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[GDS] DECEMBER 2013 "The Gifting Season" Critiques

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richdurham
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This thread will be for critiques on entires to the December GDS, "The Gifting Season."

It is closed until the contest has concluded on December 9th and voting is finished on December 16th.

mindspike
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The Christmas Crunch is on!

We have a winner!


Christmas Crunch

To gift and regift. May hideous sweaters, inedible fruitcakes, and off-key carols abound! Congrats to our winner, and big kudos to everyone who entered this month's contest. We had quite a lot of participation both in the contest and in the voting, let's keep it up! The final scoring is posted below. Please take the opportunity to give feedback on the games and encourage the entrants!












GameScoreGold MedalsSilver MedalsBronze Medals
Christmas Crunch18 pts43
Witch Convention17 pts332
Refugees13 pts231
Selfish Snowmen11 pts221
DISTRICT5 pts11
Christmas Rush4 pts

4
Rummy Runners2 pts

2
The Icy Arena2 pts

2
Station Theta0 pts


richdurham
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Critique schedule

This month we'll follow a schedule for critiques, just as in November. In order to keep the discussion focused and flowing, please comment on a game only on its given day. If the designer wishes to keep discussion going, he/she may open another thread.

In your critiques, try to mention specifics on why you did or didn't vote for that entry and what you think it could do to have earned your vote. Also mention something you liked about the entry that the designer can build around (as well as suggestions on what to cut to focus on the interesting bits).

Here's the schedule:

Game Name Designer Critique Date
Rummy Runner entwater Wednesday 12/18
Witch Convention bike Thursday 12/19
Icy Arena Kroz1776 Friday 12/20
Selfish Snowman Fuzz Saturday 12/21
Station Theta Son of Man Sunday 12/22
DISTRICT cheekyjie Monday 12/23
Christmas Crunch Corsaire Tuesday 12/24
Christmas Rush fnordy THURSDAY 12/26 (skipping Christmas)
Refugees baberahamlincoln Friday 12/27

bike
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Critique - Rummy runner

The fun part of this game is the Rummy part. The board and card-swaps do not add anthing substantial. The hand-management of Rummy seems less of a problem here. If you do not like your hand, you swap three cards with an opponent.

I like the idea to advance on a board, and to use that position to get more cards, and use the cards again to move forward.

GDS: Giving cards to another player is not a core mechanic, it is an option a player can use. It is possible to win without it (even though that might be hard).

Practical point: to advance on the board one must know how many cards a player has played. But the cards can be anywhere on the table (when played on another players trick).

KrisW
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Rummy Runner Critique

Runner-Up - Entry #1 - Rummy Runner!
- Comprehensibility (Most points) 5 X4 = 20
- Playability 5 X3 = 15
- Theme 3 X2 = 6
- Marketability (Least points, just a tie breaker, really) 3 X1 = 3
- Gut Feeling (The indefinable, unpredictable personal reaction) +/- 5 = 0
TOTAL 44

Notes:
I rated this game high, but not in the top three. Most of the points lost on this game were in the categories I consider least important. My apologies for the ‘nit-picking’ aspect of this critique.

Top marks for clarity and playability. You write very well.

Theme presents a philosophical problem: Is a gift a gift if you must get something in return? Opinions very on this a lot, but for me the answer is ‘No’. The action you describe as gifting is, to me, just a trade with a little gambling thrown in. This is perfectly fine in your game, but not applicable to this month’s challenge.

I also don’t think you have an avatar in your game. Your little guy on a 20 space track is just a score sheet that can play get knocked over as you play. The Carcassonne scoring track is one of my cat’s favorite toys. Your poor little guy doesn’t even get to win the game by crossing the finish line first. All he accomplishes is ending the game. Scores need to be added up to find the winner.

Marketability - This is a perfect example of a well designed game that isn’t remotely marketable (which is infinitely better than the other way around). You have a deck of cards and a score sheet. You might be able to adapt this as a cribbage variant, and work out something with a vendor who can give the rules out gratis along with any cribbage boards sold and give you a (tiny) royalty.

All in all, well done.

Corsaire
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Rummy Runner

I was intrigued by this at first and tend to see stronger merit on early entries until I get a guage of the span of entries. I really liked this month's challenge and was hyper-critical in terms of fit. In this case, the "avatar" read just as a score proxy (is the peg in Cribbage an avatar?) A more pervasive theme would've lifted this up for me.

I like some of the card interchange mechanics, but they may have been a bit busy and made the core a bit too unfocused:
Take from stack, take from faceup, straight trade, 2 for 1, gift to draw, giving a card for movement, burning a card for movement, playing a "trick" (in rummy the traditional term would be melds of sets (same card) or runs (sequence of cards).)

I'd drop the trade mechanic and the random steal as well as burning cards for movement from core decisions. Since you have the race concept, totalling tricks at the end diminishes it, I'd look for in game ways to reward those plays. Given the rummy term Run, you could have movement based strictly on cards played in runs and then sets could allow special actions potentially with variants based on the rank (e.g. aces allow you to put a two card run into play, twos allow the two cards for random pick, etc.) with a custom deck you could put these rules onto the card.

baberahamlincoln
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Feedback for Entry #1 Rummy Runners

During my first reads, the GDS mechanics seemed a little tacked on to the rummy base game (like, how can I get an avatar and gifting into Rummy). I’m not big into rummy (it’s a good time waster in airports or while camping, but I can’t say I actually find it fun), so this turned me off a bit.

I found the dual nature of movement and scoring, as well as the number of options for movement, trading, burning, and gifting, to create too much complexity. I view Rummy as a very simple game, and the added options and mechanics just seemed to make it like a complicated version of rummy.

I like the general idea of using cards to move a pawn (including swapping / gifting), but think it would work better with a more streamlined and simplified implementation.

anonymousmagic
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Feedback #1 Rummy Runner

Fun factor: 7
Theme: 5
Mechanics: 7
Contest limit: 8
Cohesiveness: 8
Gut bonus: 8
Total: 43

I agree with one of the earlier posters. The game was great fun in my mind, but eventually it lost out because of the other games that were in the running. I considered disregarding the scoring and giving it a bronze medal, until I noticed the gifting mechanic technically wasn't a core part of the game. In my own scoring it lost points on theming. Which you can't really avoid with something this abstract, but since I generally like great themes, it was important in my consideration.

Even though it doesn't meet the contest requirements in my opinion, it's still a good game. The only thing I would do is clean up the amount of options available to the player. Would you really take all the cards on the pile when you can gift and trade with other players? I think the new mechanics kind of throw this upside down.

richdurham
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Rummy Runners

The good and bad both come from this being so similar to normal Rummy with the added in movement board. The good is that players will ease in to play, but the bad news is that I don't think it will add a lot of depth. So the board is progressed on by not playing tricks, and instead "helping" your opponents (or hurting everyone by "burning" the card - I did like that part). And I want to progress on this track because if i don't then I'll get a lot of negative points at the end of the game. Okay, but since all players are doing this in basically the same way with the same ease, it's not a big choice. Obviously I'd need to play, but I think it will just lengthen the game without bringing interesting choices in.

It did deliver on the GDS restrictions, though! I disagree with the earlier posts about the figure on the "score track" not really counting as an avatar, since it's less a score track and more a race-track. Replace all of these with little cars and the cards with speeds and they feel much more like little avatars.

sonofman
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Feedback for Rummy Runners

I liked the "giving" use in this game in order to draw cards. It really forces you to supply the other players in order to get new cards. However I'm not sure it will be tough to pick which cards to give, since I can give any card to any player I'll easily trim my hand of fat and give useless cards to other players.

I also liked the trade-off on progressing my movement on the track against playing tricks. But if feels like a double-penalty to get moved back on the track for taking the face-up cards on your turn. That's already a dangerous thing to do since being stuck with cards at the end loses you points. Is that too much of a double-penalty? Might not be, since you can give those cards away to draw more or burn them to move forwards again.

I'd like to play this!

KrisW
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Witch Convention Critique

Silver Second Place – Entry 2, Witch Convention
- Comprehensibility (5X4) 20
- Playability (5X3) 15
- Theme (5X2) 10
- Marketability (5X1) 5
- Gut Feeling (+/- 5) 3
TOTAL 53

Notes:
Gut feeling: I loved this one, and gave it my Silver Caldron.
You had a lot of typos. I encourage you to get some buddy to volunteer to proof your writing if you go pro. The issues are not extreme enough to need a paid professional for this, just offer to buy the buddy dinner.

I like the use of the avatar in this game. Where the character is, what form they are in, and which player controls them are well balanced. I envisioned this as having Gumby-like avatars on the board, sometimes standing erect, but mostly on all fours galloping around. I’m not sure how Gumby birds or snakes would work, my imagination isn’t up on practical material physics.

I’m wondering if other people use the term ‘Place Mat’ instead of ‘Personal Game Boards’? I’m used to place mat, and not sure which term I like better. Just wondrin’.

I’d love to see the rules for this one fleshed out, and maybe with an artist on board for prototype building. This could work really well as a parent / schoolchild trans-generational game.

This could work in several versions. One might be a science / zoology version, with lots of text, photos instead of hand drawn art and some sort of sci-fi brain transfer or tracking device instead of cauldrons. You might even try a version that has a more Old Testament feel to it with angels and miracles rather than magic, to market to the young parent Sunday-school crowd. (Why exactly do some people froth at the mouth over magic but happily accept miracles?) Also – This might lend itself well to an international edition, one in which there is no text except for in the rule book. That would be a big plus for sales and wouldn’t hurt the game at all.

You should seriously consider marketing this.

Corsaire
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Witch Convention

I liked a lot about this one, and it was my gold choice. The nature of gifting where everyone contributes to the set of playable cards for the current witch makes for an interesting strategy strongly tied into the gifting mechanic. The avatar is spot on and engaged in the play. The theme is a nice family friendly setup, but the strategy potential gives this a very wide arc of ages with competition potential adapting to the player skills.

Worth noting that this is where gifting is really a crazy cool mechanic because the layers of strategy include what do I need, what do they have, what do other players have/need. The reverse side of this is that for the more strategically minded players it is easy to believe there is a best decision which can lead to analysis paralysis both in deciding on gifts and choosing which cauldron to place ingredients into as drawn. If turn length becomes an issue, I'd consider semi-simultaneous play.

I'm not convinced that the bonus cards or animal-based hand limit + draw changes enhance the game as the core mechanic is engaging and offers tons of replay potential.

Definitely can see this as a fun and fast pickup game.

baberahamlincoln
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Feedback Entry #2 - Witch Convention

I gave this entry my silver medal. I liked the theme (it was novel to me) and general mechanics in this game. I wasn't super clear on the board movement component, but I liked the idea of the card sets determining where you could go, and how that might overlap with the card giving strategy. I really liked the novelty of this one, and think it has potential to be fleshed out.

Kroz1776
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Screwy Squirrels

I gave this one my gold I believe...I believe. Here let me go check...nope, it was my silver...either way it was definately one of the best and much better than mine at fitting within the contest limits.

I really love the fact you can screw up somone's potion though, making them backtrack. Lol.

anonymousmagic
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Feedback #2 Witch Convention

I liked the team a lot, but the points gained in theme and innovative card use got lost when I found that the players are pretty much forced to give cards each turn. It didn't feel like the gifting season anymore even though technically it fits the criteria.

The game further lost points for mechanics that sounded cool, but didn't make thematic sense. Why would a witch drink all full cauldrons if she only wanted to change once? Why would she walk away from the convention if forced to stay the same animal? I would simply limit the number of roads forward so someone can get stuck along the way.

With a little bit of tweaking, I think this could be a great family game. I might have been a tad too harsh in the scoring...

Fun: 6
Theme: 8
Mechanics: 7
Contest limitation: 6
Cohesiveness: 7
Bonus: 7
Total: 41 points

Corsaire
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anonymousmagic wrote:Why

anonymousmagic wrote:
Why would a witch drink all full cauldrons if she only wanted to change once?

I understood the point being they could move up to three times per turn. For the forced drink, it could be explained in rules that potions are unstable and will explode if not drunk (destroying the cauldron.) I think some of the depth potential depends on this.

anonymousmagic
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Corsaire wrote:anonymousmagic

Corsaire wrote:
anonymousmagic wrote:
Why would a witch drink all full cauldrons if she only wanted to change once?

I understood the point being they could move up to three times per turn. For the forced drink, it could be explained in rules that potions are unstable and will explode if not drunk (destroying the cauldron.) I think some of the depth potential depends on this.

That would make perfect sense. :)

sonofman
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Witches convention

I like this game, too, and gave it my bronze medal. There are a couple questions I have:

The board has every animal going to every junction exactly once. How does this look? If I take the "snake path" between three junctions:

C------A------B

Doesn't Junction "A' in the middle have two snake paths - one to C and one to B? Or is it more like:

C---s---A------B---s---D

Meaning C-A and B-D are paths for snakes, but A-B is not.

I'd really like to see a board for this to help clear up how the 8 animals have 1 path to each junction - not to say that it can't be done!

Another question: why do the cards given by the other witches get shuffled before being put in the cauldrons? I think this would work well with the witches being able to plan out which cauldrons they place their cards based on what they think the other witches will play. Otherwise it might end up TOO random.

richdurham
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#2 Witch Convention

Great work here. I don't know if the junctions are a problem, Son of Man. This contest is more fuzzy on details like that, anyway. I think this game did a great job implementing both GDS requirements, which is probably why it placed highly. I do agree that the gifting could be even more emphasized if the cards were placed into the cauldrons intentionally, and then they were shuffled within the cauldron just so you don't know who played which cards into it.

On the negative side, being a race game you may end up with a king-making effect towards the end which alienates some players. Adding in a catch-up mechanic might make people not feel as far behind and need to bash/choose the leader. But to make a good suggestion on what I think some more fleshing out needs to be done. For instance, how do players get their cards in the first place?


Tomorrow is Entry #3 The Icy Arena! Remember to post comments, and DESIGNERS! You know your day, so chime in with your OWN feedback and answer the questions!

Cheers, all.

Corsaire
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Icy Arena

I have a fond appreciation for irony and like the idea that winning is conceptually dubious. This seems to have been my bronze medal, but may be an accounting error. I mean, because drafting is not gifting. The ability to pay for a discard gives back some of the sort of control that gifting has.

I suppose the strong write-up and that the game feels playable and fun and hits a good market spot for me helped push this up. Drafting + resource collection + small scale combat = engaging.

In the arena phase, you may face a rough design challenge in play balancing with different combat round objectives.

baberahamlincoln
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Entry # 3 Feedback - Icy Arena

I think I understood the basic idea behind this game (collect fame), through the recruitment and arena phases. I was unclear however, on why / how these would work. For example, during the recruit phase, it seems like players can skip the selection of a recruit and simply gain fame. Likewise, in the the arena phase, it seems like players can just pull their fighters out of the arena for fame. I’m not sure why either of these actions should provide fame to the controlling player. In both of these cases it seems like players are rewarded for avoiding conflict (not selecting a fighter, retreating), which doesn't make sense to me.

For the GDS mechanics, there appears to be multiple uses of avatars (both in the sponsorship and arena phases, and seemingly used in different ways), but no use of gifting (the only thing I see close to gifting is the players selecting cards during the recruit phase, but that seems closer to “taking turns drawing cards” as opposed to actual gifting).
In general, I like the idea behind this game (assemble a team, equip a team, face off against other teams in specific challenges / tactical arena fights), and think an iterative series of rounds is a great idea (recruit units, buy equipment / powers, plan for objectives, fight it out - rinse and repeat for a few rounds to see progression, specialization, and so forth). However, what I saw to be the lack of gifting mechanic took this out of the running.

I have some notes for few different arena combat games. One issue I continue to come across is a balance of realism and simplicity - the more realistic I try and make it, the more complex it becomes, and the closer it comes to a tactical wargame, an encounter in 4th edition D&D, or something better fitting to a video game (for doing behind the scenes math). I’m not sure if there is a place for a casual tactical game, or if people playing tactical games want increased complexity / realism.

anonymousmagic
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Feedback #3 Icy Arena

Unfortunately, this game was at a disadvantage because it had a theme I don't really care for. On top of that, I felt the gifting mechanic wasn't properly implemented and the creator said it him- or herself: he wished he could give more details, but the word limit prevented them from doing so.

That left me with too much questions. For example: a player can discard a card for X fame. Sure, I get you don't know the exact amount yet, but can they do that only with the cards in their hand or also with the cards they have to pick from. What happens if they can't pay for any cards and don't have enough fame to discard anything?

There were also several goal cards mentioned, but how exactly do you translate "capture the flag" into something you can resolve with dice?

I think with a little more detail this could be perfectly playable, but I'm probably not the right person to judge the game.

bike
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Icy Arena - feedback

I like the theme. Even when it is very cold fight for your honour!
The game has a lot to it, could grow into a great game with battle, resource gathering etc. As pointed out by others, not really fitting the GDS requirements.
Next time make an effort to put the important stuff in 500 words. This is hard, but a good exercise. The moment you meet a game producer you need to make an elevator pitch of 30 seconds! (I am told)

A short reaction on the encouraging words on my own design the Witch convention. Creating a good gameboard will be important to make this game a success. @Sonofman: My idea is your second suggestion. Arrive as snake, but change into something else to continue. I will take other suggestions into gametesting. I love to have a cauldron explode ;-) Nice one, Corsaire. Thank you all for the feedback!

Kroz1776
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Some Answers

anonymousmagic wrote:
Unfortunately, this game was at a disadvantage because it had a theme I don't really care for. On top of that, I felt the gifting mechanic wasn't properly implemented and the creator said it him- or herself: he wished he could give more details, but the word limit prevented them from doing so.

That left me with too much questions. For example: a player can discard a card for X fame. Sure, I get you don't know the exact amount yet, but can they do that only with the cards in their hand or also with the cards they have to pick from. What happens if they can't pay for any cards and don't have enough fame to discard anything?

There were also several goal cards mentioned, but how exactly do you translate "capture the flag" into something you can resolve with dice?

I think with a little more detail this could be perfectly playable, but I'm probably not the right person to judge the game.

Ah, a few misunderstandings, you discard the card to GAIN X amount of fame. Then the arena phase will have figures moving around, so capture the flag is easy to do in that if that's the goal you place a flag into the arena, go capture it.

Kroz1776
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More Answers

baberahamlincoln wrote:
I think I understood the basic idea behind this game (collect fame), through the recruitment and arena phases. I was unclear however, on why / how these would work. For example, during the recruit phase, it seems like players can skip the selection of a recruit and simply gain fame. Likewise, in the the arena phase, it seems like players can just pull their fighters out of the arena for fame. I’m not sure why either of these actions should provide fame to the controlling player. In both of these cases it seems like players are rewarded for avoiding conflict (not selecting a fighter, retreating), which doesn't make sense to me.

Ah! If you want to win, you'll need fame. Discarding the card for fame is there as more of a last ditch thing in case you can't afford that last card someone passes you. Pulling your fighters out for fame is a gamble in that if you pull them out, you get fame...per wound marker on them. So if you sit and camp and then just pull them out, you don't get anything. You have to get them into the fight to get anything. The point being that pulling them out nets you some fame now and you guarantee your fighter stays alive, but if he stays in, he may help you win and win a huge sum of fame, but he might die in the process.

sonofman
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Icy arena feedback

I'm not sure where the Gifting was in this entry? The drafting doesn't seem like giving a gift to another player, but could be altered I supposed. What if the players draw their hands individually, and can earn money by giving away cards to other players - money they can use to buy the one(s) they really want? I don't mean to "sell" the cards to other players, but rather "giving" it provides a gold boost of X amount.

The avatars seem like they aren't the player, but rather multiple minions of the player? (I know, I know, I totally forgot to write in the avatar part in my own entry)

In short, the entry didn't get a vote from me because it seemed a tired theme, and the GDS restrictions seemed marginally implemented. Sorry :(

KrisW
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Icy Arena Critique

I gave this my Bronze Third Place vote – Entry 3, The Icy Arena
- Comprehensibility (4X4) 16
- Playability (5X3) 15
- Theme (4X2) 8
- Marketability (5X1) 5
- Gut Feeling (+/- 5) 4
TOTAL 48

Notes:
Usually I think of Avatars as individuals, not teams, however the personal, empathetic treatment of each team member – forcing them to fight on or surrender - brings this closer to an avatar the mechanic used in several other games entered in this month’s challenge. At least it works that way for me. I have trouble rationalizing it, so I gave extra points in Gut Feelings for that.

“Player who has been the farthest north goes first” I like the rule, mostly for its challenge to rules lawyers. For god’s sake, some people can’t just roll dice or something. Besides, I’ve been north of the arctic circle a few times. . .

I probably should have dinged this game more on comprehensibility. The recruitment and sponsorship phase seems clear enough, but the Arena phase left me puzzled. Is it like tag team fighting? When you pull a fighter out does the next one on your team go in?

I very much liked the idea of public and secret objectives. This mechanic keeps the players very much involved in what each other team is doing.

I’d like to hear more about this one.

richdurham
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Icy Arena

Pros - Icy Arena is simple to understand, and familiar enough in style to enough games for players to grok it pretty quickly. I liked the trade-off between removing a threat or earning crowd favor. To make this trade-off worth it, the really powerful threats should be the ones worth more when spared (so you will have to fight them again later).

Cons - The implementation of the gifting mechanic, as others have stated, is a bit weak. Other than the GDS rules, I'm not sure the design stands out very much. It's perfectly serviceable once you get all the good decisions in there surrounding how you spend your winnings, but until then it might be hard to get people excited about the title.


Tomorrow (this morning) will be #4 - Selfish Snowman

Have a nice weekend, everyone!

Kroz1776
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Throw that Round!

KrisW wrote:

Notes:
“Player who has been the farthest north goes first” I like the rule, mostly for its challenge to rules lawyers. For god’s sake, some people can’t just roll dice or something. Besides, I’ve been north of the arctic circle a few times. . .

I probably should have dinged this game more on comprehensibility. The recruitment and sponsorship phase seems clear enough, but the Arena phase left me puzzled. Is it like tag team fighting? When you pull a fighter out does the next one on your team go in?

I’d like to hear more about this one.

Ha ha ha ha ha. Yeah! Rolling dice is just so blasé, I had to come up with something creative! Although the games where it says pick whoever goes first however you want...come on people! I remember down in Brazil, they don't have the plethora of board games we have, they thought that when two people tied in their roll to go first, it meant EVERYONE had to reroll. I remember in a six player Risk game they rerolled a LOT until finally they listened to me and just had the two players who tied reroll.

Back on topic. Yeah, the arena phase is like a team brawl. So as you pull out fighters, your team shrinks thus pulling out fighters isn't such a clear choice. Killing fighters carries a cost to it, so it's not always wise to kill other players fighters, that means if you choose to prematurely take a fighter out, you might be throwing the round.

Corsaire
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Selfish Snowman

This one missed on the idea of gifting to other players, and I didn't quite get the game appeal.

Essentially you have a stack of cards that you will place on board locations as you move around the board? What are the mechanics of movement? How are players interacting?

Even if this is a kids race game, then the method of movement needs some random factor.

If all the cards are dealt out, then all the powers on gifts are complicated to track or are you resolving one gift at a time?

So, many questions, it isn't clear if it is a limit of the write up or the vision. If it is really fuzzy, I'd suggest starting off with writing down the answer to "what makes this game fun to play?" And work on emphasizing that through the game elements.

baberahamlincoln
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Feedback Entry #4 - Selfish Snowman

I liked this game, but it fell out of my top 3. At first glance, it seems like it is a simple roll and move game, but with the different gift abilities and points, as well as the different places you can go to give gifts (elves vs other players), it seems to become a bit more than that. There’s still my concern that low rolls mean you lose, but I’m sure that could be balanced out through playtesting. Seems like it would be a pretty quick play, and would be good for younger / less experienced players who might be ready for more than snakes and ladders, but not quite ready for lots of text. Overall, good theme and good use of GDS mechanics.

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