If you’re a regular on the El, you know the potential hiccups: rush hour traffic, station renovations, delays, express trains, Cubs games. On the bright side, you get to ride around the Loop in an elevated line (or El, hence the name), to embark on an urban adventure of art and architecture, to explore different neighborhoods from the north to the south and from the Loop to the west, and even get a chance to hop on the holiday train car if it’s in season. The El is such a big part of what makes Chicago, Chicago, so why not have fun with it?
That’s what the Transit Tees’ team thought. The boutique and design studio with stores in Wicker Park and Andersonville has established itself as the one-stop-shop for locally made Chicago-inspired gifts and memorabilia. From transit-themed original artwork and merch—mugs, pins and magnets, pet apparel, home goods and, of course, tees—it comes as no surprise that they’ve created a board game. The theme? Chicago’s iconic El system. The second board game released by the Transit Tees’ team, “EL: The Chicago Transit Adventure,” follows “Loop: The Elevated Card Game,” and the players’ mission is to navigate train car pieces around Chicago to arrive at all destination points in their hand. To keep the intrigue levels high, there’s a deck of cards, which means one thing: you never know which event card will be drawn to expedite or delay your trip—just like in a real-life scenario.
Conceptualized and designed by in-house artists, who also manufacture many of the game pieces in their Wicker Park design studio—imagine 3D printers and laser cutters at work—”EL: The Chicago Transit Adventure” also features vintage CTA token-inspired game chips, a proper tribute to the city’s transit system that began operation in 1892. The board game hit the shelves in time for the holiday season and is geared toward audiences aged 13+. Transit Tees’ senior art director and lead designer, Tom LaPlante, explains to Newcity design editor Vasia Rigou, how it came to life. But the bottom line is this: Whether you’re a diehard Chicago fan, a tourist looking for a local treasure to bring back home or an avid gift-giver, it promises you’ll never look at the El the same way again.
What was the inspiration?
Transit Tees is inspired by all things related to public transit and Chicago, so making a game about riding the El around the city is a natural fit. Last year, we produced our card game, “Loop.” This year we decided to produce an even more complex game and make use of the whole CTA system, instead of just the Loop. We were inspired by the range of train lines and destinations on each line. Our goal was to make a game that captured the excitement of riding the El as an urban commuter. Chicago has a terrific transit system, and a lot of interesting places to visit.
Can you walk us through how you design a game—how do you start, what is your process?
For a game like this, the natural starting place is the transit map. When we began play-testing, we would play using an actual map of the system as the board. We redesigned that system map to better fit on a game board and make moving pieces around clear and easy. As for the rules of the game, we began by using the station cards from the Loop as a starting point, and dealt them out and traveled around the map visiting stations. We soon began adding in complicating factors, like travel conditions, station renovations and transit tokens in order to give players more ways to interact with the game and each other.
What is the biggest challenge you faced during the design process?
Working out kinks in the rules to make sure it played smoothly and provided a nice balance of strategy and chaos was tricky. If the gameplay is too predictable, it becomes boring, and if there is too much chaos, it’s no fun when your plans are dashed at every turn. Since this is mostly a game about finding an optimal route from station to station, players need to be able to plan several turns ahead—but of course unexpected things are always happening on the trains. We wanted to capture that experience.
What makes “EL” unique?
Aside from showcasing Chicago’s elevated trains, we make use of buses as well. There are parts of town that are easiest to reach on the bus! Additionally, we researched the area around every station to find attractions that commuters seek out as destinations. Some of these are pretty obvious, for example, Wrigley Field at Addison or The Art Institute at Adams and Wabash. Others are a little more obscure, like the Bahá’í House of Worship at Linden, or the Frank Lloyd Wright houses near Harlem and Lake. We highlight a range of destinations that make Chicago unique; places that are worth a visit whether you’re a tourist or have lived in the city all your life.
What is one thing you want the world to know?
Public transportation is a great asset to any city! It allows anyone to connect to communities that they might not otherwise have access to, or never even thought of visiting before. We want to show everyone that riding the train is lots of fun, even if it takes you somewhere you didn’t expect it to.
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