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[GDS] APRIL 2016 "Co-opted" - Critiques

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mindspike
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We have a winner!

The Final Voyage of the Jelly Roger

by ConMan

Game Designer Score Discussion
The Final Voyage of the Jelly Roger ConMan 13 April 19
Dispatch 5-0 chuff411 11 April 20
No Man Is An Island Opinioso 11 April 21
Big Brother Is Watching You AndyMakesPasta 9 April 22
Alpha Hackers Hook 5 April 23
The Duck Flies At Midnight billarama 3 April 24
Jury-Riggers gilamonster 2 April 25
ConMan
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Hooray!

Hooray!

I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising that many of the entries, not least mine, "solved" the problem by giving the alpha player a role all for themselves. However, I like the different directions everyone tried to take them.

Some comments, first on the first four entries:

The Final Voyage of the Jelly Roger

I don't actually know how much of the game mechanics I'd continue with if I tried developing this seriously (and you know, I have half a mind to at least give it a shot), but I'm actually kind of happy with the core mechanic of swapping roles, and in giving the Captain a role where they have no direct agency but must determine what the team's greatest need is and give agency to the player who can help with that.

Jury-riggers

I think it sounds kind of neat, and I generally like the idea of passing flare cards as an action to try to signal to another player some kind of information about the game state. However, I'm not sure that it encourages the "alpha player" that much - presumably you would, like in Hanabi, develop a set of conventions about what certain colour combinations mean, but everyone is equally well-placed to give out the cards at first, which I suspect means that the alpha players will give their cards away early, leaving them unable to communicate much afterwards.

Alpha Hackers

Having the Operations Commander essentially give out special actions to players is a really neat idea. It definitely fits the specification of the contest - the alpha player will love having that ability to essentially tell the other players what kind of action they should be doing. And yet, the players can always just do one of their standard actions instead, perhaps assuming that the OC gave them that card as a signal to do so. My only concern is that the players on one map might not care as much about what happens on the other.

Dispatch 5-0

Another twist on giving the AP a role, I love that the Dispatcher's special bonus is essentially that if they stay in their ivory tower and try to direct everyone, they get to see everything that's happening, but once they decide that they need to get stuff done themselves they lose that bonus. I guess there's a slight concern that if all of this is essentially open information to everyone then any time there's an AP other than the current Dispatcher there will be some butting of heads.

billarama
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Interesting theme

I'll start my critiques when the schedule comes up, but I'll say overall it was very interesting to see how people interpreted the theme. I was particularly interested in seeing innovative ways to incorporate it. As mentioned, there were a number of games that made a role for the alpha gamer, but I was specifically keen to see how that role defied the convention that the AG will tend to run the show no matter what role he or she has.

Sometimes that's hard to see in the short summaries. I'm not surprised the results were close -- there are a lot of ways to interpret the theme and I can see multiple ways of envisioning some of the game experiences presented here.

A very strong set this month, I thought. Good work, everybody.

chuff411
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Thanks!

I'll say more on the 20th, but thanks for voting everyone! This was my first entry and I went from typing up basicslly a 1500 word rulebook and then narrowing it down to 500 words. I changed the part about the Dispatcher showing the Emergency Cards to everyone instead of just looking at it themselves at the veey last minute after re-reading the contest rules, but I think I'll change it back to the Dispatcher keeping them secret until they are assigned.

ConMan
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Ah, I didn't notice there's a

Ah, I didn't notice there's a schedule! It's ok, I can work with that, although I'll be talking in Australian time so I might be a bit ahead of everyone.

So, thanks for everyone who voted!

The rough progression of the idea went something like "what if the alpha player actually chose whose turn it was -> maybe that means they don't get a turn of their own -> how about if you could take the captain's role and give the captain your old role -> why not make it so you can swap your role with anyone's -> actually, why not make it so you can swap your role with any role in the game, even one not currently in play". And at that point I got quite excited with the idea, because I was thinking about the Pandemic Legacy campaign I'm in the midst of and how often I've thought "I wish we had the Medic/Dispatcher/$spoiler right now".

I figured there needed to be an incentive to be Captain besides wanting to tell people what to do, hence making it so that you only refill your hand when you take the Captain role. Thinking about it, it might be an idea to give a few other roles a bonus when you take them, to further encourage role swapping.

Limiting information seems to be almost essential to this challenge, since with completely open information the AP doesn't need to position themselves in the role of Captain (or the equivalent in other games), they can just be a back seat driver. In the case of the Jelly Roger, I'm guessing that the different challenges will require different card combinations, maybe a bit like the Quests in Shadows over Camelot (where you have to play cards almost like poker hands - some quests want pairs or triples, others want straights). For Jelly Roger, maybe the cards will have a value and a suit? Then battles might be fought with pairs and triples, while treasure hunting is done with straights, and navigation with flushes. Or something. And when the Captain is determining whose turn it is, players are limited to saying things like "I don't have the knack for steering this vessel, but I can blast yon galleon with a single cannon!"

Which then raises another thought - I might want to test the possibility of swapping roles at the start of a player's turn rather than the end. Who knows.

billarama
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The Final Voyage of the Jelly Roger

The overview doesn't say a lot about what is actually involved in acquiring booty, so I had some trouble pinning this one down. I really like the mechanic of having cards mean different things to different characters, and then have the roles change. That could make for an interesting and fun puzzle to solve and a new layer to what have become standard co-op mechanics. In particular, the flexible cards breathe new life into the "can only give limited information" restriction since the cards mean different things to different characters. I almost voted for this as my #3, but I think I need to see some more nuts and bolts of the 500 words. Plenty of potential here, though.

ConMan
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billarama wrote:The overview

billarama wrote:
The overview doesn't say a lot about what is actually involved in acquiring booty, so I had some trouble pinning this one down. I really like the mechanic of having cards mean different things to different characters, and then have the roles change. That could make for an interesting and fun puzzle to solve and a new layer to what have become standard co-op mechanics. In particular, the flexible cards breathe new life into the "can only give limited information" restriction since the cards mean different things to different characters. I almost voted for this as my #3, but I think I need to see some more nuts and bolts of the 500 words. Plenty of potential here, though.

My current thought is "Dunno". Actually, that's not entirely true. I have vague ideas, but nothing that I'd pin down exactly - possibly have a bunch of threat and opportunity cards that require certain groups of cards to be played (such as poker hand-style combos or similar), and bonuses and penalties depending on whether or not you meet the requirements by some deadline.

billarama
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Jelly Roger

Yep, I think there are a lot of ways to come at it. The big idea mechanic is very interesting, you just need to experiment with what kind of engine it needs to make a good game.

billarama
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Dispatch 5-0

Seems on theme with a special Dispatcher role, but I'm not sure if in practice it really would be. The main question I have is what the non-dispatchers actually do. Once assigned an emergency, are they basically just rolling dice? If so, then really it's all about the dispatcher action and I'm not sure it would really matter which person it is. The other mechanics involving having special abilities to solve emergencies seem sound. I like the modular board; that could really help replayability. The reason I didn't vote for it was mostly for the contest theme, but overall this sounds like a solid co-op.

Hook
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Con - grats

Con - grats - man

Dammit - I really thought I nailed this one :)

Jelly rogers: I love the idea. I think even if roles are rotated the hidden hand info is a slight minus. Just because I felt everything should be open in this competition.

Dispatch got a silver from me. I felt the rotateing of the dispatcher was a tag on in the entry and should have been more central.

ConMan
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Hook wrote:Con - grats -

Hook wrote:
Con - grats - man

Ooh, that's a new one. Thanks!

Hook wrote:
Jelly rogers: I love the idea. I think even if roles are rotated the hidden hand info is a slight minus. Just because I felt everything should be open in this competition.

I see where you're coming from, and I don't necessarily disagree with the idea, but I think in practice the Alpha Player is a problem mainly when information can be shared perfectly and it's possible to come up with something resembling a "best" move. My thought was that it's better to give the AP something to do that satisfies their alpha tendencies, while still giving all the non-AP players a reason to actually play the game and not be replaced by mannequins. Still, your comment is definitely worthwhile and something to think about.

andymakespasta
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Jelly Rogers: Pros: Hand

Jelly Rogers:
Pros:
Hand mechanic of replenishing is interesting. From what I gather, when you're not the captain, you gradually use up cards, and can't move on some turns. This makes everyone want to be the captain, unless they're loaded with cards. So everyone's fighting to be captain, and this encourages role playing. I can imaging people shouting "Fire the Cannons!!!" and "Full Sail, hard tackle starboard".
Cons:
If you weren't picked, you can't move, you can't even communicate.
How who becomes captain needs to be fleshed out more.
tl;dr:
fun theme and mechanic encourages role playing and solves alpha player problem. Might be slow if you're off-turn.

andymakespasta
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Dispatch 5-0 pros: The game

Dispatch 5-0
pros:
The game seems to do ramping up pretty well. If balanced right, emergencies can pile up, and people are rushing to fix the last few emergencies. It would also be interesting if emergencies would also have effects, such as restrict movement or speed up the rate of emergencies.
I feel the optimal way to play is to form teams that travel together, and do circuits through emergency points.
cons:
I don't see how it handles the alpha player problem. The dispatch assigns missions, but another player can always say, you should've given it to A. Or, the alpha player could say, B and C go there to handle that emergency while me and A go here etc.
tl;dr:
overall not bad, but I don't see how it handles alpha player.

andymakespasta
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No Man Is An Island Pro: The

No Man Is An Island
Pro:
The idea is that we're going to explicitly declare who is the alpha player, but players are rewarded for not obeying.
Players as a group get more success if they don't follow the leader's suggestion. This means that not following suggestions is a success move, while following is a low risk resource gathering move. This choice can be interesting.

Con:
Unfortunately, unless we're going to enforce no communication, if the leader is good enough of a player, they can make nuanced suggestions, which the players should understand (get the gist of how much resources is needed), while not following the instruction. This way, the leader can "assign" success points to players who need them.

tl;dr:
the basic idea of having group and individual victory could maybe solve the alpha player problem, but I don't think it does so well currently as it is.

billarama
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No Man Is An Island

Very much on theme with a special role for gamer alpha. I love that the mechanics reward the leader and alpha players on both their success and how well they cooperated. This is an elegant design and I think just what this contest was looking for. My #1 Vote.

andymakespasta
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billarama wrote:Very much on

billarama wrote:
Very much on theme with a special role for gamer alpha. I love that the mechanics reward the leader and alpha players on both their success and how well they cooperated. This is an elegant design and I think just what this contest was looking for. My #1 Vote.

Maybe I'm missing something. I don't really understand how this one works. Can you explain how this one works?

ConMan
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No Man Is An Island

It's kind of a Prisoner's Dilemma incorporated into a co-op mechanic, which is a bit odd. I agree that it feels like once you've set up a code of sorts, the leader can always make a suggestion in such a way that the other players know what to actually do, while always technically rejecting the suggestion. So I think it needs a little something extra to make it work - maybe even encourage agreeing with the leader under certain circumstances (I suppose the fact that the leader also has to accumulate success tokens counts, but then you just incorporate that into your system).

Hook
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Best theme

Big brother was my absolute favorite. I could very much imagine it. Paying to speak is awesome. And the theme fitted well to the contest.

andymakespasta
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Thanks, I started from the

Thanks, I started from the idea of punishing the alpha player, so they would want to speak, but are penalized. The theme followed from that. I added mechanics so that the alpha player could still order people around, but it would not be so annoying, because they're taking one for the team.
I think it matches the goal very well, but the game itself really needs more meat, and more adversary to ramp up the tension.

Opinioso
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My remarks

Sorry, I always lose the deadline for the remarks for each game. So, here are the remarks for every game until now.

*The Final Voyage*
It was my #1. I really like the idea of the roles being passed from a player to another, and the Captain defining who's gonna be what. I love the idea of the cards meaning completely different things according to the role that uses them. The way of how the players can inform the captain about their hands can be tricky and rely too much on the players's discipline (like in Hanabi), but it certainly deserves a shot. It seems to be that it fits the theme of the contest (it certainly addresses the alpha player) and I like the spin on the theme (pirates are usually very strict in their hierarchy).

*Dispatch 5-0*
It was my #2, and a close one. I really liked the way it addressed the alpha player (by letting him become the dispatcher). But two things made me go with #2 instead of #1. The first was the dice mechanism. I really thought that it would add too much luck factor to this. To solve the emergencies can be hard enough only considering the distance, for example. To risk a good strategy with a bad roll of dice can be extremely frustrating. The second reason, and the stronger one, was the last sentence, allowing to change who's the dispatcher. I think that it reduces the alpha player component and makes the game too chaotic. Also, in terms of theme, I really think that the dispatcher shouldn't be allowed to leave the station, and should be only one player for the whole game.Also, if you are thinking on developing this, I really think you should take the suggestion someone made about the emergencies not fixed creating new problems (like reducing movements in the neighborhood).

*No Mas is an Island*
Co-op games are not my favorite, but that's just because I'm too competitive. That's why it took me a lot of thinking. And I decided to start by making it's specially hard for the alpha player: he'll have the information, but not the power to decide. What he can do is suggest and pray for being followed. in the first version (with something like 1500 words), his actions actually had names: Remember Your Experiences (by taking a look at one of the risks), Teach the Path (by assigning the order of the risks) and Make a Speech (by suggesting the amount of resources).

The first version also had another tokens: the Do the Right Thing and the Told You So, gained in case of disagreement between the leader and the player (the first going to to the player in case of success and the latter going to the leader in case of failure). They would be used to overrule the usual - the leader could force a stubborn player to follow his suggestion, and the other to avoid the use of the first token - or by a player wanting to force another player to change his choices. But I felt that they were reducing the cooperative element.

About the comments on communication, I decided to not reduce that because the leader also has very imperfect information. He's seeing one risk, and usually the missions would have at least 4. So, he doesn't have that many information. They can actually discuss and agree on something (but I kept the extra success for bold players as an encouragement to disobey).

*Big Brother is Watching You*
I am a suspect, since I'm a big fan of Orwell, but I really liked the premise of the game. I think it has a lot of potential, and can be really thrilling to play. The idea of restricting the communication of the whole table fits as a glove in the theme. With a good balance for the items and the victory conditions, it can be amazing. My only problem with this was that I didn't feel that it really addressed the alpha player in the way proposed for the contest. The idea was to encourage and regulate the "alpha player phenomenon", and it seemed to me that it didn't happened. Great idea, though. I'd certainly play this game.

*Alpha Players*
I have a terrible memory, but I believe that it was my #3. It seemed to me that the pitch addressed the challenge of the contest (by creating the Operation Commander), but it seemed to me that it needed some polishing on how exactly the encryption would work. Also, I really think that the Commander role shouldn't be rotated, because the players would have too much information from their previous positions.

andymakespasta
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Interesting, how we had

Interesting, how we had completely opposite thoughts on how well the alpha player problem was solved.

For me, the alpha player problem is : A strong player knows the best way to play for everyone at the table. They constantly tell other players the right way to play. Other players become less engaged, and annoyed.

The final voyage, I think solves alpha player by merit of it's light and silly theme, and not open information, and the mechanic of how everyone HAS to be captain to replenish cards. The alpha player cannot be captain all the time, and when they're not captain, the captain, I suspect, will override the alpha players suggestions, and no hurt feelings because light theme.

Dispatch 5-0 doesn't solve it well because all information is open. I can imagine the dispatcher drawing an emergency, and the alpha player going: "if it's a shooting emergency and in the east sector, give it to Bill, he doesn't have many emergencies." Then when the dispatch assigns the emergency, the alpha player might go "You should've given it to Sue, she didn't have the stats, but she can team up with Bob as he moves towards his next emergency." and annoy the crap out of everyone. If the alpha player IS the dispatch. They might end up ordering everyone all their moves, and essentially play the game themselves. No good.

In No Man Island, it handles disagreements in game, so it's easy and very interesting for players to disagree with the leader (note that the leader might not actually be the alpha player?). The problem is that there's no valid reason for a player to disagree. The leader has MORE information, even if it's incomplete. Nobody's going to disagree based on a hunch. They will only disagree if they need success/do the right thing tokens
I think this game solves the alpha player only if the alpha player is not competent enough.

It's admirable that many people tried to have it open information, but I don't think anyone has really thought of a way to solve the problem with that constraint.

The alpha player, in my opinion, is NOT the commander or leader or whatever role in the game. It's the player that likes to tell other people what to do. The goal is to make the other players still have fun, even in the existence of such an alpha player.

What I tried to do with Big Brother is, players need to communicate, but they also need to hoard contraband. So players have to implicitly assign roles. There is the no contraband role who will communicate to everyone what hints everyone passed to them. There is the super illegal role, who hoards the really dangerous stuff and never speaks. The alpha player, by virtue of really wanting to talk, should try to pass on / discard all contraband, and take the communication role.
It regulates alpha players, though the encouragement might be a little lacking and subtle, and an alpha player who starts with a hand full of explosives may decide not to communicate.

I guess playtesting is needed.

billarama
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Critiques

Sorry, I got behind over the weekend. Looking at some of the critiques, it's interesting how different people interpreted the theme and responded to it. Personally, I was looking for something that mitigated the guy who is always directing traffic and makes the game more about force of personality than game play. There were some interesting approaches, but I think mostly we've learned that this is a tough problem. It's really hard to predict how they'd come off in practice.

My approach in Duck was pretty simple, but hardly comprehensive, in that everyone has a turn in which he can't give any information at all. So the alpha gamer has to shut up at least sometimes.

Here are the rest of my critiques:

Big Brother is Watching You:

I like the theme of the game and the mechanics are simple but interesting. It's very hard to get a sense of the dynamics here. Getting the right balance in the deck is crucial.

The "denounce" option is a good way to mitigate some concerns I had about player elimination. And I like the all-or-nothing game end declaration.

The "draw a card to speak" rule seems worrisome. In practice, this could make for an unpleasantly silent experience. I also think you would need some specific restrictions on what the speaking could entail. I voted this one #3, although it was close to a toss up with Jelly Roger.

Alpha Hackers:

This idea of using two different game boards to restrict who can talk about what is innovative and exactly the sort of mechanic I think this contest wanted. I'm not sure how, in practice, you would actually be able to restrict looking at the other board. Even if you're trying not to look, you could unintentionally glance and get some game-changing information. I think if you can control that with the design, this could really be something. #2 Vote

Jury-riggers:

Mechanically, I'm not sure I follow what's going on in any detail, but I see a decent framework for a "make this to craft that" game. It's not obvious to me that all of the moving parts can hang together well, but that would get sorted out in design.

Communication by colored cards is interesting. I'm personally not a fan of this sort of game element where you have to figure out how a player is trying to communicate with you as opposed to simply limiting the quantity of information. But that's just me -- a lot of popular games do this. A related problem is the speaking restriction. I'm not sure I'd want to play a game in which I can't discus the game at all while I'm playing.

There are some interesting ideas in here, but I'm not sure the game experience I'm envisioning is one I'd seek out.

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