Game Buzz – Travel Blog

I am a Vlaada Chvátil fan.  When I first heard about Galaxy Trucker, I became obsessed with that game.  Now that I have my own copy, it has become my second favorite game (behind cribbage).  I had heard good things about Space Alert and Through the Ages, but didn’t know too much about gameplay – Space Alert was a real-time cooperative game, while Through the Ages was a longish civilization building game loosely based on the Civilization PC game that I really got into during college.  Then Dungeon Lords came out, which I loved.  Then I got a copy of Space Alert, and though I haven’t played much, it seems like something I’m really going to like a lot when I find a more regular gaming group.  Now, I’m very interested in looking at the rest of Vlaada’s catalog – older games like Prophecy and Graenaland, smaller games like Sneaks & Snitches and Bunny Bunny Moose Moose.

One trend I’ve noticed, at least among the Vlaada games I’ve played, is his tendency to make his games into a ride.  In Galaxy Trucker, you spend the first half building your ship and the second half seeing how well it survives.  In Space Alert, you spend the first half planning your actions and the second half seeing if you planned successfully.  In Dungeon Lords, you give orders to your minions and then see what fruits those orders produce.  Even from what I’ve heard about  his newer and lighter games, there’s a ride element.  In Bunny Bunny Moose Moose, you’re making hand signs as cards come out, not knowing exactly the position you’ll be in when the end comes.  In Sneaks & Snitches, you select one card to be a sneak and another to be a snitch, and then you see what all the other players chose, and whether you made wise choices.  Vlaada’s most recent game is called Travel Blog…does it have the same type of elements of simultaneous choices and waiting to see how you did?

Travel Blog - Image by BGG user Itai

Travel Blog is coming out at Spiel 2010 (less than a week away).  The designer is Vlaada Chvátil and it is being published by Czech Games Edition (as well as Z-Man Games here in the States).  Art was done by several people – David Cochard, Milan Vavroñ, Radim Pech, Filip Murmak, and Ivana Lososová.  The game can be played by 2-5 people, is for ages 8 and up, and purports to take 30 minutes.  The basic concept is that you’re a blogger for the internet magazine Project Boundless, and you’re being sent out to various locales to experience them and write about them.  You’re getting a stipend to spend on travel, but you can keep what is left.  The goal is to make the most money.

I don’t have a specific component list, but there are traveler cards and two tokens for each player; a game board with places for the cards (doesn’t seem to be strictly necessary); two game maps (one for Europe and one for the United States); money (can’t tell if it’s paper money or not); four transparent markers; and state cards for each map (the word “state” could mean states of the USA, or nations of Europe).

You’ll either be playing with the US map or the Europe map, as well as its particular deck of cards.  The game is played over seven rounds, but can be divided into four parts.

Part one is rounds one and two.  At the start of round one, you get 100 euros.  You won’t get any money in round two, but that’s the only difference between the play of the two rounds.  For each, you’ll deal seven face up state cards around the board.  The board gives you an area for each space, as well as a space that simply says 40.  As I mentioned before, the board is probably not strictly necessary.  If you just had a card that said 40, you might save on some printing costs.  However, it adds convenience and ease of play.  As soon as the seven cards are out (“without delay”, as it says in the rules), an eighth is dealt to the center.  This is the starting state.  Each player will then place one token on one of the seven surrounding states.  This is done simultaneously, and if someone beat you to a state, you place your token on top of theirs.  You don’t want to be late.  You also can’t touch a token once you’ve placed it, so no changing your mind.  Placing on the forty means that your trip will cost a flat rate of 40 euros.

Once everyone has placed a token, you’ll pay for the trip.  This is where you check the map (which is face down while everyone is placing tokens).  Pay 10 euros for each border you crossed.  If the state you chose borders the starting state, pay a total of 30 euros.  You also must pay 10 euros for each token under yours.  If you chose the 40, you pay 40 euros plus 10 per token that beat you there.  You’ll only want to do this if the states are too far away.

Once you pay up, discard the face up cards (leave them face up) and move on to the next round.  You always keep whatever money you have left.

Part two is rounds three and four.  These are nearly the same as the first two, with some exceptions.  You get 200 euros at the start of round three (and none for round four).  You will be placing two tokens, may only use one hand, and can’t place both in the same space.  The path is linear, so you’ll go from the starter state to one of your choices, then to the other.  Costs are generally the same, except that you pay 30 if both of your states border each other, and you pay 30 for each state you chose that borders the starting state.  The 40 cuts out one step in your journey, so you just plan from the start space to another.

Part three is rounds five and six.  Again, there are variations in the play.  You get 300 euros at the start of round five (zero for round six).  There will be two states in the center, with one as a starter and one as an ending for the trip.  The 30 euro border penalty still applies, but doesn’t count if the start and end states border.  The 40 cuts out one leg, so you’ll go from the start state to a single state to the end state.

Part four is round seven.  This works much like part three, except that in this round, you get no money.  You will also not be trying to get the most efficient routes because you will be paid per border you cross.  You’ll get 10 euros per border you cross, but the route must be chosen by the other players (so no going from California to Arizona via Maine).  You’ll get 30 euros if two states border each other (not the start and end states), and 40 for choosing the 40.  You still have to pay 10 euros for everyone who got there first.

The player with the most money wins, but as with many Vlaada games, there’s a consolation prize – if you enjoyed the trip, you’re a winner.

The comparison I can most easily make is to the 10 Days series.  If you don’t know those games, you’re essentially building a route by connecting bordering states or countries, or by hopping in cars, planes, or various other forms of transportation.  Whereas that game is more of a thinker, this game seems to reward quick thinking.  The spontaneous play that is such a hallmark of Vlaada’s designs is definitely there, as is the ride – you choose the places, then you find out how you did.  The variable here is the map – if you know your geography, you’ll probably do better than someone who doesn’t.  If you have a good memory, you may have a good idea of what you haven’t seen yet in the first six rounds since no card will be used twice.  In the seventh round, you could see anything since the deck will be reshuffled.

The rules are not as amusingly written as they have been in other Vlaada titles (Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, and Dungeon Lords are all a hoot to read).  However, they are laid out in a familiar style, teaching the rules as you go.  You can play the first two rounds of the game without reading about the other five rounds.  This makes the game easier to play out of the box.

I doubt we’ll see this game as a favorite of any serious gamers.  However, this game seems to be more educational in nature.  This is the type of game that could help kids to learn geography without even knowing they’re learning something.  And I think that’s pretty valuable.  I look forward to giving the game a try, and I hope it works as well as I suspect it will.  If so, I’ll be recommending it to a lot of teachers that I know.  You can check out more at BGG as information comes in from Essen.  I don’t know a price yet, but I found one online store that had it for about 30 euros.  So, I suppose it can be yours for the cost of traveling between bordering states…

Before I leave you, let me say a word about Spiel 2010.  I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in this blog.  It’s a huge game fair that is held annually in Essen, Germany.  Most publishers have major releases that come out at that time, so it’s a really big deal for a lot of gamers.  It’s being held this coming weekend – October 21-24.  As such, information is flooding out and it’s hard to keep track of all the buzz.  I’ve got my eye on a few games, but I fully expect a few more to come out that are completely off my radar.  I have a couple more posts planned before the convention, including an expansion from Mr. Chvátil, but who knows what will happen afterwards.  Thanks for reading, and insert clever tagline here.

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