The focus is on game mechanisms - what makes a game exciting and why. How did the board game designer make his game fun? Components and theme are secondary. The play's the thing.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Ticket to Ride: Readers comments

I've been gratified by the thoughtfulness of the responses I've received to the "Ticket To Ride" article. I'd like to highlight some of the comments received, and provide my own commentary. As the JBD develops, my hope is to organize the articles into different types - ones that focus on a specific game, mechanisms, and who knows what else. The next article, coming soon, will focus on scoring systems. It takes off on the idea of the "bomb", and looks at how majorities scoring and escalating scoring systems have been used in games, and what makes each appropriate to its own context. I invite ideas for articles from readers with the caveat that I tend to be so darned independent that I'll bet a lot of suggestions will be made before I adopt one. But the more realistic expectation is that understanding what interests readers can help spark my imagination and help direct future articles - however indirect the effect may be.

I'm a little envious of some of the other blogs and sites out there. I have a feeling that just reviewing new games, for example, is the "fun stuff". More readers seek it out, and it's cooler to turn people on to something new than it is to pull apart games in what might be an abstract way. But I'll blog on, hoping to add a distinct voice and to provide material that ultimately helps people enjoy their gaming even more. Another possibility - especially to fill in a void for those times when I feel that I can't find anything new to say - would be to create a sister blog that will focus more on new games - ones that I haven't played enough to really give a detailed analysis of, but where I can still apply a critical look at the mechanisms within.

Enough avoidance. Let's look at the comments.

Larry Levy (huzonfirst) offered an especially thought provoking view:
...(N)ot all of the aspects of the game are "features" for me. For example, the ticket "bomb". While it adds considerably to the game's tension, its all or nothing aspect detracts from the game a bit. In most games, missing out on even one moderately sized route eliminates you from contention.
Chris Farrell agrees and adds some additional observations on the issue:
If you feel that you can't win without finishing your big ticket, this significantly constrains your play. You can only use other tickets that compliment this route, and you can't build much track that doesn't work towards your goal.

TtR basically forces a certain level of risk on you, which you then have faily limited tools manage. If people don't feel well-rewarded for the risk they've taken, or if they don't feel like they have control over their level of risk, this can lead to frustration.

Bombs come in many sizes, from point advantages to make-or-break requirement. I do agree with Larry that the tickets in Ticket To Ride have a danger of dominating the game. A player typically only has a few of them, and it's a shame to feel that one missed opportunity is not just a strategic issue - it's the whole game. I think that designers need to balance this carefully, and that the tickets are definitely on the "nuclear" side of bombs. I'll propose these two (untested) variants - and be eager to hear from anyone who tries either. One is to reduce the penalty for missing a ticket to halve the value. This will encourage players to take more tickets, take more chances, and spread the risk. The other goes a step farther. Double the benefit for making a ticket, but keep both the penalties and the ticket bonuses where they are. This is really the equivalent of halving both the penalties for a missed ticket AND halving the values for laying track. This accomplishes the earlier objective and also puts more emphasis on making tickets. I'm not sure whether to manipulate the 10 point bonus for longest run. Anyway, I'd like to try it and hope others will do so and report back.

Greg Aleknevicus offered his thoughts on the difference between the first edition and Ticket to Ride Europe:

I find that the specific implementation of (the) system in the original to be poor. The problem as I see it is that the board and distribution of tickets strongly favours east-west route building. Getting an east coast-west coast ticket will not guarantee victory but in over 90% of the games...

I think Ticket to Ride: Europe greatly improves the game... I do agree that the Petrograd-Stockholm run is excessive but I think the tunnels are a fine addition. Yes, it introduces luck to the claiming of routes but it's not as if the original did not already have luck to begin with (albeit limited to the card draw). The reason I like it is that it adds tension -- losing a turn to a bad tunnel draw is something you really want to avoid.

Like Greg, I too prefer Ticket to Ride: Europe because of the way that the board and tickets are laid out, as compared with the original, and agree that the long east-west tickets dominate to too great a degree. I think also that the original east-west long tickets too often run parallel to each other, whereas the European long tickets tend to collide to a greater degree. So in the original, getting those good routes is just a lucky thing - they can seem like a cake walk, and those unlucky players who don't get one can feel out of contention.

I understand Greg's point about the game having lots of luck in any case, but there is something so darned bald in the luck of the tunnels. If you don't get the colored cards you want - well that can be rough, but that will often create new opportunities (and I've been hurt often enough so that I'm not so quick to snub my nose at locomotives which are often very available). But just drawing random cards and getting arbitrarily penalized feels like no fun to me. And the game doesn't need it. At very least, I've sometimes felt that if a player has to pony up more cards to get through a tunnel he deserves more points. It still adds uncertainty without that punitive feeling.

Richard Vickery makes the good observation that:

In TtR, you can watch the cards drafted and so narrow the range of locations. This helps you more clearly identify a developing threat, which adds to the tension and feeds into the agonizing decision.

Good point. This further contrasts Ticket to Ride as being more like a Eurogame than an abstract. Indeed, I can't think of any abstracts that allow you to read your opponent's plans through anything other than the board position.


Anonymous said...

scrivi troppo!

Anonymous said...

Any new blogs coming soon?

Ticket to Ride Fan said...

Nice post. I particularly like the discussion of in-depth strategies that develop based on prior knowledge of cards. Ticket to Ride is a great game for new players, but a player with knowledge of the routes will certainly have an advantage in stopping opponents' routes.

Jonathan said...

My friends and I have been playing Ticket to Ride a lot in the last 3-4 months: USA, Europe, Switzerland, and Germany. We've also played with tunnel and ferry routes on the USA version; degrees of difficulty are based on geographical difficulty. It has worked out pretty well so far and we're thinking of building our own "California" version of the game. Thanks for the post!