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Critique the April 2009 GDS challenge entries

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seo
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Use this thread to post your comments and constructive critiques for each of the April 2009 Game Design Showdown entries. (If possible, wait for voting to be over).

seo
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Go!

The April 2009 GDS results have been announced, feel free to post your critiques on the entries in this thread. If you don't have the time to post detailed critiques of each entry, or simply feel you don't have much to say, please, don't let that restrain you from posting comments on specific parts of some of the entries. Getting feedback (positive or negative) is one of the most valuable things about the GDS, beside the fun of the contest itself.

Mitchell Allen
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Awesome Amoebae

That was a fun challenge. Congratulations to JPWoo, Roberta and Simon!

Here are some ramblings about the entries:

1. Ballo dei Pagliacci
My entry was more of a thematic concept and less of a fleshed-out game. When I tested it, I found that three stacks in the Big Top aren't nearly enough to ensure that players could build on them. One change would be to not use stacks in the sideshows, making all the clowns accessible. I failed to implement a "fruiting body" behavior, as well. Sigh...

2. Tower
I can visualize the undulating board! Are the outside values fixed or can they change each time you start a new game? I'm wondering if a fixed board has inherent imbalances that would force each player to make the same moves. For example, it wouldn't do to vacate the 3 spot prematurely. Additionally, the random placement might give one player a huge positional advantage, where he could simply control the timing of the opponent's third level tower, so that, on his own turn, a third level tower would score the maximum possible points.

3. The Duchies
This is intriguing. What I don't understand, though, is why anyone would choose Conquer, having at most three votes, without knowing whether they would claim the land? Is there a strategy involving alliances? I see where players can freely give gold...
What does it mean to "discard a war"? Are there four war tokens?

4. Escape from Hadron (4 pts)
This is the coolest implementation of the theme! Using physics to simulate biology simply rocks! As with Tower, I can really imagine playing this game and watching the pieces move.
One question I have concerns the black chip. Does it become annihilated with the player's quarks - giving no one else a chance to discover the Higgs boson?

5. Blobs!
I love the premise of this game. It almost resembles the behavior of the amoeba, except that there is no starvation.
I wonder if the decoy flowers could play a bigger role - limiting moves or causing blobites to morph.
It might be a bit of a mess trying to move two pieces at once, as they are bound to overlap several squares (j'adoube, anyone?)

6. Ameban Amok (5 pts)
This is another great amoeba simulation with rich detail.
The only unclear part to me was whether the victory condition requires that you retain the consumed bacteria. In other words, if you have eaten 10 bacteria, but spend 8 to divide, when the game is over, do you score for the 10 or the remaining two?

7. Altania
This game sounds like fun. The battles sounds complicated (like the Axis and Allies with mixed units). Once players get the hang of it, though, I bet it will be a blast.
Is there ever a reason to remove only one damage chit? Or do you mean "up to two damage chits"?

8. Hungry Cities
This is yet another excellent implementation of the theme! Unfortunately, unlike Ameban Amok, there is just a one-way devolvement of farms to cities which, although accurate, does not reflect the "fruiting body" cycle aspect.

9. cAMP Purpureum (3 pts)
This is a visually stunning game with a nice, thematic abstract flavor. I love the idea that any number of people can play, although I hope they can find a less volatile means of determining the starting plyer!

Quote:
The person who has most recently suffered amoebic dysentery plays first.

It is fascinating that an entire game is based around four pieces per player.

10. Firewall
The interesting thing about this game is choosing whether to reinforce the firewall or build that all-important zombie network to successfully hack the opponents.
Off all the entries, this one seems the most like Aggravation with a timer. If you spend too much time hacking, you may neglect to build a better network, but you'll have so much fun hacking your opponents, you may not even care!

RTaylor
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re: Awesome Amoebae

Thanks for taking the time to put together these comments- I hope to get the time to add some more detailed feedback in the next few days.

I just wanted to mention that the mechanic requested was one where units act one way on their own and another when as a group. I know that this was a major factor in how I voted, and I couldn't really see how my personal favourite (Escape from Hadron) played this out (the stacked quarks didn't seem to have different behaviour, more of a hybrid behaviour).

"Main Design Requirement:
Players must control (owned or shared) pieces that can at some stages act individually and at some other times form clusters or groups that act as a unique entity with different capabilities than the individual pieces."

So don't be too hard on yourself- the fruiting body wasn't required, and I think that the clowns definitely have potential. It would be fun to play the 'creepy' side of your game up ("things are about to turn ugly....")

Jpwoo
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my crits

Woo hoo! I finally won one of these things! Thanks!

This month I will add my critique of the challenge as well. This is a cool challenge! It was a smart move to not put any theming requirements on it. I might have been misunderstanding the main requirments but there were a few games that I couldn't really see the individual piece and the group piece with. But then again, in the comments someone said that about my game too! :)

On to the critiques

Ballo dei Pagliacci
Clowns! Something about the GDS makes people want to make clown games. I like a lot of the ideas in this game, it is almost like playing a game of solitare where you get to build the deck that you are drawing from. Each sideshow is a deck and the main tent is the end game. There are several ideas that aren't really explained, like what happens when a stack of clowns reaches the ace. I have been going back and forth on if this should be an all against one game or a co-op against the game game. And I think that the all against one works a little better in the start round, where the trouper can sabotage the side decks, but not so well in the end where he is mostly a banker. I'm not sure this game fits the requirement either, there are clowns and they make stacks, but the individual clowns down't really behave differently than the stacks. Cool game anyway.

Tower:
Always nice to see an abstract sneak in there. Without playing this I can't get a good feel for how it would play, but it seems like there would be lots of blocking and shifting around. Which is cool. You might be stuck with a choice between vacating a valuable spot or making a tall tower. I also bet this would play pretty quickly which is good in an abstract. The different scoring for the type two tower is a little odd, but in a game with this few rules I think that it works just fine.

The Duchies:
I think this game could have used another draft in the writing, it took me a few reads to figure out what was going on. Also explaining the theme of the players being dukes who have to give soldiers for the king, while competing with one another might have helped too. Again I'm not quite sure that this meets the requirements of the challenge, the soldiers behave differently on different roles, but they don't change particularly as they get together. This is a cool take on the role selection games that are so popular with the kids. But this one has a two twists that I haven't really seen yet, It combines role selection with a war theme, rather than a building one, and it adds in a kind of silent auction aspect to it as well. I think this has a lot of potential. The payouts for things like stealing might have to be tweaked. The variation on the die I think is a good way to keep the strategies from getting stale as well. You can bid completely differently on a small war than a big one. Which I think is pretty key to keep a game like this from getting stale.

Escape from Hadron
This was my game.

Blobs!!!:

Who doesn't love blobs? People dead on the inside that's who. This game hits the sweet spot on making the theme work. You can have two smaller slower weaker guys out there, but you will be in a better position potentially to crab up flowers when they grow, or you can have your big slug running around knocking people out and taking what it wants, but you can cover less of the board. I like that it uses standard equipment, if 8 siders can be considered standard. The only thing that I don't get about the game are the decoys. I would love to hear the rationale behind them.

Ameban Amok:
This game has some excellent ideas in it. I love the use of legos, a great component to add to the game and it works great with the theme. Several things don't quite work out for me though. If slug speed is just how long the slug is, there doesn't seem to be much incentive to not just make a long straight slug. The hitchiking mechanic is great as are the little comments in the example. Adorable. I'm not sure that I like the fruiting body, it seems kind of clunky compared to the rest of the game. And from a practical point would probably fall over all the time. Do the players move all their individual amoebas and slugs on their turn? Or just a single one? If it is move all I would bet a divide and devour strat would dominate, if it is move one, it would turn into giant slug running around eating all the points. A good effort.

Altania:
Over the word limit! BAD ROBOTS! This game sounds fun, would be sweet in the 90 minute range, but it doesn't seems like that would happen given the game. I like the idea of voltroning up into giant robots. It would be cool if the robots were better than the sum of their parts though. Again we get the choice between having a lot of little guys, or one big one, seems to go well with the challenge. The alien attack at the end of the game is awesome especially the rule about eliminated players getting to control the invaders, sweet sweet revenge.

Hungry Cities:
Heavy Euro action here to contrast with AT offering above. This seems like it could be a pretty brutal risk/reward game. Do you put your farm close to the city, you want the city to overtake your farms but this hurts you production. Lots of things to balance here. Where do you choose to grow the cities? Into your opponents? Cutting down their production but giving them money? Or toward yourself? I don't know how it fits the requirements. This game seems pretty well thought out and interacts well. Perhaps a bit dry.

cAMP Purpureum:
Another abstract game, this one modular, which is neat. And the game board size is limited by the starting supply of pieces that a player has. I like the way the phages interact with one another, you can use them to chain and grow. But that also risks being overpopulated and eaten by the others. The fruiting mechanism seems to indicate that you can take other peoples phages that way too, but it doesn't explicitly say that, and it gets your own guys out of harms way potentially. The moving the board around is an interesting addition to the game.

Firewall:
Card based set collection. Interesting idea, I like the theme, it kind of reminds me of a simplified netrunner. You have your defenses and your prizes. Set collection is a neat way to do this. It gives you some control and guidance over what you want to collect or steal. Again I don't really see how an individual card functions any differently than a stack of cards. But probably my interpretation of the challenge is too narrow. I like that you can add resources to the hacking pool, but you risk getting hacked yourself by them I'm guessing there should be a rule against hacking yourself. As the leader would just hack early every time to burn up the cards and protect themselves.

RTaylor
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A few comments...

Ballo dei Pagliacci

I would really like to see a more thorough ruleset for this idea, as I am unclear on a few things.

-You say that only the joker receives the accolades from the two dice. Can you clarify this? (Are two rolled each round for the joker, or once when the joker emerges?)

-Is there a way for an individual trouper (clown) to win the game or is this a cooperative endeavour?

I like the idea of cooperative games, and I think that this has potential, but I think it would be greatly improved if you could think up more motivation for individual players than just trying to avoid getting disqualified.

Tower

An abstract game is hard for me to say too much about until I've actually played it, but like other commenters, I think that this game could be neat, as long as the grid was tested well for balance, and to rule out start moves that would guarantee a win, as in tic-tac-toe.

Escape from Hadron

I love the image of the a player's pieces spinning off, trailing quarks. I think that I would play without the black streak, just because it would frustrate me to no end to have the game end or an opponent (or myself) eliminated based on a draw like that. But other than that, this seems a really well thought out and playable idea!

Blobs

Neat idea! Only one question. If a flower grows on a space occupied by a blob, may that blob choose to remain stationary on the player's next turn and eat the flower, or do all blobs have to move their maximum each turn?

Altania

Another fun take on the theme- I like the idea of super robots battling while humanity's fate hangs in the balance. I'll second the thought that it would be neat if super-mecha's were more powerful than their individual components, though perhaps they would have some movement or other handicap as well.

dnjkirk
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Comments

1. Ballo dei Pagliacci (3 points)
In the end, we're only presenting ideas, themes, and the "upshot" of a game in these competitions, and I have to admit that the rhythm of play, the possible changing player role, and the possible victory outcomes won me over. The idea itself was quirky, but the execution was likely unplayable. Still a likeable game and one that is clearly the germ of something interesting.

2. Tower
Nice, simple, few pieces. The problem with a design like this is that it is so simple, it takes playing it to see the strategic depth. I'm sure if I played it the strategies would become apparent, but as it stands, I can't grasp the depth from the rules. Since I think you had space in your entry, you might want to explain a little about the strategies of play. It might be worth making a BGG entry as this is a complete game that can be mocked up in a few seconds.

3. The Duchies
I was unimpressed at how dice were used in this game. I love dice, but they have to be used in a slightly more controlled way nowadays to gain acceptance. A great deal of the rules I wasn't able to understand, like why do I need to randomly determine soldiers in order to do something? This entry should perhaps have had more description to make the rules hit home.

4. Escape from Hadron (4 pts)
Very intriguing theme, and well employed in the game. I would like to see how it plays and whether moving all the quarks would be too fiddly. Still, clearly an admirable effort and great idea. Would like to play it!

5. Blobs!
Quite random with a lot of set up. The meat of the game is clearly in the movement, and the heart of the strategy is in the employment of slugs and "pushing". What I feel would greatly improve this game would be some form of mechanical rule of thumb for flower placement so that it is neither completely random nor totally subjective. Perhaps a simple "the person who moved before you places the flower" rule would suffice? Interesting game and worth working on.

6. Ameban Amok
Playing field: you could replace bacteria markers with flippable hexes. Clever use of Lego. Some slug moves might get very large, and the size of a hex would matter to the game as the fruiting body and the size of a slug depend on hex size. Besides simply hitchhiking, what other things happen with interactions between amoebae? Is blocking possible? I may have missed it in the rules.

7. Altania
I skip over entries that are overlength.

8. Hungry Cities (5 Points)
Love love love. Creating a balance between long and short term, high and low risk strategies is not easily done. This design seems to have an essential balance worked out right in its kernel form and it would appear that if this balance is effectively developed, this game would be great. The balance here appears to ratchet up rewards as the endgame approaches, so it should (hypothetically) be possible to mitigate runaway leader by strongly privileging high-risk short-term strategies that would dominate the endgame. Number one in my book!

9. cAMP Purpureum
My game. I neglected to note that spores can capture. You'll note a bit of the computer "life" game in there with a bit of phage fight for good measure. Add to that a bit of amoebic antics, and there you have it. I'm currently experimenting with tiny footprint games, so seven pieces total per player is a reasonable accomplishment in this direction.

10. Firewall
Interesting but I wonder how the runaway leader problem can be mitigated. I think an improvement might be to make large networks that are under one type of software more vulnerable to attack (as they are!) and higher in VP value, whereas smaller networks running on the same software would be less vulnerable. With that, you'd have a pretty cool and portable game to sell to comp sci majors to play while they are doing long compiles :)

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Ballo dei Pagliacci I must

Ballo dei Pagliacci
I must say, I like the idea of a semi-cooperative game you have here. It kind of reminds me of Rook, where you need to spread the risk around until you can figure out who is on which team.

Tower
I don’t think it’s quite my cup of tea, but certainly an interesting game. One thing I didn’t understand: if I have a piece on a 2 space and a 1 space, and I move the 1 on top of the two, then I get 3 points, right? An example turn might have been helpful (although you did pretty good without it).

The Duchies
Another interesting idea. So, if I put 3 soldiers on Farm, and then you put 2 on Steal, and a friend puts 3 on Steal, does that mean that your friend will get to steal, and nothing else? Kind of an interesting idea, that it’s all about collective voting in a coopritition kind of way. Although, what might be even more interesting is if each action happened each turn (as long as at least X soldiers are used), and that it’s the player who put the most down that gets to do it. That way, you don’t need to put all of your soldiers in one place, and in fact won’t want to (unless you just need to do one action and nothing else).

Escape from Hadron
Amazing idea, even if some of the science is not quite accurate :) I really liked how you had ever-extending lines that you need to reach for victory points, especially given that you’ll be speeding up more and more. One thing I didn’t get, what exactly was the point of the black matter chip? Was it basically just a way to go for a Hail Mary victory?

Blobs!!!
My game, will respond to comments at the end.

Ameban Amok
Very interesting idea. Seems like it would actually make a good educational game. I’m not really sure if there are any comments I can make.

Altania
As much as people like to bash games like this, I still like them. I liked the concept of making machines that can combine. I worry though that this would create runaway victory conditions, in that the player who got off to an early lead would start having titans, which could crush mere mortal machines. I don’t know, maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I think, and maybe the multiple players would mitigate things (although, I don’t think I can find any negative feedback mechanisms). It also seems like you’d have A LOT of pieces. I kind of liked the idea of aliens attacking at the end (it does make a neat dilemma, in that you want to fight, but not enough to destroy yourself), although in some ways I don’t quite get their point. Wouldn’t the game work almost just as well without them?

Hungry Cities
Neat idea. Definitely a nice adaptation. Urban areas do grow like bacterial slime, don’ they? So, the idea of the market is basically that if you think there isn’t as shortage, you want to sell all of your stuff, but if you think there will be, you want to have a decent amount left? Neat concept.

cAMP Purpureum
This seems like a neat idea, and I really like the board setup. I guess after reading this twice though, I am still a bit confused as to what you are trying to do with this game, and how you go about doing it? And I thought you had a really cute way of choosing who goes first.

Firewall
I thought this was another interesting take on the idea. One thing I didn’t understand though: is hacking just about how many cards you have? It seems like the game would be really cool if there was something more to it, like certain color combinations make hacking more easy.

Okay, responses about my game:
First of all, thank you so much to whoever voted for me. After getting 0 votes in the last round (for a game that really didn’t deserve any), this was quite nice to see.

I think starvation was meant to be implied, in that if the pair couldn’t get enough food, they would starve. Or, at least not be able to produce as many offspring for the next generation. Perhaps it didn’t quite come across. And I didn’t have trouble with two pieces on my own chess board, although it’s a little hand-carved board I got in Mexico, so on a tournament chess board you’d probably be right.

“Decoy” was probably the wrong word for the white pawns. I think maybe “Dud” would be better (or, is there a better word for a seed that won’t germinate? I feel like such a bad biologist right now). The reason for these was that I wanted it to be possible for flower supplies to vary, but I also wanted to make it that when there were fewer flowers on the board, that they would grow faster. I could have done something with dice, but this seemed to be the most elegant solution.

Yes, it is possible to not move if you’re standing on a flower. Basically my idea here was that if a flower randomly under over a blobite, then opposing slugs have one turn to push it aside.

And yeah, the game is kind of random. After thinking for a while, I thought it actually might be better if your first piece is randomly placed, and then you place your second (or, that you get the choice of placing a slug or a random blobite). My worry about letting the player to your right that places the flowers is that she’d place it in a way that would allow her to get it most of the time. The board is big enough compared to the movement rates that I’m not sure if there is a good semi-deterministic way of setting things. Part of my idea was just that the game would be about setting yourself up in a way to be able to respond to the randomness. One idea I did have was that the player to the right could place it anywhere 2 spaces away, and then roll the 2d8 to move it twice at random (so, maybe a 5 and a 6 would mean down, and down-diagonal).

End of Time Games
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dnjkirk wrote:1. Ballo dei

dnjkirk wrote:
1. Ballo dei Pagliacci (3 points)
Still a likeable game and one that is clearly the germ of something interesting.


I have to second this. I haven't looked at the other games on here but this one cuate my attention. There is something about the mechanics or procedure that makes it interesting for me. If you developed clear fules I would love to give it a test drive. The materials are things I own and can easily pull out. I was reading what I printed out yesterday and liked what I read. You may have something here.

Jpwoo
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Just a few comments on

Just a few comments on comments people have made on hadron.

>>One question I have concerns the black chip. Does it become annihilated with the player's quarks - giving no one else a chance to discover the Higgs boson?

Yes the black chip is eliminated, only one shot at finding higgs.

>>I think that I would play without the black streak, just because it would frustrate me to no end to have the game end or an opponent (or myself) eliminated based on a draw like that.

And

>>One thing I didn’t get, what exactly was the point of the black matter chip? Was it basically just a way to go for a Hail Mary victory?

Yes the strange matter is essentially a random catch up mechanism if you think that you have lost the game already, You are never forced to take it, I suppose if you were up against the wall and it was the only thing in front of you you might have to take it. Just as a guess it lets you win about 1/10 times, and kills everyone about 1/30 times.

Mitchell Allen
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Thank You, Clown Lovers!

I expanded/modified the game.

See my Blog http://www.bgdf.com/blog/242

Cheers,

Mitch

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