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Critique the June 2009 GDS Challenge etries

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

simons
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Voting question

Um, so what voting scheme are we supposed to use anyways? Is it still the 10 points thing?

Zzzzz
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10 points total across any

10 points total across any combination of entries will be fine. Sorry I forgot that everyone was tossing around various voting ideas over the last few months.

ilta
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10 points is cool.

10 points is cool.

Mitchell Allen
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Overlimit Warning

I was wondering if participants have ever been allowed to trim their entries to conform to the 800 word limit.

These two entries look cool and it would be a shame to disqualify them. At the same time, it isn't fair to award them any points, because a) it disregards the efforts of the conforming entrants and b) it would signal that the 800 word limit was not enforceable.

Cheers,

Mitch

ilta
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800wd limit

I have usually been reminded of the limit when I've gone over, and offered the chance to fix it (although I invariably see this note too late). It's not a 'hard' limit though - if you really need 850 words to communicate your game people should cut you a bit of slack. Not an infinte amount of slack, but a bit. To be honest it kind of pissed me off one time when someone giving detailed critiques of all the games simply wrote "I don't read entries over 800 words" for mine. my entry was 819 words that month, I think.

If 800 words exactly is the hard limit, then the GDS guidlines should reflect this. I think they call it a 'guidline' or 'request' or somesuch.

But 3000+ words... that's a bit much - at that point you're in a whole different category than the other entries. Which is a shame because those games do look interesting. But I couldn't vote for them.

Full disclosure: I have a 799wd game in this month's GDS.

Brother Tyler
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Fair enough

To be honest, I'm not bothered by my entry being disqualified for being over 800 words. I had so much going on at the time* that I both totally forgot about the limit and wouldn't have had time to trim the entry down even if I'd remembered. I'm a word-monkey, so trimming the entry down would have taken some work and time - more time than I had at that time. Besides, I've already figured out ways to improve upon the game (hopefully). So no worries on this end.

*Y'know, getting the entire household ready for the movers to come really should have been my priority, but I cut out a few hours to cobble the entry together. I probably should have been a bit more focused on the house - then the movers might have gotten a few things that they missed and prevented me from having to squeeze that stuff into my truck. C'est la vie.

Zzzzz
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First, I am not sure if

First, I am not sure if Byrkovian ever mandated that over 800 words is an *automatic* disqualification. That limitation was put in place to help members limit the time needed to enter a submission and attempt to keep all submissions within a reasonable size for other members to read/review and vote.

With that said, you as an individual could still read any size post and critique and vote accordingly, but those that choose to omit because of length have that right too!

Since there was a holiday (here in US at least) the past weekend I will allow for one final day of voting!

Anyone wanting to vote has until 11:59PM EST ON July 6th to get me any votes.

truekid games
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sorry, i totally missed the

sorry, i totally missed the 800 word rule. my rule wording was trying to be comprehensive to avoid misunderstandings, i certainly could have trimmed it down.

Brykovian
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One of my "favorite" subjects ...

The 800-word limit, the restriction on graphics, and the method of voting would be the 3 topics that make running the GDS less fun ... but some structure is needed, even in friendly Challenges such as these.

So, here's my take on it ... the 800-word limit is stated as its own clear bullet item in the rules list on the GDS page: http://www.bgdf.com/node/27

However, I have generally chosen to judge this softly, allowing usually up to the 820-ish range without mentioning anything, due to differences in how "word count" might be measured.

If I notice an entry that is submitted early enough that is over the limit, I usually send a message to the author and ask if they wish to re-submit a cut-down version. But I have never DQ'd any entry due to the word limit. Instead, I usually made an "Admin Note" at the top of the entry to point out the word count ... the voters have been plenty harsh on the long entries throughout the 5+ year history of the regular GDS Challenges.

I don't personally want to get too lawyerly on this since it really is intended as a way for designers scratch their heads a bit and do a little show-and-tell in front each other, and make suggestions to each other for the entertainment and betterment of all involved. But I do understand that some feel much more comfortable engaging in things with clearer rules. So, I try to strike a balance of sorts.

I'll be back to run the July GDS Challenge ... so, you can all let me have it then. ;-D

-Bryk

simons
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Game comments

First off, on the 800 word limit thing, personally I think the system works fine. I think the limit is good, otherwise you could too easily spill into 1300 or 2000 word games (or at least I could), and that gets a bit much to read. I've always seen going 850 words as, well, a strike against you, but not definitely an out (kind of like how, well, if you didn't do a good job making this game about "survival," it probably wouldn't be my #1, but could still get some votes). I think it's a little extreme to say "You went 50 words over, I'm not even going to bother to read it," but I do understand it.

Also, just a thought: does a game really need to be so complicated that you'd lose something if you took out one part? I mean, seriously, how much would The Watchtower Tragedy have lost if it only briefly summarized some of the rules (such as "there will also be actions allowing you to get more rifelmen"). I know in my game I could have gone into detail about special missions, but I don't think they would have changed anyone's vote. How many elements are there really where if you didn't explain it, the game just doesn't seem playable?

Last, did only 4 people vote in this? That kind of stinks. I mean, I thought the rule was if you entered you needed to vote.

Ok, lets see…
Box Office Smashup- I must say, when I was reading this, I thought to myself “Hmmm, I wonder if this is Mitchell Allen’s game.” You really have a way of making game that, well, are interesting and different enough to really stand out. Really neat idea for a game (although it didn’t fit survival very well). I’ve always liked games where there is some urgency. I also like that the game actually accomplishes something. I guess I was confused about the sorting thing. If each player chooses a sorting mechanism, then does each player sort in that fashion? Or is it something else?

Pow Wow- Again, didn’t really fit the survival theme (and I’m not sure how you’d want to be the last player to do anything but draw a feather), but a neat idea. I couldn’t tell if there was much strategy involved, or if it was just the luck of the draw (I suppose seeing one card ahead could help, and when to draw a feather could be a big thing).

For Science!!!- My game; practically perfect in every way :) But seriously, what did you think about it? I’m debating making a prototype of it, and am curious if there are any obvious problems. Did people understand what I was saying (and if not, feel free to let me know).

Not to the Swiftest- Nice idea. So, you just run straight in one path? This seems like not a whole lot of strategy.

The Watchtower Tragedy- I think it was a good representation of the zombie genre, but am not sure how well it would do as a game. Fairly complicated game (15 different actions you could take). Also, if a 4 player game, you’d need almost 500 meeples, which seems like it might be a cost hindrance.

State of Nature- Wonderful idea. Definitely deserved to win. It seems like a game that would have a decent amount of replay value (although, it seems like it could be tough to balance). Also, I like how not every player is the same (though again, hard to balance). A couple questions (problems that might arise that I was thinking about): first, would it take too long to play the 10 evolution cards? Also, could a loosing player with 8 evolutions let things drag out (or is there a way to push her along)? Also, if you have an EV of 10, that means you need to eat 5 food per turn, right? If herbivores can only get 2 each from a watering hole, wouldn’t that create a major problem? And also, if starvation only ever costs you 1, could you get a nasty loop where you spend all of your food mating, and not bother eating (then only having 1 die)?

Endangered Bachelors- Definitely a creative use of “survival”. I don’t know, the concept is a bit edgy. I could see a lot of people being turned off by the idea (probably a decent, if not major share of women, and some men too). It also seems a little complicated (and I put your rules into Word, it came out saying over 3000, which does seem too much for a contest like this). I mean, I feel like you’d really need a reference cart in front of you to keep track of all of the nuances of what each card could do (though maybe there’s a pattern that I missed).

Gang Up- Nice short rules, and yet it sounds like a lot of strategy. I like it. I was confused though, how could a player move to the center? Would she need to be pushed? What is the benefit to moving?

RTaylor
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Notes on June GDS challenge:

First, let me reiterate that I love these challenges. They get me thinking and I always enjoy seeing how others interpret the guidelines. Thanks to everyone who runs these, participates in them, and votes.

Here are my comments:

*Box office smashup:

I must admit that this one leaves me cold. I'm not sure if it's the dvds or the way that the game on the chess board seems disconnected from the goal of sorting them, but I can't imagine myself saying "okay kids, lets organize the dvds again!" I guess that I'm not really sure what the point is. I understand that the goal is to have a sorted system, but I don't get how the nominations would work- why would you ever not nominate one of the movies in your stack and organize it first? Also, what incentive is there to do anything but move all your meeples into the same square (dominating)? I think that you really need to balance this out.

*PowWow (my entry).

My main comment here is to say that I know that the survival theme in this game is thin, and the 'last person to do x' mechanic weak. I'm okay with that.

When I read the theme, the idea of a 'last dancer standing' sort of competition popped into my head and wouldn't leave. The removing a feather if passing will in theory limit the game's length without prescribing a set number of rounds, but was mainly added in an attempt to meet the challenge guidelines.

I think that the strategy will lie in hand management, as players can see the current and next dances called for. There will also be a planning element, as the pairs you choose to lay will also dictate which, if any, special action space your dancer lands on. I anticipate that there could be a blocking element to this part of gameplay as well.

I look forward to other comments on this idea.

*For Science!

Love this idea. I think that it would probably see a lot of refinements if developed and playtested, but the base concept is neat. Depending on how your board is designed, you may need to figure out a way to prevent self-destruct being initiated too soon...

*Not to the Swiftest

Seems a straightforward race game, with a dark twist. I don't like the idea of shooting the other humans, but it fits the game theme fine. I expect that the design (layout) of the gameboard will make a big difference in how this plays. A modular board might be helpful to keep it replayable?

*The Watchtower Tragedy.

I didn't read this due to its length. Nice graphic.

*State of Nature

Neat game, could be fun. Your rules as presented are clear and leave me with no nagging questions. Well done!

*Endangered Bachelors

I didn't read this due to its length.

*Gang Up

Short rules- not sure why you would move your meeple if crossing the middle square eliminates you. Why not just sit and collect points? Needs work.

Mitchell Allen
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Meeple Survivor Challenge Notes

Congratulations ilta! I think it's worth developing your game. I kept thinking of all the SimAnts, SimLife and other fun games I played on the computer. Bringing it to a board game would be really cool!

Here are some brief comments that I jotted down for each entry.

Entry #1 Mine

I was tickled to read simons' comment about my entry. You made my day!
The survival theme was kind of hard, because the only thing that popped into my head was Big Brother and its ilk.

@Roberta, you're right, there is no point. Sometimes, I just like to make up weird ideas to see how they fly :) On the other hand, if you ever accidentally knock over your DVD collection ...

Entry #2 Pow Wow
This game has a comfortable familiarity about it (UNO?)
I love the idea of breaking ties with previous dance pair.
9 cards seems like too many, even with an abundant deck. Smaller children may not be able to hold so many. In addition, the choices could be overwhelming.

Entry #3 For Science!
The scoring mechanism for the scientists is clever and clearly provides a last Meeple standing tension!
Self-destruct and Vorgons make the length hazardous. One question: what is the purpose of recharging the escape pods with a card?

Entry #4 Not to the Swiftest - A vampire game usually has my eyes glazed over. This one is different. The vicious tools and moving mechanics are really cool.
The escape goal clearly highlights the survivor element!

Entry #5(OVER 800 Words.)
The Watchtower Tragedy - I like games with trains in them. I like zombie movies. Mixing them up makes for a ghoulish ride!
This game seems to have a lot going on. There is a confusing bit involving negotiations with townsfolk:
do you entice them into their town, only to have them trying to escape? Does negotiation mean getting them to safety?

Entry #6 State of Nature - Evolution, Ice Age is a nice theme and I like the way the creatures go about their lives. If the game is balanced, it should be a lot of fun to see which species survives.

Entry #7 (OVER 800 Words.)
ENDANGERED BACHELORS
Naughty! "Husband – the player has a Wife. The player’s meeple is laying down on the Wife card."
This would be a great party game!

Entry #8 Gang Up
It's too bad this game hasn't been defined more fully. I'm guessing that players can move other players' meeple, otherwise, there is no reason to ever visit the center square.
We have no way of knowing why someone would give away precious points, either.
The title of this game implies a game of unequal forces. Hopefully, we'll get some details.

My Votes:
5 points: Entry #6 State of Nature
3 points: Entry #4 Not to the Swiftest
2 points: Entry #3 For Science!

truekid games
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Quote:Also, just a thought:

Quote:
Also, just a thought: does a game really need to be so complicated that you'd lose something if you took out one part? I mean, seriously, how much would The Watchtower Tragedy have lost if it only briefly summarized some of the rules (such as "there will also be actions allowing you to get more rifelmen"). I know in my game I could have gone into detail about special missions, but I don't think they would have changed anyone's vote. How many elements are there really where if you didn't explain it, the game just doesn't seem playable?

like i said above, i totally missed the word limit rule, or i would have shortened my wording. ;P

i pretty much wish it hadn't even been posted, it obviously didn't stand a chance once the word count became an issue.

RTaylor
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re: watchtower

I hope that this doesn't stop your enthusiasm for taking part in these- I suggest that you take what you can from your experience, and try again next time. It's never a waste of time to work to put ideas like this on paper.

I find the 800 word limit a challenge every month, but it also makes me clarify and distill my thoughts, which always improves my game.

truekid games
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really, in this case it would

really, in this case it would have just cut out clarification of rules, so that if anyone actually played it there'd be a greater chance of issues (having done a good share of blind rules tests, that's always what i'm thinking about when writing them).

but I can understand shortening rules to make it a better fluffy presentation... but i wouldn't call that particularly challenging.

ilta
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critiques

Thanks for the win and the great comments, guys! I'll include my thoughts about it when I get to that section of this post.

As for the 800 words thing, I too find it a challenge to make it under that limit, and I've failed as many times as I've succeeded. As a classic "overwriter," I find the enforced brevity to be as helpful to me as a designer as the actual theme/design requirements; part of the fun is finding the central gameplay within the over-written one. My original version of SoN clocked in at 1000w or so; it took about as long to to cut a fifth of the rule text as it did to come up with the game itself! Things cut included more complicated starvation rules, impassable mountain terrain, an alternate win condition to avoid the lock-up that Simons recognized, and more example cards.

Anyway, on to my thoughts!

****Box Office Smashup -- DVD sorting is definitely unique! The photo also was superawesome. My main concern with the rules was that if domination prevents you from being voted off, then why wouldn't every player seek domination at all times? How do you break a deadlock of all players dominating, when the instant you move from domination to create an alliance, you'll be voted off? I also couldn't quite follow the end-game... are players collecting the DVDs of eliminated players and incorporating them into their sort? All in all an original set of ideas that didn't quite gel into a single game for me.

****PowWow -- I didn't mind the thin survival theme at all, because it looks fun and the general dance theme felt strong. Terminology was a bit confusing, because sometimes you talk about what must be "drum cards" but call them "dance" or "dancer" cards, which are different. A few questions: if drum cards call for either gender or style, in addition to color, then why not get rid of one? The gameplay isn't going to change, since at any given moment you're ignoring one of the three card features already. I also wonder if the game wouldn't benefit from a more Uno-like playstyle, where a player's previous play influences the next play. That would increase the decision-making, and force players to adapt to changing circumstances rather than (mostly) pre-plan their entire round.

****For Science -- Awesome. Great implementation of theme, wonderful sense of humor, and what looks like a tight, fun game. I especially like the game-of-chicken scoring. The only way I could imagine making it better would be if the game itself gets predictably more and more dangerous as it plays, rather than simply eliminating other players / players chickening out. Perhaps a random section is destroyed after each round ("Battle Royale" style), or another Vogon is added, or somesuch. I think the secret missions would also really help vary the game. I think you might also want to have bonuses appear for short times to players exiting the ship, so that they don't just hang out by escape pods and wait for others to bug out. Still, this one got my vote.

****Not to the Swiftest -- Like the idea (don't have to outrun the bad guy, just everyone else), but the execution left me cold. I think one of the biggest reasons for this is that you have the players starting from first place, rather than from last. What this means is that the lucky player who gets in the lead at the beginning is probably going to be the winner, and the strategy is always to play the highest card in your hand and hope to capture or regain the lead, rather than to try to time your getting the lead for the right moment, which would be fun. The weapons add a bit to this, but not enough, in my opinion. I do like that eliminated players are still in the game, but again, the winning condition for them (kill everyone on the same turn) needs some more strategy.

****Watchtower Tragedy -- too, too long. It's a shame you missed the limit but I hope to see your entry next time! But moving on, I think the biggest issue with this would be the component requirements. 90 zombie meeples plus 30 meeples per player? Yikes! I think you also have the problem of "multi-player solitaire" because a player's actions don't have a lot of direct effect on the other players. One thing I'd love to see would be if you could make the players trying to defend the town together, but keep "their" group safest. Sort of a "divided town bands together against the horde" sort of thing, but they aren't quite ready to really set aside their differences. I think there's a lot of room for a tight, tense zombie-fighting game there.

****State of Nature -- This was my game. The numbers probably aren't balanced but I wanted to try to create an asymmetric game between plentiful herbivores and smaller packs of apex predators. I see the primary game action as an evolutionary arms race, much like real evolution. But at the same time, bigger, more evolved creatures require more food to survive, and will die in droves if, say, an asteroid smacks into Pangea. I'm not a fan of the end-game situation -- the original goal was to get each of your creatures on the board, but the end-game requirement of the GDS made me cut that and replace it with the (less satisfying) percentage count after every player hits level 10.

Simons: I should have been more clear. The starvation rules actually work so that you have to kill off a number of your creatures until you reach equilibrium. So if you have 5 level 8 creatures, you'll need 20 food to feed them (5 * 8 * .5 = 20 food needed). If you have only 12 food, then two die, and you pay the 12 food to the bank for the remaining three (3 * 8 * .5 = 12 food needed). If you have no food at all, then every animal will die (although two will "magically" appear somewhere else on the board). So a strategy of furious mating won't really work if you can't pay for it, although that anti-elimination rule could have players exhaust their food on repeated turns to level up their creatures; perhaps players would also have to discard an evolution card, too. Remember also that while forests and watering holes give you 1 and 2 food, respectively, evolution cards would increase those values and offer other bonuses. A level 8 herbivore might pull twice that, per creature -- likewise with efficient carnivores, so that the end of the game speeds up as players tip the balance and now have large food surpluses.

RTayler and Mitchell: Thanks! I'm glad you guys thought so highly of it.

****Endangered Bachelors -- also way too long, but again I think there's a good game here. I like that it uses decks of cards. While the card actions seem confusing on paper they're no more difficult to remember than, say, Mao, which has a different, seemingly random card action for almost every card in the deck. Overall I would have given this a vote if it hadn't been so long; as it was I didn't feel it was possible to compare a polished, fleshed out 3000-word description to simplified 800-word entries.

****Gang-Up. Startlingly simple but very playable. But it has the opposite problem as Watchtower and Bachelors -- it's so short I didn't get a chance to really think about the implications of the game rules. I also, somehow, only thought that players could move THEIR meeple, rather than anyone's, thus turning the game into a dicefest with no real decisions. In the future, I'd like to see an entry this short have some examples, thoughts on strategy, and the like. You have 800 words -- use them!

Anyway, this was a challenge that produced a variety of interesting entries, each with their own idea of "survival" and many intriguing and innovative meeple uses. I look forward to the next contest!

Mitchell Allen
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Box office - off-kilter

ilta wrote:
My main concern with the rules was that if domination prevents you from being voted off, then why wouldn't every player seek domination at all times? How do you break a deadlock of all players dominating, when the instant you move from domination to create an alliance, you'll be voted off? I also couldn't quite follow the end-game... are players collecting the DVDs of eliminated players and incorporating them into their sort?

ilta, thanks for your comments. Recall that Dominance must be absolute - no ties are permitted. When two or more players have the same number of meeple on a square, those meeple are ignored. Essentially, this means that nobody's safe :)

The end game is weak - and boring. If I were to expand this game, I'd change it so that the object wasn't to sort at all; just collect the most DVDs meeting a pre-defined citeria.

Cheers,

Mitch

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