Lots of people don't know how to make quality custom maps. Here's how.

(If there's another map contest, be sure to list me in the acknowledgements if you win.)

Step 1: Idea

You could go two ways. You could either find a place you like and make a map on it, or make a cool new rule.

If you choose to find a place you like, make sure it has a decent railroad history and that it existed in the early 1900s. The Heart of Africa and Pennsylvania maps seem like weird choices by Alan R. Moon, until you look into their railroad history. They're certainly thematically better than Kyrgyzstan or Cambodia maps. Next you have to take that place and make a cool rule around it, like Jungle routes in my South America. Don't be afraid to have 2 changes in one, like the color grouping in said map.

Or you could choose to make a cool rule. There are two easy ways to do this. You could change up a base mechanic in the game, like negative routes like in my upcoming Russia or no tickets like in my Spain. Or you could introduce a mechanic from another game you like (or don't), like having tickets on a headband like in my upcoming California. Then choose a place (again that matches the theme). If you're planning on making multiple maps, try to brainstorm ideas for the place you choose before you finalize it (for example, you may regret making a simple Florida map once you get an idea for marshland routes).

It's often good to just think about it for a few days before you start your map, just in case you want to change something.

Step 2: Making the map

There are again two ways to go.

Photoshop is the more popular option, I've never used it but it seems relatively easy. A few notes after looking at other's maps:

  • Try to cut out the rectangles from the other maps, and paste them on. It'll look better.
  • If you can't do that, at least make actual locomtive symbols for ferries, and DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT simply place a tunnel logo on the route. Just outline the rectangles in black, it looks better and is easier to understand.
  • For the background, DO NOT take the first image you find and slap it on. This is Photoshop, man! Try to find a decently shaped/sized map, and then color it in a bright-ish color. Try to make different countries recognizable. If you want, make little scratches where mountains would be. You can see this kind of detailing on the Nordic map.
  • There are countless shades of blue for the ocean, try to choose one that blends with the background and theme.
  • Don't make cities too big or small, and make sure the font is readable on your screen, meaning people at the far end of the table will also be able to see.
  • Don't write "Ticket to Ride: China" on your map. Also, don't put the DOW logo on there, it's misleading and distracting.
  • Try to make your own score table.

Then there's my option, the paper, scissors, and tape option, some tips after making 12+ homemade maps (and annoying the ever-living crap out of anyone walking through my living room).

  • Get different colors of paper. You need bright rainbow colors, black and white. For the background, choose a different color than the routes themselves.
  • Choose a color scheme. Yeah.
  • The most tedious part is cutting out the rectangles. If you plan on making a few maps, take one sheet of every color, a few train cars, and a ruler, and draw lines on the paper. Then cut them out into a large bowl. This will last you quite a few maps. (My first bowl lasted 9 maps!). If you have gray paper, awesome. If you're like me and don't, don't hesitate to take pencil to a white sheet. Try to have twice as many grays as colors.
  • Make the background. Try to cover the land where you think you'll need it, then add the water, or vice-versa.
  • To elaborate, it's OK to be inaccurate, especially with borders and coastlines (Canada would have been hell for me) You're making a cool game, not designing a NASA rover. 

Advice for both options.

  • You can move around cities so you can fit a one-space route between them. You don't have to, but you can, say, move San Francisco and Oakland away from each other so you can have a ferry.
  • One of the biggest mistakes is making the routes too plentiful. Try to have a minimum of route traingles on your map (like say, Taipei-Macau-Shanghai-Taipei). You can have triangles if they're large routes, but having open gaps like near Mo I Rana helps the look. Just don't make every city have a direct route to each other city.
  • Likewise, don't make the cities too plentiful either. Try to choose just the bigger cities so some can be more spread out.
  • Ferries are one of the most popular new rules for maps, don't be afraid to use them, tunnels or mountain routes. You could even have just one or two, like on my Austria-Hungary map or the Pennsylvania map.
  • It's OK to have dead ends (like, say, London-Edinburgh) but having too many like on this Egypt one I saw once is ridicoulous.
  • In Ticket to Ride, you are building routes, not riding them (see another one of my blog posts or BGG). Therefore, it's OK, if not perfect if you use rail lines that don't exist in real life. 

Step 3: Tickets

It depends on the style of the map. If you want a ticket-hoarding map, do so. As an example: Europa Big Cities has every big city in a ticket with each other, plus others. If you want a little Big Cities mix, do this with your tickets so the same ticket doesn't appear backwards again.

1-2   1-3   1-4   1-5   1-6   1-7

     2-3   2-4   2-5   2-6   2-7

             3-4   3-5   3-6   3-7

                     4-5   4-6   4-7

                              5-6   5-7


For normal tickets, just go with your knowledge. And try out tour tickets. They're nice too. Also, if you didn't know: Tickets values are based on the shortest distance between the two cities.

Now you're ready to playtest!

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