“Ticket to Ride” is a very fun, challenging, competitive board game by Days of Wonder. Each player has 45 plastic train cars to lay along tracks connecting different cities in a country, such as the United States, or a continent (Europe, Asia, Africa). In order to lay cars on a track, the player must collect and discard the right number of cards that are the same color as the track. The goal is to complete as many routes connecting distant cities (e.g. Los Angeles to New York) and score as many points as possible. If a player is unable to complete a route, ze loses the amount of points it would have been worth.
Fox and I have been playing this game like crazy: first with Banji and her dad; then against each other with our own, newly-purchased set; and this past weekend with Fox’s immediate family. We’ve had a lot of fun and gotten quite good at it.
Tonight, we decided to take on a new challenge: The two of us played a 3-player game. We each played for ourselves – Fox as black and myself as red – and we collaborated on the moves for a third, disembodied player who was Green. We looked at Green’s cards together, discussed what the best course of action would be, and cooperated to complete Green’s turn.
At the beginning of the game, I selected 3 routes that seemed to connect in a challenging and slightly crazy, but certainly doable way: San Francisco – El Paso – Santa Fe – Duluth – Winnepeg – Atlanta. After I had done that, Fox and I looked at routes for Green, one of which included a stop in Santa Fe. I was trying to keep my routes secret, so I agreed to attempt all 5 of Green’s routes (including the one through Santa Fe). Unfortunately, the most sensible track for Green to use was the same one I needed to connect Santa Fe to Duluth. I decided to take the more circuitous route through Phoenix in an attempt to use longer tracks (worth more points) and maintain one continuous line (also worth more points: 10 to the player with the longest one).
Now that I’m removed from the situation, I can see alternatives to my course of action. I could have used 4 less cars – cars I desperately needed, but did not have, at the end of the game – by connecting El Paso to Oklahoma City along the yellow track, then continuing Oklahoma City – Kansas City – Omaha. Or, I could have taken the track connecting Santa Fe directly to Denver and allowed Green to take the more circuitous route, saving myself 6 cars! Green had little to no chance of having the longest continuous line, so branching off to Santa Fe wouldn’t have hurt it, and it certainly had the 2 extra cars it would have needed to take the red track from Denver to Oklahoma City.
This was the only place I really compromised during the game, but it cost me dearly. I had bad luck when I tried to pick up more routes later in the game. Usually I can get at least one additional route I’ve already completed or can complete very easily, but this time all my options were unattainable. I got stuck with 2 routes that I could not complete because I was one car short for each of them!
Fox had also made compromises for the benefit of Green throughout the game. As a result, he almost got stuck with a route he couldn’t complete because he was also one car short. We agreed to both add one of the extra cars to our individual pools (my red one and his black). This enabled him to complete all of his routes and me to complete all but one of mine, only losing 7 points instead of 15 (23 if you count the 8 points I gained from the extra route I completed).
So what was the unexpected consequence? Well, for one thing, each of us was hurt in our individual game by the compromises we made for the benefit of the third player, whom we played collaboratively. Looking at the situation metaphorically, I wonder what compromises we make in our relationship that hurt us as individuals – particularly as a result of withholding information or otherwise not talking a situation through. I also find it interesting that I was the one hurt more by the sacrifices I voluntarily made. That fits in with a pattern I’ve already noticed in my life and am working to remedy.
Another significant consequence is that we were both very mad at Green for winning, especially by such a huge margin! In other words, we were angry with ourselves for playing so well as a team that we did not stand a chance at winning as individuals. We each still wanted to win as an individual; we related to our collaboration as a “third player” that was separate from ourselves and our relationship. We ended up feeling like we both had lost (to ourselves!) rather than celebrating our collective achievement.
Neither of us was happy with the outcome of the game. We felt disappointed and turned to sharing chocolate for mutual comfort. Part of playing games is learning not to allow the outcomes to affect one’s relationship with others; we both have enough experience with this not to hold a grudge after a game has ended. But I still want to express my happiness that, as annoyed as we both were with the result of our attempt at partial collaboration within a competitive game, we did not take our anger out on each other. We remained united, expressing positive regard toward one another, sharing each other’s victories and defeats – even as we competed against each other (and against our collaborative effort!) for individual success.
There’s still a place for playing this game competitively, as it was intended. But if we want to “break the mold” again, we’ll play a fully collaborative game. I imagine that will feel completely different from the one we played tonight. Without striving to win as individuals, we’ll be better able to appreciate the awesome things we can achieve when we work together!