Ride: Europe though gets our strong support. It is rare that someone is ever entirely inconvenienced by even aggressive play from others at the table – the stations ensure that someone can’t be boxed in too often, unless other players gang up. That’s something outside the scope of the game itself. As usual, we recommend you play all your games with people as invested in the group’s collective fun as they are in their own. There are multiple redundant paths to each destination that can be exploited if an optimal path is no longer available, even in those circumstances where there is a coordinated attempt to derail an individual player’s strategy.

We strongly recommend Ticket to Ride: Europe in this category.

Physical Accessibility

There are significant issues regarding Ticket to Ride’s physical accessibility. The first is that the game encourages the hoarding of cards, and has no fixed hand limit to disincentivise this behaviour at any stage. The result is that players often end up dealing with hands of fifteen, twenty or even twenty-five or more cards as they try to meet difficult colour combinations. There is one tunnel eight cars long on the board, for example, which requires between eight and eleven cards of the same colour. There are eight different kinds of card in the deck, and only two may be drawn at most per turn. If you draw cards, you can’t play them. The result is that if you are seeking a particular card combination you accumulate without discarding, forcing hand-size ever upwards. It can become quite uncomfortable even for those without specific physical impairments. Luckily, you don’t need to see all the cards at once – just the colours and/or symbols. A couple of card-holders would resolve this issue to a degree, and in fact we might go as far as to recommend card holders for everyone playing. That said, it’s important for understanding the options you have available to do a fair degree of card management, shuffling colours around until they are together. Card holders make that aspect of the game harder to do, especially if paired with a physical impairment.

The train cars are very small, and require precise positioning – as mentioned above, there’s nothing lost in letting someone else place the cars but it’s quite a satisfying part of making a play. It just feels nice to lay out your route. That’s not feasible though for those with even relatively minor physical impairments. Look at this situation – you’d need to be a surgeon to fit the last car into the right space without knocking other things out of the way.

A tight fit

Gnh, gnh, so tight

The size of the board is an issue too for those that may not be able to get up and view it from alternate angles – you need to be able to see connections and colours and sometimes, depending on colour blindness, the symbols on particular routes. When getting your tickets at the start (and when drawing them later in the game) you also need to be able to find locations on the map without revealing your search to the other players. If physically constrained, this can be very difficult to do.

All of that said, there’s relatively little physical management involved, certainly in comparison to some other games we’ve reviewed, and there are ways around all of this. They may not be optimal, but they’d allow the game to be played. We’d give Ticket to Ride a tentative recommendation in this category for those with relatively minor impairments. We’d be less inclined to recommend it for those with severe physical impairments, or when there is no player able to deal with positioning on behalf of those that cannot do it themselves.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The box art is reasonably inclusive, although as usual it’s full of white faces. But there are three men, a woman and a young girl on the front of it, and a blend of men and women on the back. Provided you’re white, you can look at the game and think ‘I can see people like me on the cover’. This extends to the manual, where the young girl and the woman are joined by a man, balancing out the gender balance from the front cover. I’d have liked to have seen a few different skin tones in there, but consideration has clearly been given.

The manual text is inclusive and gender-neutral, and there is no overtly gendered art or colour-scheme in the box. It’s a good effort, all told.

As to the economic aspects, it comes in at a robust £39.99 on Amazon, with the usual deep discount. It’s good value at the price – the components aren’t especially high quality, but there are a lot of them – lots of cards, lots of cars, lots of stations, and a nice big map. It would have been nice to have had a double-sided map for extra replayability, but you can’t have everything. Recommended in this category.

Communication

There are no communication issues with the game. It can be played in absolute silence with no loss of the core game mechanics.

Intersectional Issues

Alas, there are a few of these. Those with physical and visual impairments will find it extremely difficult to interrogate the board. This is as true of colour-blindness as it is of other forms of sight loss – the use of the symbols is great, but it’s still something that is presented in a map that is full of visual clutter, and spatially distributed. It helps if you can get up close to see the various pieces of information, and the game doesn’t easily permit that. The size of hands, as we discussed above, is a special problem for those with cognitive *and* visual impairments – ongoing curation of hands is important, and the number of cards and the rules for playing them can be a lot to keep in mind at any one time. Cards are often being held only until they are joined by the right combination of others, so the conditionality of each hand varies from play to play. Combined with the sheer number of cards that must be considered, it might be wise to adopt a flexible hand-limit for play sessions where this is likely to be an issue. Perhaps a house-rule that permits two cards to be discarded for one free random draw of the deck.

There are hidden hands in the game, but while there is an impact on your own game play as a result of the moves other players make, you rarely need to be especially mindful of what they have in their hands. Your only worry comes when they play a route into the game. But, it’s likely for some intersectional conditions that there would be a need for assistance with hand management, even if just asking what’s needed in order to make particular routes. Signalling intention is something players as a rule don’t want to do, and the hidden hands mean that you can’t ask assistance of the other players around the game.

The size of the board is compounded by the relatively small dimensions of the car tokens – fine positioning is an issue for those with both physical and visual impairments, but the combination of these may mean that it’s almost impossible for a player to be able to make meaningful sense of what’s happening at the other side of the board. Similarly for long term planning – it’s hard to know what you need to keep in your hand if you don’t know how many cards are needed for a route, and don’t feel you can ask because you don’t want anyone stealing it away from you.

The symbols used in the game are handled well, though – there is no meaning to the symbols that serve as colour-blind aids, they’re used in a simple matching exercise. However, if colour-blindness is paired with another visual impairment, there would be a difficulty in visually discriminating some of these – for example, the blue symbol versus the orange or purple ones, or the green symbol versus the white.

Finally, the game scales well at all player limits, and has a floor of two players. It’s easy for a player to drop out and simply stop developing their train-line – it can remain where it is, but stop expanding. That wouldn’t negatively impact on any other players at the table. The ability to support clean dropping in and dropping out like this is important for those with intersectional issues, as discomfort can often ebb and flow over the course of a game session. Combined with its perfectly rounded 30m-60m playing time, this need not be an issue to concern players.

Conclusion

Okay, full steam ahead on to the breakdown!

Colour Blindness B
Visual Impairment C-
Emotiveness A
Fluid Intelligence C
Memory B
Physical C
Socioeconomic B+
Communication A

All of this yields us the following radar graph:

Radar Chart

A caboose carrying mixed freight

There are missed opportunities in here – a better colour palette would have made this the first game to get a clear pass for colour-blindness while also having something that could be described as an art-style without sneering. A smaller board, or a board with greater visual distinctiveness, would have knocked it up a fair bit in the visual impairment and physical impairment categories. There are ways to deal with these limitations, and given as how we gave Ticket to Ride four stars, we’d recommend you try them out before you dismiss it out of hand. Perhaps someday Days of Wonders will start doing foldable paper maps for Ticket to Ride, so that you can consult the layout at your leisure without orbiting a board that is forever threatening to be dislodged and lose your entire game state. Until then, we recommend you play it, but exercise all due caution.


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