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On Trax
The New Zealand Trax Association Newsletter. Issue: 11

Chat with the Inventor

This is an edited transcript of the "Chat with the Inventor" session at the 24 hour Trax Party on the MSN Gaming Zone, on Saturday 13 November, 1999. David Smith's comments are in plain text, and questions and comments from others are in bold.

I have been asked to chat as the inventor in this main lobby, so Hi to anyone who wants to do that. If anyone has any questions about Trax, fire ahead.

David - what made you think of Trax?

Hard to tell that in a few words but.... The key thing is that Trax was about the 12th game I had published. I tell inventors that their first game is just the bottom rung on a ladder. I was trying out card games at the time. The idea of tiles came to mind and in one week I was playing Trax. It being a boardless board game it breaks new ground. The big problem came before I came up with the forced play rule. If you try and play Trax with no forced plays:

  1. the game does not work because you get these holes with same colour entering on 3 sides
  2. the game is no fun
The forced play rule makes Trax both work and gives it that magic touch. So I am most proud of the forced play rule, which came as a kind of logical way of making the game work, and by chance made Trax what it is.

What did your family think of your new game?

Oh my boys were used to Dad inventing games so it took them a while to appreciate Trax. We tried it out all that summer. By the end of the summer we felt we had a game with something extra.

So do they like it now?

Well Tim_Q is my son and he is quite a good player as you know. Most players play Trax in spells. They play it like crazy for a year. Then they tire of it; then they miss it; then they come back and play it again. Some never go away.

May I take this opportunity of acknowledging the enormous contribution made to Trax by Donald Bailey. Without Donald there would be no Trax on this Zone or the Internet probably.

Did you tire of Trax?

Many times. I must have taught thousands to play Trax. Some days when someone says "How do you play this game?" I feel like throwing something at them!

call_me_17> LOL yes I know the feeling, and I have only been here 2 months.

The problem today is there are just so many things to do here and off the Net. I don't blame anyone not playing Trax regularly.

What sort of person does it take to be good at Trax?

The same kind of person who can play chess etc well and solve Rubiks Cube etc. You need to be good at thinking outside the square. It is like the rat that has to walk away from the cheese to stand on a switch to get the cheese. So much of Trax is playing away from where you have the best chance to win. The best players learn to suspect everything!

What makes Trax so addictive?

It is like any true test of skill. You get better each month and you want to be the best I guess. What makes Trax addictive is can it be played out. Is there a sure way of winning? The best answer is No. The winner is the player who makes the fewest mistakes. Why do most games fold after 26 moves or so? Donald and others and I have discussed that many times. You can almost guarantee there is a forced win in most games once they pass 25 moves.

I am talking to 20 bright 10 through 12 year olds next Thursday. What should I say to them? They all want to invent games. My short answer will be "Try and make up a game that is not like Monopoly or Scrabble or Stratego etc", and that is not easy. I got told for years and years "Your game is a bit like this or that". So with Trax I finally did what they wanted me to do and then they could not understand what Trax was about.

Whoever did the diagrams for this game clearly does not understand Trax, and he/she is a staffer on a gaming zone. People think Trax is a children's game with not much to it. How little they know!

What is the youngest age for playing Trax?

The youngest age at which bright kids generally grasp Trax is about 10 years old. The youngest age at which I have taught Trax successfully is 6 years old. That was at a Gifted Children's Club.

Robiteebob> It's about then that kids start to move from concrete thinking to abstract thinking. Brighter kids move earlier. On average kids go at about 13-15.

Right but more that it is the age when kids can concentrate and apply their thinking for longer periods. A 6 year old gifted child has the mental age of 10 through 12 for games like Trax.

Are boys better at games like Trax than girls?

No. What boys are better at is winning. Males have the killer instinct and really hate to lose.

Robiteebob> Boys are also encouraged in spatially orientated tasks, which this is strong in

Females have the same basic skills but winning is not so important to them. I regard the idea that boys think better spatially as a popular myth. I would not say I was certain about that. But it is overstated as a reason why there are fewer female Chess Grandmasters. Boys get the encouragement at home that girls do not get to do well at all sports. Carole is an example of what I mean. I find Carole's Trax play has all the same hallmarks of male play. She is deliberate and ready to be really mean and aggressive when the position demands it. Does anyone agree with that?

Carole_Plante> 'really mean' :)

The other women here are every bit the measure of the guys so this game shows that there is no particular reason why males should be any better than females at these games.

How long did it take to make this game?

About 30 years to be able to make it and one week from when I got the particular idea. It was my grounding in inventing games that enabled me to complete Trax. That is the best kept secret on this zone. I invented my first game at age 15. It was called "Call A Doctor". Most people who play games have invented a game I find.

The full story of how I "discovered" Trax is at http://www.traxgame.com/ontrax/. All the back copies of OnTrax are there to read. It tells of the process in some depth. I say discovered because of the interesting fact that Trax could have been played in 1999 BC if you think about it. Chess couldn't have been played then because it is based upon Indian armies in the 5th century AD. Yes cave men (and women and their kids) could have marked squares of bark and played Trax. Monopoly could not have been played then, or Scrabble. So if you like, Trax was waiting for someone to play it all those centuries. It needed a catalyst, which was me, to start with, and all of you to build on its strategies and its support in the big wide world. Imagine if 20 million people played Trax. It would be very popular in Japan and China. The trouble is they all play Go and Shogi.

How old are you?

I am sensitive about my age in a young person's world. The beauty about the Net is you are treated like an equal. Age is not important nor should it be when something is shared. I told Donald I was feeling old recently and he said "You were old when I first met you". He is so nice about those things.

call_me_17> what are friends for?

With friends like Donald, who needs enemies? LOL. My point is I know of no great game that was invented by anyone under about 35. But most of those inventors started at 15.

I already said how much Donald, and more recently Robyn, has contributed to Trax. And Tom Siegenthaler and Mel Nicholson who first got Trax on pbmserv@gamerz.net. And then all the regulars here, John, Tanstai, Carole, FriedRice, Y_Worry and many others like call_me etc etc.

And if you really want to be good at Trax, Donald's book and the Doby III robot software will do it for you in less than a month

Good!! Where do I get it?

If you go to http://www.traxgame.com you can order the robot program, the tiles and the books for your Christmas present. We have sold about 50 to 60 items since coming on this zone. We are not hard selling but the single best aid you can have to playing good Trax is Doby III. It gets sent to you downline. There is nothing better than playing a better player to learn all games/sports. And Doby is so mean! Doby plays Trax at 8 levels - level one you should beat. Worst part is Doby takes less than a second to make its moves.

How many have played Trax David?

I'm glad you asked that question. There have been over 250,000 sets of tiles sold to date in 18 countries. If you allow an average of 4 people have played it per set sold, I'd say 1 million people have played Trax so far.

Is Trax sold only via mail order? I was wondering because I have never seen it in stores or catalogues.

Yes, at http://www.traxgame.com. On page one click on How to Order. You can buy the books, the tiles and the robot software program for from US$16.95 to US$30, postage and handling inclusive. The US Playing Card Company of Cincinnatti sold it in the USA from 1987 to 1994. They sold 100,000 sets but that is a drop in the bucket in your market.

Thanks for the interesting questions.
TRAX is the common law mark of David Smith and is used to identify his tile game and equipment. Rules of TRAX copyright 1981, 1984, 1987, 1990 and 1998 David Smith, Christchurch, NZ.
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