As Amy & I mentioned back in August, we recently purchased Ticket to Ride, a boardgame for 2-5 players that involves building collections of train routes on maps. (Not familiar to Ticket to Ride? Learn more via the official website!)

Mystery Train expansion was introduced in 2004

The game won the 2004 Spiel des Jahres, which is somewhat like the Academy Award-equivalent for boardgames. That same year, the first expansion for the game, Mystery Train, was released.

The expansion was originally available for free at game trade shows and via magazine inserts. The maker of Ticket to Ride, Days of Wonder, also sold it for a short time via their website. Eventually the expansion went out-of-print, but then was made available as a PDF download on their website. I printed my set on some card stock and it has worked out well.

10-card expansion originally available in a wrapped pack (Source:

But what exactly was this first expansion to Ticket to Ride? Simply put, it was an additional set of 10 cards that you added to the stack of Destination Tickets from the original game.

The purpose of the Mystery Train expansion was to solve a problem that had developed in the original version of Ticket to Ride, namely that players were afraid to draw extra Destination Tickets during the game (which in turn would give them more points, but also possessed a risk if a route could not be finished at game's end).

Expansion instructions printed on cards

Mystery Train sought to encourage additional Destination Ticket selection by a sheer act of bribery! Basically, it tried to present the situation that drawing more Tickets was good because you are probably going to get something positive out of doing so. There was less risk involved, thus this opened the door to lessen the worry regarding this aspect of the game.

While playing your turn during Ticket to Ride, you can do one of three things: (1) Claim a route on the gameboard via placement of your little plastic trains, (2) Drawing additional Train Cards to enable you to claim more routes, or (3) Draw additional Destination Tickets, which if completed by the end of the game, provide you with a point bonus. When you draw Destination Tickets during gameplay, you are allowed to pick up 3 new Tickets, with the requirement that you only keep 1 (or up to all 3 if you want).

Mystery Train tried to "sweeten the pot" by providing you bonus elements that made it worth the risk of drawing new Destination Tickets. The 10-card expansion consisted of 2 types of cards, new Character Cards and some regular Destination Tickets. As an incentive to show you that something good might be coming, the backs of the Mystery Train cards were colored purple vs. the standard light tan color.

Original tan backs vs. Mystery Train purple backs

Thus, after they were shuffled in with the rest of the Destination Tickets, you could clearly see if one of the "good" cards was coming up for draw soon. For example, if a purple card was near the top of the deck, you may choose to take the risk and select more Destination Tickets on your turn, hoping to get something good.

Character Cards

The Character Cards changed the rules of Ticket to Ride greatly by introducing cards that could give you special "powers" if you used them, either during the game or had them in your possession at the end. 4 Characters were introduced with the following attributes:

Station Agent
Reveal this card at the end of the game. If you have visited the most cities during the game, add 10 bonus points to your score. If you are tied for the most cities, you (and only you) still get the bonus points. A city is deemed visited if a train of your color sits on one of the tracks adjacent to it.

Reveal this card at the end of the game. You may double the value of any one of your Destination Tickets worth 10 points or less.

Engineer (2 cards in the expansion)
Play this card in lieu of your regular turn, when deciding to draw new Destination Tickets. Instead of picking the top three, pick any one Destination Ticket of your choice from the pile of remaining tickets.

Reveal this card at the end of the game. If you have a West Coast City (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco or Los Angeles) connected to an East Coast City (Boston, New York, Washington, Charleston or Miami), add 10 bonus points to your score.

One blank card to personalize

As you can see, some of these cards could be rather helpful if you came upon them during the game. Thus, knowing that they existed, when you saw a purple card in the Destination Tickets deck, you'd probably want to pick it up. Plus, there were many good ideas for the "Blank" Character Card. Here are some interesting options that I've gleamed from a few discussion forum posts around the 'net:

  • Hobo – At game's end you may "ride on" (count) any one opponent's two-city route in order to assist in completing ONE of your Destination Tickets
  • Controller of the Railway – Allows you to use a double route in a 2- or 3-player game OR double the score for any connection of 3 or less in a 4- or 5-player game
  • Switch Track – Player playing this card may select any city-to-city connection and declare it a different color. However, to do this they must put down the proper number of new color train cards in front of him/her and if the new colored track is not claimed before his/her next turn, he/she plays the cards, places trains and scores the points
  • Switch Operator – In a 2 person game, allows you to build on the second line of a double-track after an opponent has taken the first
  • Early Arrival – Collect 10 points if you trigger the game's final turn
  • Investment Banker – Collect 10 points if you have the most unused Train Cards at the end of the game
  • Junkyard – Collect 10 points if you have the most trains left at the end of the game
  • Granger – Collect 15 points if none of your routes connect to Los Angeles or New York
  • Politician – Collect 5 points if one of your routes connects to Washington D.C.
  • European Tourist – Collect 10 points if you have visited the most East Coast cities (Boston, New York, Washington, Charleston or Miami)
  • Accountant – Collect 5 points if you have no plastic trains left at the end of the game

Destination Cards

However, there has to be some chance of luck involved, thus the rest of the Mystery Train expansion included some regular Tickets to dilute the effect. The new destinations included:

Vancouver – Portland
2 points

Boston – Washington
4 points

Winnipeg – Omaha
6 points

Montreal – Chicago
7 points

Taken as a whole, you can see how this addition to the game would help encourage selection of Destination Tickets. Say, for example, it's your turn, there's a purple-backed card near the top of the Destination Tickets pile, and knowing that there are cards in that pile that could help you with your point count, you take the risk and pick up 3 cards, one of which is a Mystery Train ticket.

At the very worst, you end up picking up more destinations rather than a Character Card. However, with point values just ranging from 2-7 points, even if you can't complete these routes, they are probably not going to have a huge negative impact on your score. On the flip side, if you are advantageous enough to get a Character Card with your draw, well, then you're in good shape (I hope!)

Anyway, that was the general logic behind this 10-card expansion when it was released in 2004. If you had been playing Ticket to Ride for a while, it added some new life and strategy to the game, long before additional versions had been released.

Looking back, this expansion had some positives and negatives. On the plus side, some of the features that it introduced were incorporated into later versions of the franchise. For example, the inclusion of a batch of short routes counteracted one of the criticisms of the original game, namely that the only way to win was by building horizontal long routes across the map. When Ticket to Ride: Europe was introduced a year later, it reflected this by separating the Destination Ticket deck into both short and long routes.

The 4 new Mystery Train Destination Tickets also reappeared later in the Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 expansion, along with a version of the Station Agent card, granting points to the player that had completed the most Destination Tickets.

However, some attributes just didn't take, namely the concept of Character Cards. Some of their attributes were adapted by different game mechanics in later versions, but the idea of a card you pulled and held to accomplish a "power" was dropped. One of the largest outcries against the Mystery Train expansion (at least according to the feedback on, which seems to be the Internet hub on the topic) was the hatred of the Engineer cards, which were often deemed too powerful. I can attest this from personal experience, as Amy has won quite a few games thanks to the ole Engineer. If you modify the card slightly via house rule (such as capping the number of cards that can be pulled from the Draw pile vs. looking at the entire pile), it becomes more balanced.

Interestingly, nowadays you can only use the original Mystery Train set of 10 cards with the inaugural version of the game, namely with the small playing cards. All versions of Ticket to Ride that were released after the original USA map version featured enlarged train cards more akin to the dimensions of a standard playing card deck. Mystery Train was never reissued in a larger size, thus it's only compatible with the original version of the game.

Still, if you are looking to add a little more spice to your Ticket to Ride playing, consider using the Mystery Train expansion to change things up a bit. What do you have to lose, it's a free download after all! If you give it a try, share your experiences here and let us know how it worked for you.

Tips from Steve & Amy: Having played with Mystery Train quite a bit, here are a few suggestions to make your experience fun.  First of all, we really like using the "Hobo" or "Controller of the Railway" options for the "Blank" Character Card (especially in a 2 player game).

Additionally, we agree that the Engineer card is too powerful, thus we apply a house rule when playing.  The original Engineer rule states "Instead of picking the top three, pick any one Destination Ticket of your choice from the pile of remaining tickets."  This seems to really favor those who have this card in their hand, as they are able to go through the entire deck to cherry pick the best card for them.  Thus, to make gameplay more balanced, we like to change the rule to "Instead of picking the top three, draw the next 6 Destination Tickets from the pile of remaining tickets and keep one."  This modification still honors the spirit of the Engineer card, but does so with more restraint.

Finding the Expansion: Mystery Train is officially out of print, but Days of Wonder made it available as a free PDF download for a brief period of time.  As of May 2010, however, it disappeared from their website.  I e-mailed their Customer Support to inquire. Their response was that "Support for this expansion has been discontinued."  Fortunately, I have archived the PDF download pages, so you can still get the free expansion via this mirror site here at TannerWorld. Enjoy!