Last week we saw Wil Wheaton have a battle of train entrepreneurs and rail road barons on Table Top as they played the Days of Wonder game Ticket to Ride. If you haven’t seen the episode I highly recommend you watch it for no other reason than that celebrity guest Colin Ferguson is a hoot when things go badly for him during game play.

Ticket to Ride is a German style board game, meaning it is simple enough for the new player yet incorporates enough strategy for the hardcore gamers. All players are active up to the very end of play all the while indirectly playing against one another to meet their own goals.

It was such a successful game that in 2004 Ticket to Ride Märklin gameTicket to Ride’s publisher, the then two-years old Days of Wonder, was the youngest to receive the Spiel des Jahres (German for Game of the Year). It has since garnered sequel games, multiple expansions, an XBLA version, an iPad version, and a card game.

Game play is so simple, as Wil Wheaton puts it: “you can teach it faster than it takes you to set it up.” Players are train tycoons trying to connect major cities by building rail lines across a map. The original Ticket to Ride map is the U.S. while sequels are Europe, Nordic countries, and Germany. And while the rules are near identical between the games there are certain differences that make each sequel unique to the others. Today I’m going to talk about Ticket to Ride Märklin (The Germany map).

For those who don’t know (I know I didn’t for a long time), Märklin is a German toy company that specializes in technical toys and, you guessed it, model trains. Think of this as a cross promotion that enhances both products. Märklin gets to have images of their models all over a popular train based board game, and Ticket to Ride gains theme and flavor with unique photographs compared to the repetitive art on the other versions of the game. In other words, it’s Star Wars Monopoly for the German hobbyist and gaming crowd.

The art is not the only area Ticket to Ride Märklin is unique from the other versions. As of the time of writing this review Ticket to Ride Märklin is the only version to incorporate Passengers and Goods. Now I do not own nor have played any of the expansions but after a little research I feel safe to say that none add such elements to game play.

Ticket to Ride Märklin PassengerAt the beginning of the game, players are each given 3 Passenger pieces that can be put on any track owned by that particular player. On a following turn chosen by the player they can move the passenger along their own track to collect Goods. Players can use special cards that allow them to use another’s track temporarily for even more Goods. Goods are represented as numbered chips in stacks at every city. Each chip is stacked in descending numerical order giving the first to grab goods in a game session more points for a short trip, but allowing those that wait a chance to pick up more chips in smaller denominations along a longer track.

One of the best features in Ticket to Ride Märklin, in my humble opinion of course, is the two types of engine cards. The first is no different from the regular engine (wild) cards from the other games, but the second is the 4+ engine card that is limited to being used on only tracks that are as long as four or longer. The advantage is that the 4+ engine card is not limited to the double draw rule that affects normal engine card.

Ultimately I highly recommend Ticket to Ride in all of its forms. Though it’s not suited for young children it is very family friendly and a great starter game for any evening. And for those that own the game and looking for a new challenge, check out this awesome site for unofficial custom Ticket to Ride maps made by other fans.

What’s your starter game? Is there a game you love to bring out for family gatherings or like to use to get others hooked?