Saturday, July 9, 2011

How UX made me a Ticket To Ride player

After playing a few sessions of Ticket To Ride with friends, I lost interest. It struck me as an OK game, and I could understand why it had a strong fan base. However, given limited boardgaming opportunities, I happily let my copy go.

That was several years ago. Today, as a dedicated iPad user, I was mildly interested to see how well Days Of Wonder implemented Ticket To Ride for this medium. Now, in spite of my earlier diffidence to Ticket To Ride, I'm a regular player.

What changed? First, there's the lack of setup. Even with a simple game with relatively few components, the process of setting up and breaking it down factors into my interest in playing it. (One reason why I don't get Arkham Horror to the table that often.)

Second, there's the speed of play. Ticket To Ride played face to face took longer than I had hoped for the class of game it is. Playing Ticket To Ride on the iPad takes only about 15 minutes, even when played online against other people. Dealing with players suffering from analysis paralysis is much easier in the anonymous online world than when sitting across from the table, worried about how that player will react to urging to get along with it already.

Finally, there's mobility. On the couch, on the train, on the plane, I can jump into a game of Ticket To Ride whenever I feel a need to take a short mental break from my work.

In other words, the iPad version of Ticket To Ride has a completely different user experience (UX) than the boardgame. The rules are the same, but it's essentially a different game. Ditto for similar games, such as Carcassone, that I've revisited in their iPad incarnations.

Another interesting case is Joan Of Arc. Because of the subject matter, I've been intrigued, but never took the plunge because it seemed at risk of being another game that was too Euro-ish and too long. Many times longer, in fact, than Ticket To Ride, which would try the patience of my regular gaming group if it turned out to be less than stellar.

The iPad version is pretty good. I'm glad I bought it, both in and of itself as a game I enjoy playing on the iPad, but also as something I might consider buying, now that I have more experience with it.

That's a pattern I hope to see repeated with other games in general, and wargames in particular. The user experience of physical wargames may be too much for neophytes, interested in the history and gameplay, but not sure about the investment of time. Having played Washington's War on the iPad and enjoyed it, a newbie might then want to introduce a friend to the physical version. Learning how to play any iPad wargame would certainly help the new player understand wargame conventions in general, lowering the barrier of entry to the hobby in general.

Again, it all comes down to user experience. As I said in my earlier post, software often fails because the initial user experience is confusing and difficult. If eventual complexity is necessary, you need to provide some kind of simpler initial user experience that suggests where to go next, and the rewards for going there. That, by the way, is where many "gateway" games fail, for some players. While Memoir '44 might be easy to grasp, it's also not much of a simulation. The leap from Memoir '44 to Washington's War is a lot tougher than the transition from the iPad version of WW to its physical one would be. So, here's to companies like Shenandoah Studios, providing the initial user experience that may get more people playing wargames.

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