Jan 10, 2012

NYC BGD Meeting - January 2012, Part 1

Saturday was the monthly meeting of the NYC Board Game Designers group. I playtested three games for other designers and watched the "beginner" version of Titans of Industry with four players.

The three games I tested were a storytelling-themed game, Gil Hova's Sword Merchants (née Pax Robotica), and Mark Salzwedel's Monorails of Mars.

The first game, about storytelling and lying, seemed to be relatively early in development. Very quickly I found holes in the incentive system that strongly discouraged both lying and calling someone out on a lie. These two activities were really the only fun thing about a game. The rest was just an obvious playing of a small number of randomly-drawn cards.

Design Tip*: incentivize the fun parts of your game.

Following that, I moderated the Titans of Industry playtest. There are some interesting issues to discuss in designing beginner's versions of an advanced game. I will give them the treatment the deserve in my next post.

Next, I played Gil's game. At this point, it's an action-selection/economic-engine game with too few actions and an economic curve that feels choked off. The highlight (for me, probably not for Gil) was when I forced him to change the rules mid-game by creating a way to abuse the special cards and get six consecutive actions in a game where it is incredibly important that you only get to do one thing at a time.

Last up was Mark's train game. Unfortunately, I don't think I was very useful in this test. I played the game fine. I even won. But I don't feel like my feedback helped much. The only thing I spotted was that his version of the steam-engine-level mechanic was much too expensive to justify purchasing the fourth (and final) level. The issue with me is that I'm just not able to engage well with train games, including the Railroad Tycoon-type games, to which this seemed to belong. It is odd, because my preferred game profile (heavy/economic/stock) would suggest train games are right up my alley. Somehow, they never clicked with me.

After the test, a handful of us went out to get some dinner and talk shop. I enjoy socializing with other designers. I feel camaraderie with the others yet unpublished and am reminded success is possible with the ones who have a box with their name on it.

*Design Tips are furnished with the caveat of eight years of design failure and zero published games.

My green rails won the day.


  1. Well, I don't think "train games" is really a genre so much as it is a theme. As such, a train game could be basically anything, though it seems that many of the games that actually exist seem to fall into a few specific categories. (Is Airlines Europe a train game? The trains exist only in the minds of people who have already played Union Pacific!) Most of the train games I'm aware of are of three types:

    1) Pure connection games which are really only about building a route from one part of the map to another (TTR, TransAmerica). These tend to be light, perhaps because they focus on only one mechanism.

    2) Transportation games, which can range from true pick-up-and-deliver games such as the Empire Builder series (these are long but lightish) to the Age of Steam family (which are certainly heavier) to quite a few others including the totally ridiculous Dampfross (warning: Dampfross is not a good game). These involve using the trains to move things around the map, which I guess is kind of why trains exist. They may involve issuing shares as the owner of a company, but I wouldn't consider them stock games in any meaningful way because you're not investing in things.

    3) Stock games. I have no idea why stock and trains seem to go together so often. I think I can blame some combination of 18XX and Winsome Games. Anyway, these range from the lightweights (Paris Connection, which by the way is a nice quick game that I suspect you'd like) through the lighter middleweights (Union Pacific) to the heavier middleweights (Chicago Express) and all the way out to the very, very heavy games like the 18XX series. These often involve building trains across the map, but making smart investments is more important than making good builds. I've heard that 18XX often involves buying into a company and running it into the ground, but I'm not sure exactly how that works. Anyway, these are a very different beast from the connection games, even though they do involve buildings and there may be some places of the map that are more desirable to build to than others.

    Anyway, I'm pretty comfortable with you avoiding train games, since I've been a little worried that you are the kind of person who eventually gravitates to 18XX games and never plays euros again. That would be unfortunate. :P

  2. I suppose that I was talking about your category #2, Transportation games. I actually highly enjoy examples of category 1 (Power Grid) and category 3 (Imperial 2030). In fact, I'm a big fan of Chicago Express, which is a train-themed game in category 3.

    I guess my dislike of the "Bring the orange cube to the orange city" mechanic is my particular issue with these.

  3. Well, I don't think I'd consider Power Grid a pure connection game, because the connection aspect isn't the only or even the primary mechanic it uses. A person who wanted to classify it as a train game would have to either put it in a new category or consider it atypical, but I'm not sure that this is even a good idea. It would be more accurate to say something like, "Power Grid reminds many people of train games because it has a connection mechanic, which is common to many train games."

    Imperial is not a train game at all, or at least, this is the first time I've heard anyone argue that it is! But, yes, many stock games that are considered "train games" have more in common with other stock games than with other games that have a train theme.

    You might think category #2 is the "trainiest," but there's no particular reason it needs to use trains. Other vehicles could easily be substituted and sometimes are. Crayon rails are more closely related to Merchant of Venus than they are to Ticket to Ride, for instance.

    I guess what I am saying is that I don't really like "train games" as a category, because, as I say, it's just a theme that is applied to very different types of games, and to look at them mechanically is much more descriptive.

    In any case, this is my attempt to explain the puzzlement you expressed above.