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Critique the February 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 February 2009 Game Design Showdown entries. (If possible, wait for voting to be over).

InvisibleJon
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Now to sleep on them...

Thanks, Seo! I've read all of them. Lots of interesting interpretations. Now I'm going to sleep on them before writing up a critical analysis and voting.

Rick-Holzgrafe
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So fast!

Man, Jon is fast! He's already read them all. I couldn't read them today; I was actually hosting an all-day playtest session with two nearby fellow designers. But I'll do it as soon as I can find the, uh... the time.

Mitchell Allen
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A Timely Suggestion

You know, in all the years that I've participated in the GDS, this is the first time someone has ever suggested that we wait until after the voting to leave our critiques.

Such a simple solution to the dilemma of not critiquing your own entry, thus letting astute readers know which one was yours :)

Okay, then.

I'll be back.

Cheers,

Mitch

InvisibleJon
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Good point!

Mitchell Allen wrote:
You know, in all the years that I've participated in the GDS, this is the first time someone has ever suggested that we wait until after the voting to leave our critiques.
That's a really good point. Although I didn't say so, my intent is to vote, write (but not post) my critiques, wait for voting to close, then post my critiques.

InvisibleJon
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Jeepers! Thanks, gang.

Just wanted to say, "Thank you," to everyone for participating and running the contest. It was pretty close, with quite a few entries getting two votes.

Good job all around!

On a related note: I just realized that my third graphic - the one that "explains" how the march of time works - is wrong. The bottom two rows are completely incorrect!

*shakes head* Good grief...

The correct version is at: http://www.invisible-city.com/images/363.jpg

dnjkirk
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Yeah... that's actually a reason why I didn't vote for it...

I liked the idea, I thought it was a well-rounded game, and given enough experience with your other imaginative designs, I saw the Invisible Jon hallmarks all over it... but with the last example, I thought something was terribly wrong with me, the rules, or my understanding of the rules, and didn't think I could make a good judgement of the game due to that :( Sorry, but I did like the design!!

(It should be noted that I'm pretty much a fan of all the work Jon does, and I think he's a creative genius... I just got confused by the game and thought I didn't get what was going on!)

stubert
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Reset Button - I LOVE 'Groundhog Day'...

In #7 – “Reset Button”, there's something that feels a little off about one of the dynamics – negative results on event cards.

"…The active player then lands on an event card on the Main Board. If he has no event card for that hour on his Player Board, he may take the card from the Main Board and place it on his Player Board, either side up, on its corresponding hour…

…Some results are by no means beneficial, and may land the player in jail, or even kill him…

…some actions (“Cliffside Joyride”) end in the player’s death or capture by police. In any of these cases, he must go immediately to the 6am slot and follow all the rules of Resetting…

…the player may flip OR discard one event card on his Player Board, vowing to do things a little differently this time around…”

If a player can choose not to take an event card, it seems that unless there's somehow a forced choice later in the game, the board may end up with dead spots where an undesired outcome (getting killed or going to jail) is placed. The only way to get rid of it is for a player to choose to acquire the card and then discard it upon “Resetting” (or to land on a time slot containing another player to switch your negative event card with one of theirs, but unless there are a lot of players in the game, that seems like an improbable thing to count on).

If no one wants a desired outcome, and that card was dealt into that space at the beginning of the game, then unless the game plays until someone reaches 48 VPs (which may or may not take a while, I don’t know the text of all of the event cards), someone will have to “take one for the team” and waste one of their turns to give others a chance to win before they do (unless they happen to replace that event with another negative outcome).

This can also happen if the 7AM time slot has a card with a negative effect. Anyone who takes that card will be forced to discard it on reset, or all further turns result in a reset. No one would choose that card unless the game was forced into an unwinnable loop (no one can acquire 48 VPs and no one has all of their time slots filled).

I’m not sure how to fix this, except that maybe since there appear to be multiple people all repeating the same day in the same town, the natural forces of chaos theory might cause random events to occur as a result of all of those people trying to change the time line for their own benefit.

You could manifest this as a dynamic where there is a separate deck of cards for which random events occur, forcing people to switch out event cards from their player mats or the time slots on the game board. You could then only replace event cards in time slots once all players have reset (making it a system of rounds, whereby resetting early causes you to wait, ensuring that you try to plan your moves more strategically). And then, landing on a time slot with no event card would require that you draw a “random action” card. This might also force jail or death on people who weren’t expecting it to be a possible outcome from the actions they have chosen (just like in real life… without the time skips, of course).

Just a thought.

InvisibleJon
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Yeah... Oopsie!

dnjkirk wrote:
I liked the idea, I thought it was a well-rounded game, and given enough experience with your other imaginative designs, I saw the Invisible Jon hallmarks all over it...
I think it's neat how we can tell each other's designs apart, even without the names attached to them.
dnjkirk wrote:
but with the last example, I thought something was terribly wrong with me, the rules, or my understanding of the rules, and didn't think I could make a good judgement of the game due to that :( Sorry, but I did like the design!!
...And I only have myself to blame for that one. Silly, silly me.
dnjkirk wrote:
(It should be noted that I'm pretty much a fan of all the work Jon does, and I think he's a creative genius... I just got confused by the game and thought I didn't get what was going on!)
That's very kind of you to say. I'm sorry that my example confused you.

ilta
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Stubert, In retrospect, I had

Stubert,

In retrospect, I had a detail gap problem here -- some things I spent way too much time explaining, and some were left too vague. Consequently I went over the word limit, and also didn't explain some of the implications of various effects as well as I could/should have. But let's take a look at the "lock up" possibility which is a valid concern, but not quite as bad as it seems.

First, I think it's important to note that you don't perform actions on the main board, only the actions on YOUR board. So a "negative" card on the 7am slot on the main board will be ignored most of the time, as 8/9 times it's not going to be landed on anyway (you'd have to roll a 1 and a 0 on the two dice, immediately after resetting). Ideally, the 48 VP end-game is significantly more likely and the "fill-every-slot" is there as a backup to make sure the game doesn't go too long, as in the "have 10 cards in your hand" victory condition in Chrononauts.

Secondly, cards that force an instant reset wouldn't be in the "morning" deck at all. There would be a small number in the afternoon deck, and then a few more in the "night" deck. I should have made the different compositions clearer -- in the morning you'll see things that change your stats slightly and/or allow you to pick up a few skill/knowledge chits; in the afternoon you'd start being able to pick up VP; at night there are the real big opportunities for VP but the stats are going to swing around wildly and the best actions will be "locked", forcing most players to reset fairly frequently during the early and mid-game.

Thirdly, and relatedly, there is a strategic advantage to taking a card that kills/jails/bankrupts you; namely you reset, *which means you go again, immediately*. Since resetting is the prime way to change your day -- the "discard or flip any card" is designed to be pretty powerful -- in general a player who skillfully figures out an effective reset loop, particularly early in the game, will find himself ahead of players who are finishing out their days every time.

Fourthly, and I think this is the important key to avoiding lock-up, the "negative" cards would have powerful positive sides as well. Something like "Cliffside Joyride" -- which I imagine negatively ends Thelma-and-Louise style -- could be turned over for the positive ending: "Jump the Ravine!" which would be serious VP-age but require a driving skill chit, which could be earned in the morning, or possibly even by the Cliffside Joyride card itself. Another card along these lines would be about playing the stock market -- the first time you lose a bunch of money but thereafter you know exactly how the market will go and can make a killing. Another card, alluded to in the rules, would involve a mystery diagnosis where you can save someone only on the second try.

Rick-Holzgrafe
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Evaluating the entries

Here are my notes about the entries in this GDS, starting with a couple of comments about my approach this time.

About theme: In general, I prefer an intellectually stimulating game over a theme-heavy game (if I can't have both at once, anyway). But this challenge specified the "Back in Time" theme, so I gave theme more emphasis than I usually would when reviewing a game.

About rules clarity: I don't expect a complete, perfect description of each game. You usually can't do that in 800 words, and I can usually fill in the blanks. But sometimes it's tough to do so, and sometimes a few more words would save me the trouble of re-reading in order to figure out what the author really means. Mostly I'm judging games on the coolness of the design, and not trying to nit-pick the rules. But if the rules are so vague that I can't clearly see the design, I give demerits.

#1 Duplicity

Theme was not strong in this design. "Time" is somewhat supported by the propagation of things from past toward future, but the locations are mere numbers, and one's as good as another. The eras have no flavor to make the past feel much different from the future. And two important rules seemed to make no sense thematically. Why should two pawns on the same spot put hazards all through time? Why are pawns in the present cloned, while pawns elsewhere merely change time zones? I can see that these two rules about pawns are central to gameplay, and I would have no trouble with them if this design were presented as an abstract.

Rules clarity: Author didn't state how many players could play (ack! I didn't do this in my entry either!), which made it confusing for a while. I decided that it's a strictly two-player game. I also could not make sense of the example of "The March" in rows 7 and 8 (and was later relieved to discover that they were actually incorrect).

I like fist-bidding in general, but I couldn't see its value here. You get one energy per pawn every round, but you can spend much more than that per pawn. If I'm going to give away energy to bid for turn order, then turn order's going to have to be awfully important to me. I couldn't see a strong reason to care about it, and I don't think I'd be willing to bid much. If other players are like me, then there's no reason for the bid at all: take it out and just swap initiative every turn instead.

As an abstract, or with a different theme, this could be quite a nifty game.

#2 Time Jumpers

Theme was certainly present. I liked the "wormhole" mechanism that controls jumping among the mini-tracks, and I liked the flavor. ("Mark Twain's pocketwatch" -- wasn't that from a ST:TNG episode?)

Rules clarity: The components didn't specify any dice. Apparently you need one per mini-track? The setup says each player places a time machine on "the time machine space" on a mini-track, but the later description of spaces on mini-tracks doesn't mention time machine spaces.

I am a bit worried that the wormhole mechanism simply randomly gets in the way, rather than being a resource to be actively managed. You can decide whether to use the wormhole before it expires, or stay to get more stuff from this track; but it seems like that's an obvious decision. In fact, it seems that in general you're heavily at the mercy of the dice. I'd like to see the players given a little more control over their fates.

#3 Uncertain Times

Theme: the flavor text and pictures were wonderful, but the mechanics didn't seem to have much to do with time travel.

Rules clarity: I had a hard time understanding a number of points.

I like that you can sometimes manipulate or ignore the dice. Too much randomness isn't too much fun. :-)

The rules for calculating who can take a given tile seemed unnecessarily complex. If it doesn't hurt the gameplay, I'd have liked a simpler rule.

If I understood correctly, you can "trickle" back through time, but not forward. Seems like that means that a player is heavily dependent on rolling 1's or 2's to get into the 1/2 timeframe. A player who doesn't roll enough of those can spend to get Time Potions, but that's trading one disadvantage for another.

#4 Shattered

Theme: I loved the vague and moody text in the introductory paragraphs. But lack of flavor made the game feel more like an abstract overall. Perhaps the "effects" would lend more flavor, but there was so little discussion of the effects that it was hard to tell.

Rules clarity: It seems like much of the game would be the clever use of effects. I know that wordcount is limited, but I'd have liked to see a few really concrete examples.

I liked the use of dice to partially restrict which pawns to move. I thought that was a pretty original take on "roll and move."

And who doesn't love black forest cake? That is SO much more cool than victory points.

#5 Time Keys

The theme is pretty much all in the players' heads. The rules really have nothing to do with time or time travel. Even the artifacts (which I can imagine might come from many eras) are randomly placed on the board and aren't specific to the "era" they are in.

Rules clarity: I sort of get that you used letters because you didn't have time to whip up a real set of artifacts. But then the goal cards all made words out of the letters. That was confusing, because it made the letters seem like a deliberate part of the design, and it made the game seem like a word game. Not really a demerit, because I can see the game would work the same either way; but it was a bit confusing. Also, describing the board before describing play wouldn't have left me confused about which way was "past" and which was "future". But these are pretty minor points.

If the turn order doesn't change after being determined during setup, I suggest just choosing a start player and then going clockwise. That way the players don't have to remember the turn order.

This seemed like a pretty simple game to play. Roll the dice, find a path to something you want, done. Not sure it would entertain adults for very long. (Maybe it's meant for kids?)

#6 Back & Forth

Theme: Could be good, silly fun for anyone who is fond of the BlackAdder TV shows. (I am!) A silly theme implies a silly game, so I wouldn't expect this to be a strategic brain-burner. I enjoyed the notion that changing the past can affect the value of items in the present.

Rules clarity: It wasn't clear to me how much a player can do on his turn. I guessed that he can use three dice, and he's done when he has used each die at most once for one of the four actions. The end-game trigger also wasn't quite clear, but I THINK the idea is to learn what the lavatory cards say, set the dials to match, and then SAY that the dials match. If you're right, the game's over.

I very much liked the variety of choices that players have for using their dice rolls. IMHO that's way better than having only one choice, especially if there's no way to manipulate the results of a roll.

I liked the "dial" mechanism that simulates an old-fashioned odometer or digital clock. But the fact that the piles are shuffled and mostly face-down makes this something of a memory game. I have to confess that I'm not fond of memory games!

I'm worried about the end-game trigger. No player will want to end the game until he thinks he's going to win at that point. That means that only one player is ever willing to end the game, and the others are all working to prevent the leader from ending the game. I think the game might drag on for way too long.

#7 Reset Button

Theme was excellent. The premise of reliving the same day but keeping your experience was well-presented by losing all your VPs except for those from skills each time you wrapped the clock. Good flavor text and pictures also help convey the theme.

Rules clarity: no complaints!

Gameplay: The roll-and-move aspect was pedestrian. Just like Monopoly: roll the dice, go that far. I'd like to see players able to influence the results somehow. Otherwise a poor run of luck could leave a player with no way to fill in some slots on his clock. For example, perhaps a player could spend a Fatigue point to add or subtract one from the dice roll result (he's putting extra effort into changing his ways!). This would give players more choices and less dependence on luck, both of which I think are good things.

With a little development, I think this could make an enjoyable game. This is the one I gave my vote to.

#8 Time Vortex

Theme: There wasn't one, really, just the name and the trick of twisting the tracks into a spiral.

Rules clarity: The rules say you roll the dice and move your pawn that far... but later they say you move the pawn only when you correctly remember and name a card from the "book". Which one is it?

Gameplay: This is a straight-forward memory game. While it's true (as I said above) that I don't care for memory games, my biggest objection is that memory is the ONLY challenge in this game. I'd like to see more strategy, more player choices.

#9 Stitches in Time

My own entry. I liked the integration of theme, but otherwise I thought this was an uninspired design: pretty straightforward, nothing unusual or creative about it. (But I do thank the voters who liked it anyway!)

A Last Word

Kudos and thanks to Seo for running an excellent GDS!

dnjkirk
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InvisibleJon wrote:That's

InvisibleJon wrote:
That's very kind of you to say. I'm sorry that my example confused you.

No need to be sorry, we've all been on both sides of the coin!!

dnjkirk
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My comments...

#1 Duplicity OK, I liked this game. It was classic Jon, and Jon is an unchained whirlwind of creative and lateral thinking.

The Good: Solid application of the theme. Easy to comprehend gameboard. There is nothing particularly difficult about 40 squares and a few pawns. The concept of physical dimensional movement is blended with a lovely physical representation of chronology that makes sense as the game description unfolds.

The Genius: The concept that the players are versions of themselves at different places and times in the timestream, and the way that concept is executed, is superbly tantalizing. The way that pieces multiply themselves to form a timeline of that pawn’s existence is brilliant, and at the same time forehead-smackingly elegant.

The Suggestions: Change the order of The March. Consider this: in your first “The March” example, there are no pawns in the far future, but the pawns in the near future progress backwards. The green pawn in row 7 hits the orange pawn in the present. This signifies that the orange pawn “got the jump” on that timeline of the green player’s existence, and cuts it short. ANY GREEN PAWNS that are to the left of and in contact with that pawn’s square are removed. Basically, it shows that you arrived at a moment in the timeline where that series of events in that physical location began, and were able to cut it short. I hope you get my imagery. This would make the past a highly advantageous region, but you can ameliorate this by placing hazard markers only in the past when a pawn is (or pawns are) removed.

Rick’s critiques on fist-bidding are apt, and I can’t see myself ever bidding too high if I were to play.

The Summary: great idea as usual Jon, and as always a clever way to implement highly complex ideas.

#2 Time Jumpers Cute idea, though it treats epochs in time as discreet board regions, the wormhole mechanic is spicy.

The Good: Has a potential to be a beautiful board, easily understood, and perhaps good for a youthful audience. Potential for great flavour text and whatnot in the epochal mini-tracks, silly stuff like: “walk in on Anthony and Cleopatra, move back three spaces.”

The Genius: I love the part cards idea. Players maintaining their own secret objectives in hand in this way is cute, and a great way to make a different game every time.

The Suggestions: There is the risk of getting three part cards on the same mini-track, and some form of mitigation of this possibility would be necessary for the game to be workable. The rolling at the end of the game might get a bit interminable, so it might be something to cut from the final version.

The Summary: Cute, clever little game that with a bit of polish could be a good design for younger players.

#3 Uncertain Times An irreverent look at time travel!

The Good: Again, another game that kind of takes the idea of a continuity of existence, but this time it winds up being more of an area majority concept than anything else. Trickling through time is another cute implementation of this continuity.

The Genius: The concept of applying area majority to a time-shifting board is utterly off-the-wall.

The Suggestions: Perhaps avoid giving the winning player in a majority battle too much of an advantage. Maybe simply place new time crap where the previous time crap was removed and be done with it.

The Summary: I think this one came off a little worse for wear due to the word count, but there is the grain of something interesting there.

#4 Shattered My game. Yes, I’m sad I didn’t get in as much of the flavour text as I wanted, and it ended up coming off a little abstract. I really wanted to take something as tired as possible and try to make it as novel as possible… so I chose to take the typical “roll die, perform action” game and turn it on its head as a kind of performance art. Instead of rolling dice to move that many spaces, you are rolling dice to activate, while the dice are, at the same time, creating a higher probability for lower power pieces to move. While this helps you achieve your objective, you will have to deal with (and, luckily, have some ability to deal with) less valuable rolls. Nice thing: all rolls are useful, one way or another. It was a fun design.

#5 Time Keys I got into the premise of this one. I actually found myself ready to play a game after the initial introduction.

The Good: The random starting positions and game start is clean and should be a good way to keep the game fresh.

The Genius: I think the premise of the game is very cute and gets the players into the racing mood right away.

The Suggestions: The game feels too deterministic. Perhaps allow the players to choose which die to use for travel in which direction, or something like that. It appears that the only choice is to steer, and that choice is limited to two options. Perhaps there should be a choice of an action you can take on an empty cell, or actions that are listed on the cells that are uncovered when the tile is picked up from them. They could be flavour as well, being incidents from that timeline.

#6 Back & Forth I like Blackadder. I like time travel.

The Good: This is a good game about an underused media property that has a cult following. Developing it and pitching it to the Blackadder people wouldn’t be half a bad idea! The cunning plan idea is cute.

The Genius: Altering your reality. Just like in the real episode, Blackadder finds himself in an altered present because of his actions in the past. The idea is brilliant. The way it’s implemented in the game is a bit kludgy, but the grain of something is there.

The Suggestions: This is more of a game description than anything else, and I think a little more detail is needed for a better critique.

The Summary: You may have one or many games in here, but it’s a few clever mechanics that could work together to make a reasonably fun game.

#7 Reset Button I admit that I hated the movie Groundhog Day.

The Good: Interesting idea, optimization through iterated play.

The Genius: The concept of “locking in” an optimized hand as the victory condition is kinda cool, especially with the way information is controlled in the game.

The Suggestions: Under 800 words please!

The Summary: I tend to glaze on long descriptions, but there were some interesting ideas in there!

#8 Time Vortex A memory game… that was unexpected!

The Good: This is the way kids could study their history.

The Genius: Anytime you can use a simple deck of cards for a game, that’s good.

The Suggestions: I don’t think the theme was too well implemented here. Good try, but this game might have done better in a differently themed competition.

#9 Stitches in Time The name “Anachronaut” is utterly sweet.

The Good: The thematic integration of the game was good. I was interested in comparing my comments with Rick’s here, and I noted that Rick picked up on thematic integration whereas I think I have been mainly picking on mechanical integration (if that even means anything to anybody). Here, the theme of “time” is woven into the locations and events on the board in a concrete way. In many of the other games, time is simply a mechanic – but I happened to like that.

The Genius: Theme is thick in this one. There is an adventure feel to it, the possibility of making a band of highly differentiated team members who can change the feel of the game each play.

The Suggestions: I think your own comments on this one are apt, Rick. You made a pretty straightforward game and it’s good as is. A little flesh and a bit of a twist, and I think you’ve got something.

The Summary: I’d play it.

Mitchell Allen
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The Time Challenge

First, kudos to InvisibleJon. Your entry was my favorite.

#1 Duplicity - Reminded me of the movie, "The One". I thought this was very thematic, especially with the discrete units of time and the ability to manipulate them. I imagined them as parallel universes.

#2 Time Jumpers - The first time I read this entry, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. After reading the other critiques and then re-reading the entry, I realize what a cool concept it contains with the wormholes and randomness of time-jumping. I don't like the time-machine quest: if you have worm-holes, why bother? :)

#3 Uncertain Times - The dice mechanisms made my head explode. The diagram explains things a bit, but calculating presences is confusing.

#4 Shattered - Here is a purely abstract idea. It seems that the race is the thing - and actions used to control other pawns are a distraction. I think it is challenging enough just finding the hidden symbols.

#5 Time Keys - Very thematic, though movement takes some getting used to. Bouncing off the edge of time is kind of cool. Apropros of nothing, this would be a really cool word game (using your examples!)

#6 Back & Forth - I missed this Whole Baldrick thing. No comment.

#7 Reset Button - Nice concept of double-side action cards. Note about breaking ties: shouldn't it be most money and LEAST fatigue?

#8 Time Vortex - Mine. I agree that the theme was not aligned to the challenge. The idea was that "time" was represented by the order of cards and the requirement to "travel backwards" in the litany phase. I have a tendency to bend the thematic rules whenever I'm not too versed in the subject matter. As for the dice movement, in the Roll and Move phase, you must move the number shown. In the Litany phase, you must do at least one Litany and you move your pawn an ADDITIONAL space one way or the other. After the first Litany, you can keep reciting, if you correctly recall each card.

#9 Stitches in Time - Recruits from the future was my favorite aspect of this game. It deftly solves your personnel problems! Is there something in the genre that favors hazards? I like this feature (which is also in Duplicity) as it does seem to make time travel perilous!

Cheers,

Mitch

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