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On Trax
The New Zealand Trax Association Newsletter. Issue: 12

Happy Birthday Trax

David Smith
You know what today is? Today is Rebecca's 20th birthday, that's what! "Who in the world is Rebecca?" I hear you ask. Why, Rebecca is my kid sister's granddaughter of course! "And why do you think Trax fans would be remotely interested in that particular piece of trivia?" I detect you enquiring. Because Rebecca was born on the same day as Trax, that's why. How do I remember that? That co-incidence is emblazoned indelibly on my forgetful mind because I was staying on the same property as Rebecca's mother was on the morning she was born. And it was that morning, on 26th November 1980, that I completed the process of inventing Trax.

You will find the full story in "How I Discovered Trax". The previous week I had come up with Trax as it is played today but minus one critical rule. On the 9 a.m. bus back into Auckland, New Zealand, that missing rule popped into my head and Trax was complete. Fans now know that rule as "the forced play rule". It was included to make the game functional but it soon proved to be the very essence of Trax strategy and the core of its being.

So, as this magic year 2000 dawned in a blaze of glory, It occurred to me that a good way of celebrating Trax's 20th birthday might be to write a book entitled "Trax- the first 20 Years". As the months have gone by, it gradually dawned on me that much of what would become the contents of such a book already existed at the traxgame website. For example

Chapter
  1. How I Discovered Trax
  2. What Is Trax?
  3. Official Rules - Trax Faq - Trax in action
  4. Basic Strategy
  5. History of World Championship of Trax including a complete archive of all the games
  6. Longest Trax Games
  7. On Trax Articles - MSN Gaming Zone Breakthrough
  8. Trax Merchandise and Distributors
  9. Trax Quotes, Reviews and Awards
  10. Trax Clubs
What is left to tell? Quite a lot really so here goes.

Publishers and Distributors

It is not generally realised by many of today's Trax family that the game existed for most of its 20 year history as sets of 64 real tiles per set. Originally manufactured in cardboard and soon afterwards in hand painted red plastic or bakelite, over 250,000 such sets were sold between 1981 and 1994. These were pre-Internet years during which boxed games still sold in plentiful numbers through toy and game stores around the world. Some of the corporations and distributors who sold Trax under licence in that way include:

New Zealand The IQ Company, Thomas Holdsworth and Sons
U.S.A.Excaliber Games Inc, Prestige Games Inc, United States Playing Card Company
CanadaInternational Playing Card Company
JapanBandai Corporation
SpainHeraclio Fournier SA
EuropeMind Games
ScandinaviaOle Tange
U.K.Rapid Agent Limited

Since the arrival of the Internet, retail sales of Trax, and many other games, have diminished significantly while direct mail order sales have increased. These have mainly been handled by Infotel Inc of the U.S.A.

Clubs

Mention is made on the Trax website of the early Trax Clubs of which four in particular stand out.

Canterbury Trax Club

Based in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand, the CTC was great fun while it lasted. At its height, over 250 members aged between 10 and 20 years showed up at the Club's headquarters three nights a week. Tournaments were played every night and ratings were kept which enabled players to win an increasingly valuable series of coloured badges, from blue through to gold. The rooms were a madhouse of chattering young people and the membership was still growing at a rapid pace two years on when I began to pull the plug on one of the most colourful periods in the game's history. Why? Because I could not cope with the huge demands on my time- simple as that. Towards the end of those halcyon days, three annual tournaments were held, called Star Trax, in which some 150 players assembled in the same hall every week for 8 weeks. That was a real sight to behold and it is captured on film in the Trax archives as a permanent record of the popularity of the game played across the same table, as it was in those days.

Manawatu Trax Club

When Donald Bailey began his lecturing career at Massey University in Palmerston
North, he very soon began to replicate the CTC in that city as the Manawatu Trax Club. It was there that Donald met Tom Siegenthaler who has been a tremendously thoughtful and hard working Trax enthusiast and promoter of the game ever since.

Bay Area Trax Club

It was Tom Siegenthaler who met up with another tremendous Trax evangelist in Mel Nicholson in California, on the newly developing Internet. Mel, Tom and Richard Ronglie were responsible for setting up the widely acclaimed play by email server at pbmserv@gamerz.net. In fact Trax was the very first game to be supported at that server. Arising from that connection, Mel Nicholson established the Bay Area Trax Club which is still active to this day.

Aarhus Trax Club

Another early convert to and staunch supporter of Trax was, and still is, Martin Pedersen, (Chaz to many) of Denmark. Martin soon formed yet another Trax Club at his University in Aarhus which in turn introduced some very good Danish players to the game. Martin's other claims to fame are a very extensive archive of Trax games and almost 1000 games played by him on Richard's server. Richard in turn has himself played well over 500 games there.

School Clubs

I know of at least 20 Clubs that have flourished at one time or another at schools in New Zealand and at least one school in California. It is doubtful whether that immensely exciting era of over the table Trax play will be repeated, however popular Trax becomes. Sadly, the Internet provides a more convenient way of playing games generally and Trax in particular with like minded people who are available virtually 24 hours a day. That misses the magic of the knowing glance that says "Uh Uh, I made a boo boo that I hope you don't see", the friendly and not so friendly spoken banter, the handshake at the end of the game and much more. Let's hope enough players will be hooked on the game in the not so distant future to enable Club rooms to ring again with the laughter and the sheer fun of those early days in Trax's history.

Tournaments

As mentioned above, the earliest Trax tournaments were held at the Canterbury Trax Club in 1985. These were knock out tournaments held on a nightly basis with a large block of chocolate for the winner and a smaller candy bar for the runner up. No diet conscious members there fortunately! The first ever round robin tournament was held late in 1985 to determine the Club Champion. It was won by Andrew Butterfield with, guess who? a younger Donald Bailey as the runner up. That was the forerunner of the World Championship of Trax, held for the first time in 1986. These flagship tournaments can be found on the traxgame.com website in full detail including the results and every game played from day one.

Let me acknowledge again at this point the tremendous debt Trax owes to Donald Bailey who has played such a major part in the development of all Trax related software (the website, the trax.exe program, Doby etc), the publication of On Trax magazine and the promotion of Trax generally. Winner of 6 Email tournaments, 5 World titles and still the current champion after his fine win against that other great player Dan Pless last weekend, Donald has also been the pre-eminent player of the game during most of the past 20 years.

Three other tournaments worthy of special mention were the Star Trax Tournaments of 1986, 1987 and 1988. Sponsored by a local newspaper, those three tournaments were team events between over thirty Christchurch schools. In three age groups, teams of four players per school fought it out week by week for about 12 weeks each year. These tournaments were held in a huge school hall with over 150 players competing at a time. Photographs of that hall full of eager young players demonstrate just how much fun over the table play can be. Finals night was a special occasion attended by hordes of parents and friends. Trax was the talk of the town in those days and, hopefully, that kind of real time enthusiasm will return some day when the game's popularity inspires someone other than this tired campaigner to repeat an experiment that worked like a charm.

Many schools began to run their own tournaments as did other Clubs such as the Manawatu Trax Club, The Bay Area Trax Club and the Aarhus Trax Club in Denmark. Then came the first internet email tournaments at Richard's server from 1992. Thanks are due to Mel Nicholson, Tom Siegenthaler and Richard Ronglie for "getting together" on the Net to start those tournaments, and the server itself. Again a full record of those results from year to year is up at traxgame.com as a permanent record of some very keenly fought "play by email" encounters. The ratings system at that server may also be viewed by sending a message to pbmserv@gamerz.net with the subject Trax standings.

More recently, Robyn Bailey in particular, with much help from Carole Plante and the other greeters and teachers in the Zone Team, has been running regular tournaments on the Microsoft Gaming Zone, the results of which are also recorded at the Trax website. These attract a hard core of fans and the have been the latter day equivalent of the Club tournaments of the eighties. In that sense, the Trax corner of the zone has brought the Trax Club experience full circle.

Imitations

This might be a good point at which to remind readers that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I often get asked if I was aware of certain other games when I invented Trax i.e. was I influenced by games such as Kaliko, Tantrix, TurnAbout and Connections. A pencil and paper game called Black by Martin Gardiner that is well known in America is another name that crops up but there is only the vaguest of vague similarities in how that puzzle looks and none whatsoever to how it is played.

I say "No I wasn't" aware of those games because they were almost all published after Trax began to receive rave reviews and Best Game Awards in the most popular games magazines of the time. In other words, the question should be directed at their inventors rather than at me.

That is not quite correct in the case of Kaliko which was indeed published some 12 years prior to Trax as "Psyche-Paths" and with tiles made of cardboard. That was not known to me until I saw it republished in 1983, two years after Trax, renamed Kaliko and with similarly manufactured plastic tiles for the first time.

Tantrix, on the other hand was indeed influenced by Trax, being published in 1990 by the owner of a chain of New Zealand games shops who had seen at first hand just how popular Trax had become. The same applies to my first publisher, the IQ company who published Connections some years after they too had sold many thousands of Trax sets on my behalf. Turnabout, hardly a game at all, appeared the year after Trax.

Apart from the influence of Trax on other games, rather than the other way around, "So what?" is my second response to this alleged similarity between these games. The games mentioned belong to the rarest of categories generically called "topological games" and more popularly "connecting games" or "making ends meet" games. They are a class of games just like board games are another class and card games yet another. No one says chess is like checkers because they use the same boards or canasta is like bridge because they use identical playing cards. Similarly no other game I know is like Trax.

Trax is the only known game that is played with an unspecified number of pieces, "as many as are required to complete a game". No other game uses identical pieces. No other game can theoretically be played to infinity. The forced play rule was unique to Trax until Tantrix copied it. Unlike the other games mentioned above, Trax is 100% skilful, and considered by some to be the nearest thing to the perfect strategy game for that reason.

Casual game players may see superficial similarities between Trax and a few other games. Dedicated Trax fans know otherwise. Like Coke, Trax is the "real thing"!

Trax in 2020?

So much for the past 20 years. What are the next 20 likely to bring? The only thing That can be said with any certainty is that Trax has survived 19 years more than 999 games out of every 1000 that are published each year. That took some doing. That being so, it seems highly likely it will still have a following of loyal fans in the foreseeable future.

Hopefully you will be able to play Trax on other zones soon . We are even getting requests from gaming zones to support it. Whether it makes the really big time, as Reversi did (after 70 years I might add), will depend on some person or persons other than myself.

It is no secret that I am trying to find a major publisher who will take over the baton and commit some of their much greater resources of time and money to promoting Trax on and off the Internet. If that can't be done, it may need a turn in the hands of a Charles Darrow (Monopoly) a James P. Brunot (Scrabble), a Gary Gabrel (Pente) or a Gary Gygax (Dungeons and Dragons) who marketed games they did not invent themselves out of the back of their pick up trucks til the world finally sat up and took notice.

Strategy games are not everyone's cup of tea and fierce competition from today's spectacular play station, Age of Empires type blockbusters is not helping their cause right now. But, as fans of Trax know, this is a game that is up there with the best of them - deceptively simple at a casual glance but devilishly complex to those who would master its secrets.

It has been a rocky but fun ride to this point. Long may it last.
David Smith
Trax Inventor
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.
This Website compiled by Donald Bailey, Palmerston North, NZ. Copyright 2000-2006