If you’ve been paying attention in the past week, you’ll probably have noticed that Days of Wonder have announced the Ticket to Ride Map Design Contest. The winner of the Grand Prize will see their map published in the forthcoming Ticket to Ride Map Collection (which is pretty neat, let’s face it) and pocket a not-insubstantial $10,000. Days of Wonder may also possibly award an unknown number of secondary prizes for worthy-enough maps, and these too may in time get officially endorsed or published. That’s the good news!
The bad news is that designing a Ticket to Ride map is hard work. OK, so that’s not exactly bad news, but the small print of the application rules makes it clear that DoW are only interested in fully-formed and playtested designs, not cool-sounding but hand-wavingly vague design concepts. So my first piece of advice is this: If you are creating a new map, be prepared for the long-haul.
The company also seem likely to only be interested in genuinely original and creative maps. This is, of course, exactly as it should be, but the format of the application process means that DoW will primarily be judging each entry on the strength of its concept, not necessarily that of its execution. A successful execution — a playable map and a working set of tickets — is certainly a requirement, since the successful designer must be able to supply these if asked, but when DoW leaf through the doubtless large number of entries, yours will need to stand out through the strength of its concept alone.
What this means is that this isn’t a ‘graphic design’ contest, nor one about simply making a ‘pretty map’. It isn't really a ‘game design’ contest either, since the rules of Ticket to Ride are a given, and DoW are at pains to encourage entrants not to introduce rule changes that are a prerequisite adjunct to their map. (Second piece of advice: Do not overcomplicate!). This is, I think, a ‘world building’ contest in which every designer, though constrained by a ‘lower order’ can exercise their ‘higher power’ to construct the complete geography of a new game world.
My third piece of advice is simply to highlight how important it is that any new map respects these ‘lower order’ constraints: the need to follow the Ticket to Ride rules, and the need for the map’s scale, configuration and destination tickets to be appropriate for the number of players, correctly engender the familiar hand-management tensions, and create the familiar interplay of achievement and risk. The Ticket to Ride franchise has been successful precisely because of these constraints, not in spite of them, and it is my belief is that a new map that the ignores them is doomed.
There is another form of constraint too; the contest rules state: “Your submission will be judged by Days of Wonder for originality, appropriateness for the brand, playability, and other subjective criteria.” This suggests that the second-most important criteria — listed behind originality but ahead of playability — is ‘appropriateness for the brand’. My reading of this, which leads on to my next piece of advice, is to suggest that the Ticket to Ride brand is rather more than a dry reading of the concept that says that it’s a ‘route-building game’, it’s a ‘family strategy game’ or even that it’s just a ‘train game’; for me the brand is primarily about the game’s sense of history and location, of time and place.
The two flagship games, which feature North American and European maps, are both explicitly stated to take place at the very beginning of the 20th Century. The rules for Ticket to Ride Europe even include a footnote that states: “We strove to accurately represent the political boundaries of Europe in 1901 and preserve the cities’ common name in their local language at the time.” The game maker’s attention to this sort of detail is anything but accidental. Part of the brand — even if it goes largely unnoticed by some players — is a degree of historical accuracy. (The extent to which the existing maps are or could be geographically accurate is another matter!) My fourth piece of advice, then, is to do your research!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!’
So to my fellow designers I would simply end by saying that it seems to me that we will all need to rustle up rather more than just the workmanlike enthusiasm required to design and playtest a map; we need, above all else, a really good idea.
Good luck — and be brave!