Skip to Content

Traveling mechanics

16 replies [Last post]
Rick-Holzgrafe
Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/22/2008

I had a small revelation recently, and I'm trying to figure out whether it's significant or trivial. It is this: that nearly all of my game designs don't work, and most of them involve traveling, and the ones that work the best don't involve traveling. And now I'm wondering whether traveling is a difficult mechanic, or even usable at all, as a major mechanic of a game.

Now I need to define what I mean by traveling. I mean a game in which each player is represented by a single token (or sometimes a small number of tokens) on a board that represents a map of some area, and the players must move their tokens to different parts of the map in order to progress and win, and the movement must be along paths: to get from point A to point Z, you must travel through all the points between and cannot simply jump to arbitrary locations.

"Clue" is an example of a game with traveling as a major mechanic. Each player has a single pawn, which must walk around the floor plan of a house to collect clues. Note that the paths don't have to be drawn on the board; in Clue, the "corridors" between rooms are a checkerboard where you can wander at will.

There are some kinds of moving-piece games that I would like to exclude from the definition. I'm not interested in racing games, where the players all follow the same track and are simply trying to finish first. I'm not interested in roll-and-move games like Monopoly, where the players have little or no choice of where to move. And I'm not interested in wargames, where players have many pieces and are trying to expand borders, capture territory, or destroy the enemy pieces. I'm talking about games where players can choose to go here to do this, then decide to go there to do that, and where the traveling is one of the most important parts of the game.

A review of the BGG top 50 games shows not one game that uses traveling as the central mechanic, and only a few that use it at all. War of the Ring has a significant mechanic in which the Fellowship must travel from Rivendell to Mordor, but it is mostly a wargame. Farther down the list, #48 is RoboRally - Armed and Dangerous, which is a race game but one which lets you choose your path creatively, and in which those choices are significant. In the top 100, Maharaja has a traveling mechanic for the "architect" pieces, but players also have several available actions each turn that don't involve the location of their architects. All of these are excellent games, but none fits my definition of a non-racing, non-wargame with traveling as the central mechanic.

I can name a few games that do use traveling as a major mechanic. I mentioned Clue; but serious adult gamers usually don't regard Clue as a good game. Kill Doctor Lucky uses traveling; but it's only #1656 at BGG, and is another game that serious gamers generally don't take seriously. The highest-ranked game I've been able to think of that really fits the definition is Fury of Dracula at #175, and frankly (in my opinion!) that game has some serious flaws.

I wonder whether having traveling as a central mechanic limits players' choices too much. Players can choose where to go, but then must jump through whatever hoops are required to get there: roll the dice, don't step on the trap door, or whatever, but there are no significant decisions involved except the choice of destination. Once they've arrived, players do whatever they came to do; again no further decisions. Then just pick another destination and repeat. Put like that, it sounds very dull! But nearly anything sounds dull if you leave out the interesting details.

What do you think? What published games (good ones, in your opinion) have traveling as a major mechanic? What designs of your own include traveling, and what do you think of the result? Have you ever removed traveling from a design, or abandoned such a design, because you couldn't make it work? Have you ever designed a traveling game that was a brilliant success, and if so, what did you do to make it interesting?

Gimmy
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Traveling mechanics

My opinion... (changed my mind twice :)
Traveling is movment, and it's a system rather than a mechanic. each game has it's own movment system according to the theme of the game and design that's mostly, but it depend on the genre of the game and it's mechanics. there are some cases where game mechanics connected to the movment system, a common example is how weight or health effects movment. and there are some cases that movment is important part of the game (like a game of sailing).
In "Clue" all the players playing suspects in the crime-scene, trying to find who did the murder - in other words players wander around the mansion. the theme and the design dictates the movment system.

That's my opinion... (this thread raise a question in my mind, what is the definition for game mechanic, since I consider traveling\movment as a system)

Scurra
Scurra's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/11/2008
Traveling mechanics

I agree with you totally - implementing a "travelling" mechanic is incredibly difficult, and has killed more than one of my games.
The only one I've got close to working was when I changed the number of pieces for each player from one to three. In most earlier tests, people got frustrated by their inability to do much with one piece, since I'd had to limit their movement to avoid abusive turns when they did too much at once. So the game had been put in my "nice but not quite" file.
Then it struck me that there was no reason to restrict the player to one piece, and that has made the game interesting again. It's still got lots of other problems, but at least the movement has become more significant. (Basically, each player gets three pieces but can only move two of them in a turn, one of which must be the one they didn't move the previous turn.)

I wonder if the issue is that you're simply creating a logistics problem - how do I get my resource from here to there - rather than a strategic or tactical problem?

sedjtroll
sedjtroll's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Re: Traveling mechanics

Without reading any replies, I'll repy myself...

Rick-Holzgrafe wrote:
What do you think? What published games (good ones, in your opinion) have traveling as a major mechanic?
The ifrst thing that comes tom mind is Hansa. Hansa is a great pickup/deliver game in which you must navigate 1-way routes to get from place to place, and you are only allowed 1 action per stop, which forces you to keep moving.

I'm tempted to believe that most pickup/deliver games will feature some form of travelling prominantly, as otherwise there's nothing special about the picking up and the delivering. that said, Elfenland comes to mind as a game that meets your criteria.

Quote:
What designs of your own include traveling, and what do you think of the result?

Of the three games I have that are playable (and the next one in line I suppose), all but one involve travelling as a major mechanic. 8/7 Central, a card game about TV networks, of course does not have any travelling in it. But All For One (with Scurra), Terra Prime, and Hot and Fresh are all pickup/deliver games with various travel mechanics I'm rather fond of.

All For One: Players must move around the board to get the items they want to deliver, and of course to get to the destinations. Since the meat of the game is making those deliveries, the moving part has to be somewhat interesting. In this case it's almost like a puzzle, with the tokens potentially moving around the board, and with characters and guards acting as roadblocks, and Horse tokens offering a bonus to movement, you have to figure out how you will move the pieces around the board. Also in that game you don't move just one piece, but any of them, so you have to not only decide which way to move the character, but first which character to move this turn. I'm sure Scurra made mention of All For One in his reply.

Terra Prime is not only a pickup/deliver game, but also has exploration in it. The travelling in that game has the effect of imposing limits on how much you can do. Players have a limited number of action points, and you can use them all up moving across the board, or you can move slower and do things along the way.

Hot and Fresh hasn't gotten much press yet, as I'm not in a position to play it - though I don't see why not, the prototype is half done... That game is about delivering pizza (and breaking traffic laws), so of course there again needs to be an interesting way to get from here to there. In this caseit's the traffic laws, combined with time pressure, which I hope will offer good tension to players who need to deliver their pizza before it gets cold, but don't want to get busted!

I'm pretty happy with the travelling mechanics in A41 and TP. I really like the idea behind HF as well, though I haven't actually tried it. I guess the travelling mechanic you're referring to could probably be better described as Routeplanning. I think it matters whether the routeplanning is the main portion of the game, or if the getting from place to place is trivial and the actions you take when you get there are what the game is all about.

Quote:
Have you ever designed a traveling game that was a brilliant success, and if so, what did you do to make it interesting?
See comment above re: All for One and Terra Prime ;)

Rick-Holzgrafe
Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/22/2008
Traveling mechanics

I should have remembered All for One, a game I've played and enjoyed. It's another game that is only sort-of-kind-of what I'm talking about. One difference is that all of the character figures on the board can be moved by any player, so although a player may at the moment want to move one figure to a particular destination, there are always other options.

Terra Prime is a game I haven't played. It looks like fun, and I'd like to try it to see how it feels. As Seth notes, the traveling mechanic (or system :) is a major part of the game, but there is much more going on: exploration, ship upgrades, freight shipments, market management.

Hot and Fresh is exactly what I've been talking about, but I'll wait for Seth to actually build it and play it before I offer any opinions. ;)

I haven't played Hansa, but I watched it once. If I recall, the only moving token is a ship that is moved in turn by each player, which is not quite the same as each player moving his own token. (The ship does carry some kind of freight that belongs to the players, I think, but the freight only moves when the ship carries it.) Contention over the ship's route is an important part of the game.

In my original post I mentioned Fury of Dracula, a "pretty good" traveling game that I think has flaws. I should mention that Fantasy Flight is bringing out a new version that is intended to be an improvement on the original. Early reports about it are promising, but I haven't seen it myself. I am still thinking about whether the flaws in the original are closely tied to the movement mechanic, or incidental. The new version may help answer that question.

These are all good examples of ways in which a traveling mechanic can be used in a good game. Most of them take liberties with the very restricted definition of traveling that I started with, so maybe that's a clue: traveling works better if it isn't as simple and restricted as each-player-moves-his-own-token.

Or maybe the lesson to learn is that creative twists on standard mechanics make for better games!

sedjtroll
sedjtroll's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Traveling mechanics

Rick-Holzgrafe wrote:
Hot and Fresh is exactly what I've been talking about, but I'll wait for Seth to actually build it and play it before I offer any opinions. ;)
No sense in waiting, you never know when I'll actually get around to it!

Quote:
I haven't played Hansa, but I watched it once. If I recall, the only moving token is a ship that is moved in turn by each player, which is not quite the same as each player moving his own token.

Well, your definition is pretty well narrowed down then!

Quote:
These are all good examples of ways in which a traveling mechanic can be used in a good game. Most of them take liberties with the very restricted definition of traveling that I started with, so maybe that's a clue: traveling works better if it isn't as simple and restricted as each-player-moves-his-own-token.

I think this is a good start. Also, I don't think it's worthwhile to think about a ravelling mechanic on it's own, rather to think about it as a means to an end... what in your game do you want to accomplish as a whole, and how can you modify the movement rules to acheive that?

Quote:
Or maybe the lesson to learn is that creative twists on standard mechanics make for better games!
Again, it depends what you do with it. Often times creative uses of a mechanic make for better games than non-creative uses ;)

jwarrend
Offline
Joined: 08/03/2008
Traveling mechanics

Any game in which a player is represented by a single moving piece would meet your description, correct? Your observation that none of the top 50 games have this is certainly interesting, but there are certainly good games that use this.

As you probably know, Fury of Dracula was, I believe, based on Scotland Yard, which was an SdJ winner and is a very good game. I believe that Elfenland also has players having one moving piece. Another excellent game is Goldland, which is an exploration game. Goldland works well because you need to balance exploring with acquiring supplies with making a run for the temple. And what's coolest is the variable movement mechanic: the more stuff you're holding in your backpack, the fewer spaces you can move. (But obviously, you need to carry some supplies and treasure to do well in the game). Highly recommended (it's only available as an import, though).

In my own designs, my GDW game Disciples uses a single piece per player approach. The map is relatively small, though; only six destinations, and there are quite a few connections, so there are relatively few spaces you can't reach in the 2 hops that you're allowed as your maximum movement. The kicker in that game is that you only have 4 actions available, so you need to balance your movement with drawing cards and performing "deeds", so you do feel the spatial constraints of the game.

These two founder an important principle; that traveling can be made interesting not just by obstacles you must face or distances you must travel, but also by external limitations that connect movement to the other cost structures of your game (in these cases, in the "turn actions" economy)

In a new Indiana Jones game that SiskNY and I are working on, we have what I think is a very promising traveling mechanic. The idea there is that there are cards you'll want to track down to get clues that will lead you to a lost temple. When each card is drawn, a "location tile" is drawn with it, indicating where you must travel to to check the card for a clue. But there are also ways of gaining information in advance to help you decide which cards are the ones you're most interested in. And additionally, movement costs "Adventure cards", with the longer you travel costing you more cards. But of course, there are other uses for those cards so you need to balance your need to move with your need to hold cards.

In an earlier conception of the game, I had an idea for travel routes that enabled rapid transport if you had the right "conveyance" cards (eg, airplane, boat, etc). It was too much complexity for the game at this time, though. I think it may be somewhat like Elfenland.

So, I think there's plenty of room for good and interesting games in which a player is only represented by a single piece. I think it's completely realistic to have interesting decisions that players must face in choosing where to move; this can be done by controlling what they will see/receive when they arrive, or by controlling the cost structure thereby making movement a cost that must be considered, or by some other means. It's doable!

-Jeff

Kreitler
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Traveling mechanics

Rick-Holzgrafe wrote:
Hot and Fresh is exactly what I've been talking about, but I'll wait for Seth to actually build it and play it before I offer any opinions. ;)

Well...if you're willing to try out others' designs, I can shoot you a PDF copy of Big Rig. We exchanged a couple of PMs because your bicycle courier "pick up and deliver" game reminded me of my Big Rig design in some respects.

Big Rig is strictly pick up and deliver, each player moves only one piece, and there are no upgrades to be had for your trucks (tried that once, didn't really work out). So I think it meets your criteria for a travel-based game. Is it fun? Well...those with whom I've tested it seemed to like it, but that's a limited pool...

I will say this, it took several iterations to find a good balance between holding movement cards versus holding "attack" and defense cards. Even now, some of the rules are less elegant than I'd like (particularly the ones that prevent players from getting stuck between destinations). I don't know if I'd say this traveling game was any harder to create than my non-traveling designs, but it certainly wasn't any easier.

Mark

Gogolski
Gogolski's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/28/2008
Traveling mechanics

'Meteor Cargo Race' (or 'Kessel Run' for Sedjtroll...) is currently being playtested and I'm quite happy with how it works. (Journal-entry)

It is a race-game in which players complete 6 races, but it has more going on. You can upgrade your ship, which is done with money you earned by shipping cargo during the races.

Maybe you could vaguely compare it somewhat to a combination of starship catan (the two player cardgame) and robo-rally?

The traveling-mechanic for this game seems to work well enough to keep the game flowing and create interaction between players. As mentioned earlier, it's mostly the mechanics that influence (or are influenced) by traveling that make said traveling interesting.

Here are the components (or related mechanics) for traveling in 'Meteor Cargo Race':
1] Each player has a number of actions (which can vary if you upgrade you ship). Moving one space is one action (= lift off, fly or landing) buying cargo or selling cargo are also actions, as well as buying upgrades or installing upgrades.
2] Flying consumes fuel. During every race, you probably have to land on a planet to refuel one or two times.
3] The centre of the board is harder to fly through, so it consumes an awful lot of fuel (unless you have the right upgrades to be more manouvrable)
4] Upgrade places on your ship are limited, so you have to choose between more actions or more manouvrabilty.

I guess that's the important stuff that has to do with traveling. The precisce planet where you can put down your 'big cargo' or the amount of 'small cargo' you can put down on each planet also force players to take certain decisions for their routes.
The fact that there can only be one ship on a planet at once (which will be two ships in a five or six player game) makes players go to different planets in stead...

Cheese.

PS:
=> Board:

- Purple is easy to fly through
- Orange is medium-hard to fly through
- Greeninsh-yellow is hard to fly through
(- The black triangles are for putting the different planets on the board)
=> Ship:

- Green helps for manouvrablity
- Blue gives extra actions
- Gray is for fuel
(- Red is for cargo)
(- Yellow is for missiles)

larienna
larienna's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/28/2008
Traveling mechanics

The travelling mechanic is great, I don't see why players don't like it.

The only problem I can see is too slow movement. The player does not feel like they can perform a lot of things in a round. In "London 1888", you normally move on 1d6, it can be frustrating if you roll 1 or 2. But there is also the rain card which slowdown all movement by 2. So our solution is that each player roll 1d6+2 for movement instead.

I am planning to make a crime fighting game, where the heroes travel in the city to fight criminals. I have not tested anything yet, but i'll keep more attention on the traveling mechanic to see if any bugs arise.

Is there other elements in the "traveling mechanic", beside to slow movement, that can be problematic?

Rick-Holzgrafe
Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/22/2008
Traveling mechanics

Larienna wrote:
Is there other elements in the "traveling mechanic", beside to slow movement, that can be problematic?

The responses in this thread (which have been great, thanks!) have convinced me that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with traveling. A number of good games that include traveling have been pointed out, and discussed.

If there's a problem with traveling, it is this: that games with traveling tend to restrict your actions to things you can do at your current location. This, I think, slows down the game because players must decide what to do next, then just make moves until they can get to the right place, then do the thing they already decided on. It's a long time between interesting decisions.

But games can include traveling without falling prey to this problem. Players can be given lots of interesting choices on every turn by making routing an interesting problem, by ensuring that traveling is quick (for example, having good connectivity between locations and by allowing players to move to another place and then take an action, all in one turn), by offering lots of different actions at each location, and/or by offering lots of actions that aren't tied to a player's location.

Which means, in the end, that my failed traveling designs didn't fail because of the traveling. I'll have to look elsewhere to find the flaws!

Sen
Offline
Joined: 12/20/2010
Traveling mechanics

I think the crux of the issue is providing enough options at each stop along a path that no matter if you're where you want to be or not, you have some choices that advance your strategy or change your strategy to something else.

There's also got to be an intrinsic reason for travelling.

Gogolski
Gogolski's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/28/2008
Traveling mechanics

Gogolski (yes, I myself indeed...) wrote:
'Meteor Cargo Race' (or 'Kessel Run' for Sedjtroll...) is currently being playtested and I'm quite happy with how it works.
Not anymore... After yesterdays playtest, I decided it's time for a serious overhaul.

Because some people can't count quickly enough, the game slows down to much with some people...

How do you call a 'race' that is slowed down?
==> A not very good game.

To overcome this, I'm going to melt actions and fuel into one thing and simplify stuff quite a bit. (There were some other issues in last playtest, but they will also be adressed in version 2.1...)

Cheese.

MattMiller
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Traveling mechanics

I think the good thing about a travelling mechanic is that it encourages a strong sense of identification between the player and the piece, which, in turn, can make a game more engrossing. The hard thing, as summarized in post 139, is making the traveling itself interesting, rather than just a matter of spending several turns to get to the next location where you'll actually get to do something fun. The key is to make every step along the journey fun.

A few ways of making travelling interesting have been touched on in previous posts, but I think the only one that's been spelled out explicitly here has been to add choices to each location. Of course, choices for choices sake won't really work -- the choices have to have interesting consequences. And, if the focus of the game is to be travelling, those consequences should effect movement itself.

A different approach is to fill in each location with some fun story. This can work even in a game where players' choices are very limited. In the old TimJim game Age of Exploration players outfit expeditions to the New World and then move them around a very simple point-to-point board. The choices available at each point are extremely limited -- typically you can move one space deeper into the wilderness, move one space back, or stay put. What makes the game fun (and it is really fun) is that, in each turn, you draw a card to see what happens in the space you're sitting in. Sometimes this gives you some additional choices ("you can either try to steal some gold from the natives, or not"), but it often gives you no choices at all ("your whole party gets malaria -- one guy dies and you can't move this turn"). This isn't good for a competitive game, but it generates hilarious stories that make the game a hoot.

I'd say a third approach, exemplified by Roborally is to limit the choices at each location in such a way that the movement itself becomes an interesting challenge. In Roborally, you can only make the moves indicated on the cards you draw, and each card can only be used once. This makes planning your rout into a difficult and intriguing puzzle. In fact, in that game, the travelling is the whole of the fun -- what you do when you get where your going is really nothing (I don't even remember what it is right now ... pick up a beeper or something?).

-- Matt

Nando
Offline
Joined: 07/22/2008
Traveling mechanics

MattMiller wrote:
The hard thing, as summarized in post 139, is making the traveling itself interesting...
The "post 139" reference is to Rick's last post in this thread -- his 139th as of this writing.

sedjtroll
sedjtroll's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Traveling mechanics

Larienna wrote:
The travelling mechanic is great, I don't see why players don't like it.

I don't know what you mean here by "The Travelling Mechanic"... there are a million different travelling mechanics that you could use, and some may be better than others... that's not the point.

Perhaps you mean that having a travelling or transportation aspect to a game is "good" - and I think I can agree with that one, but it depends on the rest of the game. Transportation by itself is not exciting. However, transportation can help make a game more exciting.

Quote:
Is there other elements in the "traveling mechanic", beside to slow movement, that can be problematic?
Again, it depends on the game. In most cases, the travelling is simply a limit on how much you can do in a turn, like Hansa where moving costs a Taler (action point) and you can only do 1 action per location. In some it indicates which things you can do, like Monopoly, where your actions are the same, but your location indicates which property you can buy or have to pay rent for.

What I would watch out for if I were you is making the travelling mechanics too complicated or involved for what they are supposed to be doing. If the game is mostly about moving around, so transportation is the main thing going on, then the mechanics can/should be more involved and interesting. If transportation is a real minor portion of the game, then don't make complicated mechanics for it. Imagine Monopoly, but instead of rolling dice you had to spend a special resource to move (move 1 space per resource spent), and you had to buy the resource from the bank at certain locations, and if you ran out you only move 1 space... see what I mean?

MattMiller
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Traveling mechanics

Quote:
The "post 139" reference is to Rick's last post in this thread -- his 139th as of this writing.

Oops. Sorry. I'm used to posting in ConsimWorld, where posts are numbered within each folder and it's a common way to identify them. (As you can see by my own post number, I don't yet have much experience posting here.)

-- Matt

Syndicate content


forum | by Dr. Radut