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UK Games Expo 2013: Playtesting & cockroaches!

Brett J. Gilbert
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Cambridge
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It was all the fun (and games) of the fair last weekend in Birmingham. I was helping out in the bigger-and-better Playtest Zone which, like the Expo itself, goes from strength to strength. Congrats to Rob for organizing everything and everyone in the Zone, and greets to my fellow redshirts Katarina, Matt, Dave & Lawrence!

As always, I was surprised as the sheer number of regular Expo-goers who were so keen to become playtesters — without knowing what they might be letting themselves in for. On Saturday, the Zone was heaving, and unfortunately we even had to turn some eager gamers away. Things were a little quieter on Sunday, but we still had plenty of interest and most of the time all 10 tables were occupied, which was brilliant to see. If you visited the Playtest Zone, sat down for a game and are reading this, then many, many thanks to you. Yes, you!

It was great to meet and chat about games with so many different people, and a real pleasure to have the company of so many while playtesting my own prototypes. On Saturday I ran four playtests of Angkor Thom with both children and grown-ups, and followed these up with three playtests of Sparkle on Sunday. In between, I was able to join in with lots of other games and did my best to make sure everyone who came along had a chance to try out a game or two.

Both Angkor Thom and Sparkle are relatively late-stage prototypes, which is not to say they are finished — is any game, ever? — but simply that they both have a solid ruleset that I know can run smoothly. Fortunately, both are also fairly quick to explain and play, and are designed to be firmly family friendly, so make ideal candidates for playtesting in the lively Expo environment.


Things start to get tricky for me, Kai, Max and Adam in the middle of our game of Angkor Thom. I don’t now recall who won. This suggests it wasn’t me. Many thank, lads!


It’s eyes-down for Paul and Phil Taylor as they fill in the playtest feedback forms after our excellent game of Sparkle. Thanks again, boys, for a well-played game and fun chat!

Away from the Playtest Zone, the Expo seemed to have bedded in well in its new digs: the expansive, expensive and ever-so-slightly Stalinist, Hilton Metropole. In truth, the new venue represents a big and positive statement about the future aspirations of the Expo, and for a first-run, everything seemed to be going pretty smoothly, which is a tremendous achievement. Hats off to the organizers!

In the main halls, there was the usual roll call of ne’er-do-wells and reprobates: Tony, Charlie and Alan from Surprised Stare, John Yianni of Gen42, Jeremy from Arctic Fox, Adam from Angels Inferno, the irrepressible Andy Hopwood of Hopwood Games, Gavin Birnbaum of Cubiko, Pete Burley and sons, Dave Cousins of North & South Games… the list goes on.*

And what about the cockroaches? Should future Expo-goers considering staying at the Metropole be worried? Not a bit of a it! But you should watch out for Kakerlakenpoker, which, it turns out, is absolute genius!

Here’s to the next time!

* Was it me, or did Tony seem even more of a malcontent than usual? And a word to the wise: never ask Gavin about the incident with the bandsaw.
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Wed May 29, 2013 5:07 pm
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Playtesting: Get your hands dirty

Brett J. Gilbert
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Cambridge
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Over at Gallimaufry, friend and fellow game designer Matt Dunstan has written up a report of the very first playtest of our new collaboration, a mercurial beast of a game that we have called Trinity. As Matt points out, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ playtest, and although the version of the game we presented (and our unwitting playtesters endured) is a far cry from where it needs to be, by no means was the playtest a failure.

At the same event — the monthly Playtest Meetup in London — I also got in another play of my own prototype Aegea, with, of course, another set of changes. The design is far more mature than Trinity, but no less in need of playtesting. I was very pleased with how the game ran, and the new texture created by the key change I was principally looking to try out. Mission accomplished?

Hardly. I think I can legitimately claim that the core game idea has always been appealing — there’s a little boat; you move it around; it’s cute — and further that for the past few iterations it has been something more: a ‘good’ game. Good, yes, but not finished. Good, but neither wholly connected nor wholly resolved. Good, in exactly the same way that so many games are, but not more than that; not — whisper it! — great.

You might think — if you were prone to absurd rhetorical flourishes — that some games are born great, and some have greatness thrust upon them. But I’d be dubious of any designer claiming to be one who can regularly achieve the former, rather than one with hands regularly bloodied by the folly of the latter. I make no such claim, and if I did you’d be right to scoff. And if you did, then I’d scoff right back.

If achieving greatness was just a case of waiting long enough for the arrival of a happy accident, if it were that… simple — well, we’d all be doing it, wouldn’t we? Greatness is an act not only of will but of force.

Get your hands dirty, then we can talk.

—————
Photo: Clay Ave Pottery Studio.
This post also appears on BrettSpiel, my board game design blog.
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Wed Feb 20, 2013 12:44 am
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Play nice. Test nasty.

Brett J. Gilbert
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Our weekly playtesting and game designers’ get-together in Cambridge had a good start to the year on Tuesday with the genuinely grand total of 8 designers in attendance. This week including such design luminaries as TerrorBull GamesAndrew Sheerin, newcomer and designer of Convoluted Adam Brooks, and a coterie of other sparky, creative and generally fun-to-be-with tabletop game designers. If you’re one of those, and in the Cambridge area (or don’t mind the journey on a wintry Tuesday night) do get in touch.

Any designer will tell you that putting a new prototype on the table in front of new players is often a daunting proposition. An audience of game designers only makes this worse, because they will typically start questioning your design choices before you’ve started playing (or even finished getting all the components out of little plastic bags). This is entirely to be expected, absolutely necessary and just as it should be, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.

Playtesting needs to be a brutal, challenging, revolutionary, transformative event; if it’s not you’re probably not doing it properly. Or, at the very least, you’re not making the most of the opportunity.

The fantastic thing about sharing this experience with other designers is that no-one minds if you change the rules halfway through, start a game without really knowing how it’s going to end, unilaterally jettison some key part of the game without warning, or simply stop when everything falls apart.

After all, if your game is exactly the same thing at the end of a playtest as it was at the beginning, what’s the point?

Illustration: Third of May 1808, by Francisco de Goya.
This post also appears on BrettSpiel, my board game design blog.
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Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:42 pm
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Bits & Pieces: Divinare, LEGup, Playtest

Brett J. Gilbert
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Divinare

In precisely one month’s time Divinare will be published by Asmodee in France. I’m not privy to exactly when the game will likely reach these shores — or American ones; or the German, Italian or Dutch borders either! — but I don’t think the waiting World will have to wait too long. Tick tock!


The story of Divinare’s development was featured in Episode 1 of Asmodee’s rather swanky new webcast La Tête dans le Pion — a ‘making of’ feature begins at 10:34, and is a lot of fun to watch, even if you don’t understand the très rapide French voiceover. The gameplay will be covered in the forthcoming Episode 2.

If you can’t wait, TricTrac TV recorded a gameplay video at the Cannes Games Festival, which shows off the artwork and components.

LEGup


Next week I’m going to be speaking at the London Education Games Meetup, which is only a mildly terrifying (I’m hardly a practised public speaker!). The meet up is open to all interested parties, so do come along if you fancy it.

I wrote about last November’s excellent meetup in these pages, and following my blog post organizer Kirsten Campbell-Howes graciously asked me to take part in a future session, which, at the time, seemed a suitably distant prospect. However, the weeks have rolled by and this month’s meetup is the ‘board game special’ to which I hope to be able to bring some practical insight into the process of board game design. Fingers crossed!

Playtest


Can I also point your collective browsers to the Rob Harris’s Playtest Games Meetup, which is a monthly get-together for, well, playtesting games, oddly enough.

The group has been meeting for a while (and thoroughly productive and fun it has been, too!) but now that Rob has made the jump to Meetup, it looks like there’ll be plenty of new blood in future get-togethers. One thing you can never have enough of is playtesting, so hopefully the group can continue to be an excellent incubator of new ideas and new talent. And the more the merrier!

This post also appears on my BrettSpiel game design blog.
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Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:56 pm
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On Playtesting: Small Steps, Giant Leaps

Brett J. Gilbert
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Cambridge
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Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
— Sun Tzu

How does change happen? That’s the question that’s been occupying me, in amongst the many recent playtests of my and other designers’ games. The initial creative spark is remarkable enough, but no game arrives fully formed, and so all games once created go through a process of change. Playtesting is the method we rely on to both initiate and validate those changes, and it is the very blackest of arts.

For one thing, it can be incredibly painful. Reaction to a new game can range from elation to derision or — which is demonstrably worse — indifference. As a designer you have to learn to suffer these slings and arrows and emerge unscathed, even if your game does not. But what happens then? If playtesting reveals that all you ever had was a bad idea, that’s one thing: throw it out and start over. But if playtesting reveals that you gave a good idea a bad execution — signalled by the playtester’s familiar refrain: “I like it, but…” — then the designer’s work is only just beginning.

First, the designer must learn to properly filter the playtesters’ comments: to tease out, as dispassionately as possible, some degree of genuinely objective meaning. And, assuming that’s possible, the designer must then have the gumption to actually do something about it: to embrace change. However, it is the received wisdom about the nature of that change that I would seek to challenge.

The risk is that game design is perceived from the outset as a process of necessarily iterative, evolutionary change: small, inevitable steps taken along a path that, if through nothing more than plain, plodding perseverance, will eventually reach its goal. But this approach, with each step taken to address a detail not the whole, can, perhaps paradoxically, often excise the heart of the game while leaving the surface scarred but intact.

My advice then is this: that radical, truly transformative change is, far more often than not, the only way forward. It will feel unpredictable, unstable, counterintuitive, dangerously uncontrolled, but the simple truth of it is that anything more timid is just death by a thousand cuts.

No, that’s not the truth of it. The truth, as Wilde observed, is never simple. But I see the result of timidity in my own designs and in those of others: I see it as a palimpsest of carefully placed, well-intentioned footprints, each one obscuring a little more precisely that which the designer was seeking to reveal.

Change is necessary; a journey is demanded; and if you take big enough leaps the footprints disappear.

This post also appears on my BrettSpiel game design blog.
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Thu Jan 26, 2012 12:24 pm
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Playtesting: Landscapes, London and Laundry

Brett J. Gilbert
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Yesterday I had the honour and privilege of attending the playtest group organised by Rob Harris (@playtestuk) in the unassuming corner of a London pub borrowed from the London on Board crew. Rob and I were joined by Jonathan (@joffwarren), Chris and Brian, and after drinks, a light lunch and some introductory banter, we got down to business.

And first to the table was my own prototype Mēxihco, the new take on my old tile-laying game Terraform, now with added LEGO. The game does take rather longer to fully explain than I would like, and it’s not a game that lends itself very well to a ‘learn as you go’ approach so start-up time is relatively long for new players. But since this was the beginning of the session Rob, Chris and Jonathan were alert and patient and took in most of the rules (at least the ones I actually remembered to explain!) with sage nods.


The game mixes card drafting with tile laying and area control, so is likely to seem relatively familiar to the average eurogamer in terms of structure and mechanisms. This means that most players will come to it with a number of expectations mapped from other games, and it’s only, of course, where these expectations conflict with the game that things can get tricky.

However, overall the playtest was a success and I think everyone enjoyed the game, but that’s not to say there weren’t plenty of interesting wrinkles and keenly made observations from the playtesters. Was the set-up a little too fiddly? How necessary was the split of the tiles into two phases? Could the card drafting be made less frustrating? Can you clarify the scoring — for example with a player aid — please? Should the variable game-end timing be made, well, less variable? And finally, why did the game forbid the player from taking (apparently) reasonable actions?

That last one, for me, was the most interesting, although the others are certainly no less important. Players lay tiles to create and expand territory, but can also (in certain circumstances) overlay tiles, meaning that territories once created are not necessarily immutable. Players can (again, in certain circumstances) protect some of their territory, but in doing that territory becomes ‘locked down’ and, in the words of the rules, “cannot be enlarged or reduced by any player”.

I thought my rules were clear, and that they accurately reflected both the law and the spirit of the game. But — rather excellently — Chris was, in one turn, in a position where two apparently possible and equally desirable moves directly challenged both of these concepts. My intent, in formulating the game, was to render a protected territory inviolate. Players are able to choose to protect their territories and stop others from interfering with it, but the ‘cost’ of this choice is that any further expansion is explicitly forbidden. Hence the phrase “cannot be enlarged or reduced”. That seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?

Well, as it turns out, not so much. Or rather, it is a clear instruction, but it is not one that completely describes the intended limitation. There is a loophole! At the end of my post Game Spaces: Why Everything Not Forbidden is Compulsory, I explained the nature of loopholes as follows:

In this case the possibility of moving outside of the game space is neither explicitly forbidden nor allowed, rather the rules have created a ‘grey area’, a crack in the boundary drawn by the rules through which players can choose to play. Often players themselves will veto expanding the play space in this way by reasoning that to do so would break the ‘spirit of the game’, but there will always be others who seize the opportunity and point out, correctly, that no rule forbids it.

What is the loophole? You may be ahead of my here, but saying that a territory “cannot be enlarged or reduced” says nothing about the legality of an action that leaves its area unchanged. And, as it happens, there are very good reasons why a player might seek to do this and Chris quite rightly asked why he shouldn’t be allowed to. Much discussion ensued!

At the same time — in the very same turn — another possible move highlighted how explicitly preventing “any player” from enlarging or reducing a protected territory, though unambiguous, directly challenged the spirit of the game intuited by the players.

The intent of the rule was to draw a very clear line around these inviolate territories, and everyone accepted that it did indeed make perfect sense that expanding your own protected territories ought to be forbidden. But what about expanding a protected territory belonging to another player? Did it make sense to forbid this when there could be circumstances — as aptly demonstrated by Chris — when to do so was the consequence of an entirely reasonable and desirable move? Much discussion ensued about this one, too!

Chris’s turn, which probably created a 15-minute hiatus in the game while all the options, expectations and ramifications were closely scrutinised, only goes to show how difficult it is to create truly bullet-proof rules and why, as a designer, you need to take into account not just what your players can and cannot do, but also what they would, all things considered, wish to do.

All games might be said to set up a series of playful obstacles for the participants to overcome. Rules codify these obstacles, and are therefore primarily designed to stop players doing whatever the hell they want whenever they want to. When people choose to play they enter into a contract: they agree to play their game by your rules. And I think the designer has an absolute duty to make a fair bargain in return: to respect and reward the player’s faith in your game by demonstrating more than a little faith in your players.

And so, when Chris challenged my game — challenged me, indeed — to defend the logic of its internal law I found that I could not, in all good conscience, do so. I could not wag my finger and deny his entirely reasonable and reasoned request, and so we agreed that the move — which safeguarded his own territory while expanding Jonathan’s — should in fact be allowed and played on.

The game ended with a surprisingly close win for Rob: 26–25–25–23, and the dissection of its vices and virtues continued. Exactly how variable the variable timing of the end of the game should be, and what mechanism should be used to achieve it, remains an open question. My first playtest last week resulted in a 400-to-1 ‘play till the bitter end’ result; yesterday’s was a more modest 7-to-1 result in the other direction that led to a shorter-than-average game. But was it too short? That was the question! I need to go back to the maths on this one and make sure I really do know what I am letting myself (and my players) in for. Personally, I don’t mind the idea of unpredictability, but I appreciate that it won’t be to every player’s taste.

I won’t dissect the other games we played in quite so much detail (you will probably be relieved to hear), but next up was Rob’s London Game, which I have played before and which, delightfully, continues to defy obvious categorization. Is it a deduction game? Possibly. Is it a casual or gamer’s game? Both. Are there meaningful strategies? Perhaps. If so, what are they? Ah, well, now you’ve got me! Is it, in the final analysis, even a game? Yes. And possibly no, depending on what you mean.

You see, it really is the most mercurial of animals! We played twice. And I won twice. But I couldn’t tell afterwards if I’d played the game, or if it had played me. Don’t get me wrong: I like it, as did the others, but exactly what ‘it’ is remains shrouded in mystery.

Finally — provided, that is, we don’t count my other prototype, Rumba, and I would prefer not to — we played a round of Hung Out To Dry, a prototype designed by Jonathan in collaboration with his trans-Atlantic design partner Rebekah Bissell. This was a very neat and nicely thematic set-collecting card game, designed for children and families. We all enjoyed it, but agreed that it was over a little too quickly with four players. Jonathan already knew this, and Rob confirmed that in with two or three players the game allowed more time for the more interesting aspects of the game to emerge. There was a lot to like about the game’s theme and colourful artwork which will both definitely appeal to children, so I wish Jonathan and Rebekah all the best with the game’s continued development.

I did get Rumba to table, but it was a rather inglorious and disappointing experience which I, Rob and latecomer David endured rather than actually played. Somewhere this design has got lost, and every attempt to take it forward has failed (yesterday was no exception). It’s not that there’s nothing there, it’s just that I haven’t figured out what it is yet. The latest prototype was just too fiddly and ungainly and inescapably dull. There’s too much of it, and it collectively delivers far too little. Less said the better, to be honest.

Does any of that sound like fun? (Apart from the last bit.) If so, and you are either a game designer with a prototype in need of playtesting, or a gamer willing to suffer the slings, arrows and outrageous fortunes of unfinished and thoroughly rough-around-the-edges gaming experiences, do keep an eye on Rob’s website for details of future get-togethers and feel free to come along.

This post also appears on my regular BrettSpiel blog, which you are, of course, more than welcome to come visit!
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Mon Sep 26, 2011 11:06 pm
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Prototype Snapshot: Mēxihco

Brett J. Gilbert
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Cambridge
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Mēxihco is a strategy tile game in which you play the part of Aztec rulers, competing to develop and protect districts of maize and bean crops, irrigation ponds and city precincts during the rise of the Aztec empire in the Valley of Mexico.

So reads the introduction to my newly written and wholly revised ruleset for the latest incarnation of the game that started out as Terraform (of which more can be found in the BrettSpiel archives). It’s always been a favourite of mine, and I have returned to the design often over the past few years. There are absolutely nothing wrong with Terraform in its final form, a form which Jackson Pope of the erstwhile Reiver Games seriously considered for publication, but the more I went on to design other prototypes, the more I realised that Terraform could be and do something more, and I have since tried out various ideas to elevate and enliven the player experience.

Yesterday was the first playtest of the new Mēxihco and as playtests go, it was a pretty satisfying and reassuring experience, even if probabilistically arresting — but more of that in a moment.

The idea of shifting the theme to something more Earth-bound was the beginning of this process, and the first thing to change was the name. The play involves landscape building and definitely classifies as an ’area control’ eurogame, but the game itself — the core of it — is actually rather more combative than the average eurogame and is really one of constant brinkmanship. My earlier attempts to ‘fix’ the game missed the mark, serving only to stab at its very heart, injuring the thing that made it interesting in the first place: the cycle of tension and resolution. Never forget the good stuff when attempting to exorcise the bad!

Another key aspect of change — which I discussed at length in my Game Design 101: What Are The Odds? article — was changing the timing and tempo of the game by introducing an (appropriately constrained) degree of unpredictability into its progress. The game has a stash of tiles, which the players claim and place to build the landscape. Terraform simply ended when these ran out, which led to flat and anticlimactic endgame. My solution, as discussed in the article although now implemented slightly differently, is to add a small population of special tiles to the main stash. These tiles emerge randomly, but once they’ve all been played the game is over.

With a little bit of combinatorial and permutational maths you can work out the likelihood of any particular number of tiles turning up before the game can end. I’d done the maths and thought I knew what to expect. But the Universe, it seems, likes to solve its own equations and yesterday delivered a result that was roughly a 400-to-1 long-shot. Thanks, Universe!

In a way, this result only goes to show how careful and respectful the game designer must be when dealing with our old friend Lady Luck. Since just one playtest has the capacity to deliver even the most aberrant of outcomes, any game designer without a meaningful understanding of the maths could be easily deceived into thinking either the best or worst of their creation. I am confident I have a handle on the numbers, but to experience what an edge case actually feels like was very useful.

As I said in my original article, when you hand over any aspect of your game to chance you can no longer rule out the genuinely shocking outcome — ‘Everything Not Forbidden is Compulsory’, remember? — but actually, that’s part of the fun. And last night’s playtest managed to reinforce that message while highlighting the value of an almost Orwellian ‘ignorance is strength’ credo. Let go the reins a little and learn to love the chaos!

Plus — and this was a very important aspect of the playtest — my little LEGO Aztec temples did the job very nicely, thank you very much!



This post also appears on my regular BrettSpiel blog, which you are, of course, more than welcome to come visit!
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Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:38 pm
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Ticket to Ride Map Design Contest: Here, There and Everywhere

Brett J. Gilbert
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Cambridge
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I'm going to try cross-posting stuff from my regular blog here on BGG, although the reformatting is a bit fiddly, isn't it? If you know of any HTML-to-BGG-forum-formatting conversion tips or tricks, do let me know!


Devotees of such things will no doubt have noticed that Days of Wonder have announced the twin winners of their Ticket to Ride Map Design Contest. Fulsome congratulations are due to the winners, who will see their maps published later this year: Ian Vincent of the UK (go Ian!), and François Valentyne of Canada. Readers interested in the delicious details of the new geographies offered in the forthcoming Map Collections can find out more on the DoW website.

When I first heard about the contest I, like many, many others, immediately set about the task of designing my own map, but before doing so publicly speculated on what Days of Wonder, in creating the contest, might be looking for. Ian Vincent read that blog post (without realising who I was, although we had previously met) and has, graciously, been kind enough to credit me in the rules for his India map.

Not, I hasten to add, for inspiring any specific part of his design, but rather, I think, for helping to articulate the nature of the Ticket to Ride brand itself. It’s genuinely gratifying to know that my words were helpful, and a geek thrill of another kind to see my newly minted nickname — Brett “Spiel” Gilbert (thanks Ian!) — up in metaphorical lights. Commensurately small lights, of course, but lights nonetheless.

But what of my own design? News of the winners has reminded me of how much I enjoyed the challenge of designing a map, and I thought you, dear reader, might be interested to see what I came up with — Ticket to Ride: Around the World.

The year is 1925. A quarter-century after our five old friends met to commemorate Phileas Fogg’s famous journey, they meet again. Within the past decade, great transport projects such as the Panama Canal and the Trans-Siberian Railway have opened up the world to the adventurous traveller like never before, and now, with the Roaring Twenties in full swing, and inspired by their dynamic spirit and industrial fervour, our friends agree to take on their grandest challenge yet — to recreate Fogg’s impossible journey for themselves!

That was my pitch, and the principle conceit of the map was that some routes would wrap around the left and right edges of the map, creating an entirely new geography and the possibility of true ‘Around the World’ tickets. These ‘long route’ tickets feature two cities as usual, but require them to be connected by a single, continuous, circumnavigational series of track. Other than that specific addition, the game preserves all the familiar concepts of the existing games and added no new mechanics or scoring bonuses.

I do wonder, of course, whether anyone else who entered had the same idea. It’s impossible to know, although since when I mentioned the contest to my maze-designing sister, herself a keen TtR online player, she independently expressed exactly the same idea, I can’t help but think that other entrants had it too!

Anyway, I began by looking at the different world map projections, and quickly settled on the Robinson projection as being a good fit for the standard Ticket to Ride board size. After that I roughly scaled the projection, overlaid this with a scan of the original Ticket to Ride map (of the United States) and, working in my favourite graphics package, began to pick out a selection of world cities that might form the basis of a workable map.


I deliberately set out to create a map which would have (roughly) the same scale and density as the US map, partly because I was looking to create a map that would similarly fill the rectangular board space, but also for pragmatic reasons. I knew the US map ‘worked’, in terms of its balance of route lengths and colourations, and I didn’t want to set myself the additional challenge of reinventing that part of the system. To me, the geographical conceit of the map was the key idea.


Soon enough I began to add routes to the map, using the background US map as guide to how large the train car spaces needed to be. If you compare the first two versions of my map you will see that I quickly ‘zoomed in’ on the Robinson projection, cropping the Arctic, Antarctic and Pacific regions as much as possible to focus on the main continental landmasses. This maximised the usable portions of the map and allowed more room for longer routes to be fitted between cities.


The overall form of the map began to take shape quite speedily, although many details remained to be worked out. I had to pick junction cities for the wrap-around routes, and work out how dense or otherwise all the ferry routes demanded by the abundant oceans ought to be. Inevitably, of course, I started to take rather preposterous liberties — What’s that? A trans-Atlantic tunnel between Africa and South America? — but I was still playing around with ideas and figuring out where more routes would be needed for the map to be suitably connected to support 5 players.


Ah, now things are starting to come together! This was an early attempt at colouring the routes, but established some useful conventions: Note the rounded lozenges for ferry routes, where dots indicate necessary locomotives, the heavy outline on tunnel routes, and the six differently coloured routes that span the board edges. Things would continue to evolve, but I wanted to make sure that the Pacific routes would be clearly readable during the game to avoid any confusion, so decided upon a limited number, all differently coloured, which would be as disparately located as possible: top, bottom and middle.


Here we catch the map in the middle of being re-coloured (something that I did repeatedly, each time trying to balance the mix and density of routes). Note that the routes within Africa and Asia have been visually tided up — I didn’t like all those kinks! — and that there is a new Iceland-Africa ferry route, that there is (at last) a ferry from Dakar to South America, and that some of the place names have now changed.

By now I had begun to think more carefully about the time and place of this map (the very thing I counselled readers about in my original post) and realised that I needed to pick a specific year and cross-check world place names with that era. I eventually settled on 1925, and so Brasília was out (not founded until 1956!), and Jakarta, Ulan Bator and Chennai all needed to revert to their erstwhile monikers.


Playtesting continued to reveal more things that needed to be fixed, such as relieving the congestion around Panama, and also demonstrated that simply forming a circumnavigational route was actually rather hard work! Not that that I wanted the map to make things easy for the players, but I did moderate the challenge by contracting key routes such as Tokyo-Panama, and completely removing the need for a trans-Pacific stopover in Hanga Roa (goodbye Easter Island!). Meanwhile, South America, which I had never been happy with, changed again to more accurately reflected the local geography of the cities, and elsewhere some of the tunnel routes shifted, again to better match the placement of large mountain ranges.

Rules mavens should note that the necessarily large number of ferry routes mean that the game is played using the ‘three card’ joker rule from Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries (where, when completing a ferry route, three matching cards can be played in place of a locomotive).


Another complete re-colouration of the routes and — at the very last! — the sudden disappearance of Beijing and appearance of San Juan (plus another nudge to South America) brought the map into focus. Personally I really enjoy both the detail and the whole, and was pleased with how the varied geography created different challenges for the players at different points on the map.

My favourite part (if I were forced to choose) is the array of routes in and out of Panama, which features regular, ferry and tunnel routes, and all 9 route colours (if you count grey as a colour, that is). That one city offers everything in the game in one place!

This post also appears on my regular BrettSpiel blog, which you are, of course, more than welcome to come visit!
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Thu Sep 1, 2011 3:40 pm
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