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The Other: A Discussion of Category Nine Games

by Heather Barnhorst

Summer 1997/Vol 4, no 2

(Note: Category Nine games have now become Category 10)

Category Nine is often considered to be the throw-away category of the Puffing Billy Tournament; that category to which games that no one plays or games that are not particularly playable are assigned. This notion couldn't be farther from the truth.

Category Nine offers many uses for the TGA and for individual Puffing Billy Conductors who are determining their train game schedules. Let's look at Category Nine so that we might understand why certain train games might be placed in this category and why they might be moved out of this category.

The number one reason that a train game might be placed into Category Nine is that it is new. Not many train gamers are familiar with the game and for it to gain widespread playing time might take six months to a year. Usually it also means that the game is not part of a series already on the market such as the 18xx series or the Empire Builder style series. A game such as India Rails will bypass Category Nine and be placed directly into Category Six along with the other Empire Builder variants because most gamers are familiar enough with the system that they will not be disadvantaged by playing it for the first time in a tournament situation. Very often you will find this kind of a Category Nine game being demoed at some of the Puffing Billy Tournaments taking place around the country. The TGA does this to see if the game is playable in a tournament situation and if train gamers want to play it in a tournament situation. Many of these games are moved during our slow convention season into one of the other categories.

As an aside here, not all train games are considered appropriate for tournament play. A game might be determined to be inappropriate if it could not be played in six hours or less, if it has been out of print for so long that the vast majority of train gamers have never seen the game or if the play mechanics simply don't lend themselves to being included in the PBT. An excellent example of a train game not suitable for tournament play in the PBT is C?/B? by Avalon Hill. The game is so long out of print that most train gamers have never seen a copy. In addition, only two players can play it at a time--one takes on the role of the B? and the other takes on the C?. Games such as these are entered onto a restricted list and are not categorized for the Puffing Billy Tournament.

Sometimes a game finds a permanent home in Category Nine. The reason that the vast majority of games reside permanently in Category Nine is that they never received wide-spread distribution. So few gamers own a copy or have heard of the game that it is not practical to attempt to run it as a part of many of the smaller PBTs. In a small PBT, running a Category Nine game as a tournament can unfairly advantage the one or two players who are familiar with the game. Once again, if we like the game and think that it has the possibility of being hugely popular with train gamers, we will demo the game at some of the larger PBTs. And if it does gain popularity (even if it takes a few years) then we move it into another category. Very often, though, this process is dependent on the manufacturer sending us at least one demo copy so that we are aware of the game and can demo it.

Santa Fe by White Wind, Inc is an example of a train game that has found a permanent home in Category Nine for a completely different reason--its game mechanics are so different from any other train game that the TGA simply can't justify putting it in any of the other categories. Its distribution and print-run was not large enough to gain a following such as Rail Baron or Railway Rivals and so giving Santa Fe its own category could not be justified. Santa Fe is an excellent game but it is a bit of an orphan when it comes to the PBT categories.

Some games wind up being moved from a previously designated category into Category Nine. 2038 by Tim/Jim Games is one such game. At the end of the last summer convention season, the TGA determined that not many train gamers played 2038 in a tournament setting. Its inclusion as an 18xx game had always been hotly debated and so we moved it into Category Nine where it is featured in some of the bigger PBTs. This move was not a comment on the playability of the game but on its popularity as a tournament game in the PBT. There have been a few other games that have been moved in similar situations.

The TGA also likes the open-endedness of Category Nine. A train game doesn't have to be listed in Category Nine to be considered a Category Nine game. Just because Trainsport: Austria, produced by Winsome Games, isn't listed doesn't mean it isn't included. We don't list all games eligible for the category due to space limitations. The TGA is often given a maximum amount of space in which to publish the PBT basics--anything considered non-essential has to be dropped. Also, sometimes the TGA is not aware of a game until one of the smaller PBTs schedules it. If no PBT schedules it, i.e.., no gamer requests and no conductor includes it in a PBT, it may remain unlisted for years. Sometimes, a manufacturer will approach us and ask us to list their train games as did White Wind, Inc and Tim/Jim Games. Very often we are happy to accede to their wishes. The key here is personal contact and a manufacturer who is proactive with us.

Category Nine is a wondrously flexible category that gives the TGA some leeway in determining the proper place that a train game has in the PBT. It allows us the time and the experience to answer important questions. Will the game's play mechanics lend it to being included in the PBT? Will it be distributed widely enough so that train gamers can become familiar with it? Does its game mechanics allow it to be categorized in one of the other categories? All these questions and more can be answered by using Category Nine. Otherwise, we would wind up not including the game in the PBT for at least another year as we determined the answers without benefit of Category Nine. And that would be a disservice to train gamers participating in PBTs around the country for it is ultimately they who give us the feedback that determines a game's placement within the tournament.


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