The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - May, 2004

Alan R. Moon: In [last] month's issue of The Games Journal, Greg Aleknevicus suggests that Ticket to Ride was inspired by Union Pacific. An easy assumption considering how similar the board and pieces look. However, Ticket to Ride was not inspired by Union Pacific at all. In fact, I was working on a more complicated railroad game with tiles and stations as well as trains. I tested three versions of this game and while each version was better than the previous one, the third version still wasn't much fun. Ticket to Ride was born out of my frustration with that game, the basic idea coming during my daily walk and then refined while messing around with the cards from Freight Train. It was only when I starting placing the trains on the first prototype board (I was using the Union Pacific trains for the prototype) while playing solitaire that the resemblance to Union Pacific struck me.

I'm now working on two games that have definitely been inspired by the simplicity of Ticket to Ride. One game with Bruno Faidutti and the other with Richard Borg. I hope you'll know a lot more about these games in 2005.

Josh Adelson: I will be the sole voice of opposition, if need be, to your high praise of Ticket to Ride. Your concern (voiced only in the penultimate sentence of your review) that initial ticket draw has an undue influence on the course of each player's game is, in my opinion, both valid and damning.

The potential for asymmetrical starting "positions" is in no way ameliorated by any other mechanic in the game. Having the harder ticket cards (with their concomitant large penalty/reward) almost insures that you have to play for the longest individual routes you can achieve, in order to counterbalance the insidious penalties for failing to achieve one or two of your destinations. Conversely, somebody with easily achieved tickets at the outset is far, far more likely to close their cards out, play for whatever longer routes they can (irrespective of their shot at a meager 10 point contiguity bonus), and likely be happy to draw more tickets.

I find this game to be too self-playing to qualify as anything better than an ultralight, and I'll be disillusioned if this conclusion isn't eventually reached by the majority of TGOOns.

You have pointed out that defensive play is largely self-defeating in most instances, and if that's true, as I believe it is, it further derides the quality of the design.

P.S. I believe almost all of my problems with this game could be addressed by that old chestnut—a bunch of face-up ticket cards as opposed to the continual closed draws. I would also like to see something like "draw 3, keep 2 or draw 2, keep 1" as opposed to "draw 3 keep 1 or 2" which is the current scheme. I suppose it bears noting that I hate the entire Empire Builder series due to the vagaries of the card draws. The production values of Ticket to Ride are, with the exception of the small cards, delightful, and kudos to Days of Wonder for their continued efforts to enhance the visual appeal of our hobby.

Brian Leet: Jonathan Degann's article on "nervousness" in game systems was an excellent and new way to look at familiar issues in game designs. I appreciate the introduction of new terminology, and the detailed way in which its meanings and implications are discussed. Rather than resorting to the familiar debate between "chaos" and "luck", the notion of a "nervous" game system provides a very useful way to talk about design issues with a degree of precision. In the past I believe that I have described games which have a high degree of "nervousness" as being highly tactical, but I have never been convinced of the inverse. I would be interested in any follow-up comments (or articles!) on the relationship of "nervousness" to strategy and tactics in game systems.

Harlan Rosenthal: I happen to love the group GrooveLily and I've seen them numerous times. One of their songs is named "Day of Reckoning" and it's about the Game of Life. It's not on an album yet, but it is in a concert available to watch online from the Kennedy Center. The song is at about minute 57 into the 1 hour 7 minute Real Video presentation.

I encourage you to go listen to it (actually I encourage you to watch the whole thing!) and consider pointing other people to it, or contacting the band about putting an MP3 on their web site (they have lots of music available for download).

Will M. Baker:

I'll Get You, My Pretty...

Greg, with so many games out there featuring sub-standard production quality, how can we not notice when a game is top-notch? Though it is sometimes the case that a game comes with superfluous components, and that a simpler, less-expensive version could have been made, I don't think a game has ever suffered from over-production. Java, for instance, scored points with me just for its weight; when I first lifted it off the shelves, I thought, "This is going to be good." It is no fault of yours if you are lured in by great art, slick cards, and shiny pieces when a game is well made, we want not only to play the game, but to play with the game.

Special K's: An Update

Larry, your examination of these designers, both in the original articles and in this update, is so interesting, informative, and well written, my only complaint is that you haven't yet given the same treatment to some of the other great designers of our time. Thanks for the good reading.

Drafting in Games

Andres, I've enjoyed this in-depth look at a specific game mechanic.

Knizia's Money! uses a creative mixture of the categories you've broken down, where there are collections of items up for grabs, but the two collections on either side of the deck are visible before the players construct their own collections to offer up; furthermore, the collections on either side of the deck can be entirely player-generated (if a collection of 4+ cards was traded in) or some combination of a player's swap and cards randomly drawn from the deck. Moon's Oasis offers another intriguing example, where players control the quantity of tiles to add to their offering, but do not control the type of tile; and players can base their offerings on the draft order, and on the make-up of the offerings of the players before them. In the case of Oasis, there is no stagnation, as each collection will be picked each round. In Money!, the threat of a collection being undesirable is countered by the dual role of cards players want certain cards to keep in their portfolio, but also want other cards to use as offerings.

Gilad Yarnitzky: Like you I also like games with nifty great looking pieces, but (there is always a but) that raises the question do I prefer to invest in two games with nice bits or one expensive game with great bits (assuming all the games are good, interesting games)? It is very hard to answer this question and I guess it will heavily depend on the mood at the time of the purchase. Cheapass games took the idea to the extreme where they make very cheap games but you have to provide the bits. I own several of their games and must admit that I hardly play them. I think one of the reasons is the bits that I have to take care every time I want to play the game. Maybe there can be another way in the middle. Creating a game system with great bits that will be the core for a set of 5-10 games and will include most (around 75%) of each game's components (not including the map). Then you invest one time in the piece set and then every game will be cheaper (and hopefully will even take less shelf space which is always a problem). Not easy to design a set of games like this, but maybe someone out there will see it as a challenging new concept and will come with such a set.

GGA - The obvious response to this is to point you in the direction of the piecepack. This is an attempt to provide a standard set of components (much like a standard deck of cards) that may be used in boardgame design.

piecepack components

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