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Welcome to my personal blog. I’m currently researching how game mechanics can be used for learning in Singapore.

All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

Ticket to Ride


Game objectives

Score the most points by connecting train routes between cities across a map

How to play video (7 minutes)


On the surface this is a simple game to set up and play. It is so wildly popular that multiple editions are available covering most continents and several countries and cities. It clearly supports geography instruction, but what I think is the key mechanic in this game is the destination tickets. These cards, at least two of which must be held in every player’s hand, focus the player on a specific goal. In the original game, players must connect the two cities on the ticket before the end of the game. Doing so will earn points. Failure to do so will cause the player to lose points. Players have a sense of purpose, similar to a quest.

In modding this game for broader classroom use, consider the act of completing a quest as a condition for victory. It could be a collaborative victory, or a means by which one play can win. Completing a single quest might earn victory, or you may task students with completing multiple, smaller quests, each of which earn points towards victory.

Here is an example of how this game might be modded to teach primary students. Generate a map (game board) that includes important features in your state or province, county, city, or community. A map of the community might include locations of the school, police and fire stations, parks and recreation features, houses of worship, shopping areas, public transport stations, cultural centers, neighborhoods, and entertainment districts.

Where do I get game boards? I recently discovered A3 paper. I don’t know what took me so long, but it is perfect for printing game boards. If your school copy machine supports it, create a digital game board map or modify one you find online and scale it so that it fits on the A3 paper. Alternately, you can use another sized paper, or hand make/sketch the board(s) on quarter sized butcher paper.

In the original version, the game pieces are trains which are placed on train tracks, but in our modified version they could also include cars and busses to be placed on roadways and figures of people on pathways.

Where do I get these game pieces? Most school districts have a 3D printer, put in a request for game pieces and older students will happily research and design pieces for you. Alternately, you can use common items like coins, toothpicks, and washers along with nuts and bolts.

In our modded version, we are not restricted to connecting cities. Student players can connect schools to their home via bus route, police stations to fire stations, the downtown business core to residential areas, historical sites to the library. Connecting these destinations become the focus of the “quest” cards you develop.

These cards would ask the student to connect routes that complete one part of a broader story. For example, the card might say, “On my way to school.” To complete that quest, the player would need to connect a location in the residential area to the school. Other story-based quests could include:

“Saturday with mom and dad”

“Visiting family at work”

“Field trip”

“My favorite movie”

Customize the quests to fit the needs of your students and your content objectives.


It should be clear that students will be applying their geographic awareness to a map. It’s a tactile visualization of space and it will produce an enormous amount of student talk and recognition of the broader environment you place them in. My assessments tend to be based on the literacy needs of my kids. In the example above, by playing the game and completing the story-framed quest(s), students will come away with a tale to tell. It could be a (summative) diary of their personal journey, or part of a (formative) narrative that could be used to tell a much broader (collaborative?) adventure later.

Here are a few more examples of how anyone, teaching any subject or grade level, could modify Ticket to Ride mechanics for their lessons.


  • Neighborhood

  • Pacific Rim

  • Battlefield

  • Trade routes

  • Colonialism or empire

  • Setting of a novel

  • State or province or country

  • County

  • Biomes

  • Outer space

  • Design a map to teach . . . biology, chemistry, math, character development, poetry, health and fitness, etc.

Game Pieces

  • Trains

  • Ships/boats

  • Planes

  • Cars/trucks

  • Spaceships

  • Powerlines

  • Canals

  • Bridges and tunnels

  • Pipelines

  • Tramway


  • Cities and countries

  • Continents

  • Established Infrastructure (power lines to power stations, oil sources to refineries)

  • Ports

  • Airports

  • Military bases

  • Natural resources (water, oil, ores, sunlight, wind, etc.)

  • Open spaces

  • Trading centers

  • Holy places

Victory Conditions and Quests

  • Establish a power grid

  • Bring water to a region

  • Explore all biomes

  • Dispose of waste

  • Transport military

  • Establish the longest trade route of land and sea

  • Add economics by establishing a bank and have students pay (or trade for) game pieces

  • Upgrade infrastructure

  • Play as a kingdom. Teams of players must establish trade routes that support the flow of ideas (religion, science, language, trade, etc)

  • Include border crossings to introduce commerce regulations, tariffs, and taxes

  • Develop a political map where players are running for election and must meet the needs of their constituents.

Photo via  FLICKR  Creative Commons.

Photo via FLICKR Creative Commons.

Extending the learning

You can likely see multiple opportunities for teaching and learning content by modifying Ticket to Ride, but what else can this game address? Modifying games for classroom use can take a large investment in time. My approach is to always extend the learning and support the broader learning goals of my students. I never “feel guilty” for playing games in my class because I can provide targeted details of how I reached the required learning outcomes, I’m able to differentiate for all students, and I support the broader district goals addressing language functions and SEL.

Language functions

Classifying - Through game play as described above, students will be able to classify objects/ideas according to their characteristics. I see classifiable categories like infrastructure, environmental resources, modes of transportation, inventions, destinations, victory conditions, etc. These can be assessed in multiple ways including: sorting activities, graphic organizers, and through including sorting and classification as a condition for victory.

Justify - One way to add this higher order thinking function is to ask players at the end of the game to reflect upon and justify their strategy for victory. What was their initial plan and how did they modify it throughout the game. What did they need to do to win, or why did they lose? You can also ask students to evaluate their tactics.

Inquiry - This game could be played in the middle of a unit whereby students will be asked to apply their knowledge while playing, or it could be modified so that it supports exploration of the map and introduce content vocabulary, or go even further and delve into concepts. Their task, purpose, and victory conditions are then aligned with discovery and information gathering. Follow-up lessons would then connect the pieces.

The 4Cs and SEL

Communication - Playing this game generates an enormous amount of student talk. Your goal is to include opportunities within the game mechanics and victory conditions for students to openly discuss their strategies, use content vocabulary, verbalize their actions, and ask questions. While students are playing, engage them and pose questions. Create a purposeful gaming environment where students can express themselves and support each other.

Critical thinking - There is most certainly strategy involved in “winning” this game, but that should not be the sole outcome. Critical thinking will be evident if you include challenging goals and quests that necessitate the synthesis of information. Consider adding multi-dimensional quests to achieve this outcome.

Collaboration - This game is generally approached as player vs. player, but could become a collaborative effort as well. As mentioned earlier, one approach is to play as a kingdom, faction, or some sort of affinity group. The game would become a much bigger challenge to create, but also has the potential to become something dramatic. Think about how John Hunter devised the World Peace Game.

Creativity - Playing games is very experiential. Young people especially have an easy time becoming engrossed in a game. It is easy for them to employ their imagination given the opportunity. Providing the conditions for this is the teacher/designer’s role. Spend a little extra time to make the game more “believable” and realistic. As part of the postgame reflection, ask students how they would mod it to make it better. What other features would they include? Challenge them to create a version that might address a different subject.

Social and Emotional Learning - Playing games with others is an opportunity to practice the skills necessary to self-manage emotions, build positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Creating an environment that supports game play takes time and effort. I begin each school year by playing quick and easy games that allow us all to chat, laugh, and get to know one another. The teacher-student filters tend to fall away when playing and I learn more about my students this way than through any other strategy I’ve used. Set the bar high and let students know that they will be playing a game to support their learning. I rotate players all the time and have private chats with those that are having a difficult time. I’ve had to set some lessons up in a way that I am playing in the group with the students that have the most needs. It takes some work and effort, but the payoff is that by the second half of the year, we are all actively engaged playing games for fun and for purpose.