Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Home Grown Variants - a Hobby in Itself.

In case you haven't heard of it, Boardgame News is another great site for information on the latest and greatest boardgames coming out in the near future. They also have a group of regular (and occasional) Bloggers there that comment on various aspects of the Boardgaming Hobby on a weekly basis.

One of their regular Bloggers, Kris Hall, sent me an email regarding a small expansion I made for one of my favorite games, Railroad Tycoon. He ended up doing a brief interview with me about it and it was posted on the site as part of an article he wrote about "Tinkering". Arkham Horror and War of the Ring were the other two games mentioned in the FULL ARTICLE that you should really check out as it was a very interestesting read.

With Kris's permission, I've reposted the portion that pertained to me below:



Kris: Just last week, I came across a set of Railroad Tycoon random event cards on BoardGameGeek that were invented by Scott Di Bartolo. These cards also try to create interest in the western area of the board by adding cubes there. They may also act as a subtle game-balancing mechanism. Because a card is turned up whenever the high-scoring player scores a multiple of ten, every player will probably have a chance to take advantage of an event card before the high-scoring player’s next turn. I haven’t played a game with these cards yet, but they seem promising.

I wrote to Scott to ask him about his variant. He was kind enough to respond.

Kris: What inspired you to create the RRT event cards?

Scott: My gaming group really took a liking to RRT and we played it pretty heavily for months from the day it came out. One thing that always bugged me was that there were large areas of the board that never were utilized for various reasons. Of course being on BGG all the time kept me informed about all the various ways people were trying to “fix” this issue, but one of the things I didn’t like about most of the methods were that they were then known factors and you could plan around them. What I mean by that is if you make a rule that makes Dallas a permanent Red city and you play that way all the time, the game is really changed at that point and the dynamics of people’s overall game strategy are very different. I typically don’t like to make house rules that fundamentally change the way a game is played.

There were a lot of various things that people had done at BGG to increase competition in the “dead” areas of the board and I wanted to incorporate them somehow without making them so people could plan on them occurring. This brought about the idea of an “Event” deck where every so often a card would be turned over that would have some small effect on the game. I took some of the ideas that others had posted and put them on a card instead—the Mexican and Canadian links are examples of that. The other card effects were ideas of mine that I thought would add some nice twists to the game. Having 1/3 of the deck have no effect on the game meant that the Event Deck would not drive the game as on average every third draw would not change anything. This reminds me, I really need to add some credits in the ReadMe file for those that came up with the rules that inspired certain cards in the Event deck.

Kris: Most of the cards place more cubes on the board. I could think of lots of other potential event cards, like discounts on purchasing track or train upgrades or building the western link. Do you think you’ll make a 2.0 version of the cards?

Scott: The various card effects were meant to mostly increase player interaction in the southwest and far northern areas on the board which are usually ignored in most games. In our games, Dallas has never been linked to, New Orleans very rarely and Duluth only if the Service Bounty came up. The Major Line card from New Orleans to Minneapolis never was awarded in any of our games—not once. Part of the problem is that the game can end too early as cube depletion occurs and people don’t have any incentive to build out into those areas before the game is going to end. I made a bunch of the cards simply add cubes to a group of cities in various areas—one of the two “Growth of the South” cards, for example, adds a random cube into Tulsa, Little Rock, Jackson and Shreveport. With that card, these 4 uncolored cities now look very enticing with 2 cubes on each of them instead of just 1. The other Growth cards also add cubes to the South(east), the North and the Midwest. Two new hotel cards also made these neglected areas more interesting and the unique thing is that the first person to BUILD to the city gets the card, not the one who draws the card. Adding more cubes is a simple way to extend the length of the game.

I also tried to add some cards that would help those NOT wanting to head into the south with things like “Bustling Economy” which adds 2 cubes to the red cities of Chicago, New York and Charleston. Then there are other cards that are beneficial to everyone like the “Empire Builder” card that gives everyone a 4th round to use in a turn or the “Stock Split” card that cuts Stock Certificate interest payments in half for the turn. That can be a real boon to a player struggling to get out from under his debt.

Dallas was a real issue, too, as there were many ideas being kicked around on BGG to try and make it a more viable option for people. I took the best of those and made three Dallas cards: “Dallas Metropolizes” (Turns Dallas into a Red City), “Dallas Urbanizes” (Dallas becomes a Purple City), and the “Mexican Link” (Free Urbanization and adds cubes to Dallas for each delivery made to Dallas). Then the problem was what happened if more than 1 Dallas card came up during a game? After much debate, the simplest solution was to treat any Dallas event cards after the first one as a “No Effect” card.

I had a long list of potential card uses and this first batch were the ones that I really wanted to see how they affected the game. I definitely have a bunch of other card ideas I have been kicking around.

Some of the better ones are:

Labor Dispute: Track Construction costs are increased by $1000 per hex this turn.

Boomtime: Track Construction costs are decreased by $1000 per hex this turn.

Westward Ho!: The cost for the Western Link decreases by $2,000 per turn from this point on. The Western Link may never cost less than $20,000.

Major Line: Dallas to Charleston: 10 Victory points.

The Depression: Remove two empty city markers from the amount needed to end the game. If this would trigger the end game, ignore this event.

Change of Management: The player who revealed this card may return his Railroad Tycoon Card to the deck and randomly draw a new one.

I have a few other ideas that still need a bit of tweaking, but there are about six others at this time. One nice thing about the deck is that you can print up more “No Effect” cards to change the ratio of how often an event takes place. Those that want a bunch of new stuff can simply remove the “No Effect” cards and you are guaranteed a new Event whenever someone gets to a multiple of 10 on the scoring track. Another interesting and very strategic option is to turn over an Event card at the beginning of each turn and the player that wins the bid can execute the card or simply discard it at his option (in addition to his regular turn). I’ve found that removing all the “No Effect” cards is a good way to use this option.

Kris: Have you made variants for any other games?

Scott: Yes. It’s a weird hobby of mine. I’ve made a few other variants for the games I enjoy playing. I made a Treasure Scoring Variant for Tikal where the type of treasure depicted on the discs determine the value of the treasure. This means that the “beaded necklace” is worth much less than the “Tikal Mask”. I believe I posted this variant in the Tikal BGG entry. The majority of what I’ve made is for my favorite game of all time—Man O War! I have created over 20 additional ships to supplement the various fleets—meaning rules, templates and the miniature to go with it, for each of those ships. I’ve also made lots of new rules for the game.

I’m also working on my own game from time to time. It’s based on a day at an Amusement Park and has elements of a lot of games that I enjoy in it. It introduces a new game mechanism that I have yet to see in any other game so I’m kind of proud of that. Unfortunately, I’m going to keep the details a secret for now, as people I have shown the game to think that it is probably a wise thing to do. I expect to have a prototype completed soon and then I’ll be playtesting it at the local conventions to see what needs to be changed or improved.

Thanks to Scott for answering my questions.


I really enjoy all the Blogs at Boardgame News and the site has a lot of other neat features (Gone Cardboard is one of my favorites!). Be sure to head on over there and check out all the Blogs and other news that pertains to this awesome hobby of ours!

Until next time...