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[GDS] JUNE 2014 "The Play's The Thing" - Critiques

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mindspike
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We have a winner!

Six Kingdoms

Summer clearly brings distractions from the important task of creating hobby games! Big kudos to all our participants. Storytelling is no easy task even without the strictures of the board game structure. Share your observations!

Game Score Gold Medals Silver Medals Bronze Medals
Six Kingdoms 14 pts 12 pts 2 pts
Entanglement Agents 10 pts 6 pts 4 pts
Telltaletown 8 pts 6 pts 2 pts
Ruins and Riches 8 pts 3 pts 4 pts 1 pt
Life of Blalil 5 pts 4 pts 1 pt
The Wild West 5 pts 5 pts
Operation SNAFU 4 pts 2 pts 2 pts
Melodram-AHA! 0 pts
richdurham
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Critique Schedule

It's time to run through the critiques!

Remember to include mention of why you voted the way you did, what you liked, and what you think the designer can focus on to make the game even better.

This was a tough challenge, so congratulations to the winner!

Game Score Designer Critique Date
Six Kingdoms 14 pts DifferentName Wednesday, 18 June
Entanglement Agents 10 pts EthosGames Thursday, 19 June
Telltaletown 8 pts andymorris Friday, 20 June
Ruins and Riches 8 pts Bubblechucks Saturday, 21 June
Life of Blalil 5 pts Mr.S Sunday, 22 June
The Wild West 5 pts bike Monday, 23 June
Operation SNAFU 4 pts omalleyp2883 Tuesday, 24 June
Melodram-AHA! 0 pts let-off studios Wednesday, 25 June

DifferentName
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I'm honored

Thanks! This was a fun challenge, and definitely good practice for writing rules. I'm looking forward to the critiques. :)

EthosGames
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Six Kingdoms

First Impressions

I must not have read over the Six Kingdoms entry very well because on a second read through it sounds like a lot more fun than my first impression. I think the main reason I didn't vote for it was because it didn't have any elements of the players actively and intentionally crafting the story. (Which was my subjective reading of the rules.) Six Kingdoms sounds like it would do a good job of letting players take part in a story rather than than letting players take part in telling a story... which still sounds like a lot of fun!

Potential Challenges

One potential challenge I see is getting the random nature of the story book excerpts and quests to coalesce into something resembling a story arc. To borrow from some thoughts in Telltaletown, you could organize the excerpts and/or quests into rising action, climax, and falling action types that are unlocked as the game progresses. That being said, some abstract games accomplish this by allowing the rising actin to be the majority of game play, with climax being the final few rounds where everything is on the line, and falling action being counting up the victory points or just talking about the game after it is done.

Strengths

The devil is in the details but if you can pull off making the randomly generated story-lines feel like a plausible story every time I think this could strike a sweet spot between an abstract diplomacy game and something akin to an RPG. A bold combo indeed!

BubbleChucks
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Six Kingdoms

This entry received my gold medal.

Crafting a flowing story arc is a very hard thing to do with token piecemeal excerpts. One excerpt out of place or a little bit off and the spell is broken. I think only games that allow the players a freeform improvisational aspect like Gloom have any real chance of pulling it off. Alternative models are too rigid to allow for the subtleties required.

I think that’s why most games that feature the combination of narrative excerpts rely on a more “descriptive narrative” formula.

In most histories events of magnitude are presented in a timeline and the game would certainly give this feel. I think it could be improved by playing up to that idea a little more. Possible have it so that the narrative descriptions are on the bottom of the cards so they can be slid under each other to support the construction of a timeline.

The cards could also be given years on their reverse so the players draw from fixed sections of the deck. This would narrow down the outcomes, reduce the scope of the narrative and divergent paths for the overall story, and possibly create something resembling a cohesive story arc.

I liked the simple mechanics of the game, quick to learn but offering a great deal of scope in tactical planning. The opportunity to win through peaceful encounters as well as the more common “fight to win” pathway was very interesting and appealing.

This game made the top of my list because I felt it fitted the brief the best. The board was an integral part of the game play and the narrative element was closely tied to the solid core mechanics of the gaming experience.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Six Kingdoms

Firstly, congratulations, nice job.

I voted this one for gold. I really like the setup of the kingdoms. I think that will work really well. I think there's great potential for very interesting strategic choices. The key will be to ensure that the players have enough control of their own fate as the story unfolds. The challenge as already stated will be to shape a coherent story arc that comes to a logical conclusion within the game play. Frankly, it might be worth considering abandoning the narrative element. The task of creating the story booklet would be absolutely enormous and I think you have the framework for an excellent standard game with the theme and mechanics you've come up with.

As a side note, I think it might be nice if the title was The Six Kingdoms of [insert fictional place name].

DifferentName
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Thanks for the comments. The

Thanks for the comments. The idea started as basically a mix of Tales of the Arabian Nights and Game of Thrones, where the drama between characters affects a whole kingdom. So the story segments could be individual events like Arabian Nights, without regard to whether it's the beginning of a journey or the end. A betrayal could be the start of tensions between two kingdoms, or the final straw that leads to a war.

However, the suggestions of having a beginning and end to the story could fit by having specific events that only happen in certain circumstances, like only being directed to that page if you have a certain amount of victory points or war/peace tokens.

bike
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Six kingdoms review

My gold medal. The mechanic is very good. I like the peace/war tokens. I would have liked to see an example of the stories. I think the stories here are all short elements, and it will be hard to link them together to create one big story.
As someone else mentioned, forget the stories, the game will be good without it anyway.

bike
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Entanglement Agents review

Game that has a strong theme and various paths to take, but imho that is not a story, giving background, depth and meaning to actions. Nothing happens because of a story-element.
I like the idea of parallel universes.

mindspike
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A fascinating implementation

The implementation of Entanglement Agents really captured me. It is much like the actual construction of a story, with the early stages being written as first draft and subject to revision.

I think there are two huge weaknesses in this game. The first is that it only caters to two players. I see the real joy in this game being the interaction between several people as they compete to produce a desired outcome, creating dramatic and ludicrous situations in the process. The second is the construction of the game board. We're talking about a giant flowchart that can easily get out of hand. Still, it's something I'd like to see.

I think the biggest strength of the game is the ability to tell a story in a non-linear fashion. If early details don't suit you, go back and change them. This will lead to quite a bit of competition as the early stages lock in and the story gets set in stone. Again, some care will need to be taken with the flowchart or with the story objectives so that early decisions don't automatically lock out later objectives.

A very cool idea, one I'd like to see developed.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Entanglement Agents

I voted this one for silver. I think the premise is very creative and sounds quite interesting. My biggest concern is that there would be too much information to be able to tell easily what's going on. It could be overwhelming to some players. I agree with Bike that it may not truly be a story, but I felt like all of the games teetered on the line between theme that progresses and narrative. That was the hard part of the challenge. All of the games were really closely separated in my mind as I tried to order them to vote. Ultimately, this one landed in silver for me because I liked the parallel dimension/time travel element.

Mr.S
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Critiques and Reviews

Sorry everyone for not posting yet for this challenge. I have been super busy this week. I am still busy now, so please excuse any crassness or incoherencies.

Six Kingdoms

The use of a story book makes this game a little too close to RPG than I wanted to see for this challenge. Players also are not sharing a narrative. They are creating their own stories that may be influenced by other stories. As I understood this months GDS, this is not on target. I don’t really know how this game progresses as the rules and gameplay are not explained well. The war mechanism seems over simplified and discouraging to someone who has one token less than another.

Entanglement Agents my silver

An alternate universe is a nice idea. It would make things quite interesting. This narrative is difficult to judge because it is not linear. I think this game would be better if you stuck to alternative realities and did away with time travel (changing past realities) I would like a better explanation of “entanglement” and why that term was chosen. I don’t understand the use of dice in this game and how they make the game progress.

Telltaletown my gold

Game board is eerily similar to The Wild West. At first glance, I wasn’t convinced of this game, but upon rereading, I feel that this game would work very well as a party game with the right group of people. It definitely took the challenge parameters to heart. I think the author had a hard time finding winning conditions for this game. Guessing what other players are trying to do is a good shot, but I think it misses the mark. You will also need A LOT of objective cards for replay ability. Also, make sure there is a way for players to show secondary objectives without revealing primary objective. Can you repeat secondary objectives for more points? Gaining more veto cards makes this a rich get richer game. I think it can do without that. I would have also liked to see examples of primary and secondary objectives to see how this game would naturally flow. Can you veto a veto?

DifferentName
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Entanglement Agents

Entanglement Agents

This one got my gold. I love the theme, and it's interesting having the story told with comics. I like how the time travel can affect a limited amount of time before the present until some events become locked.

I wonder though how well the time lines would work, and wish there was more that could be discovered through different plays, rather than just the time lines that are on the board from the start. I'm not sure how it would be implemented though.

EthosGames
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Entanglement Agents

Thanks for both the encouragement and critiques. Entanglement is a mysterious phenomenon in quantum physics where two or more particles are "entangled" so that whatever is done to one the effect is the same on the other regardless of physical distance. I thought this would be an interesting game mechanic and had been looking for a game to put it in. I really wish I had more time to respond to the well thought out comments above but a busy day is calling my name. I look forward to commenting on the other games.

Later

bike
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Telltaletown review

The telling story part came close to players telling individual stories. It missed out on my vote for that, even though it is not exactly that.

The stories told do not really influence the game, apart from misleading others what you are doing. To be able to do deduction, the various options of objectives must be known to all players. Of course not the actual card, but the possible card another player can have. Getting this right is important.
I can see the fun in moving some pawns and making a big story out of it, and then, while continue to talk about the others, make a move with the one pawn your objective is about.

Mr.S
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EthosGames

EthosGames wrote:
[Entanglement] is a mysterious phenomenon in quantum physics where two or more particles are "entangled" so that whatever is done to one the effect is the same on the other regardless of physical distance.

thank you

BubbleChucks
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Entanglement Agents I think

Entanglement Agents

I think this game mirrored my own entry a little. Accessing narrative points and narrowing down multiple potentials through the manipulation of game pieces (dice in this case, tokens in mine).

The main reason it didn’t receive one of my medals has been highlighted previously, the requirement of a large sprawling game board with a degree of repetition that would impede the visuals.

I’m note sure if such a large game board would be viable in respect to production. Cards could be used to represent the outcomes instead, but unless the stage split mechanic was changed even mini cards would require a lot of table space.

If the game was 2-4 players then the 12 stages could be split into equal subsections for turn order dice placement, 6 stages for 2 players, 4 stages for 3 players and 3 stages for 4 players. Each stage would have spaces for 2 dice.

The players would be given 12 d6 and they take turns to place dice in the current stage range until it’s filled. When a stage range is filled the next stage range opens. A player can only place 2 of each dice point value over the course of the game, 2 x 6 spots, 2 x 5 spots and so on.

The players would use the entanglement cards to move dice around throughout all of the open stage ranges. When the last stage is filled the game ends and the stages are resolved. The stages are considered in 6 pairings. A total value of 1-2 in a pairing gives one outcome, 3-4 gives another, 5-6 one more and so on, covering the 6 realities.

6 players could also be done, but 5 won’t go into 12 so it would be a problem.

Telltaletown

I liked the thinking behind this game, but I didn’t fully grasp how the primary plot resolutions would work. I suspect the action cards like “pick up a chest” would determine success if they where played on the relevant character in the relevant place. And a combination of these would resolve the major plot line.

The secondary plot points where a lot clearer, because they reminded me of the algorithmic placement mechanic in Uluru (one of my favorite games and a little known gem), but played on a single board and without a timer element.

My main concern was how easily these intricate placement requirements could be satisfied by a random card draw to a four card hand. Whether the game would stall as players waited for cards that could be played, whether they played cards to move the protagonists with little thought just to get desired cards, and whether a favorable card draw would outweigh tactical card playing to determine the winner.

I was also troubled by the powerful impact the veto cards might have in closing down game play and I struggled to see how the players could deduce what cards the others had with such a large number of variables in play and moves that could be made (7 listed buildings, 10 characters and several props).

I really like the idea of a cute town with cute characters and the players influencing their daily lives. I’m just not sure that the current design is the best way to draw the most out of such a theme.

We’ve seen farming video games and apps draw from board games and board games draw from apps and video games. With slightly different mechanics this could be a board game that replicates the Simms playing experience.

EthosGames
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Telltaletown

First Impressions

This game got my gold. It fit how I understood the story mechanic (crafting a story vs being in an unfolding story). Sure there would be a lot of work to be done making things flow and not become too complicated with the multiplicity of combinations but it would be worth it.

Possible Challenges

As mentioned above deduction is difficult without having a chance to know what the possibilities are. This could be address by showing the plot objective cards before being shuffled and dealt out randomly. A few extras plot cards thrown in, depending on how many players there are, would allow players to know what the possibilities are without making it obvious. It would also make deception more effective.

Strengths

I like how playing the game multiple times would lend a sense of past history to the characters giving the feel of a real small town drama. Choosing a different genre each game increases playability a lot and gives players a direction in how they tell the story. Honestly I wish I had a copy.

DifferentName
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Telltale Town

Telltale Town

This one got my silver. I thought this fit the contest well, and liked thinking about the kinds of stories that might unfold from it, which could have some good variety.

I imagine it would be very tough to figure out what objectives your opponents have if there was a good variety of objectives. Maybe there would be some kind of list of objectives you could look at to choose from, or you would start with a limited set of them that you review before starting (a few more than you need, so it's not too easy).

Mr.S
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Ruins to Riches

I felt this game did not meet this month's challenge requirements. The narrative was not strong. It also uses a book, which feels closer to a RPG than story telling. Its an interesting game, but there is no story so i couldn't give it a medal. Players are also following their own game and not sharing the narrative.

BubbleChucks
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Ruins and Riches Looking at

Ruins and Riches

Looking at my entry the weak points that stand out for me are the narrative element, the use of only two token spaces per location, the thematic conflict of multiple explorers in multiple locations at once, and an absence of what form the narrative entries would take.

In respect to the entry the narrative entries would have been action descriptors which would, when taken together, describe the event driven story experienced by all the explorers in their search.

The entries would have featured blanks where the name of the explorer triggering the entry would have been substituted by the player.

The different object tokens could have been described in more detail.

The simplicity of the board could be seen as another weak point, but a simplistic board is sometimes the best way to go – like King of Tokyo.

In the remaining days of the week, following my submission, I outlined the following revisions that occurred to me.

Revisions to First Outline

Token Types

Coins
Increases or decreases an expeditions money

Jeep
Move an explorer to another location, move an explorer from another location to the location, or remove an explorer from a location

Crate
Move a victory point counter to another location

Artifact
Add a victory counter to a location in an expeditions color

Journal
Change the color of a victory counter in a location

Radio
A variety of actions relating to object token movement and money

Each location has 4 placement spaces, 2 for characters and 2 for objects.

Token Option 1

The characters can only occupy one location at any one point in the game. If a location features the token of a character another token for that character can’t be added to another location.

Token Option 2

The characters are replaced by the backers and they represent the expedition as a whole.

Removing the link to a singular character will allow the players to place counters associated with a singular expedition in multiple locations without generating thematic conflict.

The hit points are replaced with money points. Instead of loosing health the expeditions would incur financial costs or gain revenue.

The mechanical aspect of the gain and loss in relation to the round exclusions would remain the same.

Board

The board is replaced with 6 square location cards. Each location card features 2 spaces to accommodate expedition tokens and 2 spaces to accommodate object tokens.

This will increase the choices available to the players for token manipulation. Having more than one expedition in a location will also allow for situations where the expeditions can influence each other.

For each player less than 6 a location is removed from the game, along with the expedition tokens and cards related to the expedition that isn’t used.

Token Matches

The expedition tokens can be replaced by tokens matching the icon and not the color. This will make more thematic sense by representing a change of actionable choice for the expedition in a location.

The objects would still be replaced in relation to the colors, because if it was changed to icons the actions would never change.

Narrative Booklet

The narrative booklet is scrapped and replaced with cards that are separated into decks for each of the six action types. Each card features a graphic, a narrative of the event, a positive game directive and a negative game directive.

The decks for each object type could contain any number of cards, allowing for the inclusion of various narratives and game directives. 12 cards for each object type would give a total of 72 cards.

When a player links together an expedition token and an actionable object token they draw a card from the relevant deck. After drawing the card the player can choose to apply the positive or negative action to the expedition in the established link or any other expedition in the same location.

bike
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Ruins and Riches review

My bronze medal.
I do not think the use of a book is a problem. It gives excellent opportunity to create a good story. As with Six Kingdoms, the various tales do not create one big story. They are independent of one another.
I guess I did not pay too much attention to the board. On second thoughts I might have disqualified this entry. The board is only used to keep scores/tokens, and is weak as board. King of Tokyo is not a boardgame! Alhambra is not a boardgame. A story with exploration suits itself for a board where they can move around.
A problem with the game is how to hide which explorer is yours. For every explorer you get to pick a positive or negative. The temptation to pick what you need is big. Compare a game like Clans with hidden players. You move around various colours, making it easier to mislead.

I do like the new tokens! Let them have a function. An explorer with some money might have a different option/story. Negative might be, money stolen, positive might be, hire local expert, etc.

DifferentName
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Ruins and Riches

I had trouble figuring out how it would work backing one of the explorers, and keeping that information hidden from everyone. It sounded like it would be too easy for players to force the negative consequence to other players explorers. There didn't really seem to be any reason to give another explorer a positive outcome, and I didn't really see anything in the rules that would benefit from keeping it hidden who you are backing.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Ruins and Riches

I like the theme and the general thinking in this game. I especially like the idea of the financial backers and not knowing which character the other players have. To enforce this I think you should link the money to the players and the points to the characters. I think you should go with option 1 for character placement.

My biggest concern is that the players don't have enough control of the points. The revisions addressed this a little bit, but the point are decided by the cards (if I understood correctly). The cards are played when an appropriate pairing is made, but without knowing what the card will say there is very little to base placement choices on. To address this each player could have a hand of cards and you can play one when a matching pairing is made. This would move the game away from being a narrative, but I wouldn't be too concerned about that now that the challenge is over.

Lastly, something to consider. Given that it is a treasure hunting game it might be nice if there was an element of flipping over hidden tiles to discover things. Maybe this could a partial modular board or just a grid of tiles a each dig site. Just a thought.

bike
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Life of Blalil review

The game offers a long story. It could be well developed, like most UP means he becomes a moviestar, or a CEO, and most DOWN... criminal, drugaddict, member of a boy-band, etc. The paths chosen can have descriptions on what happens.
The story itself does not have that much impact on the game though. It is selecting UP or DOWN and hoping on a majority going in your direction.
The card selection at the beginning... is it secret? But how can I select myself? Drafting could work, it is somewhat secret.
The way points are earned (more towards the edges and the end) is good. Those are harder to archieve.
I do like the scroll idea, but, is the end visible? Otherwise I might not know if he needs to go up or down now to come closer to my final goalcard.

DifferentName
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Critiques

Wild West

This one got my bronze. The way you get points by switching between characters seems odd. I feel like being the character and attempting to achieve goals for yourself would make more sense thematically than trying to help people around town, but I like how it tells a story and thought it fit the contest well.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Life of Blalil

I like the idea of guiding a young monster's path. I didn't see much in the description that made it feel specifically like monsters inc, so I'd say either make the monsters inc ties more overt or just make it a generic monster. This one missed out on a vote for me because I didn't feel like the voting mechanic was a strong fit for the challenge. I do think the voting works fine and I like the die to resolve ties. However, I think it would be better if each round one player could win the right to choose Blalil's path. Overall it's a good concept with definite potential.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Wil West

This one narrowly came in fourth for me. It came down subjective personal preference between 3rd and 4th. I like what's going on. It feels like there would be lots of interesting things to think about. I didn't have any major issues with anything, but I could have used a couple of more examples. I'm not completely clear how the gold is tracked or how, in the example given, you know the number of bandits has risen. Nice entry.

bike
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andymorris wrote:This one

andymorris wrote:
This one narrowly came in fourth for me. It came down subjective personal preference between 3rd and 4th. I like what's going on. It feels like there would be lots of interesting things to think about. I didn't have any major issues with anything, but I could have used a couple of more examples. I'm not completely clear how the gold is tracked or how, in the example given, you know the number of bandits has risen. Nice entry.

Thank you for the compliment.
I could not fit more examples into the 500 word limit, and there are things that I have not decided on yet.
Examples for the number of bandits: It could rise by one with every saloon build, and by two with every bank build. Decrease by three with every prison.
Gold can be found near the water (go to a specific square) if the player has developed his skill. Or, otherwise, in the saloon by gamling (again skill needed).

Mr.S
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Life of Blalil - response to reviews

Thank you Bike and Andymorris for your reviews. I waited to post replies hoping that more people would critique my game.
I must say I am disappointed that only two of you have bothered to review my game. Getting feedback is the main reason why I join the GDS every month. My games are usually off the beaten path as I like to explore what games can actually offer. I’m trying every month to offer something different, so it is important to me to know what sounds like it will work and what will not. Never the less, I thank the two people who took time out of their schedules to critique Life of Blalil

bike wrote:
The game offers a long story. It could be well developed, like most UP means he becomes a moviestar, or a CEO, and most DOWN... criminal, drugaddict, member of a boy-band, etc. The paths chosen can have descriptions on what happens.
The story itself does not have that much impact on the game though. It is selecting UP or DOWN and hoping on a majority going in your direction.
The card selection at the beginning... is it secret? But how can I select myself? Drafting could work, it is somewhat secret.
The way points are earned (more towards the edges and the end) is good. Those are harder to archieve.
I do like the scroll idea, but, is the end visible? Otherwise I might not know if he needs to go up or down now to come closer to my final goalcard.

The card selection at the beginning is secret, but of course if things start going wrong, or the player just doesn’t like their chances, they can choose a new card. Drafting is a good idea, but I think it might be a bit complicated for a game designed for children.
The other way is for players to secretly write down the path they want Blalil to follow before the game, put it in an envelope and find out who was the winner at the end.
The intent of the scroll is to give the game the feeling of entering a make belief world, like a fairy tale. Unraveling the scroll as you play (or to the next life event) can offer mystery and intrigue to the game. The first time should be played this way. I wanted add to this to the rules, but the 500 word limit stopped me. However, it would gain an unfair advantage to players who have had experience with the game already.

andymorris wrote:
I like the idea of guiding a young monster's path. I didn't see much in the description that made it feel specifically like monsters inc, so I'd say either make the monsters inc ties more overt or just make it a generic monster. This one missed out on a vote for me because I didn't feel like the voting mechanic was a strong fit for the challenge. I do think the voting works fine and I like the die to resolve ties. However, I think it would be better if each round one player could win the right to choose Blalil's path. Overall it's a good concept with definite potential.

Theme - The 500 word limit really stopped the game from feeling like Monsters Inc. I could tell that when I was writing it. I had to cut out a lot of the examples, etc. As this game is aimed more at children, I wanted the game to be about something not real. Controlling the life of an alien or monster made sense as they exist in other universes. I feel this is important for the game. You are controlling someone’s life and it can become more personal the closer it gets to reality. I like to use real world ‘life lines’ when designing more adult games because we like to make the character do things we wouldn’t do… become druggies, prostitutes, movie stars, etc.

Anyways…. Using Monsters Inc and Monster U as a baseline, I envisioned the game with life events that are similar to things we see in the movies. The earlier life events are more made up, but there are distinct cliques at the university (sorities) and a number of jobs mentioned in Monsters Inc (Scarer, Scarer Assistant, CEO, CDA agent). While I haven’t thought out most of the plot points, they could mirror events from the movie (Scare Games, reaction to Boo’s presence.

Voting - I wanted something simple like LifeBoats so this can stay as a family game. Unfortunately, I was not able to make things as simple as I wanted. I fear that the voting mechanic will be a little complex for the intended age group. I will need to work on that aspect of the game. The only alternative to the voting mechanic that I can see is a coin flip. It makes the game much easier and simplified, but not terribly interesting. Having a player win the right to move blalil (beyond trump) is something I will have to consider if I end up developing this game later.

Thank you again.

Mr.S
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Wild West Critique

My bronze medal winner.

I think the board would be pretty cool. Unfortunately, there was a very similar board used by Telltaletown. The narrative is not really shared as players will try to complete their own objectives with little influence of other players. The game does tell a good story though.
How are you planning on making some tasks easier than others? Are you going to use dice probabilities? If so, I think the best part of the game is lost to it becoming a dice chucking game. Making this game balanced for various numbers of players will be difficult. It will also be hard to create cards that are always going to overlap the goals of all the players. It will be a tough one to actually develop, but could be a lot of fun (especially if you can find a way of getting away from dice chucking)

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