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Offer: Rules readthrough/edit exchange?

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dobnarr
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I've posted a new game design here: Horde http://www.bgdf.com/node/6035
It's in the prototype/playtesting phase.

The Offer: If anybody would be willing to read through my rules document (direct link here Horde Rules) and let me know what you think, I'd be happy to do the same for your game rules or game design. I've designed a number of games and teach college writing as part of my day job, so I don't suck at critiquing and editing rules documents.

My main questions for this game's rules:

  • What parts of the gameplay are unclear?
  • What parts of the rules seem overly long and complex?
  • Does the difficulty structure I've added (basic, intermediate, full) help, or is it just needless complexity?
  • Is this a game you'd be interested in playing?

Any other comments or ideas you have are of course welcome. If you're willing to have a look without me reading yours, that's wonderful too. :-)

Thanks!
Dave

rtwombly
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On it!

Will read and reply. I'm still working on my latest ruleset, so nothing to repay atm, but I'll keep your marker.

EDIT to save space:

Okay, I've read and digested the rules. It's an interesting design, somewhat reminiscent of Biblios. I particularly like the modular difficulty level, something more games should offer.

I found one error (just one!). Under "Special Cards" for the Basic Game, you did a copy & paste of the rules for Steam Beasts and Phantasm, but forgot to change "steam beasts" at the very end of the paragraph. Also, those two uses are the only times "Steam Beast" is not capitalized.

1) What parts of the gameplay are unclear?
On my first read I didn't get that we were laying out our cards until after each Monster phase, then compiling them into the deck at End phase. The info was there, it just was easy to miss. An illustration of a tableau in process, giving an example of the matching rules, would clear this right up.

"Picking High-Value Cards" completely baffled me until I read the "Basic Idea" box. The tendency is to read main text before summations, so I'd look at revising that section to get all the basics up front. Also, the name of that section isn't really helpful. You're talking about picking cards with a special characteristic of being "worth" two or three cards, but the intuitive understanding of "worth" would be the numerical value of the cards, not the physical card count. Though the cards may be said to be valuable, you're not talking about value in this section, you're talking about cost. On his or her turn a player may draw one or two cards. A Vampire counts as two cards -- it has a higher cost than usual -- regardless of its eventual value. Perhaps you should expand the terminology you introduce in this section, calling your normal Monsters "one-pick" and the special Monsters "multi-pick" (for example). When the "main player " selects a multi-pick card, other players take a turns drawing additional cards until all players' pick counts are equal for the turn.

Other than that I was able to follow quite easily, though some of the Full Game rules were difficult enough that I'm sure I'd need to refer back to the text when transitioning to that level. Which brings us to...

2) What parts of the rules seem overly long and complex?
The rules for Betrayer and Demons are certainly the test case, but I didn't feel they were unnecessarily verbose. The complexity of the rules suited the complexity of the topic.

3) Does the difficulty structure I've added (basic, intermediate, full) help, or is it just needless complexity?
Definitely a good idea, as I mentioned above.

4) Is this a game you'd be interested in playing?
For me, the theme is an impediment. I'm interested in specific fantasy themes (WotR, AGoT), but generic/D&Dlite themes don't interest me in general, and I avoid anything with demons and vampires particularly.

Mechanically, the Full Game has promise. The only design choice I wonder about is why you chose to introduce the score cards as a random draw. Seems like one random element too many, when you could as easily have laid out all the options and let players load up the tokens on a first-come-first-served basis.

dobnarr
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Thank you!

Thank you so much for your detailed and useful comments - exactly what I was hoping for. I would definitely like to return the favor when you're ready.

I've already implemented a number of edits based on what you've suggested.

rtwombly wrote:

1) What parts of the gameplay are unclear?
On my first read I didn't get that we were laying out our cards until after each Monster phase, then compiling them into the deck at End phase. The info was there, it just was easy to miss. An illustration of a tableau in process, giving an example of the matching rules, would clear this right up.

I've added some more text that explains this - I'll likely add a picture, too, as you suggest, but I have an artist friend working on some new art, so I'll wait to add it to the document until she's done.

rtwombly wrote:

"Picking High-Value Cards" completely baffled me until I read the "Basic Idea" box. The tendency is to read main text before summations, so I'd look at revising that section to get all the basics up front. Also, the name of that section isn't really helpful. You're talking about picking cards with a special characteristic of being "worth" two or three cards, but the intuitive understanding of "worth" would be the numerical value of the cards, not the physical card count. Though the cards may be said to be valuable, you're not talking about value in this section, you're talking about cost. On his or her turn a player may draw one or two cards. A Vampire counts as two cards -- it has a higher cost than usual -- regardless of its eventual value. Perhaps you should expand the terminology you introduce in this section, calling your normal Monsters "one-pick" and the special Monsters "multi-pick" (for example). When the "main player " selects a multi-pick card, other players take a turns drawing additional cards until all players' pick counts are equal for the turn.

Yes, this is a problematic section and one that I struggled over. In playing the game, the extra picking seems to happen very easily, and people understand it quickly, but it is very difficult to put into words. I've rewritten the section (again) to focus on cost, not value, and I've called the additional-pick cards "double" and "triple" which I hope will clarify. I also shifted the Basic Idea box to be clearly at beginning of the suggestion and urged people to be sure to read it before diving into the more complex explanation.

rtwombly wrote:
[other helpful comments appreciated but omitted here]

4) Is this a game you'd be interested in playing?
For me, the theme is an impediment. I'm interested in specific fantasy themes (WotR, AGoT), but generic/D&Dlite themes don't interest me in general, and I avoid anything with demons and vampires particularly.

That's interesting - if you don't mind saying, where does that distaste for vampires and demons come from? An over-saturation of them in our culture, or from a religious standpoint, or just personal taste? The vampires are totally optional - I only picked that as the monster type because I had a picture drawn for one, and they could just as easily be goblins or Djinnis or smurfs or whatever. The demons I did more intentionally, because I liked the idea of sacrificing cards to get them to work and the demon seemed to fit that mechanic.

rtwombly wrote:

Mechanically, the Full Game has promise. The only design choice I wonder about is why you chose to introduce the score cards as a random draw. Seems like one random element too many, when you could as easily have laid out all the options and let players load up the tokens on a first-come-first-served basis.


[/quote]

An interesting suggestion - I'll definitely playtest it having them all up. It will likely depend some on how much uncertainty you're willing to take. I think having them come up in a different order each time makes the game feel different each time, which might help replayability, but I can definitely see that your suggestion would make it more strategic. The way I have it, you have to bend your strategy around the cards that come up, which does lead to a different feel each time through at the expense of there being some luck in what you draw. Whichever way is better, the other might be good as a variant way to play.

Again, thank you so much for your very insightful and helpful comments. I'd love to include you in acknowledgements in the rules - just let me know how to cite you. If anybody else wants to have a look, I'd really appreciate it. I've updated the version linked above to include the edits suggested by rtwombly.

rtwombly
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Glad to help.

Glad to help.

dobnarr wrote:
That's interesting - if you don't mind saying, where does that distaste for vampires and demons come from? An over-saturation of them in our culture, or from a religious standpoint, or just personal taste? The vampires are totally optional - I only picked that as the monster type because I had a picture drawn for one, and they could just as easily be goblins or Djinnis or smurfs or whatever. The demons I did more intentionally, because I liked the idea of sacrificing cards to get them to work and the demon seemed to fit that mechanic.

It is a religious objection, which I'll elucidate in a moment, but I will say that I'm not enamored of the modern tendency to lump disparate mythologies together. A vampire is a fairly recent and quite specific version of a number of earlier tropes. I can't read "vampire" without mentally journeying to Victorian England, wearing a cape and a top hat and looking askance at spiders. They just don't click with me as Monsters. Every time I see them in a mixed fantasy game like Small World or this, it niggles in the same way a cowboy on a pirate ship would niggle. Unless the name of the game is Pirates vs Cowboys, it would seem to violate the writing principle stated by...somebody...possibly Arthur C. Clarke...that a fantasy story should contain exactly one fantastic element, however elaborate.

All that aside, I think it is worth noting that to me, and possibly to other Christians, there's a significant difference between playing a game with monsters in it and playing one with demons. This isn't hard to understand even for someone (like myself) who knows that the concept of a "demon" solely as the Devil's minion post-dates the Bible. It's simply that the word demon evokes a particular set of associations, like my Dracula fixation re: vampires, that is absent other monsters. I'm not bothered by trolls or balrogs or Cthulian monstrosities. I own games featuring all three. But to buy a game featuring something actually called a demon is a step too far, for me. It'd be like a Coke fan with a fondness for Gatorade ordering a Pepsi. There's a history and a niche for Gatorade that has nothing to do with its manufacturer (PepsiCo), but a Pepsi is a Pepsi, and ordering one is tantamount to backing "the other side".

There's certainly plenty of people who won't be bothered, I'm just stating a preference. Though, there are other monsters that might thematically require a sacrifice. Dragons spring to mind. But at this stage in the design, if you intend to submit to a game company, it may not be worth the time to change anything, as you may be asked to do a full re-theme anyway. Are you intent on self-publishing?

dobnarr wrote:
An interesting suggestion - I'll definitely playtest it having them all up. It will likely depend some on how much uncertainty you're willing to take. I think having them come up in a different order each time makes the game feel different each time, which might help replayability, but I can definitely see that your suggestion would make it more strategic. The way I have it, you have to bend your strategy around the cards that come up, which does lead to a different feel each time through at the expense of there being some luck in what you draw. Whichever way is better, the other might be good as a variant way to play.

That's a solid defense. My only critique is that the single card draw might lead to "dry spells" where a player doesn't feel they can do anything productive with what they've drawn. A compromise might be to adapt TTR's mechanic, where you deal out multiple cards at the start of the game and a player can either pick one and refresh the supply, or draw randomly from the deck. Imagine playing TTR by a variant that required you to to craft your New York to Los Angeles route using only randomly drawn cards! Okay, now stop screaming. Your design isn't as prone to frustration, but it might be worth considering.

Keep up the good work, dobnarr.

c.w.
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dobnarr wrote:What parts of

dobnarr wrote:
What parts of the gameplay are unclear?

There isn't a lot that's unclear to me, just some wording choices i wouldn't have made. Like, you refer to each player as taking part in the turn, but there being a main player. It might be easier to refer to it as a Round, where each player gets a Turn. Or the whole Score bit. There are Score Cards, Score Values, Score Tokens... lots of score things. Maybe you could apply some thematic elements to help keep track of what's what. If anything i'd say the most confusing part was the Picking High-Value Cards section, but once i read the example toward the end it sort of clicked and i realized it was a lot like raising in poker.

I might advise you change the order of the sections. Right now it goes Final Battles > Picking High Value Cards > Special Cards. It might make more sense to go High Value Cards > Final Battles > Special Cards, since that is the order of play.

dobnarr wrote:
What parts of the rules seem overly long and complex?

The first thing i noted was the copy paste on the Phantasm. It doesn't seem necessary, as i just read it. You could probably explain both in the same paragraph. Other than that most of the stuff didn't seem too long or complex.

Some apparent complexity could probably be alleviated by a good graphic designer. For instance, a lot of stuff could be a little easier parse with stronger design, like the extra explanations or...

dobnarr wrote:
Does the difficulty structure I've added (basic, intermediate, full) help, or is it just needless complexity?

...the difficulty structure. You refer to it a few times in the rules, but use different visual cues each time. I really like the idea of different complexity levels, but i'm not sure you need three. I get Basic and Full, but Intermediate seems like it wouldn't get much use. I might play basic once to get the idea of the game, but I'd move straight from there to full.

dobnarr wrote:
Is this a game you'd be interested in playing?

Yeah, after reading the rules it seems interesting. But to be honest i'm not in love with the theme. There are so many fantasy-type games with trolls and golems and dragons and elemental themes in them that my eyes tend to glaze over a bit when i see yet another. There are probably a bunch of interesting ways you could re-theme this that don't tread the same ground for the thousandth time.

dobnarr
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Thanks, rtwombly

Thanks for the additional info, rtwombly - your explanation makes a lot of sense to me now. In talking to a potential artist for the game, I think I've decided to move toward customized monsters without traditional names - that should help with both the cross-genre problems and the religious symbolism problems you mentioned. I'm enjoying thinking up new names for monsters, too.

I've experienced the "dry spell" thing a couple times when playing. With only 11 turns, you don't get that many chances to affect the scoring. The bigger luck effect is what cards come up when you replenish the pool - that controls what you can choose. I'll definitely ask playtesters to try it both ways.

dobnarr
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Thanks, C.W.

Thanks C.W., for your thoughtful comments and suggestions. It was interesting reading them - nearly everything you mentioned was something that I'd been questioning for myself.

I'm not in love with the "main player" thing either; it sounds kind of cheesy and weird. Turns and Rounds would definitely make sense if I can figure out how to distinguish them clearly without adding more jargon. Thematic terms for the score tokens and score cards would be a great idea - the terminology would be stranger, but maybe with fewer and more distinct terms and less confusing.

The section ordering suggestion you make is a good one; I did it the way I did to keep the complex stuff out of the Basic game level, although I agree it makes more sense to do it in chronological order. If I re-structure the rules around two difficulty levels, as you recommend, then it should be easier to have the sections make more sense.

I'll work on the Phanstasm copy/paste thing, too - I left them separate so that people could scan the rules and find them, but I think it would be possible to combine them.

Your critique of the theme hit home, too. As I mentioned in my response above, I'm probably going to get rid of the stock fantasy characters and go with custom monsters. That should help the "been there, seen that" problem some. As for the factions, it might be harder to make those up - I guess I could use six gods or something, maybe each with a realm, but then I'm asking people to buy into a new mythology merely to avoid re-using the elemental stuff. I could also go with suits or something, since that's basically what they are. I'll think on that.

Thanks again for the careful reading of the rules - it's really, really helpful.

c.w.
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dobnarr wrote:Thanks C.W.,

dobnarr wrote:
Thanks C.W., for your thoughtful comments and suggestions. It was interesting reading them - nearly everything you mentioned was something that I'd been questioning for myself.

I'm not in love with the "main player" thing either; it sounds kind of cheesy and weird. Turns and Rounds would definitely make sense if I can figure out how to distinguish them clearly without adding more jargon.

You might be able to just use "rounds" and maybe refer to it being like boxing or something?

dobnarr wrote:
Thematic terms for the score tokens and score cards would be a great idea - the terminology would be stranger, but maybe with fewer and more distinct terms and less confusing.

The section ordering suggestion you make is a good one; I did it the way I did to keep the complex stuff out of the Basic game level, although I agree it makes more sense to do it in chronological order. If I re-structure the rules around two difficulty levels, as you recommend, then it should be easier to have the sections make more sense.

I almost think that the difficulty levels problem is largely a graphic design one than a problem with the copy. You might try playing with that first. I come from a graphic design background though, so that may just be me - i'm actually pretty terrible with words.

dobnarr wrote:
I'll work on the Phanstasm copy/paste thing, too - I left them separate so that people could scan the rules and find them, but I think it would be possible to combine them.

Your critique of the theme hit home, too. As I mentioned in my response above, I'm probably going to get rid of the stock fantasy characters and go with custom monsters. That should help the "been there, seen that" problem some. As for the factions, it might be harder to make those up - I guess I could use six gods or something, maybe each with a realm, but then I'm asking people to buy into a new mythology merely to avoid re-using the elemental stuff. I could also go with suits or something, since that's basically what they are. I'll think on that.

Thanks again for the careful reading of the rules - it's really, really helpful.

I actually find the monsters more off putting than the elemental stuff. Elemental motifs are common in that sort of fantasy-esque DnD shenanigans, but they're also fairly common all over the place. If you were to re-theme it with say, B movie monsters, it wouldn't bother me if there was a Sea-Godzilla and a Space-Godzilla or a Flying Sasquatch and a Volcano Sasquatch.

If you want to take a look at one of my games, i have them both listed in this thread on BGG. Look at whichever you'd like, but I have to warn you - as i mentioned before i'm pretty terrible with words.

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