Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania

Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania

Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania

Ticket to Ride is my go-to gateway game for new players. It’s easy to teach, it has excellent components, and it takes less than an hour to play. The word “elegant” is always mentioned whenever somebody writes about TTR and it’s an apt description. Players have a choice of three actions every turn: draw train cards, lay down trains onto the board, or draw destination tickets.

Play moves quickly, but there are interesting decisions to be made. Do you lay down your trains to claim a route before an opponent does? Or do you draw more train cards in hopes of completing a longer, more valuable route? Do you take a chance and try to draw a more valuable (and more difficult) destination?

When my wife and I first played TTR, we were like many new players, content to finish our original destination tickets without much thought of anything else. After repeated plays, we were soon connecting routes in an attempt to win the longest route bonus while also drawing plenty of destination tickets that were already completed or nearly finished.

We hadn’t played the original in a while, but we played Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania at my buddy Patrick’s birthday party this weekend. I’d had a chance to try it at my gaming group a few months ago and knew that my wife would enjoy it as much as I did. The game play is exactly like the original, but there’s one intriguing addition: stocks.

Most of the routes on TTR:P have stock icons on them. After a player claims a route, they have the option of picking one of the stocks on that route and they receive its card. At the end of the game players receive bonus points based on the amount of stocks they own.

It’s a simple and brilliant addition to the game that opens up game play immensely. Players can still focus on building the longest route or completing destination tickets, but they can also try to gain as many stocks as possible. If a player is blocked from completing a destination, they can build elsewhere in hopes of getting the most shares of a stock, which can make up the difference from the failed destination.

I love how it adds so many options while keeping the game play, ahem, elegant. At the party we played a four-player game in less than an hour (we were all familiar with the original, though, so it was easy to jump right in). It’s a must-have for TTR fans who want to inject life into their well-worn copy.

Weekly Gaming Group

Jet Set

Jet Set

I’ve had a busy summer, so I haven’t been attending my weekly gaming group on a regular basis. I’ve missed a few weeks and other times I’d stop by for a quick visit, sometimes playing a filler game or two.

Last night I was back at my usual spot, hanging out with my gaming buddies. Ever since we started advertising on Meetup.com, we’ve had new gamers join us each week. It’s nice to see new faces and, as always, it’s great trying out so many new and new-to-me games.

Jet Set

I’d never heard of Jet Set before last night and it turned out to be a fun game. It’s like Ticket to Ride for gamers. You’re flying around Europe and establishing links between cities and earning Victory Points for each link you claim. The end game consists of you flying around one of your secret routes (the ominous-sounding Final Flight) for more VPs.

Like TTR, Jet Set allows you to do only one action per turn: earn income from your Flight cards, spend your income to claim links, place planes on the links, or claim an available Flight card (by completing a link).

What separates Jet Set from being a TTR clone is its economic mechanism. You earn money on the Flight cards that you claim, which allows you to buy more planes and afford more links. It’s not as easy as just laying down your trains in TTR; you must have enough money to play your planes and if you’re playing it on someone’s link, then you’re paying them as well as the bank.

Jet Set has a bit more depth to it than TTR, but maintains the streamlined one-action-per-turn element that keeps the game moving. There’s some light number-crunching as you figure out the cost of certain actions such as playing planes on an opponent’s link or earning income, but overall it’s a solid route-building game that’s worth a play.

Day 250: Movies and Games

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Since two of my favorite things are watching movies and playing games, here’s a short list of movies that pair well with games.

  1. Trading Places (the classic Eddie Murphy rags-to-Wall-Street comedy) and Pit (the classic card game that recreates the chaos of Wall Street trading).
  2. The Station Agent (a wonderful and underrated film starring a pre-Tyrion Lannister Peter Dinklage as a quiet fan of railroads and trains) and Ticket to Ride (my choice for the perfect gateway game; easy to learn and fun to play).
  3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (a documentary about a sushi master) and Sushi Go! (a sushi-themed card game with cute art and fast play).
  4. Clash of the Titans (the original movie featuring the guy from L.A. Law as Perseus) and 7 Wonders (a civilization game using a card-drafting mechanic that you can play in under an hour).
  5. Shaun of the Dead (hilarious zombie movie featuring Simon Pegg in his breakout role) and Zombie Dice (a light press-your-luck dice game that you can play while watching Shaun of the Dead).

Day 189: The Gift of Gaming

Love Letter

Love Letter

To celebrate our anniversary, I took my wife out to eat and I surprised her with a few new games: Scrabble Flash, Ticket to Ride USA 1910, and Love Letter.

We were hooked on Scrabble Flash last year when my sister-in-law bought the game. It’s a fun, high-tech version of the classic board game. It’s an outstanding solo player game and I love the fast-paced play.

I wrote about our addiction to Ticket to Ride earlier this year. We played countless games before downloading the app for our tablets, where we ended up playing most of the time. So, to rekindle our passion for TTR, I bought the 1910 expansion. We’ll be putting this to the test soon and I’m already fired up to try out the new rules.

Finally, no anniversary would be complete without a love letter or, in our case, the Love Letter card game. I’ve heard nothing but good things about LL and it seems like it’s our style of game: easy to learn, with some strategy, and games that don’t take all day to play.

Day 165: Scrabble


It’s been awhile since we’ve had a game night at the house, but thanks to a visit from the kids, we had a three-hour session of Ticket to Ride and Scrabble. Even though a deluxe edition of Scrabble (with its fancy rotating board and lockable letters) has been on my wish list for years, my old board is still going strong after over a decade of use.

Another thing that’s still going strong is my love of the game; it remains fun and challenging, even if I can never remember all of the legal two-letter words. Why do I always forget “za” (slang for pizza)? It’s one of my favorite foods. It should be one of my favorite Scrabble words, too.

Day 95: Game Night Continued


Pandemic and Ticket to Ride

I’m considering changing my 2015 Goals list to include “Play 10 New Games.” I’ve bought and played four new games in two months, so I’m nearly halfway there and I have more than enough on my Amazon Wish List to make this a reality. While my stepdaughter was back for spring break, she really got into Pandemic, which happens to be my favorite game of the new bunch. My wife is slowly getting into it as well and we managed to win on Heroic Level this morning.

Running a close second is Ticket to Ride, which is my favorite for a family experience. Everybody has a great time playing this and, as I’ve read in several articles, it is a great “gateway” game to bring in new players to the hobby. I love that my niece and nephew enjoyed it so much that they immediately wanted to play after their first game.

The other two games I bought were fun as well: Tsuro and Castle Panic. Tsuro is quick and light; easy to learn and a perfect “warm-up” game. It was fun with my youngest niece, who learned quickly and nearly won in her one attempt. As for Castle Panic, I believe my nephew and I were the only ones who took to this one. When we played with his sister he was our designated sound-effects guy, eagerly providing the soundtrack for each goblin, orc, and troll that we slayed.

I’ve loved every second of our game nights. It’s much more satisfying bonding over board games than video games or television shows. Even the good-humored trash talk has been great; I’ve learned that my wife is quite skilled at the art, as she regularly reminds me who owns the longest win streak (7 straight) in our Ticket to Ride matches. Hint: it’s not me.

Day 93: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Rock Date Night

Game Haus Cafe in Glendale

Game Haus Cafe in Glendale

Although my wife and I aren’t jet-setting billionaires, we still have a lot of fun on our date nights. Living in Southern California gives us plenty of options and many of them require little or no cash to enjoy. Don’t let the lack of a Learjet, personal assistant, or a bank vault full of cash stop you and that special someone from having a blast together.

Here are five inexpensive ways to rock date night in Southern California. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but for what it’s worth, my wife approved of all of these dates: enough so that she actually ended up marrying me.

1. Trip Down Nostalgia Lane

Brady Bunch House

Brady Bunch House

As proud Generation X-ers, we were thrilled to find the actual house used for the exterior shots of the Brady Bunch. It’s located in a residential neighborhood in North Hollywood, so respect the owners’ and their neighbors’ privacy and property. We took a few quick snapshots and left. Feel free to sing the show’s theme song before, during, and after your pilgrimage. Everyone else does (okay, maybe not, but we sure did).



Continue your Trip Down Nostalgia Lane date with a stop at the nearby Carney’s. What better way to feel like a kid than to chow down on a coupla hot dogs inside a train converted into a diner? This Carney’s is just as good as the original restaurant on Sunset: get in line, order your food, then munch away while sitting at a window seat, pretending you’re on a trip somewhere. Get a dog with sauerkraut, one with chili and mustard, and a soda; it’s the perfect meal while you look at your photos of the Brady Bunch house.

More info: Brady Bunch House, Carney’s

2. Historic Downtown

Las Morelianas, aka Carnitas Heaven

Las Morelianas, aka Carnitas Heaven

This date is awesome because it’s easily accessible by public transportation and you can walk off all of the food you chow down at Grand Central Market. The scene at the market has always been vibrant and energetic. The food choices change over the years, but it’s always delicious. Trendy eateries come and go, but several have been here for many years. Our current favorite: Las Morelianas, which serves some of the best carnitas this side of the border. An employee is usually out front handing out a small sample of the meat in a fresh tortilla. One bite was all it took for us to order a few tacos. Be sure to ask for “mixta,” which is a combination of everything good on the pig that is, the pig snout, liver, and heart — trust me, it’s muy delicioso.

Angels Flight Railway

Angels Flight Railway

Two attractions at opposite ends of the market offer L.A. history. On the east side of the market across the street is the Bradbury Building. The moment you walk inside, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the early 20th century. You can access the first floor only, but it’s worth a visit (especially if you’re a Blade Runner and/or 500 Days of Summer fan). I wish they’d allow guests to use the elevators, but looking up at them and the skylight is still quite a treat.

At the west side of the market across the street is the quirky and cool Angels Flight Railway, which is the “world’s shortest railway.” It’s basically a ride up the hill connecting two streets. This is a must-do for tourists and locals alike; however, it’s currently closed (as of July … 2014) due to some red tape. Check their website to see if they’re open again during your trip there.

More info: Grand Central MarketLas MorelianasThe Bradbury BuildingAngels Flight Railway

3. Park, Ride, Eat

Our bikes parked in L.A.

Our bikes parked in L.A.

While dinner and movie is always a good, if predictable, date, combining some kind of physical activity is even better, since you won’t feel as guilty about wolfing down on all of those calories. While I enjoy walking and running, there’s something about riding a bicycle that is perfect for a date. Maybe it’s the childhood memories that sprout up from a good bike ride or the feeling of movement that’s unique to powering those pedals. Whatever the reason, when my wife and I hop on our beach cruisers, it’s hard for us not to have fun.

We’re fans of the Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail, which is open to walkers, runners, and bicyclists all year round. The trail runs from Claremont to Rialto, a distance of 27 miles, and is dog-friendly. This date will require you and your significant other to stretch those legs on the pedals, but the best part about is that you can vary it according to your fitness level, with several starting points throughout the trail. Ride for a few minutes or over an hour, depending on where you start.

Faux carnitas bowl

Faux carnitas bowl

For our date, we started at Central Park in Rancho Cucamonga, then rode our bikes a few miles to Viva La Vegan, an awesome all-vegan market and eatery. The food was surprisingly good. As much as I love carnitas (see Las Morelianas above), I know it’s not the healthiest food in the world. Thankfully, Viva La Vegan offers a “fauxnitas” made entirely of jackfruit (!) and is an excellent alternative to the piggy goodness. The cafe sits in the larger Viva La Vegan space and it’s a terrific place to relax before jumping back on your bikes.

More info: Pacific Electric Inland Empire TrailViva La Vegan

4. Shakespeare in the Park

Macbeth in the Park.

Macbeth in the Park.

Free arts and culture is always a good thing, especially with the top-notch Independent Shakespeare Company that puts on free Shakespeare at Griffith Park during the summer months. Pack a picnic basket with food and drink, a blanket or low-back chairs, and some type of insect repellent. The location near the Old Zoo at the park is awesome; you’ll feel like you’re in another world as you get wrapped up in one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Roma sandwich. Simple and perfect.

Roma sandwich. Simple and perfect.

For the perfect (and easy to transport) dinner at the park, my wife and I love the sandwiches at Roma Market in Pasadena. Mr. Mazzeo is the store’s longtime owner and resident sandwich maker; just ask him for a sandwich and watch him as he slices the imported meats and cheese by hand before drizzling imported olive oil on a freshly baked Italian roll. It’s minimalist deliciousness at its best and you’ll definitely have the best sandwich amongst your fellow Shakespeare fans.

More info: Independent Shakespeare Co., Roma Market

5. Games and Grub


Nearly 1,000 games at Game Haus Cafe

Find out if your date has a geeky side to him/her by hanging out at the amazing Game Haus Cafe in Glendale. Kickstarted two years ago, the cafe is home to nearly 1,000 board games that you and your date can play all night for only a $5 cover charge.

Don’t waste your time playing the stale old Monopoly, though. We’re living in a Golden Age of Gaming, so take a chance with something you’ve never played before. I can think of no better introductory game than Ticket to Ride. It’s often noted for its elegant gameplay: it’s the perfect game for new players and seasoned gamers love it as well. It only takes a few minutes to learn, but offers a lot of replayability. The staff at the cafe is terrific. Feel free to ask questions or for game recommendations.

Food and drink are good at Game Haus and you’ll need sustenance for all of that gaming, but for better and cheaper eats, go down the road to El Sauz Tacos for great carne asada tacos and other hole-in-the-wall goodness.

More info: Game Haus Cafe, El Sauz Tacos

Bonus Date!

6. In the Air Tonight

Various dishes at Salo-Salo.

Various dishes at Salo-Salo.

Here’s one more pack-a-picnic-and-go-the-park event that we love attending: free music at the park. Most cities offer a concert in the park series during the summer and we’ve enjoyed many of them. I especially like the event at Creekside Park in Walnut. Parking can be a pain (which is true for most of these events), but the park itself is roomy and comfortable, with a good sound system, and a few food trucks and local groups worth supporting. The crowds at these events tend to be families, so the vibe is always mellow and relaxing.

The music varies, though, as does the quality of each act. If possible, check the city and the band’s websites for samples of the music being played. Most are cover bands, so you’ll recognize the music, but the bands aren’t always top-notch. We saw a Beatles cover band a few years ago and they were one of the weaker ones, which was a disappointment. Still, free music at the park is a typically good evening out.

As for food, you can never go wrong with the Filipino dishes at Salo-Salo Grill a few miles away in West Covina. I prefer the family style meals at the restaurant, but you can get any of their affordable dishes to go. Definitely get the garlic fried rice; pair it with one of the entrees like beef tapa or lechon (pork) ribs. Whether you decide to bring it to the park or eat beforehand, either way you’ll be stuffed and ready to enjoy some free music. Don’t forget to bring a blanket or comfortable chair.

More info: Creekside Park Summer Concerts, Salo-Salo Grill

Day 92: Friendly Rivalry


I love the friendly rivalry my wife and I have going with our current obsession: Ticket to Ride. She was killing me over the last few days, winning 7 straight, before I won 4 of the next 5 games.

Did I gloat? Of course! And tonight my choice of beer could not have been more appropriate. The laughs were long and hard, with both of us ready for the next match.

Day 88: Game Night

imageWe introduced my niece and nephew to three new games today: Tsuro, Castle Panic, and Ticket to Ride. My wife and I were impressed with how quickly they picked up each game. We started the session with several games of Tsuro. It was the perfect way to get things rolling, since it only takes one or two turns to learn how to play and the game itself only lasts 10-15 minutes.

Next up was everyone’s favorite of the night, Ticket to Ride, which won over both my niece and nephew just as it had won over me, my wife, and stepdaughter. After the first game, everyone immediately wanted to play again, which is all you need to know to understand its popularity. It’s a fantastic family game and deserves all of its praise and accolades.

Finally, Castle Panic was a hoot, as my nephew was in charge of the sound effects for slaying each goblin, orc, and troll. He was the biggest fan of this one, more so than my niece and wife, and he quickly grasped the rules and strategy. We cheered when the Barbarian was picked up and won both games we played. High fives were given and promises were made to play again.