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I'm making a game about traveling the world and I stumbled across one big problem, so I hoped you could give me some good suggestions.

In my game players can choose to which cities they want to go on the map in a limited radius. I thought I could just draw lines from each city to each destination, but I ended up with a really confusing map. My next idea was to write down all destinations where a player can go from a given city, but this approach wasn't illustrative enough so players couldn't think ahead where to move next.

What are your suggestions?

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How many nodes are we talking about? On average, how many outbound connections from one of them? (Pandemic does this well for 48 cities and ~4 av. connections.) –  Monica Cellio Oct 24 '12 at 14:52

9 Answers 9

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Is it a fixed distance on the map? Like you can travel to any city within 500 miles of your current location? You can use a plastic or cardboard "template" similar to the ones in miniatures games — basically a cutout that you overlay on the map, and anything inside it is "close enough" for travel. This has some drawbacks, though:

  • Not knowing where you can move without measuring each move causes confusion and lost time when players try to plan more than one move ahead.
  • Moving a big disk around the game board is likely to knock over pieces.

Without knowing more about your game, though, my first impulse is to ask: do you need the complexity here? If the range of possible moves is too complex to represent graphically, maybe it's too complex to easily follow along in play. Maybe there are too many nodes in the graph. Maybe a more abstractly representational game board will be easier to understand (think about subway maps vs. street maps)?

If the decisions players make are usually going to be obvious — if they're using their full movement every turn, for instance — you should consider simplifying away the waypoints no one is going to want to visit anyway.

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Great points! The cutout would be perfect if I didn't have to place pieces on the map. I guess I'll have to take your advice and simplify my map. Thanks! –  AlpineFreak Jun 24 '12 at 21:33
    
@AlpineFreak You could go the Android route and give each player a cardboard arc (like a pair of compasses). If they can reach a location with it from their current location, they can move there. If mechanics allow for different distances to be covered, you could allow players to "upgrade" their vehicle (i.e. use a bigger arc). Here's a picture of the Android components I'm referring to: boardgamegeek.com/image/412954/android –  Johno Jun 25 '12 at 9:12
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I would also go for a redesign of that mechanic. Allow travel only between neighboring cities, associate a cost with traveling each connection, and give the player a budget to spend. –  Hackworth Jun 25 '12 at 12:04

I would suggest putting hexes on the map. Players can then know how far one city is from another by counting the hexes. As long as the numbers are small such as 4 or 5 it would not provide too much complexity.
This is how Railways of the World solves this problem, and it works really well

The advantage of hexes over any other shape is that they remove any problems with diagonal movement. Cities are a natural distance apart from any angle. Counting the smallest number of hexes to get from one stop to another is always accurate.

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+1 for avoiding the need for additional moving pieces. –  Karl Knechtel Jun 26 '12 at 2:26

It sounds like the problem is that the connections are not just to the nearest neighbours. graphs/networks can get pretty messy pretty quickly in these sort of circumstances.

I'd limit the connections to just the nearest neighbours but maybe allow the player to travel to more than just the next node, assuming this can be made to work with the rest of the game?

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Another possibility is to cut down the number of lines, but use numbers to denote distance. Then you could allow people to travel multiple routes, so long as the total distance is less than X.

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Provide your players with a thin ruler that shows (is the length of) the allowed distance to be traveled. You could also put markings on the ruler to allow for different movement radii.

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I would consider using a schematic map as opposed to a realistic map. Read up on the London Tube Map for an idea of how you could go. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_map This way it should free you to place valid travel points closer to each other without having to deal with the realism of a "map" because accuracy is probably not as critical for game play. A good example of this in games is a Ticket To Ride map. Even tho the design of the board looks like a map of the USA it is actually a schematic map with city destinations close to their actual locations.

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Two suggestions depending on your scenario:

1) If actual linear geographical distance between the cities isn't important, then you can take your graph of connected cities and connect them by different modes of transportation, so small boats for rivers, roads for cars, train tracks, airports, etc. You can give each city different backgrounds and icons saying which is which and just tell the player they can only move between cities with the same icon. (This can also be abstractly represented with colors of numbers, only going between cities with a matching color or number)

2) If geographical realism is important (As it would be if you're trying to depict, say, the whole actual earth) then I would consider that a messy map is indicative of a game design problem, namely, that there are too many choices for the player. Therefore, I would restrict their choices using an additional game mechanic. Depending on your game's genre you could have something like Scheduled caravans or specific source->destination plane tickets, printed on cards, which the users draws and them must choose between. You can divide the board into regions, and have a separate pile for each region, thus limited the choices of travel to your desired radius, but also allowing overlaps.

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Depending on the complexity of your map, you might be able to actually print faint circles directly on it, rather than lines to all of the locations within the circles. (But I personally prefer Hyppy's solution to that.)

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Perhaps change the rules slightly. Something like this might work (depending on the game): divide the cities into regions, allow travel to any city in the same region, and mark only the routes which go between different regions. This could cut down quite dramatically on the number of routes you need to mark, without changing the actual possible moves too much.

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