Author: Alan R. Moon

Publisher: Days of Wonder

Spiel des Jahres



28 years after Phileas Fogg's famous voyage around the world in 80 days, a group of friends who shared a common admiration for Fogg's deed met in one of the most elite clubs of the country. They had come from all parts of the world to renew a bond which they shared ever after Fogg's voyage: the vow to embark on voyages of similar scale and to compete to be the first at the proposed destinations. However, this year they had agreed on a special deed: they wanted to compete as to who of them managed to visit most cities in North America within a set time of seven days...

With this short story being the background, the new game Zug um Zug (Ticket to Ride) by DAYS OF WONDER leads the player onto a voyage through the USA and Canada, and here they try to connect as many cities as possible by making clever use of the different railroad tracks existing between the towns.

As starting preparation, each player receives a stockpile of 45 wagons which represent his colour and are his playing pieces during the game. The gameboard, showing a big map of the USA and southern Canada plus a track for keeping score of the victory points, is placed on the table between the players. The map shows a total of 34 major cities, and between these cities there are printed railroad tracks of nine different colours. Most of these cities are connected by just one track, but there are a few occasions where there are two tracks running parallel between the same cities. These tracks need not be of the same colour, but there are some instances when the colour of two neighbouring tracks is identical. During the game, the players will place wagons from their stockpile onto these tracks and thus connect the different cities in order to collect victory points.

There also exists a deck of wagon-cards with wagons which show colours matching eight of the track colours from the gameboard. This deck of cards is randomly mixed at the beginning of the game, including a few cards with Lokomotives which bear no specific colour. Each player randomly draws a starting hand of four of those cards. The remaining cards are placed next to the gameboard to form the drawing stack, and the upmost five cards of the stack will be revealed and placed next to the stack.

To finish the starting preparations, each player also receives three so-called destinaton-cards from which he must chose two to form his starting hand. These cards show two of the different cities on the gameboard and they will become meaningful at the end of the game, since then the players will either receive or lose victory points, depending on whether they were able to connect the two cities shown on their destination-cards by an unbroken chain of wagons of their colour.


With all preparations done, the game may start. It is played in turns and during his turn each player can chose to do ONE of the following options:

  • He may take additional wagon-cards; or
  • he may use a track; or
  • he may take destination-cards.

When a player choses to take wagon-cards, he make take up to two cards which may be chosen either from the five already revealed cards or from the random stack. Every time a player takes one of the five open cards, the next card from the random stack is revealed to replace the card which was taken. A special rule needs to be observed concerning Lokomotive cards: since these cards serve as "Jokers" during the game, a player may only take one card if he decides to take an already revealed Lokomotive.

The number of wagon-cards which a player may hold on his hand is not limited during the game. A player needs to make use of these cards for his second choice of action - the use of a track. To use a track, a player must have a set of wagon-cards which all show the same colour as the track which the player wants to use on the gameboard. Here a Lokomotive card may be used as a "Joker", since it can substitute any colour and be played instead of one of the normal wagon-cards. The set of cards a player needs to play must have a number of cards corresponding to the length of the track. So, for example, if a blue track on the gameboard has a lenghth of six spaces, the player needs to play a total of 6 blue wagon-cards (or Lokomotives) to use the track. If he can play the required number of cards, the player is allowed to put wagons from his stockpile onto the track to indicate that he has used the track. The only exception from the colour rule exists considering the use of grey tracks. For grey tracks, no matching set of wagon-cards exists, and thus a cardset of any colour may be played to make use of a grey track.

When a player has used a track, he will receive victory points according to the length of the track. These points will be assigned directly, and the player's current score at the victory points track will be adjusted accordingly.

As a third option, a player also may spend his turn to draw new destination-cards. For this action, a player takes a total of three cards from the randomly mixed deck of destionation cards and he then is allowed to look at these cards. He must keep at least one of these cards, but he is also allowed to keep two or even all three of these cards if he desires to do so.

The game ends once a player has only one or two wagons left in his stockpile. In this case each player is allowed to pay a final turn before the final evaluation takes place. The end of the game now is the time when all players reveal their destination cards. As indicated above, each victory card shows two cities on the gameboard, and the player holding a card will receive victory points if he has succeeded in connecting these two cities with an unbroken chain of wagons of his colour. However, if he failed to do so, he will penalised by losing the amount of victory points which he would otherwise have won. As may be guessed, the game is won by the player with most victory points.

Zug um Zug is an easy-to-learn, lightly going family game which deservedly received the Spiel des Jahres awards in 2004. However, despite its short and easy rules the game will appeal not only to families but also to seasoned players, since it offers a degree of planning and strategy which might be underestimated at first sight. Sure enough, the game will be light and fast going entertainment especially for younger players, but when played by a group of grown-ups strategic elements like the drawing of additional-destination cards, keeping score of the used wagon-cards and the blocking of tracks to prevent other players from possibly fulfilling their destination-cards get more important. To my mind, this makes the game rather attractive to a broad audience of players, and it certainly reflects the philosophy followed by the design staff of DAYS OF WONDER. As I was told by a press representative, DAYS OF WONDER puts special care in making their games easy to understand and attractive to families, but at the same time they are supposed to offer interesting playing mechanisms which so far were not known in one way or another from other games.

My overall good impression of the game is rounded up by a very nice, fitting artwork, and also by small but interesting extras like the "Online ticket". The rulebook of the game bears a special entry code for the DAYS OF WONDER website, and these code may be used to access to online version of the game so that a player may chose to play it against opponents all around the world. Furthermore, a small expansion set called Mystery Train containing a few character cards was released for the SPIEL 04 at Essen, and these cards at even more flair to the game since they can be used to earn additional victory points at the end of the game.

Overall, Zug um Zug definately is a must-buy, and you should also try to get hold of the nice Mystery Train expansion if possible.

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Copyright © 2004 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Trier, Germany