In a recent question we securely established that the "Longest Route" bonus in Ticket to Ride is earned by the largest number of train cars used to make the route, not the largest number of stops.
This confused at least one smart user here, who had assumed the opposite to be true. After all, any fool can build a direct train from New York to Los Angeles, but surely a train that makes a few stops along the way to accumulate passengers would be a much more valuable commodity!
I personally feel as if there could be a strong argument for switching the way that Longest Route works. After all, you already get lots of points for building the efficient 5- and 6-length routes that are the bread and butter of winning the Longest Route bonus. Wouldn't there be a more interesting tension in the game if building lots of inefficient, low-scoring routes was what lined you up for the bonus?
I'm going to take this opportunity to suggest another variant, that I brainstormed up a little while ago: Contracts. Under this variant, any player could spend a move to sign a contract on a route: this is represented by taking one of their trains and placing it over the route, at right-angles to normal train placement. This train can be later used to build the route in question, but cannot otherwise be picked up from the board. At the end of the game, any uncompleted contracts score negative points equal to the positive points normally gained for completion of a route of that length. "Contract" trains do not count as being in the player's supply, for the purposes of determining if the game is about to end.
What implications would adopting these variants have on Ticket to Ride strategy and gameplay? Are they terrible ideas?