Build the Best Cable Car Network With ‘Ticket to Ride: San Francisco’

The classic board game Ticket to Ride adds another entry in its “City” series, this time allowing players to board the iconic cable cars and build a transportation network in the City by the Bay.

What Is Ticket to Ride: San Francisco?

Ticket to Ride: San Francisco is a game for 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 15 minutes to play. It’s currently available exclusively at Target, retailing at $24.99. It will be available at other retail outlets later this summer.

Ticket to Ride: San Francisco was designed by Alan R. Moon and published by Days of Wonder, with illustrations by Julien Delval.

Ticket to Ride: San Francisco Components

Everything that comes in the box, except the “few extra” cable cars. Image by Rob Huddleston

Inside the box, you’ll find:

  • 1 board, a map of the northern part of the city of San Francisco
  • 80 plastic cable cars, in four sets of 20 each
  • 21 cardboard tourist tokens
  • 4 wood scoring markers
  • 44 transportation cards
  • 24 destination ticket cards
  • Rules
  • “A few extra” cable cars

The components are the quality you’d expect from Days of Wonder and will be very familiar to anyone who has played any previous edition of Ticket to Ride.

San Francisco’s iconic cable cars, as Ticket to Ride miniatures. Image by Rob Huddleston

San Francisco’s iconic cable cars serve as train tokens in this version. The set includes cars in purple, white, pink, and blue. Each set has 20 cars, fitting for the shorter games in the City lines. And as with all Ticket to Ride sets, the game includes a few extra cars in case any get lost.

Close-up of one of the cable cars. The only thing missing is the tourists freezing in their shorts and tank tops on a warm 60-degree SF summer day. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The mini-cars are modeled on the more common (if smaller) single-ended cars that run on the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines (as opposed to the larger double-ended cars that run along California Street). For such tiny models, they really pack in a lot of detail.

The tourist tokens. Image by Rob Huddleston.

While the primary goal of San Francisco, like every other Ticket to Ride, is to build networks of trains to connect locations, this edition also has a secondary goal: set collection. Seven sets of cardboard “tourist” tokens are placed around the board to be picked up during the game. Some of these are random tourist things: a Polaroid, backpack, and journal, while three of the others are real San Francisco symbols: a loaf of sourdough bread, a seal, and a sundae (at least I assume this is supposed to be a Ghirardelli sundae). The seventh symbol is a baseball cap with “San Francisco” on it, which I guess is technically something specific to the city, but really more like those “I ♥ ” sweatshirts you can get anywhere. The tokens are also each a different color, and neither the color nor the symbols are meaningful for gameplay.

The scoring tokens. Image by Rob Huddleston.

As with other Ticket to Ride editions, the scoring tokens are simple wooden discs, painted to match the four colors of the cable cars.

A selection of the transportation cards. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The Transportation cards come in six sets of six cards each, as well as 8 multicolor “wild” cards. While the colors of the cards are their primary identifier, each also depicts a specific mode of transportation: a VW wagon (the purple cards), a Mustang (green), a bus (black), two different trolley cars (blue and yellow), and a cable car (red). The wilds are ferries.

Let me go on a brief tangent here and talk about the time period for the game. While other Ticket to Rides are set in a specific era (sometimes, such as with the 1910 expansion, even a specific year). But here, it’s harder to pin down. The VW wagon seems to be a call-back to the 1960s “peace and love” movement in the city, and the Mustang is a clear reference to the famous car chase sequence from 1968’s Bullitt. The artwork on the cover invokes the same era. However, the ferry on the wild cards seems clearly modeled on the Eureka, the last survivor of the fleet of ferries that predated the opening of the Bay and Golden Gate bridges just before World War II. Having Alcatraz as a destination in a game that centers around going to tourist destinations would require a time period after the closure of the island as a prison and its opening as a tourist spot in the 1970s, and the map seems to show the Embarcadero Freeway, which was demolished following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

A selection of Destination cards. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The final set of components is the Destination cards. Like with other games in the series, these each show two spots on the map, with a number of points representing the shortest possible path between them. The points are displayed as if they were part of one of the old paper tickets that MUNI, San Francisco’s transportation agency, used to use. I’m not sure when those disappeared, but I remember using them when I was working in the City in the 90s, so it was sometime this century.

How to Play Ticket to Ride: San Francisco

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to earn the most points at the end of the game by building routes, completing destinations, and collecting tourist tokens.


The game set up for 4 players. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Start by putting the board in the middle of the table.

Each player grabs the cable cars in their chosen color and places the matching scoring token on the zero spot in the bottom left corner of the board.

Five of the sets of tourist tokens (remember there are three tokens in each of seven sets) are placed on the board on the spots with red dots: Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Embarcadero, Sunset, and Potrero Hill. The other two sets are placed nearby. Note that in two and three-player games, only two of each token is placed on the board, with the rest put back in the box.

The Transportation and Destination cards are shuffled separately. Two Transportation cards are dealt to each player, with the rest placed in a deck near the board. Then, the top five cards are dealt face up in a row nearby. Two Destination cards are then dealt to each player, with the rest placed in a deck near the board. Each player looks at the Destination cards and chooses whether they will keep only one or both of their cards (they must keep at least one). Discarded cards are placed at the bottom of the deck.

The first player is selected randomly. In a three or four-player game, the last player chooses two additional spots on the board and places the remaining tourist tokens on those spots. In a two-player game, it’s simply the player who isn’t first.


On each turn, a player may do one of three things:

  • Draw Transportation cards
  • Claim a Route
  • Draw Destination cards

Draw Transportation Cards

A player may draw two cards each turn, either from the set of face-up cards or from the top of the deck, or both. If they draw from the face-up cards, they immediately replace the card with one from the deck.

The only exception is if a player chooses to draw a ferry card from the face-up set, that is the only card they may draw that round. (But, if they get lucky and draw a ferry as one of the cards they are getting from the face-down deck, they may still draw a second card.)

At any time, if three of the five face-up cards are ferries, all five cards are immediately discarded and a new set of five cards is dealt.

There is no hand limit.

Claim a Route

Claiming a route. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Players may place cable cars and complete a route between two spots on the board by discarding from their hand a number of cards that matches the colors of the spaces on the board. For example, they must discard three red cards to play between Pacific Heights and Presidio. Routes must be completed in a single turn.

Routes with grey spaces may be claimed by playing cards of any color, but the cards still must be a set of the same color.

Ferries are wild and may be played as part of a set of any other colors.

A closeup of the top part of the map. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The route between the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Mason, and both of the routes to Alcatraz, require that at least one ferry be played in the set. All three routes are grey, so the other cards may be a set of any other color (and may include more ferries as well.)

In a three- and four-player game, players may claim the other half of any of the routes with two tracks, such as the route between the Presidio and Pacific Heights. A single player may not claim both routes. In a two-player game, only one route may ever be used.

Routes do not need to be connected, so a player may always claim any route on the board. (Although, with that said, it’s often strategically advantageous to link your routes as much as possible.)

Any time a player claims a route that has a tourist token that they do not have yet on either end, they claim that token and place it in front of them. If there are tokens at both ends, the player may only take one.

Players cannot claim a route if they do not have enough cable cars for the complete route.

In theory, players should record the points for the route as they claim it, but we never bother to do that, instead counting up all of the points at the end of the game.

Draw Destination Cards

As their entire turn, a player may draw two destination cards from the deck. They look at them and then may choose to keep both or discard one. They must keep at least one.

All destination cards are kept hidden throughout the game.

Game End

The game ends when any player has zero, one, or two cable cars left. Each player, including that one, gets one last turn.


The game is over, and the routes have been scored. Still to be counted are the tourist tokens and the destinations. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Each player scores points based on the length of each route they claimed during the game. There’s a chart on the board to remind players, but the scale is the same as other Ticket to Ride editions: 1 point for a route with a single cable car, 2 points for a 2-space route, 4 points for a three-space route, and 10 points for the five-space route (there’s only one: Golden Gate Bridge to Fort Mason.)

(And, as mentioned earlier: technically this scoring should happen as the game progresses, but the rules do say that it should be double-checked at this point. We tend to forget to score during the game and have always figured that if we have to recalculate everything to check the score at the end of the game, why not just wait and only do it once?)

Next, each player scores points for the sets of tourist tokens they collected. Again, this is printed on the board: 0 points for 0 or 1 token, 1 point for 2, 2 points for 3, 4 points for 4, 6 points for 5, 9 points for 6, and 12 points if they collect all 7.

Finally, score points for the Destination cards. Each destination scores the number of points indicated if the player can trace an unbroken line of their own trains between the two spots on the board. Note that it isn’t necessary for the trains to use the shortest distance between the spots, so a player would score the points for a Presidio to Lombard Street card if they had claimed the routes from Presidio to Japanese Garden, then from there to Haight-Ashbury, then to Painted Ladies, Market Street, and finally up to Lombard. This is why it’s advantageous to try to link your routes–in the late game, you may get lucky and draw a Destination card that you’ve already completed.

Note, however, that players must deduct points for any Destination cards that they did not successfully complete. So that late-game draw is something of a risk.

Fans of the bigger Ticket to Ride games, such as the classic edition or Europe, will note that there are no additional bonuses, such as the one in the classic game for having the longest train.

Ticket to Ride: San Francisco is GeekDad Approved!

Why You Should Play Ticket to Ride: San Francisco

I should start by noting a pretty strong bias: I love Ticket to Ride in all of its incarnations (save one.) It’s a game I’ve played many dozens of times, and will happily play any time it’s offered.

So I was inclined going in to like San Francisco, and it didn’t disappoint.

Each of the “City” editions of the game takes on some of the unique feel of the city involved. As someone who has driven almost every block of the streets of San Francisco and has been to every one of the spots on the board, it’s great to imagine those spots as I create the routes (that level of knowledge of the City certainly helps in playing the game, as I know intuitively where someplace like “Sunset” is, but it’s certainly not required–I’ve played plenty of editions of Ticket to Ride on maps of places I know almost nothing about.)

While the actual cable cars traverse a very small portion of the city (on this map, it’s a few streets in the area roughly bounded by Union Square, Lombard, and Pier 39), using them as the playing pieces here definitely adds to the feeling that this is truly a San Francisco edition of the game, in the same way, that using the Double Decker Buses in Ticket to Ride: London.

The other thing that is great about this, along with the other City editions, is their fast playing time. While Ticket to Ride has never been a long game–the original can generally be played in about an hour–the City games use much smaller maps and about half of the pieces, and so rarely last much more than 15 or 20 minutes. That allows you to pull this game out and use it as a “filler” game on game night, or play multiple sessions back-to-back.

Ticket to Ride: San Francisco is a great addition not only to the City line of games but to the Ticket to Ride line in general. It’s well worth picking up, both for those folks like me for whom it’s a combination of one of my favorite games and one of my favorite places, and for anyone else who just wants a game that is relatively inexpensive, quick to play, and yet still engaging and strategic. For those reasons, I’m giving Ticket to Ride: San Francisco the GeekDad Approved label. I know that it’s going to be played a lot at my house, and I’m sure it will be at yours as well.

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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