I am intrigued by games like The Mind, which require a group of players to work together to win, but that ALSO limit player communication. Doing this prevents a phenomenon that has been dubbed “quarterbacking,” “alpha gaming,” or “backseating.” It really means that one player in a cooperative game dominates the game and tells everyone what to do. This is difficult to eliminate in a game with open information, where everyone knows each other’s cards, but once you limit that information and players cannot communicate what they are holding, the phenomenon is stopped in its tracks.
On the other hand, I wanted to create a game that had a bit more story to it, that was more than just ascending cards full of numbers. I settled on the idea of commuters, at the end of a long workday, making their way from their jobs in the city to their homes in the suburbs. This seemed a pretty relatable idea, and it would work for players to cooperate as the urban planners laid out the routes for the commuters and sent them on their way. I discussed the idea with one of the only people in my life who is also a game designer AND with whom I’ve actually traveled by train, boat, and bus: Kevin Rodgers.
The crux of the game is in three big elements: the finite deck of cards, the limited communication, and the choice of when to play the cards given the limitation. Achieving victory is all about managing the stops along each vehicle’s path. Buses tend to have a lot of stops, ferries have fewer stops, and trains have very few. Given that, players must try and stretch out each of the six routes without requiring too many cards to be discarded to move vehicles. And walking should be reserved for getting out of the Big City…and maybe getting out of troublesome situations.
The original prototype of the game had a fourth vehicle type as well: the airship. This speedy flying vehicle would have gone from the city to the suburbs in one movement, but its cards were so scarce that it created needless delays and often led to frustration instead of fun. Kevin and I are proponents of amping up fun at almost any cost, and in this case, the cost was the airships. They had to go, and it was a good thing too because once we were down to three vehicle types across six suburbs, the math got much easier to do.
Also in the original prototype are power plants and variable energy icons across all cards. When I found the old file and saw that, I just stared at it, because I have no recollection of there ever being an energy production and expenditure system in this game, but there it is in my fancy Excel sheet. Funny how development can excise parts that are totally lost to history.
Kevin and I spent a great deal of time playing many iterations of Mass Transit, whittling down the deck and tweaking cards to get the right sense of tension for the game. Some versions were fun, but too easily won. Others had you behind from the start with little hope of victory. Once we had the game in a place where it tended to end – in victory or defeat – with no cards left in the deck and players down to only a card or two left in hand, we knew it was just right.
We were also thrilled to playtest the game with groups from 2 players up to 6 players. This offered us glimpses of how the difficulty of the game shifts depending on the player count. It isn’t inherently a more difficult game with more players, but the addition of people who think differently from each other adds a layer of suspense and fun to the game. We also invited many people to play the game solitaire, and the positive reaction to that was a joy to see. No matter if it was played solo or with up to 6 players, we got a great deal of feedback that people played game after game, seeking out a win that kept eluding them. Every time they lost with one card left in their hand, they would set the game up and play again.
Mass Transit is a game I am incredibly proud to have co-created. Kevin and I set out to build a perfect travel game, in that it was about traveling and it could be taken anywhere. Nowadays, when we need a nice quick cooperative game to hit the table – as we wind down a game night, or in between heavier games – we always turn to Mass Transit. Hopefully, you will too!