The Wild West… the small town of Dice Town. You’re the leader of a gang of Desperados. Except that all of your gang’s members have been imprisoned. From now on, you have only one goal - to be the first one to free all of their henchmen, AND be the richest!
While the game’s pitch takes us to the now familiar world of Dice Town, it was in the bar of a small French village lost in the middle of the mountains that it saw the light of day.
Indeed, every noon, my friends from when I had a "real" job and I went out for coffee. And we like to take jabs at each other and organize competitions between us. So, for years, we played foosball. And then the Foosball table was removed. Not profitable enough, took too much space. So an electronic dart board was installed. At first, it left me cold. I saw darts as a pure skill game, and I really didn’t feel all that competent in that domain. It felt more like a trial than a game. So then, someone introduced a special rule to me: the Cricket!
What’s nice about Cricket, is that we don’t play over the entire target: the only sectors used are sectors 20-19-18-17-16-15 and the bullseye. You need three hits in a sector to “close” it, and as soon as it’s closed, if you land in it again, all opponents for whom that sector is still “open” get penalty points. That’s fun. And as the useful sectors are spread over the target, players can play off against the more skillful players, make temporary alliances to take down the better players, etc., etc ... it becomes exciting, tactical, with collateral damage, and the most skillful isn’t necessarily whoever deals best with what’s happening. In short, it’s a real gaming principle which immediately caught my attention.
And then they removed the dart board. So I thought it’d be cool to take up the same gaming principle and adapt it to a board game. And that’s how the first prototype was made. Simple. We’ll just replace skill with luck. (That said, seeing how I play darts, it pretty much comes down to the same thing). In short, we replaced the darts with dice. The useful sectors are the 2-3-4-5-6 sides. And the last side is a dart side. Three darts = three die rolls on your turn. We added a dash of funny cards which allow for planned strategies, and choices about which dice are kept or discarded, and the trick’s done. The game worked well, I had to make prototypes for all my friends, who play in the evening at home. The name of the game makes sense: Dice & Darts! It’s time to show it to publishers…
And it was Matagot who, finally, were the most interested in the project. Talks are happening. And the publisher puts forward an interesting idea: as it’ll be a nice and clever dice game for Matagot, why not focus on the Dice Town “license”. It’s a good way for the game to be seen, considering the success of its big brother. I like the idea. But there’s no way that I’ll join in on a Dice Town project without my partner-in-crime Ludovic Maublanc, whom I immediately asked to join me on the project. And then the two of us wound up working together again to tweak it into our Dice Town world. In a few weeks, the adaptation work was finished, and the far-west theme sticks perfectly to the mechanics.
The main fuel for war is money – what else could interest bandits, so you’ll start the game with $50. A fortune at the time.
Gone are the round cards shaped like targets from a dart game. Each player will now be leading a Gang of five Desperados, each represented by a round card, which will be placed in from of them, “prison” side up. On that side, the card have “notches” which represent the difficulty to break them out. At the start of the game, you’ll put the maximum notch of each character up. Yes: some Desperados will be harder to break out than others, but these will be more powerful once freed. So, each gang is made up of The Brain, The Ugly, The Bad, The Lady, and The Boss. These archetypes are represented by symbols, which will be found on the dice to be rolled.
On their turn, a player will roll four dice. As standard, you’ll be able to roll 1 to 3 times in order to try and get the combination which works for you. You’ll then be able to reroll some or all of the dice. A bit of tactic, a dash of chance, some opportunism, this is what we offer. Once the rolls are made, we move on to effects, as otherwise what’s the point of all that trouble – might as well go have a decent beer while your horse is resting in the stable.
At this point, you’ll have normally obtained a set of symbols, and these are what you’ll be using to get your Desperados to act and/or draw “Wild West” cards, which add spice to the game, as what would the Wild West be without spice? Then the next player rolls the dice… And so on.
To “play” one of your bandits, one of your dice must be showing the corresponding symbol. Only one is enough. But that’s not all – you also need to roll “Action” symbols. Your characters can be either in prison or free. When they’re in prison, they can’t really act. The only possible course of action is to get them closer to being freed. So for each “Action” you give the character die, you’ll turn your Desperado card one notch toward the exit. And if they get free, they’ll be able to cause a ruckus. They’ll even be able to raise a ruckus right away if you give them enough actions.
When a Desperado is on their free side, he or she makes all the other players who have the same Desperado still in prison lose money. On the “freed” side, there’s their ruckus ability, written as follows: a number of “Action” symbols and a number. For example, the Bad Girl will make players lose either $5 for 1 symbol, $10 for 2 symbols, or $15 for 3 symbols from all players whose Bad Girl is still in prison. A freed character protects you from enemy attacks from characters with the same symbol!
Each set of Desperados contains a Brain. These are somewhat special – they don’t quite attack like the others. Because they’re cheats. And in each gang, the power of the Brain is different. For example, in the Mavericks Gang, Wilson – who is the Cheat – will draw “Wild West” cards instead of stealing some $. And believe me, that’s powerful! In the Oleson Clan, brave old Uncle Pat – who is the Cheat – will help you speed up the liberation of his confederates. And believe me, that’s powerful!
At this point, if you’re clever (and I have no doubt of that), you’ll start to get the combos which can be setup and chained together, as well as the subtle feeling of not always be playing the same game by changing Gang and/or tactics.
And then there’s the “Wild West” cards - these are classic-sized cards. The idea is for them to offer twists and surprises. You’ll draw them in specific circumstances; if you roll a three-of-a-kind, a four-of-a-kind, or if you’re the victim of a “Misery”.
These cards have effects as diverse as they are varied. The effect is written on it. Simply. Clearly. As well as when the card can be played. As many cards can be played on a player’s turn as they want, except for the card(s) just drawn. These cards give a little more oomph to the game, bringing the fun through threats, dirty revenge, and other backstabbing moments. They allow players to reroll dice, speed up the liberation of gang members, regain some $, make others pay double what they should pay, to make a player reroll a die… and, of course, to cancel the effect of a card played by a player who could cancel the cancellation, if they also have such a card.
There are two ways to win:
Right off, when a player no longer has any money, they’re eliminated. That player will not be able to claim victory. Blam! Done! The game ends when all players but one are eliminated, which is rare. That last player of course wins the game, ruling with no competition over Dice Town.
Otherwise, as soon as a player has freed all of their Desperados, that player checks to see if they’re the richest. If they are, then they immediately win the game. Otherwise, the game continues until they become the richest (whether by robbing their opponents or by making them lose money). If they manage, they win. The trouble is that if another player manages to free all of their Desperados before then while being the richest, then that player will be the “Big Winner”.
The game is fast, violent, funny. And while it assumes its link with its bigger brother, Desperados is really a different game, independent (no need to know or own the first game to appreciate the second). And for the artwork, Pierô will be behind the pencils, for sure, and that’s good news too, as his work matches the fun ambiance of our game perfectly.
And there… the game is now available. And seeing the success it’s getting at various gaming events where it’s been presented in Europe, I’m glad for the publishing gamble Matagot took.
So now it's up to you to let the bullets talk!
Alan’s Story: Ticket to Ride came into existence in the spring of 2003 during my morning walk along the Atlantic shore in Beverly, Massachusetts. The night before, I had played a railroad prototype called Thunder on the Tracks, which is what I call all my railroad prototypes. This particular one was a gamer's game and the playtest had not gone well. I was thinking about how to change it when a new idea suddenly popped into my head. The coastline and scenery disappeared during the rest of the walk, as this new idea formed into an entire game. I began playing it in my head and couldn't wait to get home.
When I arrived, I wrote down an outline of the rules and started on a map. I playtested the game by myself that same day and it seemed to work extremely well. Several days later, the first playtest with friends was a huge success - everyone wanted to play it again. That's the best reaction a game designer can get. I changed some routes on the board, a few rules, and some of the Tickets during the next few weeks of development, but 80-90% of the published game was the same as that first prototype.
There was a strange, but memorable, moment during one playtest. As I got up from the table, I felt a sharp jab in my leg. I looked down and found a hole in my pant leg. I went into the bedroom to investigate. What I saw amazed me as I could see both ends of a large splinter sticking out of my leg. It had gone completely through about four inches of my thigh. I put my pants back on and finished the game. I told my playtesters I had to go to the hospital to get the splinter out. They seemed unfazed and began another game as I left, and they were still playing when I got back. I kept the splinter as a souvenir, since most of it came out in one piece!
After more weeks of testing, in July I sent the game to two publishers. A week or two after that, I went to WBC (the World Boardgaming Championships) in Hunt Valley, just outside of Baltimore. I took the game, which I had renamed Station to Station, with me, as well as a few other prototypes, as I knew there would be people to show them to, like Jay Tummelson from Rio Grande.
I had only met Days of Wonder CEO, Eric Hautemont, once before, when Richard Borg had introduced us at Origins the previous year. So I was surprised when I bumped into Eric and Mark Kaufmann at WBC. I told them I had some prototypes and we set up an appointment to play them. We met in the lounge/bar area on the first floor. My friend Pitt Crandlemire was the fourth for our game of Station to Station. My wife Janet was also there, but she just observed.
The game was about three quarters over when Pitt announced that he had to leave to play in a tournament. At that point, I swept the pieces off the board, assuming Eric & Mark had seen enough to get the idea of the game. Their reaction was total surprise, mixed with quite a bit of disappointment, as they had wanted to finish the game. After the game we talked, and Eric told me he was very interested in the game. He said he was going to France right after WBC and wanted to take the prototype to play with the rest of the Days Of Wonder staff. He said he would have a decision for me in a week or two at most.
True to his word, Eric called me less than two weeks later and said he wanted to publish the game. I then asked the other two companies who had the prototypes to return them. Later, after Ticket to Ride won the Spiel des Jahres (SdJ), both of those publishers told me how bummed they were they hadn't taken the time to play the prototype.
Ticket to Ride was the exception, rather than rule, in many ways. It's rare to sell a game after showing it to just one publisher. Selling a prototype can often take months or years, and many prototypes go unsold. People often ask me if I knew Ticket to Ride was going to be a big hit. Of course, the answer is that no one can never know. If I had the ability to know what would be a hit, I would have designed Ticket to Ride many years before and designed lots of other hits since!
Success as a game designer does not come easily. There is a huge amount of luck involved. I feel like I did most of the things I could control to put myself in a situation to be successful. Things like networking, thoroughly playtesting and developing my prototypes, keeping up with the current market trends, etc. But in the end, luck played a huge part. What if I hadn't gone to WBC that year? What if one of the other companies had published the game? What if Days Of Wonder hadn't done such a great job promoting and marketing Ticket to Ride? What if Carcassone had been published the same year and won SdJ instead of Ticket to Ride? What if that splinter had caused a massive infection and put me in the hospital for months?
Days Of Wonder did many things to make Ticket to Ride successful. But if I had to pick my favorite thing, it would be the titles they came up with for the game. In German the game is called Zug um Zug. Zug means train. Zug also means "to pull" or "to move." Finally, Zug um Zug is a saying that means "give and take" or "exchange" or "performance or counter-performance." It's the perfect name for the game in German. In English, the meaning of Ticket to Ride is obvious and coupled with the art on the box, tells prospective buyers a lot about the game before they even pick it up.
Days of Wonder’s Mark Kaufmann picks up the story... Eric and I really were ticked off that Alan didn’t let us finish that very first game of Station to Station at WBC. But as soon as we walked away from the table, we excitedly started talking about the game and immediately agreed that we wanted to publish it.
As we readied the game for publication, there was nothing to change in the game play, but we had a couple of ideas on how best to present the game. Alan had given no specific historical time for the game, but the early 1900’s was an easy choice. Train travel was dynamic and romantic and this was a peak era of expansion for trains across the US. It also provided an evocative period for illustrations in the game.
We spent a lot of time thinking about the name. Station to Station was descriptive, but we wanted something more emotional – a name that would immediately put a picture in your mind. Ideas got bounced around, but nothing really grabbed us and we grew frustrated. Eric and I were actually on the Paris Metro when Ticket to Ride as a name first came to us. It tied one of the key aspects of the game, Destination Tickets, to the feel of riding the rails. And it was memorable. Our European partners felt that the English title might not be well-accepted in other languages, so in French it became the very romantic sounding Les Aventuriers du Rail, and in German, Zug um Zug.
The very first sale went to our German distributor. 600 units shipped on February 27, 2004, with French and English sales coming soon after. Almost immediately the buzz began to grow. By May, the game was nominated for the German Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award, the world’s most prestigious game prize.
We didn’t really know if we had a chance to win. Many told us that it was the best game, but just as many told us that the German jury would never give the prize to an American/French company that had only been in business for two years. The SDJ even checked on us to see if we were able to produce the quantities of games needed if we won. While we assured them we could, we were secretly worried that we wouldn’t be able to churn out enough plastic trains. With only one train mold, we would be woefully short of trains if we were lucky enough to win the SDJ. We took the plunge and ordered five more metal train molds. If we didn’t win, we would be the proud owners of some very expensive metal paperweights!
The night of June 28, on a stage in Berlin with over 400 journalists and game industry heavyweights watching, Zug um Zug / Ticket to Ride was named the 2004 Spiel des Jahres winner. Within minutes, our European Director, who was still onstage as Alan accepted the award, was receiving text messages from large German retail stores wanting to order 50,000 or more copies of the game! Our original hope to sell 10,000 copies in the first year flew out the window as we frantically ramped up production to meet demand from the SDJ win. 12 months later, over 300,000 copies had gone out the door.
Fortunately, that first year proved to be more than a one-shot deal. 10 years later we can look back at the easy-to-learn and fun-to-play game that has continued to grow in popularity each year. To date, over 3-Million Ticket to Ride games have been sold and it’s now available in 20 different languages with over 15 expansions, plus popular digital versions for the PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Android devices. To date, over 500-million Ticket to Ride trains have been produced. That’s a lot of plastic in just 10 years! And the new 10th Anniversary Edition of Ticket to Ride arrives this year to lay the tracks onto the next billion!
This spring, WizKids Games’ releases its exciting, new Dice Masters dice building game platform created by renowned game designers Mike Elliott and Eric M. Lang. Marvel Dice Masters is a brand-new, easy-to-learn game platform of head-to-head game play and team customization featuring popular characters from the Marvel Universe.
Field your team of iconic Heroes (and Villains!) from the Marvel Universe, each represented by custom tooled dice. Character cards associated with each set of custom dice impart special abilities for the characters - different versions of character cards found in the Starter set and Expansion Packs impart different abilities allowing for customization of your game play strategy. Dice in Expansion packs allow players to add more dice of their favorite Heroes into their team build.
Fans of the Quarriors dice building game system will be familiar with the cycling of dice through your game area - the dice bag is your “deck” from which you draw your “hand” of dice. Roll energy to recruit Heroes or send your recruited Heroes to battle. Send Heroes to attack your opponent or keep some Heroes back to defend against your opponent’s attack.
Dice Masters’ head-to-head game play is perfect for tournament play! With the release of Marvel Dice Masters, WizKids Games will be launching the Marvel Dice Masters Avengers vs. X-Men Storyline Organized Play (OP) event series. This 6-month Organized Play event follows the Marvel Avengers vs. X-Men storyline. Stores carrying Marvel Dice Masters will have the opportunity to purchase OP kits for each month of the event series that contain participation prizes for up to 10 players and an exclusive, alternate character card for the winner of the event. In the final month of the OP series, the player with the best overall record through the event series will be awarded a special Grand Prize - the Phoenix Force!
The Phoenix Force Grand Prize is a special card unique to this storyline Organized Play Program, and includes a unique special die as well! The monthly competitive prizes feature alternate artwork (selected specifically from the AvX series from Marvel Comics) that corresponds to characters (and dice!) from the AvX base set, and each of these alternate art competitive prizes also features new abilities for its corresponding character as well! Last and certainly not least, the monthly participation prizes are Basic Action Cards that feature all-new effects! All this exciting content will be exclusive to the Marvel Dice Masters Avengers vs. X-Men storyline Organized Play program!
Each Marvel Dice Masters Avengers vs. X-Men Starter Set comes with 44 Custom Dice and 38 Cards to start your collection. Each Marvel Dice Masters Avengers vs. X-Men Expansion Pack (60-count Gravity Feed Display) gives players two more dice and two more cards to build on their collection!