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THE CREATIVE GAMER - Making Ticket to Ride: Northern Egypt (Part 2 / 2)

-matt s.
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Earlier this week I posted about designing TtR: Northern Egypt for the TtR $10,000 design contest. This is the continued story....

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So, this is the version I left off with during my last post about the TtR:NE map:

From gallery of tasajara


This is the map that was printed out in a large format and got some testing in. In conjunction with this map I create a ticket template, printed out sheets of 9 of these, then started penciling in a variety of ticket routes with appropriate values and bonus locations.
From gallery of tasajara

So, I have to put in an admission here for those that may be wondering - yes, this map got some play testing, but honestly, it was not a lot. There wasn't a ton of time before the April 15th deadline. I would have loved to play a lot more but I probably didn't work hard enough to rally more testers. That being said, I spent a lot of time evaluating the map and taking cues from existing maps.

Still, initial tests of this map showed a couple of things:
1) Playing 2-player worked really well - the map was VERY tight and interesting.
2) The tickets with bonuses were interesting to play - it forced you to re-think whether you wanted to go for the bonus or not and possibly how to chain the tickets differently to get those bonuses.
3) The biggest issue was it was obvious the map was NOT going to accommodate 4 or 5 players, and possibly not even 3 players - it needed more double-routes and links between cities where they didn't exist now.
4) Some of the tickets were either over-valued or under-valued and needed some adjustments.
5) I forgot to include a score track (not a big deal for a first pass, but kind of obvious)
6) The middle of the map felt a little too tight.
7) The Suez canal multiple routes on the side were confusing, especially since we weren't actually using them in the game.

Overall, I was actually surprised at how well it played! I was really afraid it was going to totally suck.

One thing that was really interesting was I knew I was getting behind in tickets and points, so I decided to go for the long Giza Mines link to get some points. I was 1 card away when the game ended so I was very close to getting it. The 57 points for that link would have put me close to winning, if not over for the win (yes, I was THAT far behind - my excuse is that I was distracted just 'watching' the game in action for one of it's first trial runs)

Something else that was obvious was that it could take a while to move across the middle of the maps as there were a LOT of 1 space links.

So, the first things to clean up were:
1) Expand the map to include more links.
2) Lengthen some of the links to have more spaces.
3) Double up more of the links.
4) Open up the middle of the map a bit more.
5) Add a score track!

The first order of business was adding the score track. This was necessary to further define the boundaries of where cities and links could sit on the map.

Rectangles seemed 'natural' at first since the other maps use them, but it didn't seem to fit the theme well. Hence, I came up with the use of pyramids (triangles) instead. And, I applied a brick texture to give them a pyramid feel. It's not the best texture but it worked for my purposes here:

From gallery of tasajara


From gallery of tasajara


Then, I needed to adjust the existing links to pull them away from the score track a bit. I also started to open up the middle, expand in some areas and trim in other areas. Notice I also got rid of the multiple Suez Canal links and made it a single long route.

All these adjustments were initially done just by moving the cities around to simplify the process. You can see this in the next image where the cities all look out of place.

From gallery of tasajara


Next, it's time to re-create the links between the adjusted cities. Something I had run into putting the map together initially was all of the routes were manually constructed and aligned, segment by segment. This was ok for tweaking after initial placement, but revamping the map in this way made it a problem.

So, I figured out you can create your own brushes in Xara and apply them to lines. Thus, I made new 'brushes', one for each color of links, plus gray for the wild links and a special multi-colored brush for the line.

Then, I started a new layer for the new set of links and started sketching them in as simple lines. Next, I applied the appropriate colored brushes to each line and adjusted them to fit. The great thing about this was that I could stretch or shrink the length of the lines to get more or less links! Here's the middle of that initial conversion process:

From gallery of tasajara


And here it's starting to take shape. You'll notice that many of the dead ends have been eliminated. This gives multiple ways into a particular city creating competition for them. Combine this with the right balance of tickets and it should create tension without making players feel like they're completely stuck trying to get somewhere. Obviously at some point, if you wait too long, you WILL be stuck, but you need the option of having at least one alternate/backup plan.

From gallery of tasajara


It was fun to start bending the lines to make them fit and give it a more organic feel rather than just a bunch of straight lines going everywhere. And with the new brushes applied to the lines, it made it SO much easier to manipulate them in this way and experiment a bit more to get the right look.

From gallery of tasajara


Here we have a couple of tweaks including changes to some of the link colors for better color distribution.

From gallery of tasajara


And some more tweaking of colors and position. Something I was trying to achieve was making sure there was enough of each color and an appropriate distribution of link lengths for each as well. Also, I wanted to balance the long links going to the Giza mines with other links that used the same colors. Thus, you have to make the decision to use those colors to complete your tickets OR take a risk and go for the extra points. What will you choose to do?

From gallery of tasajara


The version above is what ended up being the last version I created before submitting it to the TtR contest. We got a couple plays of this version in before it had to be rushed off.

One thing my Mom suggested was for an additional link across the middle between Tanta and Al Hayatim to give at least one more possible option to move across the middle of the map. Of course I had to accommodate my mommy

Also, during one play with some more heavy-duty gamer friends (who find TtR a bit light I think), Robert showed how the game could potentially be broken (typical Robert ). He immediately went first for the Suez Canal garnering 37 points. THEN, he proceeded to get the longer Giza Mines link netting him another 58 points, thus giving him 95 points fairly early in the game while the rest of us were scratching out small points. Little by little we gained on him.

By the end of the game he ended up losing by maybe 5 points as Lorna had completed several tickets, most with bonuses. Robert had a difficult time with his tickets and only completed one of two of his starting tickets. This was because they were a bit longer and the rest of us had tied up the board while he focused on the longer links.

I was pleased to see that his wasn't necessarily a winning strategy. However, it was a bit demoralizing to the rest of the players AND it was perhaps a bit too dangerous/over-powered.

Thus, I later decided to reduce the point values from following the usual scoring pattern down to 27 and 39 respectively (still a good chunk of points, though). Unfortunately, I didn't do this on the map sent in to the contest and probably should have....

From gallery of tasajara


Also, I found that the unusual names (to American eyes at least) were difficult for people to interpret with the font I was using. I really like the look of it, but it's difficult even for ME to read the names. So, I changed the city names to use a more standard looking font (no, it's NOT Comic Sans! Or Helvetica!) You can see this on the map above as well.

So, that's the progression of the map.

Now, as to the tickets, I'll give you a quick rundown: I liked the idea of having the map on the ticket and showing exactly WHERE the cities were on the map. None of the versions of TtR tickets have made me completely happy - there is always some level of confusion as to WHERE on the map you need to look for the cities.

This was particularly important with these tickets because not only do you have the two normal endpoint cities, you also have the BONUS city as well, and you need to be able to easily distinguish between them.

So, once I had the final map completed, I could use a copy of it to make the tickets match. I decided to standardize the location of the end point and bonus city names on the tickets, then highlight each city on the ticket and draw an arrow to each to make it perfectly clear.

Here's the progression to the final ticket design:

From gallery of tasajara

Initial base design

From gallery of tasajara

Adding color and highlights

From gallery of tasajara

Increased font sizes and eliminated confusing/unnecessary labeling

From gallery of tasajara

More labeling cleanup - final version

From gallery of tasajara

Another example of the final design

From gallery of tasajara

Back of the ticket



Phew! That was a bit of work just writing it all up. Luckily I saved copies of everything as I progressed so I had a good record of the progress.

That's a technique I learned many years ago when I started doing computer drafting and has carried through everything I do on the computer...saving FREQUENTLY and using SAVE AS judiciously. There's nothing like spending 2 hours on something and making a ton of progress and then losing it all because of some computer glitch.


Well, there's one more small chapter to this story. First, I uploaded the map to Zazzle and have made it available there

And, the tickets are available on Artscow.

For Zazzle, sometimes they have percent off discounts which will save you a bit if you look for those sales.

For Artscow, if create an account with them ahead of time, they regularly send coupons to get custom decks for cheap with free shipping - that's the ideal way to get a deck if you don't mind waiting. Note that this is a FULL deck, but you actually are getting 2 sets of tickets. If you want the other half to be something else just remove the duplicates and add in whatever other cards you want...of course you'll have the same ticket back so you could change that to something generic if you wanted.

Here's the map mounted in a 22.5"x34" poster frame:
From gallery of tasajara


and a pic with some trains on it:
From gallery of tasajara


This shows a prototype and final ticket:
From gallery of tasajara


And the back of the final ticket (unfortunately I didn't zoom in close enough - I've fixed this in the Artscow card project):
From gallery of tasajara


Well, that's the end of this journey. Hope you enjoyed it! I know I had fun putting it all together.

You can also just thumb this blog entry (and any I've posted in July) to be entered into a drawing at the end of July where I'm giving away a copy of this map and a set of tickets.
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