# Help with my friend's train game

16 replies [Last post]
sedjtroll
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008

A friend of mine seems to have caught the game desgn bug, and has been contemplating a train game. He was telling me about it, and it had a lot of simulation aspects that didn't seem to really do anything game-wise, and he was asking me to help him make it into a game...

Here's where it stands at present, somewhat in parts. Can you help fill in the blanks?

Cars. There exist different types of train cars in this game:
Engines: Players start with 1 Engine. It might be better than standard engines that you can by. The Engines hav a numerical value associated with them, which determines the capactiy of the train. The capacity determines the speed at which the train moves, as well as the number of cars it can pull. The more cars in the train, the slower it moves. Adding an Engine increases the trains capacity by 1 car.

Here's the algorithm I've been considering for the capacity:
Engines add 3 to the speed of the train.
Full cars (cars can be full or empty) subtract 1 from that speed. Empty cars count as 1/2 a car.
[Engine value total] - [(#full cars)+(#empty cars) <-round up] = movement speed

Standard cars: Players start with 2 randomly dealt Standard cars. There are several different types of standard cars. Standard cars are required to do tasks, which is how you get points. Each tasks requires a specific combination of cars to be in your train.

Special cars: There will be some special cars, which give your train certain abilities. Engines are special cars which increase your train's capacity. A Caboose is a special car which will make your loading and unlaoding of stuff more efficient (extra workers). There could be other cars that confer abilities as well.

Getting cars: In order to get a new car, you'd have to pull into the shop (whatever it's called) and purchase one Car card from a face up pool of avilable cars.

Tasks. In order to score points, players will need to complete tasks, such as piking up cargo from point A and delivering it to point B, and then returning to the depot office to claim the reward. There will be some 'easier' tasks in a face up draw pool, and some 'harder' tasks in a face down draw deck - or these two decks might just be one deck from which some cards are face up and some are face down.

Tasks are rewarded with a set payout, plus a bonus if completed in a certain number of turns, or minus a penalty if it takes longer than a certain other number of turns to complete. For example, a card might payout X+B if completed in 6 turns or less, X if completed in 7-9 turns, and X-1/turn if it takes longer than 9 turns to complete. This timing mechanism may need some work to keep track of. I believe each player will only be able to work on 1 task at a time, so maybe timer (turn counter) per person would be fine.

Hedge-o-Matic
Offline
Joined: 07/30/2008
Help with my friend's train game

I'd suggest having Engines give 6 power, and each empty car weighing 1, while full cars weigh 2 or more, rather than having each empty car count as 1/2 a car, which is sort of awkward.

Have your "friend" start an profile here at BGDF!

Torrent
Offline
Joined: 08/03/2008
Help with my friend's train game

Agreed with Hedge, make the math simple. Engines and Car Cards all need their Weight or Pulling Power on the cards. Add up displayed numbers (or dots) and subtract.

Quite honestly I think that having a max capacity may be a better idea rather than letting short trains run faster. If I remember correctly from playing hours of Railroad Tycoon on the computer in the 90's, most engines are high torque and not high speed. So an engine would have a top speed and a number of cars it can pull at that speed; rarely would the torque mean extra speed for a lighter load.
So having an engine number be a train capacity might be a good idea. What I don't see is a reason for speed to matter. Is there a board with a map on it?

sedjtroll
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Help with my friend's train game

Yes, the board would have a map, and the reason the speed vs load matters is so you can make the choice between having more cars (carry more stuff, or do more different types of tasks without having to spend time changing your train configuration), and going faster for a bigger reward.

In theory, you should be able to do small tasks faster for the bonus payoff, or bigger tasks slower for more average payoff.

As for the max speed at capacity... as a game mechanic I was going for more of a "the more you pull, the slower you go" thing, which would (a) automatically set the max speed, and (b) allow you to go faster than your opponent by pulling fewer cars.

Hedge-o-Matic
Offline
Joined: 07/30/2008
Help with my friend's train game

You could also handle increased speed with a diminihing returns type method. Your engines provides 6 power, and each power can pull 1 weight (1 per empty, etc.). Power over weight is speed.

But speed begins to degrade after, say 4 points. For every engine added after this, the speed increases by just 1 point. A train can have up to 3 engines. No relativistic deliveries, please!

So if I've got a load of 7 points of weight, one engine won't cut it. Two will get me to speed 4, but three will only get me to speed 5.

sedjtroll
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Help with my friend's train game

Hedge-o-Matic wrote:
You could also handle increased speed with a diminihing returns type method. Your engines provides 6 power, and each power can pull 1 weight (1 per empty, etc.). Power over weight is speed.

Yes, this is what I have. I haven't decided on the numbers yet. I think I want the "base" to be that a single Engine (the starting one) can pull 2 (3?) full cars and move 1 unit of movement. The starting engine is allowed to be different from the Standard engine that can be bought. I'd like additional engines to add 1 to the capacity - that is to say you can pull one additional car, or move 1 additional unit of movement [edit: I guess that's 2 additional movement if I want to add a full car capacity].

However, it would be OK to have the Standard engines be numbered, so they add X apacity, and the smaller ones cost less than the bigger ones I guess. This would be appropriate if the other Standard cars are also numbered to relate how much capacity they take up.

So if full cars take up 2 capacity and empty cars take up 1, then maybe the starting engine should have a value of 5, and Standard engines should have a value of 2 (2 empty cars or 1 full car or 2 movement) - that sounds reasonable.

Quote:
But speed begins to degrade after, say 4 points. For every engine added after this, the speed increases by just 1 point. A train can have up to 3 engines. No relativistic deliveries, please!

I'm not sure diminishing returns is necessary (though it does make sense!). It will cost money for engines, and none of the deliveries will require all that many cars, and the extra cars will cost money, and time to buy them... if you wanted a train that had 7 engines and could pull 6 full cars and 5 empty ones, more power to you. I don't think you'll win - and I don't even know the rules yet!

Quote:
So if I've got a load of 7 points of weight, one engine won't cut it. Two will get me to speed 4, but three will only get me to speed 5.

You'vegot a good idea here, but with my numbers and no diminishing returns, the 7 weight train would move 0 with 1 or 2 engines, and 2 with 3 engines.

clearclaw
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Re: Help with my friend's train game

Playing socratic method a bit here I guess.

sedjtroll wrote:
A friend of mine seems to have caught the game desgn bug, and has been contemplating a train game.

Okay, let's keep it simple and toss the theme as too distracting and get down the abstract basics. What you have described so far is a logistics game (supply timing specifically) with minor features of hand management through drafting. Players compete for profits (ie VPs) by competitively optimising their logistics and hands.

In short this appears to be a card game with a strong graph element for part of the logistics.

Quote:
Cars....
Engines...
capactiy...

Okay, cars carry variously specific stuff in a pick-up-and-deliver-game. Engines allow either more cars or cars to move faster or both. Capacity is an intersection function of cars and engines and in turn is a derived function of the value transfer for the pick-up-and-deliver aspect. Fairly simple stuff with a positive feecbak loop and apparently a lack of significant penalty/cost mechanic for hand management actions. (Observation, not problem. It depends on where you want to concentrate the game).

Quote:
Here's the algorithm I've been considering...

ie Law of diminishing returns and penalties for inefficiencies. I'm not sure that the specifics are particularly interesting except as to what the penalties for inefficiency are and how rapidly grevious they are for increasing inefficiency.

Quote:
Getting cars: In order to get a new car, you'd have to pull into the shop (whatever it's called) and purchase one Car card from a face up pool of avilable cars.

ie drafting is a special action that requires preparation.

Quote:
Tasks. In order to score points, players will need to complete tasks, such as piking up cargo from point A and delivering it to point B, and then returning to the depot office to claim the reward. There will be some 'easier' tasks in a face up draw pool, and some 'harder' tasks in a face down draw deck - or these two decks might just be one deck from which some cards are face up and some are face down.

This seems weak and unpleasantly familiar (cf TtR). It postulates a bipolar population of tasks with (presumably) the values similarly distributed. Loosely, opportunistic tasks carry low risk and low value. Random tasks carry high risk (and may be impossible) and high value. What isn't clear is the opportunity cost for selecting either task, especially the hidden random tasks, or what the competition is for those tasks or the prevention of others compleating their tasks (I presume this is a zero sum game). Things might be a little more clear game design-wise if you view both task selection and compleation as auctions with the players competitively operating to ensure minimal delta profits across players. Hurm, I think I posted on this recently WRT Holzgraf's basics of auctions thread. His points were:

Rick-Holzgrafe wrote:
1. Players must value the auctioned items differently.
2. Players should occasionally value the auctioned items similarly.
3. The ultimate value of the auctioned item must be uncertain.
4. Bid increments should be chunky.

clearclaw wrote:
1) Opportunity cost of participating.
2) Opportunity cost of winning.
3) Collateral damage.
4) Use of auctions as a means of seducing players into sub-optimal strategies.

See:

http://www.bgdf.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=4407

And of course Shannon's Grand Auction Unification Theory:

http://www.skotos.net/articles/TTnT_161.phtml

Quote:
Tasks are rewarded with a set payout, plus a bonus if completed in a certain number of turns, or minus a penalty if it takes longer...

Here's your efficiency payofff and penalty. Are player's tasks private or public? Is there a deduction element, partcial information or full information? To what degree can players usefully both cooperate and screw each other's plans? Why? To what degree is the draft pool fought over? Is turn order important in preventing other players from getting the drafts they visibly want? Is this a left/right binding game? Are resources transferable?

Quote:
I believe each player will only be able to work on 1 task at a time, so maybe timer (turn counter) per person would be fine.

I don't see why the limit. There seems like a natural advantage for multi-tasking. It is both more fragile (easier to err or be screwed with) and more profitable.

sedjtroll
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Re: Help with my friend's train game

Let me begin by saying that this is an excellent, excellent reply. Just what I was fishing for, Thanks!

clearclaw wrote:

Quote:
Tasks. In order to score points, players will need to complete tasks, such as piking up cargo from point A and delivering it to point B, and then returning to the depot office to claim the reward. There will be some 'easier' tasks in a face up draw pool, and some 'harder' tasks in a face down draw deck - or these two decks might just be one deck from which some cards are face up and some are face down.

This seems weak and unpleasantly familiar (cf TtR). It postulates a bipolar population of tasks with (presumably) the values similarly distributed. Loosely, opportunistic tasks carry low risk and low value. Random tasks carry high risk (and may be impossible) and high value.
This is indeed similar to TtR's card drafting mechanic, only instead of drafting resources, you're drafting the equivalent of Tickets. This was my friend's idea, and I'm not sure whether it will be good or not, but I felt it was as good a place as any to start. My friend's plan was to have the face up tasks begin at the location where you get the task and then end there, while the face down ones would begin at some other point A and end at a point B, and then you'd have to return to the place you got the Task to get paid. I'm not sure I like that necessarily.

Quote:
What isn't clear is the opportunity cost for selecting either task, especially the hidden random tasks, or what the competition is for those tasks or the prevention of others compleating their tasks

As yet there is no prevention of others completing tasks. As yet it's basically you get this task or that task, and then you go do it, and the point would be to do your tasks more efficiently than another player does their task. I was going to suggest an auction for available tasks, which might make more sense then simply drafting them. Maybe a simultaneous auction (like in Vegas Showdown or Evo)?

Hey, I suppose there could be a simulatneous auction including both Tasks and Cars, or where the passing order affords you your choice of the available cars (with 1 less cars than players, so the guy who wins the auction gets no car) or something... any of that sound good? It's sort of peripheral.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of some kind of Auction each round or whatever, rather than having people return to home base all the time to get more tasks. If you manage to not win any tasks by the time you finish one, then your train might be Idle for a while, and that would be lousy!

Quote:
(I presume this is a zero sum game).

I'm not certain exactly what thatwould mean with respect to this game. If it means that each task is done by someone, so either I get the VPs or you do, then I don't know if that;s been decided yet. Maybe you could discard a task, maybe with some penalty?
Quote:
Things might be a little more clear game design-wise if you view both task selection and compleation as auctions with the players competitively operating to ensure minimal delta profits across players. {/quote]
I'm not sure I understand what you mean exactly. Maybe I'll check out the posts you reference.
Quote:
Quote:
Tasks are rewarded with a set payout, plus a bonus if completed in a certain number of turns, or minus a penalty if it takes longer...

Here's your efficiency payoff and penalty. Are player's tasks private or public?
Again, this is my friend's idea... I imagine you would know the task if they got it from the face up pile, but not if they got it from the face down pile. I don't know if it matters much, unless there are multiple tasks which involve limited resources which are on the board (which might not be a bad idea). This could go either way, I'm open to suggestion as to which should be the case and why.

Quote:
To what degree can players usefully both cooperate and screw each other's plans?
As yet I don't expect there would be cooperation at all.
Quote:
Why?
*shrug* I dunno. I don't think it's thematically appropriate though, and I can't immediately think of a mechanic that would utilize cooperation and also fit the game.
Quote:
Is this a left/right binding game?
What is a left/right binding game?
Quote:
Are resources transferable?
I dunno... maybe. Can you think of a good reason why or why not? Maybe you could buy a resource from someone - if they're willing to pick it up for you (maybe you're accross town and they're by the resource)?

Quote:
Quote:
I believe each player will only be able to work on 1 task at a time, so maybe timer (turn counter) per person would be fine.

I don't see why the limit. There seems like a natural advantage for multi-tasking. It is both more fragile (easier to err or be screwed with) and more profitable.I think I agree with you. The limit was imposed by my friend, but it seems like multitasking is how you'd make your efficiency pay off. This works especially well if you're continually getting tasks while working on them (via auction or whatever).

I'd love to hear any comments you have to help shape this game! Thanks again for the coherent reply.

Julius
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Help with my friend's train game

Personally, I would nix the whole calculation of speed thing. It will speed up the game. At one point, I tried this with a space pirate pickup and delivery game, with the whole force vs. mass ratio in a simple calculation to derive speed. However, players didn't like it. Though unrealistic, I switched to something similar as to below:

I would make it so that each has one engine. You can spend money to upgrade the engine's power (how many cars it can pull at a time), or speed (how fast it goes), and upgrades stay with you until the end of the game.

In the space pirate game, you could also upgrade armor, crew, and weapons, but I have a feeling that those aspects don't apply here :)

Gogolski
Offline
Joined: 07/28/2008
Help with my friend's train game

On the 'speed'-thing again...

Why not giveve each engine a maximum number of cars it can pull and a max-speed (regardless of the cars it's pulling), but let it accellerate/decellerate faster or slower when it's pulling more trains.

Example:
An engine has speed 7 and cars 3 listed on its stat-card.

This means that it has a max-speed of 7 spaces / turn, regardless of how many cars it's pulling. (If railroads on the boards are dotted lines, you can move seven dots...)

Unburdened, it can accellerate from zero to max in one turn.

For each empty car, substract 1.
For each loaded car, substract 3.

If the engine is pulling one empty and one loaded car, it can accellerate 3 / turn. (=> 7 - (1 + 3) = 3 )
It can go from zero to three in one turn, from three to six the next and from six to seven in the third turn.
Likewise, it will have to decellerate from seven to four, from four to one and from one to zero.

If the speed is marked on the card with dots, you can use that as a speed-track to keep track of the current speed.

Adding an engine lets you pull an extra car, and it gives you +1 to accellerate/decellerate, after you determined the base accelleration.

The nice thing is that players who miscalculate, will not be able to stop at a station in time, and drive past the station where they want to stop. They will have to reverse and loose a turn to get where they want to be.

Cheese!

sedjtroll
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Help with my friend's train game

Gogolski wrote:
The nice thing is that players who miscalculate, will not be able to stop at a station in time, and drive past the station where they want to stop. They will have to reverse and loose a turn to get where they want to be.

This is an interesting idea. It reminds me of Mississippi Queen, where you have to decellearte correctly or overshoot - which is pretty devestating.

Hedge-o-Matic
Offline
Joined: 07/30/2008
Help with my friend's train game

Is this really something that happens with trains, though? also, acceleration seems like a small-timescale sort of thing; very "simulationy". If the game were about hobos hopping trains, I could see its inclusion, but in a delivery game, it's not really appropriate.

clearclaw
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Help with my friend's train game

Hedge-o-Matic wrote:
Is this really something that happens with trains, though? also, acceleration seems like a small-timescale sort of thing; very "simulationy". If the game were about hobos hopping trains, I could see its inclusion, but in a delivery game, it's not really appropriate.

Why strangle the game design with a tentative theme? Design an interesting game first, figure out how to make a theme fit second. In this case logisitcal accuracy, especially for Just-In-Time[1] type affairs can make for very interesting challenges and decisions. Good stuff for any game design.

[1] Yeah, there's an idea sitting there. How about if as contracts became available they were placed directly on the turn track (with a turn marker piece progressing along that track) The first player to satisfy the contract contract earns the VPs. Public shared contest for each VP satisfaction (cf the Winsome Trainsport games). Satisfy it early or late and it pays a reduced rate of VPs as listed on the card.

FastLearner
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Help with my friend's train game

Intentionally limiting your design to fit a theme can make for much more creative thought, "forcing" you to come up with interesting new mechanics that can make the game fun and that fit the theme. It's an excellent way to force out-of-the-box thinking.

-- Matthew

clearclaw
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Re: Help with my friend's train game

sedjtroll wrote:
Let me begin by saying that this is an excellent, excellent reply. Just what I was fishing for, Thanks!

Welcome.

Quote:
clearclaw wrote:

Quote:
Tasks. In order to score points, players will need to complete tasks, such as piking up cargo from point A and delivering it to point B, and then returning to the depot office to claim the reward. There will be some 'easier' tasks in a face up draw pool, and some 'harder' tasks in a face down draw deck - or these two decks might just be one deck from which some cards are face up and some are face down.

This seems weak and unpleasantly familiar (cf TtR). It postulates a bipolar population of tasks with (presumably) the values similarly distributed. Loosely, opportunistic tasks carry low risk and low value. Random tasks carry high risk (and may be impossible) and high value.
This is indeed similar to TtR's card drafting mechanic, only instead of drafting resources, you're drafting the equivalent of Tickets.

Now I think of it, it seems even more reminiscent of Louix XIV, especially as regards the hi/lo split.

Quote:
This was my friend's idea, and I'm not sure whether it will be good or not, but I felt it was as good a place as any to start. My friend's plan was to have the face up tasks begin at the location where you get the task and then end there, while the face down ones would begin at some other point A and end at a point B, and then you'd have to return to the place you got the Task to get paid. I'm not sure I like that necessarily.

Aye, that does sound like a royal pain and heavily luck biased for the face down draws.

Quote:
As yet there is no prevention of others completing tasks. As yet it's basically you get this task or that task, and then you go do it, and the point would be to do your tasks more efficiently than another player does their task. I was going to suggest an auction for available tasks, which might make more sense then simply drafting them. Maybe a simultaneous auction (like in Vegas Showdown or Evo)?

I earlier posted on a shared task stack situated on the turn track which player's compete for. I like the idea of shared goals that the players compete for as well as the competitive challenge of PlayerA actively targeting a contract completion for high VPs in turn N and PlayerB coming in with spare capacity to do a faster completion in turn N-2 for less VPs while also causing PlayerA to have wasted his commited actions on the contract.

Running this communal competition stack in parallel with variously private personal contracts (which could indeed be auctioned for the public case) could be interesting. I like it, tho care would have to be taken that contracts would not be so unique that they only pertain to one player, thus making the auction pointless for the others.

I presume the bids etc would use VP as currency?

Quote:
Hey, I suppose there could be a simulatneous auction including both Tasks and Cars, or where the passing order affords you your choice of the available cars (with 1 less cars than players, so the guy who wins the auction gets no car) or something... any of that sound good? It's sort of peripheral.

I've been thinking instead of separating the operational rounds from the contract rounds (cf 18XX stock rounds and operational rounds). In this way players comunally compete for desireable contracts in the contract rounds and then work toward satisfaction in the operational rounds (perhaps with some of the unbought contracts going to the communal track?). Like 18XX the ratio of one to the other could progress as the game advances.

Quote:
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of some kind of Auction each round or whatever, rather than having people return to home base all the time to get more tasks. If you manage to not win any tasks by the time you finish one, then your train might be Idle for a while, and that would be lousy!

And inefficient to boot!

Quote:
Quote:
(I presume this is a zero sum game).

I'm not certain exactly what thatwould mean with respect to this game. If it means that each task is done by someone, so either I get the VPs or you do, then I don't know if that;s been decided yet. Maybe you could discard a task, maybe with some penalty?

Mostly I'm looking at the pattern where other's failures equal your own success. I'm not expecting a formally zero sum game.

Quote:
Quote:
To what degree can players usefully both cooperate and screw each other's plans?
As yet I don't expect there would be cooperation at all.
Quote:
Why?
*shrug* I dunno. I don't think it's thematically appropriate though, and I can't immediately think of a mechanic that would utilize cooperation and also fit the game.

Dipping briefly back into theme land, companies aggressively compete for contracts and many contracts are put up for open bid. And then there's the future's market: the promise to buy or sell a given good in a given volume at a given date, often at a specific location (FoB being the term de jour). Open auctions for contracts fills part of that picture, a turn track based operation would partially fill a futures market model.

Quote:
Quote:
Is this a left/right binding game?
What is a left/right binding game?

Simply, games wherein each player must work to contain if not actively oppress the player to their left. They are frequently described as "player to the left of the newbie wins". Classic examples include Puerto Rico, Meridian, Attika etc.

Quote:
Quote:
Are resources transferable?
I dunno... maybe. Can you think of a good reason why or why not? Maybe you could buy a resource from someone - if they're willing to pick it up for you (maybe you're accross town and they're by the resource)?

I was thinking of two cases:

1) PlayerA runs goods Q part of the way to the destination, then PlayerB buys it from him (for VPs) and runs it the rest of the way. The transfer could be synchronous (train to train) at a station, or could involve drop off and later collection (in which case other players could nip in and steal the dropped goods).

2) PlayerA does the same thing except with transfers among their own trains.

I've also been thinking of the amusing contract satisfaction where the contract specifies that LocationQ will pay \$X for ProductA from LocationR, and the satisfying player bringing in ProductA from another location (because it is not currently available in LocationR), selling it for a profit to the contract, and then delivering it to LocationQ for yet another profit.

Quote:
I'd love to hear any comments you have to help shape this game! Thanks again for the coherent reply.

My current mental model:

- a board that looks something like a TtR board with Age of Steam-like goods cubes in clumps at the various cities

- a turn track with an advancing marker

- the game starts with a deal of public contracts which are placed at various N-turn into the future on the turn track (as indicated on each contract)

- a deal of private contracts which the players bid on, paying in VPs

- possibly each private contract has a minimum price with unbought contracts added to the turn track along with the other public contracts

- following the contract round there's a Operation Round.

- first round only, each player situates their train marker on the board at their choice of location (cf TransAmerica)

- before each player is a matching engine card followed by a series of car cards. The Engine card indicates how far the engine can pull N loaded cars in a turn via a simple chart.

- during the operations round a player will move their train on the board within its current movement limits based on load etc, possibly collecting goods which they will locate on their car cards attached to their engine cards.

- should a player satisfy a contract (public or private) by delivering goods they'll turn in the contract for VPs. Goods cubes will move off their cars as the contract is satsified.

- there is no tracking that the goods picked up at X are the same as the goods delivered at Y, just that type N is picked up and delivered to/from the two locations. Thus players could optimise their deliveries of multiple contracts.

- players can buy more trains/cars. These enter the board at specific locations, possibly cost-based.

- players can swap/move cars and goods among trains as they meet.

- as enough cheapie trains are bought better/faster/stronger trains become available.

- as big enough trains are bought the ratio of contract to operating rounds changes with more operating rounds being added. Thus trains can run farther/do-more between contracts.

- there's some sort of generator function which produces a semi-steady supply of goods about the board, which may then be moved for contracts

- purchase of larger engines will cause all engines across all players of small enough size to disappear/rust. This represents advancing technology. cf 18XX train rusting.

- could forget the rusting and simply put a max on the number of trains that a given player could operate. Thus they'll want to dump or consolidate their smaller trainsas they progress

- should also have some obscenely high maintenance cost for engines and cars. Make achieving efficiency painful.

clearclaw
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Help with my friend's train game

FastLearner wrote:
Intentionally limiting your design to fit a theme can make for much more creative thought, "forcing" you to come up with interesting new mechanics that can make the game fun and that fit the theme. It's an excellent way to force out-of-the-box thinking.

I have not found this to be true for me, either for game design or my normal professional trade in software development. Others may (do?) vary.

FastLearner
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Help with my friend's train game

That's clear, but you did ask the question, "Why strangle the game design with a tentative theme?" My answer is that what strangles one designer may well inspire another.

-- Matthew