Appropriation Project – Serpent To Ride

by | Oct 22, 2016 | Artwork #2: Appropriate, Projects

As mentioned in my earlier post, for my Appropriation Game, I wanted to take a traditional game and make something new, that required a totally different skill set and mindset, and adding at most only one or two extra materials.

Some appropriations that influenced me were Yoko Ono’s White Chess, the concept of Readymades, and examples in class such as Human Go. By coloring the whole chess set white, Yoko Ono shows that both factions are essentially the same, and on the same team, and that they shouldn’t be fighting. The main mechanic of this game is remembering where your pieces are, and this makes chess both a game of mental planning, and a memory game, which adds another difficult layer on top of an already complicated game. While I liked this idea of adding complexity, I wanted to see how far I could stretch the boundaries of a game instead of seeing the results of one simple change, because I thought it would be more difficult, interesting, and informative.

The concept of Readymades and Fluxkits showed that you can do interesting things and create works of art by just using the objects that you had on hand. You have to fully examine whatever object you would be using, determine its affordances, and choose the best way to utilize the object, whether it be for display or some other purpose. Fluxkits used common household objects such as matchsticks and film reels for artistic use. And certain Readymades were displayed as pieces of art, including Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, Fountain, and Bottle Rack. So, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Dadaists and use an unconventional household object in my game. I wanted something that could be used instead of trains as pieces for the players on the Ticket to Ride board, and paperclips stood out to me as a simple way to show the locations and paths of each player, and they were just wide enough to fit on the Ticket train pathways.

Some of the Appropriation examples in class were influential to my game. Human Go, a variant of Go that is life-sized and played with humans as playing pieces, was something that showed me how playing pieces can really change the game. It’s harder to see the whole board the larger it is, and the larger the board, the slower the game goes. These are all results of the size of the playing pieces. I wanted a different experience than Ticket to Ride, so I shied away from the typical ‘placing trains down to complete routes’. Instead, I decided to use the routes as pathways you could travel on, and your player would not be in any one location permanently.

Inherently, this lent itself to a game similar to Tron or Snake, where your tail gets longer and longer, and you have to avoid all walls while trapping the other players. For a full description, see my previous post here:

But after my second playtest, I decided to change a few things. The motive behind some of the actions was questionable at best. For example, completing routes would move your snake out of a dangerous situation, moving potentially across the whole map, but your tail would get longer. Having a longer tail would make it easier to trap others, but also you have less area to move.

My playtesters said that they would like it better if there was a more concrete win condition, because although adding more paperclips makes the game eventually get to an end state, it was particularly difficult to actually trap players. And it was especially frustrating when a player got eliminated early and had to wait for the next game, unlike the traditional German game style that Ticket to Ride is (a game in which everyone is in it until the end).

So, my first change was to make this game more interactive, which meant drawing a hand of 3 color cards, and after you move, you replace on of the visible color cards with one from your hand, and redraw. The visible color cards represent pathways that no player can travel on. This way, it provides player input and strategy about which colors to hold, and which colors to use to trap other players, instead of it being random.

But, eventually I came to terms that the German style might be better, but more playtesting would be necessary.
This new style has the same basic play as the old version of the game, except there are two major changes.
1) The winner is the first player to get to four completed routes. Each player starts with 3 face-down routes, and whenever they complete one, they get another one face-down. The rules entailing route completion still applies (instead of moving up to 6 train spaces on your turn, you can turn a route face up, provided you are on one of the cities, and if there is a clear, unobstructed path from your city to the destination, then you move your snake along that path and add 5 paperclips to your tail). As your snake grows, there is less space to move, making it harder for you to get your last couple routes.
2) I removed the ‘player death’ aspect of the game. Players cannot die. Instead, if they cannot move, they just do not move. Thus, blocking players off is still relevant because the more freedom you have to move, the more likely you are to complete your routes.

Along with these changes, I’m still keeping my first change as it does allow more player interaction. This new version still keeps with the themes that I discussed earlier: creating a new experience by changing something in an existing game, using readymade objects as playing pieces, and using the playing pieces’ affordances in a well thought out way. Although it does make the game more like Ticket to Ride by focusing on route completion, my game goes about it in a different way, allowing the board and the blocked spaces to be more fluid to provide a unique experience.

Playtesting this game in class went well, and the players liked it and thought it was fun. We started with 5 paperclips each in a 3 player game, and we went to 4 routes completed. Each player started with 3 routes, and got one whenever they finished one. The colors and movement were fine, and playing colors to block others off was pretty common, and it became known that ending on a location that had many paths out of it was good because of this. Players were much more willing to block themselves off for a turn or two, just to get to the destination they wanted. I think this tradeoff is good, as it gives each player more options. I think that there are still imperfections with the game, but I am pleased with the result of this project.