Game Terakoya: New Game Experiences, Names and Concepts (with Railways of the World)

We have decided to dive into Railways of the World over the next couple months.
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/17133/railways-world

It is ranked #72 on BGG overall and #50 for strategy games (very well regarded and played) and has more than 9000 owners on BGG.

M wanted to play it because she thought it looked somewhat similar to the Game of Life, and N thought making tracks looked interesting/enjoyable.
I’ve played it 4 or 5 times, and have really enjoyed it and also wanted to explore it more.


A shot of our board while playing (Yellow monopolizing Mexico City, Green working through the mountains, Red chugging across open terrain)

Day before playing (discussing the rules):

M and N read the rules (16 pages) for homework, but really struggled with the overall flow of the game. M estimated her understanding to be at 60%, N, hers at 10%.

So we started with what they understood, and I asked them questions to connect what they knew with what they didn’t, and they went through the rulebook again to find answers to what I was asking. Some recasting was done, but related to information, not language. They really don’t have major language issues.

It is a well written rulebook, but of course much heavier and complex than what they are used to. I can see why some students use their L1 to play games in class. If students have just a general concept of the game (not enough specifics to play well), it’s just easier to talk in Japanese to make sure that everyone is on the same page. It is a little frustrating for both students and teacher (we wanted to play the game!) to take so much time with the rules (60 minutes today), but it’s necessary in order for the gameplay to go well, and for further analysis of the rulebook and connected sociocultural concepts discussions to go well.

In addition to basic rules discussions, we touched just a bit on (we will come back to these later after playing a few times):
– the time period of the game (mid 19th century)
– the historical accuracy of the railroad barons in the game (M: “Are these real people?”)
– rule language (Reduce the number of x) being similar to subject dropping in recipes (just using the imperative form of verbs)
– short sentences in the rules being used to help the reader comprehend everything (we examined combining sentences and the added complexity)
– the difference between the rulebook instructions and the video they watched “let me explain” (casual, spoken vs formal written)
– the demographics of the game’s audience (more than 9000 people on BGG own the game). N and M both pointed out that “he/his” is used consistently in the rulebook, while other rulebooks have used her/his or their interchangeably)
– the difference in style (and the reason for the change in style) between the intro (!,?, comparative  adjectives)
– the idea of roleplaying barons and playing in real history as fantasy and the relation to the magic circle

These are all concepts we can dig into after playing the game and reading some reviews and threads online about the game.

At this point, we are thinking about designing an expansion for the game based on a Japan or Shizuoka map (meaning we’d have to research the history and geography of the rail development here). M said she had studied this topic briefly in high school, but had forgotten everything.

They weren’t able to brainstorm useful language for play for today because they had such beginning comprehension of the rules. I asked them to brainstorm a bit for homework.

We are meeting tomorrow from 9-12 (on a Saturday morning) to play. I’m bringing the coffee and donuts!

Playing (the next day)

We set up the game on a large group of desks.

I asked them what they brainstormed as useful language during play.
– N intended to use some new vocabulary (upgrade, locomotive, link and urbanize). We discussed these as nouns/verbs/Japanese loanwords.
– M realized that we might need to look up rules: “Please tell me what the rule is.”

The game took about 2 hours to play, and went very smoothly. Players don’t start with any money in the game and have to take out loans to get cash to do anything in the game, and this concept took a little time getting used to. I took an early lead due to some aggressive first player auction bidding to get some powerful railroad operations cards, but N built up a very efficient network of tracks around Mexico City and was able to deliver goods every turn. M struggled with cash and loans and to build in the expensive mountains. I had the most points at the end of the game, and was able to get a Baron card bonus for having the most upgraded locomotive, but I was penalized for having too many loans and N’s Baron card gave her 10 extra points based on 5 connections out of Mexico City. N won!

We discussed the game for about an hour after playing.

M thought the game was fun in trying to figure out what N’s Baron card bonus was, which lead into a discussion of “public vs private information” in various games (UNO, Shogi, Poker).

       Hmmm… http://ludology.libsyn.com/ludology-episode-57-goal

N also thought the game was fun because “her plans worked well.” She thought a lot about the colors of cubes and cities and was “happy” when she was able to deliver goods. I asked her to clarify was “happy” meant (like getting a present?) and she looked up the word “achievement” and we discussed the sense of achievement in games.

We discussed how the geography of the board, our hidden Baron cards, and the colors of cubes and cities encouraged us each to start and develop and strategize in different locations of the board.

In these discussions, both M and N make a few grammatical mistakes discussing money in English a few times (“costs much money” – “costs a lot of money”).

M and N liked building tracks and looking at the board. We discussed the feeling of “ownership” over what we had created in the game.

We discussed the many decisions (money, links, cube deliveries) in the game and I brought up how this definition seemed to fit this kind of game:

“A game is a series of interesting decisions.” (Sid Meier)

      Hmm… Some information on that idea
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/164869/GDC_2012_Sid_Meier_on_how_to_see_games_as_sets_of_interesting_decisions.php
And another view:
http://onlyagame.typepad.com/only_a_game/2008/07/a-game-isnt-a-series-of-interesting-decisions.html

M said that even though she realized half-way through that she was going to lose, she still thought it was interesting to think about N’s and my secret Baron cards and which player was going to win.

We discussed the idea of stories in games and compared it to the “beginning, middle and end” of narratives in books or movies. They each thought that there was a story to each of their games: M’s was running into a corner and not having any more money or choices and about trying to predict the winner. N’s was about growing richer and richer: “I felt very rich.”

       Hmmm… http://www.dicetower.com/game-podcast/ludology/episode-7-narratology

Both had some trouble choosing which tile to place (there are some with multiple tracks) but that it would go better next time.

We discussed the similarities with other games giving the players money at the start of the game (e.g., the Game of Life) and how this would make the game easier for new players.

We briefly discussed what changes we could make to the map/game in our Shizuoka or Japan map/game we plan to make and distribute.

  • We discussed Mt. Fuji and how much it would cost to build track there, if there are any laws about building on Mt. Fuji, and Mt Fuji’s religious/national significance (M’s idea)
  • N thought it would be interesting to remove some of the options for linking to cities (each city has 6 stems to build from). Some cities could have restrictions for linking which “would be more difficult.”
  • We discussed the plastic empty city markers (very Western objects – turn tables and roundhouses) and what objects we could use for a thematic Japanese map (department stores, rice fields). I mentioned we could 3D print some markers….

We discussed having to study geography and history to build our map.

We will be meeting next week to try the other map in the box: The Eastern United States (M’s choice). We briefly looked at the map and looked at the proximity of cities in the Northeast. I asked them to read the “strategy section” of that rulebook for homework to prepare.