Ticket to Ride maps that I hoped would be the new products for 2015 and maybe 2016. I know it's a tease, but I can't tell you much about them except to say the two new maps have significant new elements not in the existing games. Of course, the best laid plans always seem doomed to fail, and my plan was no exception.
Late in 2014, Mark Kaufman called me on a Sunday to tell me that he and Eric Hautemont had sold Days Of Wonder to Asmodee. To say I was stunned would be a huge understatement. Mark said he and Eric Hautemont, the two guys I was used to working with on Ticket to Ride, were both leaving the company and my new point guy was going to be Adrien Martinot. My next thought was, "Wow, I won't have to try to translate Eric's machine-gun, rapid speak, French accent phone calls anymore." But then my following thought was "Geez, Adrien's French, too, and not even a semi-Americanized Frenchman like Eric. Is there any chance his accent will be easier?"
I won't say anything more about his accent, but Adrien has been a very pleasant surprise. A man of many ideas, Adrien had good and bad news for me. The bad news was that he didn't want to use the maps I'd already designed for new products in 2015. The good news was he had an idea for a new map. Adrien suggested a Ticket to Ride UK map and emailed me an outline of some ways to add "technology" to the rules. His impetus being that because the UK was where railroads were born, we should try to add that into the mix. I was immediately taken with the idea and started thinking about how technology could be integrated into the basic system.
Almost every expansion I have done starts out as a moderately complicated version of basic Ticket to Ride, changing the game in one or more very significant ways and adding lots of new rules. Fortunately, in every case, the actual published versions are quite streamlined compared to their first prototypes because my goal is first and foremost to retain the heart of what is Ticket to Ride while adding a new, fun experience for the fans of the game. While the UK map in Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 is probably the most involved of all the expansions, I feel like the added features are still very easy to pick up.
The first UK prototypes featured a Tech Chart with four or five tracks of technological developments. Here is one early version:
There were numerous versions of the chart, each change an attempt to balance the tracks on the chart and provide multiple and equal paths to victory — but it was not to be.
The major problem was that the developments were all "bought" with points. In every playtest, one or more players jumped out ahead on points and were then able to buy more tech than the ones lagging behind. It was also hard to balance the relative worth of the tech tracks, so it always seemed like focusing on one track first was the obvious choice.
After quite a few attempts, changing the Chart after each play, I came to the conclusion that I just couldn't make it work. It became obvious that it was going to be impossible to balance the options on the Tech Tracks — at least, not in the time I had. Maybe if I playtested it for year, maybe I could have make it work, maybe, but certainly not in the couple of months I had.
When I announced that I was giving up on the Chart, the three playtesters present were incredibly disappointed. I spent the next hour talking to them about the game and trying to present my reasons for needing to try something else. Their passion for the Chart-driven game surprised me, and even though I assured them the next version without the Chart would probably appeal to them, they weren't thrilled. Their lack of confidence in my ability to create another version they thought would be as fun was a little disappointing, but luckily I was confident enough for all of us, at least outwardly. The discussion with them was one of the most interesting design discussions I've ever had.
Instead of the Tech Chart, I decided to go with what I consider one of my strengths as a game designer: cards. So the spaces on the tracks of the Tech Chart became cards. This was immediately better and felt more like an appropriate Ticket to Ride expansion, but the problem of a runaway leader or leaders remained.
The next step was to change the cost of the cards to a mix of points and Wild Cards. Again, better, but still not right. The final step was to use only Wild Cards to pay for the Tech Cards. Ten minutes into that first playtest with this payment method, I knew I was almost there (a very satisfying feeling for a game designer during development). The actual cards and their costs changed quite a bit, as did the number of copies of each card, but that was just a matter of more testing.
The other thing I wanted to make different about the UK was the map itself. Because of the size of the land portions, I knew it would be able to handle only four players at most right from the start. I also knew it would need lots of small routes because the distances between the major cities were so short. Luckily, short routes were going to work well with the technology rules since players would be able to build only one and two space routes at the start. The pleasant surprise for me was the congestion created around London and the midlands, which also worked well with the technology.
There seem to be four basic strategies in the game:
-----1. Buy the Boiler Lagging Tech Card first. Build lots of small routes in England and Scotland. You will gain 20+ points for the Boiler Lagging Card. You will not need to buy that many other Tech Cards, maybe only the Scotland Concession and Mechanical Stoker Cards.
-----2. Build from Southampton through London north to Edinburgh and Glasgow, then start drawing Tickets. At the crucial moment when the game is about to end, buy the Double Heading Card. You will gain 20+ points for the Double Heading Card.
-----3. Draw lots of cards, including Wild Cards whenever available. Don't build any routes. Don't worry about your Tickets. Buy the Booster Card early. Claim the Southampton-NYC route as quickly as possible. After that, buy the Steam Turbine, Ireland/France Concession, Propellers, and Superheated Steam Boiler Cards. After you have all of these cards, buy the following Ferry routes: Penzance-Cork, Belfast-Barrow, Plymouth-Southampton, Dover-France, and Newcastle-Hull. Those routes will need 22 trains. That will leave you with three trains, so you will need to build one other route to initiate the end of the game. You will score 94 points plus/minus your tickets. If you can end the game quickly enough, you can win. The key will be getting enough Wild Cards, so this is more of a gambling strategy, but it's also fun. Of course, it can also be messed up if an opponent buys one of the key routes you need.
-----4. Use a more balanced approach based on your initial Ticket Draw like other Ticket To Ride games. You may want to draw more Tickets on your first turn just to clarify your strategy. Building routes in Ireland initially, especially if no other player is building there, can be a winning strategy when combined with builds from Ireland to Scotland, Wales, and England later in the game. The key to this strategy is to buy only as many Tech Cards as you need. Don't waste Wild Cards buying a Tech Card that you use only once.
Of course the preceding, especially the first three options, assumes no one else is following the same strategy as you. If someone else is following the same strategy, you will probably need to modify your choices.
The end result is a game that feels like Ticket To Ride with some fun differences and additions. I particularly love the fact that players have to build smaller routes so they spend a lot more turns playing cards — which also means the competition for routes is heavy right from the start, particularly on the double routes that run from Southampton north to Scotland. There are alternate routes, but many of them require Tech Cards.
The Advanced Technology Cards were not fully playtested and should definitely not be used if any of the players are playing for the first time. There were quite a few other possible Tech Cards that did not make it into the game.
The Pennsylvania map was done before I started on the UK map. For many years, my good friend Erik Arneson had encouraged me to design a PA map for Ticket To Ride, his main argument being that PA was such a perfectly rectangular shape. I would always laugh when he suggested this. While I hate to admit it publicly, he was actually right, at least about the shape. But as I thought about it more, I realized that Colorado was also a rectangle and it had tons of railroad history, so the second map of this expansion started out as Colorado. My basic idea was to add Stock Shares of the railroads into the game that players would receive for building certain routes.
Unfortunately, while Colorado had tons of railroads from which to choose, including favorites like the Cripple Creek, Cimarron Valley, Rock & Rail, Cumbres & Toltec, and Durango & Silverton, they were mostly "very" short lines, so it quickly became obvious that I couldn't create enough routes for them.
At that point, it was like Erik's voice was in my head, and my eyes turned to Pennsylvania. I had been so enamored with the Colorado railroads that it had blocked out the plainly evident fact that Pennsylvania also had a ton of railroad history and great railroads. As soon as I started researching the railroads and their lines, I knew PA was the right choice.
The rules for the Stock Shares are similar to the new rules for Passengers in the Germany map game. They create some interesting choices. Since the first share is the ultimate tie-breaker for each railroad, it can be very important to build routes early. It can also influence your choice of routes to build. Sometimes, building more short routes can be valuable to give you more shares. Sometimes, building a specific route just to get the last share or one of the last remaining shares available can increase the points you will receive for that Railroad. It is easy to get too distracted by the shares though, and sometimes it's best just to follow a more normal Ticket To Ride strategy.
There is a Big Cities element in the game, with Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City as the Big Cities. All six of these cities are connected to each other as Tickets, and each of these six cities has one more Ticket as well, meaning that 21 of the 50 Tickets in the game involve the Big Cities.
Finally, I wanted the PA map to feel more like the USA map than the other expansions, so there are lots of big routes to build.
The playtesting of the PA map was fairly uneventful. I started out with more railroads than the final version, but fewer railroads provided more competition and put the emphasis on the big lines like the PRR and B&O. There were a few route changes and some Ticket changes, but the game quickly came together. The last few playtests were very fun with one or more players trying to end the game quickly and others trying to pick up as many Stock Shares as possible.
There are a number of personal things in this expansion. The two maps include Southampton which is where I was born and Syracuse which is where I currently live. I really like the fact that Reading is on both maps and that three of the four Monopoly railroad lines are also present. Perhaps the most fun for me though is the Southampton-New York route, which is a tribute to my grandfather who was a steward on the Queen Mary his whole life, sailing back and forth along that route.
I hope you enjoy both of these maps as much as I enjoyed designing them — and I hope that in 2016 you'll see the two maps I designed before these two...
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17 Nov 2015
- [+] Dice rolls