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THE CREATIVE GAMER - Making Ticket to Ride: Northern Egypt (Part 1)

-matt s.
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Before I get into the subject at hand, I would like to point you to an auction that my friend Chris put together. Four of us are getting together for a gaming weekend next week and leading up to it we're having a 'combined shipping' auction. The auction link is: CLOSED 4-in-1 Auction (175+ games) - ends Jul 26th Please take a look around and see if you like anything.

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So, you may or may not have heard about the $10,000 Days of Wonder Ticket to Ride design contest earlier this year, but I did mention briefly in a previous blog post that my wife and I both immediately had some ideas for possible entries when we first heard about it back in February.

My idea centered around a 'toy' train idea where the routes would take you around a house between various rooms and even into and around the backyard. A couple of things appealed to me about this idea: 1) it was family friendly, 2) I thought maybe it could be scaled for more or less players by using just inside vs. outside vs. Combined: 3) it could be done with several boards or as a series with different types of homes around the world, each having culture specific details, etc.

My wife's idea was an interesting twist on the basic game - each destination ticket, in addition to having the regular point value for connecting the 2 cities, would also have a BONUS city and related point value. If, in addition to connecting the two regular cities, you also connect the BONUS city into the network (i.e. all 3 cities are somehow connected), you get the additional bonus points.

I really liked both of these ideas when we first thought of them.

Well, time went by and we didn't do anything about it. No research. No design. I didn't even really read the entry form in detail more than once. I felt like we were kind of letting it slip by us.

Finally, around April 1st I started thinking about it again - I knew the deadline (April 15th) was coming up fast. I really liked my wife's idea. Actually, I liked my idea, too, but hers was fundamentally better in terms of introducing something DIFFERENT and yet still being the same game. It actually added a new dimension with a simple change. I subsequently mentioned it to some friends who have helped playtest it and the idea got them excited about it, too.

So, the next order of business was the location and map. She initially had an idea for a couple of possible map locations, one of them being Egypt. So, I started doing research on it. It turned out that Egypt is actually very rich in railroad history. I suppose perhaps many places have some level of railroad history, but this area seemed to really have some interesting background. In addition, I found a map of sorts that showed many actual city/station locations for a railroad system! It made a great basis for a somewhat historically accurate map.

The other important thing was a certain density of cities for her idea to work well. This location had exactly what I was looking for to exploit her idea to the fullest.

After discovering all of this, my interest suddenly went off the charts! It was time to start designing...

First, I started with my graphics program of choice: Xara Extreme 4 (or just Xara). This is an older version of a vector based program I've been using for years and haven't bothered to upgrade in the last couple of go rounds (looking at the new features on their website I just might consider)

It is a program I love because it's relatively simple yet still powerful, flexible and has a good range of options. It is primarily a vector based drawing program but it has some terrific shading, shadowing, and transparency capabilities. In addition, you can bring in pictures (jpg, gif, etc) and integrate them with what you are working on, or use them as textures, etc. It also has layering, multiple levels of undo, object grouping, an object alignment tool, and a host of other features.

Anyhow, I've used it consistently for a variety of projects over the years and it has done pretty much everything I've asked of it outside of actual photo manipulations, enough so I haven't bothered looking for anything else to replace it.

So, for this project I started with a virtual sheet of paper the size of a standard TtR board (approximately 21"x31"). Sorry, the image is a bit 'light' looking but if you look carefully you can see the general shape of the board squares.

From gallery of tasajara


Then, I underlayed a screen capture I took of the online map that I found of Egypt showing real existing train lines. Now, initially I was hoping to do a full-map of Egypt. However, the southern part of Egypt just didn't have enough interesting things going on. But, in the area of the Nile River basin, there was a LOT going on. This seemed to be fertile enough ground to build this map on.

Next, I started mapping out the routes between them using rectangles of similar size to an actual TtR board.

From gallery of tasajara


The map image I put on one layer and the tracks on another so that I could turn on/off one or the other as needed. The use of layers became more and more important as I went on due to the variety of different objects required for generating the map.

From gallery of tasajara


Next I started to emphasize the links and cities and pushed the map to the back. Two ideas that you can see some emphasis on is the Suez canal link on the far right (linking Suez and Port Said directly). Notice the multiple 'lanes' - my initial idea for this was an 'advanced' option that allowed each player to have their own separate track. When completing any other link on the board, an extra card could be played to add one train to the Suez canal on their track. I didn't have this idea fully developed but liked the option to have 'more options' for an advanced version.

Also notice on the far left a long link to the Giza Mines; it's significantly shorter than the actual line, but is intended to simulate it at least. I really like the long link on Nordic Countries and was sort of taking advantage of that city and actual rail link to create a similar feature. My idea here was to NOT make it part of any tickets but make the points significant to make it a possible risk worth taking, or possibly even as a catch-up mechanism for people that are in a tough spot.

From gallery of tasajara


The cities started getting labelled and the routes were created to try to get some balance in their lengths. The city names on the underlay map seemed to be either older names and/or official Egyptian names for the cities. I did some searches on Google maps and used the names I found there. I love the interesting sounding names - Zagazig, Obeed, Qasabi, Dumyat. You can see I also started fitting in some double routes in various locations. This doubling up of links became the theme over time as I progressed through the map making...

My initial idea was to try to keep the links strictly to the realistic links and see how that ended up coming about, but that also had to change to properly accommodate the board as an actual game board.

From gallery of tasajara


One interesting fact about the real Egypt rail line is the ability to purchase different levels of tickets depending on how fast you want to get through. The cheapest tickets require many stops between start and destination. More expensive tickets take you more directly to your destinations. To simulate this a bit, I included several places where, to get between two cities, you can take a bunch of short links between each city, or you can take a longer more direct link. This isn't a 'perfect' simulation of this, but I liked the idea and it seemed to make for interesting routing in certain areas, especially around the Cairo area.

Next up was to mark the cities. I make a simple shaded circle/button and set about defining where each specific city was located.

From gallery of tasajara


Now, I wanted to clean up the map a bit so I started graphically defining the outline of Egypt. I traced the outer edges and shaded it a bit to give it a touch of depth.

From gallery of tasajara


Then, I pushed the back behind the board grid and gave it a bit of color...

From gallery of tasajara


...and cleaned up the track links a bit...

From gallery of tasajara


...and the rest of the board (including adding the Nile River)...

From gallery of tasajara


Now, it's time to start coloring the links. Of course, I started with red (since it's my favorite color). I initially had some problems managing the links - the main reason being that EVERY SINGLE RECTANGLE on EVERY link has to be managed separately. That's a LOT of adjustment when I want to move stuff around. A major pain really. But, I will come up with a solution soon. For now....it's a bit of a grind adding the color and making adjustments. But, I'm starting to like the look of it now.

From gallery of tasajara


I should stop here for a second....I KNOW I shouldn't be focusing too much on 'how it looks' BUT, I can't help it. It's the perfectionist in me wanting to make it look as good as possible regardless. Ultimately, I know we're going to enter this in the TtR Design contest, and I know that submitting the actual map isn't required, but *I* want something nice and presentable. Ah well, I'm having fun with it at least!

So, more color gets added. A lot actually. I did some counting of numbers of tracks on the original TtR board to get a feel for how many links of each different length and each different color and try to go for similar proportions.

From gallery of tasajara


I decided the font needed to change to something more fitting to the theme. The plain brown background didn't seem quite right either. So, I found an interesting, decorative font and applied a texture to the map and did a bit of other tweaking.

From gallery of tasajara


You'll also note that I added the point chart. Notice the 8, 9 and 11 train links! Those are HUGE points. As you will find out in the next post, the points may have been a bit TOO HUGE!

Well, that's it for now. Up next is showing what the initial tickets look like and reports on some play-testing.

Oh, one more thing - if you thumb this post - and come back to thumb ANY BLOG post of mine this month (July) I will be giving away something special/game related at the end of July (I'm trying something new to see if I can encourage readers to let me know if they read my posts here on BGG or not since 'hits' are not actually available on BGG) - the prize will be a copy of the final version of Ticket to Ride: Northern Egypt + cards that was submitted to the TtR design contest. Yes, it's official, the prize this month WILL be the final version of this map + tickets. Don't forget to check out all my posts for this month! Good luck!

BONUS: For reading this far, if you thumb the header part of the auction geeklist: CLOSED 4-in-1 Auction (175+ games) - ends Jul 26th those thumbs will count as entries for the free item drawing as well. Thanks for stopping by!
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