Designer: Vlaada Chvatil
Time: 30 mins
Version played: Review copy
Times played: 1.5 demos at Essen, 7 games IRL.
Travel Blog is a new release from Spiel 2010 by Czech Games Edition that’s being distributed in English by Z-Man Games. The game itself confirms a few generalizations that I have made in my mind about the current gaming world:
- Every year, CGE produces interesting games that I want to try.
- Vlaada Chvátil is a game designer who does not fit into any sort of pigeonhole.
- Z-Man Games continues its ambitious plan to co-produce games of all sorts and styles, and in doing so, Z-Man has games to fit every sort of gaming taste.
Travel Blog is unlike any other Chvátil game – though this is a statement that probably could have been attached to most of his previous releases too (Through the Ages, Prophecy, Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords, Bunny Bunny Moose Moose, etc). He again surprises me this year with yet a different sort of game than his previous efforts. With each new release, my admiration for him as a game designer increases because of the many varied sorts of games that have sprung from his imagination. That, of course, is not to say that I liked all of the older Chvátil games – for instance, I’d be happy to never play Bunny Bunny Moose Moose again – but it is always a pleasure to get a chance to try out whatever new ideas he has come up with. As soon as I saw this at Essen, I knew that this was a game that I’d have to bring home, as I love speed games, and I’m always looking for devious ways to educate my children through games.
In Travel Blog, you are traveling the world – well, actually either traveling the U.S. or the European Continent – trying to save money by traveling to nearby states as opposed to those far away. At first glance, Travel Blog looks like it might be a geography trivia game – but after a few plays, I’m glad to say that it isn’t solely based on geographic knowledge! Unless you’re playing with a Geography Bee veteran or someone with an eidetic memory of maps, pretty much every player should be on equal footing while playing the game.
The game is played over seven rounds, and in each round, you are moving your player from a starting location to one or more other destinations. For the rest of this review, I’ll pretend that the game is on the U.S. map – though the game again can be played on a European map as well. There is a round board which has a space in the middle for a start location, and then there are places around the board for seven other location cards as well as the 40-cost space. For the initial rounds, seven cards are dealt face up around the board. Then, a final card is flipped face up in the middle of the board.
As soon as this central card is shown, all players can then pick up their marker and place it next to one of the spaces around the board. The idea here is to choose a state that you can reach from the starting state (the one in the middle) while crossing the fewest number of state borders. The catch here is that you don’t want to choose a state which directly borders the start state as you will have to pay a penalty for that because it’s too close!
There is a time element here, because it’s better to be the first person to choose a particular card. The player tokens are left in the order that they are placed, and tokens that are later in the order have to pay a penalty for their slow decision-making skills.
Scoring is fairly simple – once all the player markers have been played, you pull out the map and scored based on what you see. You pay €10 to the bank for each border crossing you make. You also pay a penalty of €10 for each token that was placed on the space you chose before you placed yours down. If you happened to choose a state that directly borders the start space, you have a penalty of €30 (for a total of €40 as you still have to cross one border to get to the new state). Don’t forget that you could choose the “40” space on the board where you simply pay a fixed €40 to the bank – though you still have to pay the €10 penalty for any tokens underneath yours at this location. There are plenty of times when the least expensive choice is to pay the €40 outright! So, if the starting space is Ohio, the first person to choose Tennessee would pay €20 (€10 for crossing OH-KY and €10 for crossing KY-TN).
The first two rounds follow this pattern – choosing a single destination from the start space. For rounds 3 and 4, things get a bit more complicated as you now have to choose two different destinations each round. The scoring rules are identical here – you just have to figure out your travel in two steps. All of the cards used in the first 2 rounds are kept out of the deck, so you are always dealing with new states here. In this stage, you place two tokens each speed round, and then when scoring comes, it is up to you to decide in which order you are traveling. You score each of the two legs of your journey separately, and you are at risk of the €30 penalty for neighboring states on each leg. If you choose the “40” space in these rounds, your travel just goes from the start site to the state marked by your other marker, and then you simply add the €40 penalty onto the total cost.
For rounds 5 and 6, there is one added level of complexity. In these rounds, once the seven location cards are dealt around the board, TWO cards are placed in the middle. (All of the cards from the first 4 rounds are kept out of the deck – so again, all the locations are new). These two cards represent the start and end of your trip – again you can choose which is the start and which is the end. You again have to play two markers to the board, so you have a trip with three travel legs. The scoring rules all remain the same. If you choose the “40” space, you just go from one start card to the one chosen location and then to the end card, adding the €40 penalty on top of everything else.
For the final round, you have to shuffle the cards so that any location can come up. The scoring rules are a little bit different here as in the final round, you earn money rather than having to pay it to the bank. Your opponents as a group decide your path between states – thus ensuring that you still take the shortest route between states. The last round is quite interesting because you are now trying to find the states that are actually as far apart borderwise as possible. After this final round, whoever has the most money – between that earned in the last round as well as any money left over from the first six rounds – wins!
The game is a quick and would be very enjoyable for families or school groups. While having some geographic knowledge helps, I haven’t yet been in a game where one player had such a tremendous advantage over the other players. Choosing the appropriate map will help here. I like the fact that you can play the game with two different maps. The USA map has been good with the kids because they are still learning the states, and this is turning into a good stealth educational tool. With adults, the European map has been quite interesting because as I’ve played with only stereotypical Americano-centric American gamers, no one has really quite known where the European countries are, and this has made the game a fun challenge. After all, who would have ever thought that Norway and Azerbaijan are only two borders away from each other – just a short jaunt through Mother Russia to get between those two nations.
The maps are well done, and they are easy to read. The rules make it clear that there were a couple of liberties taken in order to make boundaries easier to see – especially on the European map. There are also a couple of weird things with countries with separated sections (Russia and Azerbaijan). On the US map, the biggest rule to remember is that the Four Corners region counts as a shared boundary between all four states. The components otherwise are well made and have stood up well to rough play – as any game played with children constitutes rough play!
As with previous CGE rulesets, the translations are awesome, and the rules are written in an easy-to-read conversational style. Also, similar to the rules of Galaxy Trucker – the layout promotes a quick initial play of the game. The rules make it clear that you need to read only the rules for the first two rounds before you can start playing, then the rules direct you to which sections you need to read in order to continue playing. While not every game will fit this pattern, it is nice to be told by the rules when you can learn as you go.
The time element adds a lot to the game. While it doesn’t seem like a €10 penalty would be a big deal for choosing a space after another player, those €10 penalties can add up quickly when everyone else chooses a spot before you. It is always interesting to see the wheels churn as players try to decide (as fast as they can) whether they should choose a site with multiple other markers versus the “40” spot versus some other less idea spot which doesn’t come with all the penalties. There is a flurry of action when the cards are flipped, and I do enjoy that sort of thing. It helps to play with a friendly group because there will surely be times when two players simultaneously arrive at a spot. Of course, with this sort of game, it’s not likely that you will ever really be in a cut-throat situation as a lot of the fun in the game is in the playing not necessarily in the winning.
This is most certainly not a gamer’s game – it is best suited for families, children or school groups. It will also do quite well as a filler game at a game night. It is quickly taught, easily played, and most definitely does not outlast it’s welcome as most games finish in 20-30 minutes. It is another feather in Mr. Chvátil’s cap, and he again shows his extreme versatility in game design with this one. I also think that this will be a nice addition to the CGE/Z-Man lines providing those companies with a more accessible, light family-oriented game. While I wouldn’t say that this is a true “gateway” game, it likely will end up introducing a few people to these games of ours, and that can only be a good thing. My guess is after maybe two games of Travel Blog, your new gaming friends will be ready for Through the Ages!
My opinion: I like it.
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers
Melissa Rogerson: We’ve only played this once, and were attracted to the game because we had our own travel blog (although not of this type). For us, the US states would be an exercise in ridiculous – but we did ok with the European map. A solid family game.
Patrick Brennan: More of a speed geography pop quiz rather than a game. 7 country cards are revealed, then 1 in the middle, and as quickly as possible you declare a route by placing your token on 1 of the 7 countries, best points awarded for the shortest route between your chosen country and the central country. Later rounds complicate things by choosing two countries, and by having 2 countries in the middle, but it’s all the same process. Those who know their geography best will quickly find the shortest available route fastest (rather than guessing) and score best, so it’s not much of an equal table going in. It’s too repetitive by the end, and there’s not much game there. A round is so quick that most of your time is actually spent counting up scores rather than actually playing anything. As such, I’ve no need to play again unless asked to fill out a table.
Erik Arneson: I’ve played about five times. I agree with Patrick’s description of this as a “speed geography pop quiz” — but clearly I enjoyed it much more than he did. I like watching the many “ugh!” moments in the game (even when they happen to me), such as when you realize that yes, Oklahoma really does touch a sliver of Colorado’s southern border. (Those moments tend to be much more common on the European map for American gamers.)
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Dale Yu, Melissa Rogerson, Patrick Korner, Tom Rosen, Erik Arneson
Neutral. Jonathan Franklin, Valerie Putman, Joe Huber, Doug Garrett
Not for me. Patrick Brennan
Kudos to Vlaada for pursuing “different”. Enjoyed a few games before moving it on.
How’d I miss this review? I think this is a great game, however, we often found when playing the US map that everyone pretty much knew the best choices and then it just became an exercise in who would see the proper choices first. Still, a great game. I’d put it in the “love it” category.