Rollercoaster Top Trumps
You many have noticed the score cards I like to put at the bottom of a coaster review post and have perhaps wondered what the significance of this is, so here’s a little bit of back story.
I’ve always been a fan of collecting things, not just rollercoasters, and currently own a reasonably significant quantity of Top Trumps decks. The game has always appealed to the part of me that loves statistics and data and, sad though it may seem, I even preferred playing with the cards alone as a child, rather than with other people.
Instead of traditional play I’d set up tournaments within a deck, with cards going head to head with each other across all categories at once, racking up wins and losses. There would be heats, quarter finals, semi finals and eventually a winner would be crowned. Through this process it was generally a guarantee that I would discover what the best card was, which individuals dominated in each statistic (giving me the advantage if I ever did take on other people) and, though this is another subject for another time, there’s some surprisingly similar maths going on between this bit of harmless fun and the method for the most accurate polling systems currently used to rank rollercoasters online. The more comparisons the better.
It will probably won’t come as a shock that I’ve been creating a massive deck of my own cards based on all the coasters I’ve ridden in my time. I believe I can trace the inspiration of this back to a pack that a certain UK theme park chain put out a number of years ago:
Initially I’d be thrilled at the idea that they had put something like this together, but the deeper I studied them the more the cards began to bother me and I would of course start thinking about how I could do it better myself.
There’s two main problems I’ve encountered with the world saturating the market with this game for every single topic imaginable.
1) A distinct lack of care or effort seems to go into the details. Have a look at the top speed of these two rather similar log flumes and tell me those numbers are accurate. Even the fact that the units aren’t specified here bothers me.
The other issue can still be seen here in my most recent acquisition from Poland.
2) It’s a bit of a stretch to come up with even 30 valid entries (though sometimes highly amusing). In this particular example you’re having to compare vastly different entities, from Darth Maul to a rollercoaster, and often the categories become arbritrary or even incompatible.
The worst deck I’ve ever encountered is titled Space Phenomena. Aside from the blatant inaccuracies like Venus apparently not being discovered until 1990, you can see even more clearly here what I mean about the creators stretching to fill a deck. When you have to resort to using a card that doesn’t have data for two thirds of your subject matter (the dreaded N/A and its ambiguous rules), you need to go back to the drawing board.
My favourite deck from childhood was the one about dinosaurs, how cliché. There were a couple of minor flaws but I found it to have to the most efficient and effective set of categories for actual gameplay. Four facts – measureable, physical attributes and two opinions – ratings out of 10, it’s important to have this variety in order to avoid any cards dominating too strongly. Every card needs weakness and you won’t always get that from factual information alone.
And here’s what I came up with.
Height, length speed are obvious (with units!)
Elements is an ever growing list of special features that I’ve been keeping track of, starting out as just inversions but to keep things more interesting it now includes anything from launches to drop tracks.
The opening year gives a chance for the oldies to shine as we tend to build bigger these days – earliest wins.
Theming is where my opinions come in and is a score out of 10 based on an overall assessment of the rides aesthetic including physical set pieces, landscaping, styling and soundtracks.
And perhaps most importantly, excitement is my rating out of 20 for, you guessed it, how much the ride EXCITES us. I have to put a caveat in and say that this will never fully tie up with my actual coaster rankings. Results can vary on how objectively good a ride may be and I’m sometimes more generous about a highly significant ride that I didn’t happen to like, and more critical over something good that lacks originality. Mega-Lite likes to throw a few spanners in here as well.
Naturally all of the data for these cards lives in yet another spreadsheet and with this tool I managed to suck all the fun out of the tournaments I spent my youth orchestrating. It automatically works out how many other rides in the list would be beaten by each and every figure, then calculates an overall score to determine which cards are the most (and least – used for keeping the duds out) powerful in the deck. Of course now there’s 379 of them this is the only sane way to run it, I don’t think I’d have the floor space to do it by hand any more.
The current leader surprises me – Alpengeist. It’s a jack of all trades, master of none and not a ride I would say I’m massively fond of. Being big, old and full of inversions is the path to winning at Top Trumps, but not to being the best rollercoaster.
So, who wants a set?