Devotees of such things will no doubt have noticed that Days of Wonder have announced the twin winners of their Ticket to Ride Map Design Contest. Fulsome congratulations are due to the winners, who will see their maps published later this year: Ian Vincent of the UK (go Ian!), and François Valentyne of Canada. Readers interested in the delicious details of the new geographies offered in the forthcoming Map Collections can find out more on the DoW website.
When I first heard about the contest I, like many, many others, immediately set about the task of designing my own map, but before doing so publicly speculated on what Days of Wonder, in creating the contest, might be looking for. Ian Vincent read that blog post (without realising who I was, although we had previously met) and has, graciously, been kind enough to credit me in the rules for his India map.
Not, I hasten to add, for inspiring any specific part of his design, but rather, I think, for helping to articulate the nature of the Ticket to Ride brand itself. It’s genuinely gratifying to know that my words were helpful, and a geek thrill of another kind to see my newly minted nickname — Brett “Spiel” Gilbert (thanks Ian!) — up in metaphorical lights. Commensurately small lights, of course, but lights nonetheless.
But what of my own design? News of the winners has reminded me of how much I enjoyed the challenge of designing a map, and I thought you, dear reader, might be interested to see what I came up with — Ticket to Ride: Around the World.
The year is 1925. A quarter-century after our five old friends met to commemorate Phileas Fogg’s famous journey, they meet again. Within the past decade, great transport projects such as the Panama Canal and the Trans-Siberian Railway have opened up the world to the adventurous traveller like never before, and now, with the Roaring Twenties in full swing, and inspired by their dynamic spirit and industrial fervour, our friends agree to take on their grandest challenge yet — to recreate Fogg’s impossible journey for themselves!
That was my pitch, and the principle conceit of the map was that some routes would wrap around the left and right edges of the map, creating an entirely new geography and the possibility of true ‘Around the World’ tickets. These ‘long route’ tickets feature two cities as usual, but require them to be connected by a single, continuous, circumnavigational series of track. Other than that specific addition, the game preserves all the familiar concepts of the existing games and added no new mechanics or scoring bonuses.
I do wonder, of course, whether anyone else who entered had the same idea. It’s impossible to know, although since when I mentioned the contest to my maze-designing sister, herself a keen TtR online player, she independently expressed exactly the same idea, I can’t help but think that other entrants had it too!
Anyway, I began by looking at the different world map projections, and quickly settled on the Robinson projection as being a good fit for the standard Ticket to Ride board size. After that I roughly scaled the projection, overlaid this with a scan of the original Ticket to Ride map (of the United States) and, working in my favourite graphics package, began to pick out a selection of world cities that might form the basis of a workable map.
I deliberately set out to create a map which would have (roughly) the same scale and density as the US map, partly because I was looking to create a map that would similarly fill the rectangular board space, but also for pragmatic reasons. I knew the US map ‘worked’, in terms of its balance of route lengths and colourations, and I didn’t want to set myself the additional challenge of reinventing that part of the system. To me, the geographical conceit of the map was the key idea.
Soon enough I began to add routes to the map, using the background US map as guide to how large the train car spaces needed to be. If you compare the first two versions of my map you will see that I quickly ‘zoomed in’ on the Robinson projection, cropping the Arctic, Antarctic and Pacific regions as much as possible to focus on the main continental landmasses. This maximised the usable portions of the map and allowed more room for longer routes to be fitted between cities.
The overall form of the map began to take shape quite speedily, although many details remained to be worked out. I had to pick junction cities for the wrap-around routes, and work out how dense or otherwise all the ferry routes demanded by the abundant oceans ought to be. Inevitably, of course, I started to take rather preposterous liberties — What’s that? A trans-Atlantic tunnel between Africa and South America? — but I was still playing around with ideas and figuring out where more routes would be needed for the map to be suitably connected to support 5 players.
Ah, now things are starting to come together! This was an early attempt at colouring the routes, but established some useful conventions: Note the rounded lozenges for ferry routes, where dots indicate necessary locomotives, the heavy outline on tunnel routes, and the six differently coloured routes that span the board edges. Things would continue to evolve, but I wanted to make sure that the Pacific routes would be clearly readable during the game to avoid any confusion, so decided upon a limited number, all differently coloured, which would be as disparately located as possible: top, bottom and middle.
Here we catch the map in the middle of being re-coloured (something that I did repeatedly, each time trying to balance the mix and density of routes). Note that the routes within Africa and Asia have been visually tided up — I didn’t like all those kinks! — and that there is a new Iceland-Africa ferry route, that there is (at last) a ferry from Dakar to South America, and that some of the place names have now changed.
By now I had begun to think more carefully about the time and place of this map (the very thing I counselled readers about in my original post) and realised that I needed to pick a specific year and cross-check world place names with that era. I eventually settled on 1925, and so Brasília was out (not founded until 1956!), and Jakarta, Ulan Bator and Chennai all needed to revert to their erstwhile monikers.
Playtesting continued to reveal more things that needed to be fixed, such as relieving the congestion around Panama, and also demonstrated that simply forming a circumnavigational route was actually rather hard work! Not that that I wanted the map to make things easy for the players, but I did moderate the challenge by contracting key routes such as Tokyo-Panama, and completely removing the need for a trans-Pacific stopover in Hanga Roa (goodbye Easter Island!). Meanwhile, South America, which I had never been happy with, changed again to more accurately reflected the local geography of the cities, and elsewhere some of the tunnel routes shifted, again to better match the placement of large mountain ranges.
Rules mavens should note that the necessarily large number of ferry routes mean that the game is played using the ‘three card’ joker rule from Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries (where, when completing a ferry route, three matching cards can be played in place of a locomotive).
Another complete re-colouration of the routes and — at the very last! — the sudden disappearance of Beijing and appearance of San Juan (plus another nudge to South America) brought the map into focus. Personally I really enjoy both the detail and the whole, and was pleased with how the varied geography created different challenges for the players at different points on the map.
My favourite part (if I were forced to choose) is the array of routes in and out of Panama, which features regular, ferry and tunnel routes, and all 9 route colours (if you count grey as a colour, that is). That one city offers everything in the game in one place!