Daily Archives: July 2, 2012

The (Board) Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management Part I: Ticket to Ride

I’m excited to introduce this brand-new summer series. Running once every week or so, this series will help you understand

  • what Supply Management is, if you want to know about this new and exciting career and you are an avid (board) gamer
  • how to take your Supply Management game to the next level, if you are new to the job and are having difficulties understanding some of the basics across the many areas that you have to master, and
  • how to hone your analytical skills in your-off time to do a better job and, ultimately, master many of the nuances of supply chain management and optimization.

And I know what you’re thinking. Those of you who are avid gamers are saying, “Cool! Not only do I get to put those countless hours mastering Settlers of America, Puerto Rico, and Steam to use, but I finally get an introduction to Supply Management that isn’t as exciting as watching paint dry!” and those of you who (think you) are expert practitioners are saying “Has the doctor finally flipped his gourd? Has he finally downed one pan-galactic gargle blaster too many (while trying to work his way through all the earthly equivalents, given the difficulty of obtaining an Algolian Suntiger tooth) in the presence of the Sourcing Maniacs?” (Keep up, they’ve been missing since leaving for an extended [European] vacation in January of 2010.) To the gamers, I say game on and to the rest of you, I say not yet. Bear with me and you just might learn something. Or at least have fun trying.

Even though (The Settlers of) Catan is the classic board game that is typically used to introduce newbies to the genre of strategic games, and the second game used by Wil Wheaton In Exile in TableTop to introduce you to the world of recreational board gaming, we’re going to start with Ticket to Ride because it’s about the easiest game out there and a great way to introduce you non-gamers to gaming (and you gamers to Supply Management).

As explained by Wil Wheaton in TableTop Episode 4, Ticket to Ride is
so elegant and so simple [that] you can teach it faster than it takes to set it up. You can even convince your wife to play it with you. And even better, if you don’t know anything about Supply Management, you can learn some of the important principles that will stay with you throughout your Supply Management Career.

And not only is it one of the simplest games to start with, as Wil explains, Ticket to ride is the 2004 German game of the year. That’s sort of like winning the Academy Award for board games. It’s kind of a big deal.

So where do we begin? With the basic rules, of course. The best summary of those can be found in TableTop Episode 4. As explained by Wil, when we play Ticket to Ride

      We are railroad barrons attempting to connect cities together across North America in the age of steam. At the end of the game, the player with the most points will be declared the winner. … To get those points, we can perform one of three simple actions on every turn. We can draw cards face up from the board or from the deck of mystery. We can cash in cards of the same colour to play a train down and claim a route. If a player is feeling particularly saucy, he can draw a ticket. If you complete the route outlined on the ticket before the end of the game, you receive bonus points. However, it’s a little risky. Because if you do not complete that route, those bonus points count against you in the final scoring. … Ticket to Ride is a modern day classic. You can learn it in minutes but you will be playing it for the rest of your life. All aboard.

So how does this help you learn, better understand, and master Supply Management? It’s simple.

If you are a gamer who wants to understand what the new and exciting field of Supply Management is,

  • In Supply Management, when shipping goods, you can use one of the carriers (in the face up cards) you have used in the past or try a new one (from the deck of mystery) who may (or may not) better serve your needs
  • When you need to ship something quickly and demand on carriers in the region exceeds available shipping capacity, you can use reserved capacity (in your claimed routes) to get your priority goods on time (and potentially sacrifice the ability to get future shipments on time)
  • Simply getting foreign goods onto sovereign soil is not success. If you cannot get the goods the last few miles from the dock to the warehouse or the last mile from the warehouse to the customer, you have not complete the route and have not succeeded in your task. (Just like getting four out of five tracks is not enough to claim a five track route.)

If you are a novice Supply Manager, the game helps you understand that resources and options are always limited and you are always jockeying for position against your competition. The reason that Ticket to Ride is hard to win (and hard to master) is that only one of the double tracks on a route can be claimed in a 2-3 player game, and there are only 2 tracks on a route in a 4-5 player game. You’re always competing against your opponents for tracks to complete your routes and, even worse, you don’t know what routes your opponents are trying to complete, just like in Supply Management. In Supply Management, if your competition knew your complete route, they would know what factory you’re sourcing from, what store/end-user the product is going to, and based upon knowledge about the factory (and supplier) and the store (and customer base), they would not only be able to extrapolate your supply strategy (which could be one of your competitive advantages) but also be able to predict what type of product you are sourcing (and possibly extrapolate your market strategy). That’s not what you want (especially if you’re Apple).

And if you are an expert, the game helps you hone your Supply Management instincts. Yes, you need instincts. When do you lock down a logistics / distribution contract? Analytics only takes you so far. At some point you have to lock the deal in, and if you’re spot-buying, timing gets you the best price. It also increases your observation skills. If you see capacity declining rapidly on preferred routes, you know you have to lock in. But if you can see capacity declining on nearby routes, then you know a spill-over is inevitable. (And in Ticket to Ride, the best players can see routes forming and lock in tracks that they need before their competitors.)

It’s a great starting point. And if you can’t wait to get started, I have great news! You don’t even have to wait until you get a chance to rush to your local game (and comics, if you’re in a small[er] town) store to pick up a copy. Since many of you have an iOS device, you can download Ticket to Ride for iPhone or Ticket to Ride for iPad right now! (Goal: Exceed 160 points.) Happy barroning!