Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Reading Railroad - Endgame scoring

There have been a number of different schema discussed or suggested for endgame scoring in Reading Railroad. The "current" scheme, and the only one used in any of the 3 playtests so far, has been "Free-building" - free form word building with your collected Letter tiles, where you are limited by the size of your largest network as to how many tiles you can use. Scoring is based on the lengths of the word or words made, squared.

This was the original rule in Scott's first draft of the rules, and it was nice because it didn't require any components like scoring cards, nor any work to figure out whether the goal words should be private or public, and how you actually go about getting them. However, it defeats the basic design goal of the game, which is that the game is not a word game, it's a connection/set collection game with word building as a main mechanic.

The heart of the game is supposed to be collecting the correct set of City tiles in order to satisfy the Goal cards. Reading Railroad could be expressed another way, and it would look more like a euro cube pusher: the City tiles could be colored cubes, and the Goal cards could indicate an assortment of cubes in demand The game is about collecting the appropriate cubes to fulfill the demand cards by connecting cities on the board. It just so happens that the mechanic for connecting cities is spelling words out of scrabble-style letter tiles. This is exactly the game I'm trying to make out of Reading Railroad - a cube pusher with word building as a mechanic. I thought it would be more fun to go with the theme of word building and make the cubes into letters (i.e. there are 26 colors of cubes). The Demand cards are specific groups of these cubes (letters) which happen to spell a word. I feel this emphasizes the uniqueness of word building in a non-word game.

What Reading Railroad is not is a word game at heart. That's the whole point.

So it's always been my plan to replace the Free-building endgame with some kind of targeted word scoring. Some kind of card or list which tells you which set of letters to collect, so you can reasonably plan which cities you want to connect. I'm as yet unsure how I want to accomplish that. here are some of the ideas that have been floating around thus far...

* Each player gets a secret goal card with some 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and maybe 8 letter words on it. These are the words they're trying to spell with their City tiles. Maybe one of these cards is face up for everyone to use as well.

* There could exist cards which have 3/4/5/6 letter words which build on each other (add a letter and anagram to get from 1 word to the next) which are either available to purchase and would be secret, like Tickets from Ticket to Ride, or which are in a face up pool for players to claim at some point during the game. there would be N-1 pools to ensure competition, and there would be an innate risk/reward in whether you claim the card with a 3 letter word, or hold out for that 4th or 5th letter (because it would score better that way) and risk someone else taking it from you.

* There could be stacks of cards for 3/4/5/6/7 letters, the top of each face up for players to claim during the game. the deck of 3-letter words would be the largest, and the deck of 7 letter words would be tiny. This could result in a viable small-word strategy vs a long-word strategy. In general small words will pay off worse than long words, but they're much easier to accomplish.

* There could be a set of words (a thematic phrase) printed on the board which constitutes sets of letters to collect. The scores for these could be printed on the board as well, right under the word. This could be by itself, or in addition to some hidden goal scoring.

* There could be a deck of cards with 8-letter words on them, and each player could be dealt 4 or 5 of those, from which they choose 2 to keep. In order to qualify to win the game, the player must be able to spell both of their 8-letter words using their city tiles. Players that qualify then use the Free-building endgame scoring.

Today while considering which endgame scoring system to use, I thought of this hybrid:
* Pool of N-1 cards - each card with 3/4/5/6 letter words that build on each other.
* When you would take a city tile you could instead take a card, as long as you can spell one of the words on it.
* At the end of the game City tiles are used, once each, and no more of them than the number of cities in your largest network, to spell the words on the cards you've taken.

I am going to continue to ponder this, but I need to make a decision soon. I need to send the game to the KublaContest in about 2 weeks! If worst comes to worst I could submit Reading Railroad with the free-building endgame, but I'd rather not... it's a whole different game!

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