I've always thought The Pony Express would make a good game theme, but what kind of game? Presumably pickup/deliver or maybe some kind of network building game.
Premise: Players represent young riders for the Pony Express, braving dangerous terrain to deliver letters and packages to make money in the old west. Maybe there's another aspect of route building as well?
Mechanic: Count-up auction, like Merchant of Amsterdam's count down auction (like a Dutch auction?)
There should be a map with towns and routes between them, each route having certain hazards. Maybe you'll make the delivery no matter what, but the hazards makes it take longer, which will cost you in points somehow, or make you miss out on other benefits.
I imagine all players start in the same location, and there's an auction phase where some number of parcels are auctioned off. Players 'bid' to take the deliveries in a count-up auction. As soon as you have 1 delivery, other deliveries become worth more or less to you, since you will have to work them into a path.
Turn up some number of parcel cards (like twice the number of players) - these are the items that need to be delivered. Players take turns as the Auctioneer. The Auctioneer chooses an item and the other players will bid as follows: The Auctioneer starts counting up at $1, and on to $2, $3, etc until a player speaks up and takes on the delivery. In case of a tie, use turn order to decide. I suppose this means P3 could say "I'll do it for $5" and then P2 could say "eh, in that case, I'LL do it for $5" and take the delivery. Maybe the player who takes the delivery becomes the Auctioneer and selects the next item. If nobody claims the delivery once the Auctioneer gets to the max value (like $10 or something), then the Auctioneer is stuck with it, at that value ($10 in this example).
The dollar amount bid is awarded to the auction winner in addition to the parcel. out of this money the player will need to pay costs associated with delivering that parcel.
Once all of the items are claimed, players will have to brave the wild trails of the old west to make their deliveries. This involves choosing a path through the board which visits each of the destinations required by the deliveries (and back to the post office). Each path would have a hazard tile on it (placed face up at the beginning of the game - maybe more are placed over time). There would be a cost associated with the path, and an additional cost associated with the hazard, which the player would have to pay - therefore they want to claim deliveries at dollar amounts which will make them a profit.
Each town could also have a tile placed at the beginning of the game, which indicates an item players can buy (or get for free) at that location. The items would help pay the costs of the various hazards. For example, you could get a Pistol, which would fend off Bandits (who would otherwise rob you of some money). Or you could get an Indian Companion which could help you get past Bears rather than having to pay to get around them (hiring a tracker each time). [is that racist?] Or you could get a Guide, which reduces the cost of some trails (or maybe you discard the guide in lieu of paying for the trail altogether, so you'd use it on an expensive trail).
So you'd visit these towns en route to make your deliveries and pick up the helpful tiles. Maybe there's one of each tile, and the first player to get to a town gets it? Or maybe any player visiting that town gets that item? You can probably only have 1 of each item, or maybe some you can stack them up... I'm not exactly sure at this point what would be best.
So thinking about all that, I guess I'll sketch out an outline of the game:
* Set up round:
- place tiles on towns and trails
- reveal parcels
* Auction parcels (what happens if a player gets none? They should still be able to visit towns to get items)
* Delivery turns (or simultaneously figure out your path and just do it? Is competition good? What turn order do you use? Maybe tie turn order into parcels...)
End of round
Play some number of rounds (until parcels are delivered/deck of parcels runs out?)
You'd be required to deliver all parcels, so taking one for too little money will cost you. If you don't have enough $ to deliver something, then I guess you're losing anyway. Maybe you have to go last in turn order next round as a penalty... In fact, maybe turn order is set by returning from the previous round's deliveries. There could be items that mess with turn order, such as something that lets you take 1 delivery turn before the regular delivery round begins (superseding turn order).
The player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner. Use turn order as the tiebreak.
And for future reference, some thoughts on items and hazards:
- Snake (Torch? Medicine?)
- Bear (Shotgun?)
- Bandit (Pistol)
- Lost (windy trail?) (Map)
- Torch (scares off snake?)
- Medicine (for snake bite?)
- Shotgun (Bear) (why wouldn't this work vs Bandits too though? Maybe it does, but it costs more?)
- Pistol (Bandit)
- Map (Lost/windy trail)
- Guide (spend in lieu of travel cost for 1 trail) ... 1-shot
- Guide ($1 discount on all trails) (or is that a map?)
- Bonus money (tip?) (set amount? Variable based on stuff? Like +$1/delivery, or just +$5, or +$1/item you have).. this would be a 1-shot