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

43 replies [Last post]
Joined: 01/05/2014
Operation SNAFU

I liked this game. It is a game I would consider purchasing. It creates a nice narrative that the players work on together in a coop style. There is a lot that can happen just like I would imagine real special ops would work. The only issue is that this game already exists. I’ve never played Countdown Special Ops, but it looks like the exact same game to me. It would have won gold if it was original.

Joined: 06/07/2012
Life of Blail This received

Life of Blail

This received my silver medal

I really liked the idea of multiple players influencing the evolution of a singular entity. Way back when, Tamagochi pets where a huge craze, because the idea of nurturing and contributing to the development of a ‘thing’ appeals to a great many people.

The use of a theme that approached this idea is the main reason this design appealed to me so much. While the design didn’t provide a wealth of narrative it provided a captivating opportunity for a shared narrative that the players could really get into.

Other games have touched upon the idea of influential development, but co-operative nurturing of a single entity hasn’t been exemplified yet. I don’t really see the need to link it to ‘Monsters Inc’ because a generic monster would work just as well. Closely linking it to an established intellectual property could result in more disadvantages than advantages.

The game mechanics where sound, but I felt they departed from what interested me most about the game. They reduced the affinity the players might feel towards the monster by reducing it to a pronounced scoring vehicle.

The use of a voting mechanic fits the game very well. However, I felt it was a little to simplistic and one vote for one player could result in a lot of ties. The ‘mother knows best’ would mitigate this and the dice roll removes any chance of a lock up.

Then again, having a random roll as the decider in what could be a number of important situations didn’t sit well with me.

I think the game might work better as a co-operative design instead of an out in the open conflict driven design. The players influence Blalil changing his character ahead of life changing events. As he faces these events his character determines the outcome he experiences.

Something a bit like this

Blalil has a number of conflicting character values, honest and dishonest, kind and mean, generous or frugal, or anything else. Each value has a positive number range associated with it.

At the start of the game a number of tiles are drawn to determine the life events he will experience. 3 tiles are put on each of the event board segments.

Each event tile has a description (stealing candy from a baby) one of the values (mean) and a number (3). If Blalils matching character value is equal to or in excess of the value on the event tile then he experiences that event. Each event has an outcome that either affects his character values and/or his life status values.

His life status values are split into 3 groups, good / bad, rich / poor and happy / sad. Each group has a point range +1 to +3 = good, 0 = undecided, -1 to -3 = bad. Prior to the game the players secretly pick one of the conditions for each life status group. So they could pick good, rich and happy.

The board has 4 spaces leading up to the event tile grouping segments. Every round Blail moves forward and the players spend an influence token to change one of his values.

Each player has 4 influence tokens valued 2, 1, 1 and 0. They can vote a value up or down according to the number on the influence token they play. So the players would play their chosen influence token face down along with a face down control token that was either + or -.

The players reveal their tokens, Blalils values are changed and he moves forward. Used influence counters are discarded. Blail eventually makes it to the event segment, the event tiles on it are resolved, the players get all their tokens back and Blail moves forward.

After Blail completes the final event segment his life status values are considered. The player that has the most matches wins.

The Wild West

This received my bronze medal

I think the game has the potential to create an interesting overall narrative. Having lots of characters, of which only a few are played over the course of a game, offers the scope for a lot of variety and huge replay value.

Once again, with a large number of characters the intricacies of the value relationships will be a tall order to configure, but not insurmountable. However, the use of cards to represent things will result in a controllable array of components.

The mechanics all slotted together very nicely. My only complaint was the simplicity of the dice rolling resolution for satisfying the quality increases. With the richness of the available scenarios it seemed a little lackluster.

Maybe give the characters different ways of influencing the dice, different dice to roll, different abilities for the characters that are unlocked when they achieve X quality or when the town conditions are Y.

The western theme is attractive, but strong competition already exists in the form of Dice Town, Desperados of Dice Town, Bang the Dice game, Wild Fun West, and quite a few others. To stand out from the crowd the game would have to really shine.

I pondered for quite awhile between my bronze and silver awards, but Blail won out because of the theme.

Joined: 03/05/2014
Thoughts on Operation Snafu

I voted this one for bronze. I like the snafu element of taking the initial task and then making it harder mid way through the game. You'd have to make sure each player/roll's actions are contingent on each other, so that you need a well timed cerain series of things to achieve success. The "I love it when a plan comes together" factor as it were. I liked idea of taking a fourth action at a cost.

bike's picture
Joined: 03/08/2012
Mr.S wrote:The card selection

Mr.S wrote:
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.

I did not see this as a kids game. What age were you aiming?
As for the scroll, look at Mississippi Queen's modular board. Of course there is no meaningful chronology in that game, so it is different.

bike's picture
Joined: 03/08/2012
Wild West thanks you

Thanks for the reviews of the Wild West. I realize it will take a lot of effort to create this game. (And it is not on my agenda now). The mechanic is flexible, and the theme might be switched to... for instance... London 1740.
The dice are a weak point. Probably some other randomizer fits better.

I have not seen omalleyp2883 and let-off studios in this forum. I see no point in commenting their games at the moment.

DifferentName's picture
Joined: 09/08/2013
Life of Blalil

Sorry I missed this review. I didn't get how the Monsters Inc theme fit into the game. I never saw Monsters University, and it's been a while since I saw the original, so I did some googling expecting to find a character named Blalil or Mother, but I guess it's just fan fiction? Are we supposed to be playing as Blalil's Mother(s)? Although this part confused me, I tried not to fault it since it may just be my own ignorance on the setting.

Theme aside, the game didn't really appeal to me. I don't expect that voting to move a figure up and down would make for many interesting choices or fun gameplay.

I really like Bubblechucks idea for this, where the monster would have multiple traits being moved up and down as the monster hits different events in his life. This makes sense thematically, putting you in the role of someone that's trying to guide the monster as he grows up, then the monster makes his choices based on how far he is on these different traits. This could make for interesting gameplay as you attempt to determine which value is more important to you from one turn to another, preparing the monster for different life events, where one trait might be more important than another. I can imagine randomizing what events occur in the monsters life, with different traits being important at different times. Maybe it could include a mechanic of keeping some events face down as you don't always know what will happen in life, or an ability to look at the face down events to see what's coming.

DifferentName's picture
Joined: 09/08/2013
Operation SNAFU

I almost voted for this one, and maybe I should have. I like the idea of having multiple roles, which made me think of the video game "Monaco: What's yours is mine", and how much different roles can change your approach to a mission.

I like how the SNAFU occurs in the middle of the game, revealing the second part of the scenario, but for this contest I would have liked to see more narrative being created than a single event.

More gameplay rules would be good to make the game feel more complete, like giving details on what players do when they're attacking or hacking. Of course, the word limit is a struggle, so it makes sense that you would use your 500 words towards the more unique parts of the game.

Joined: 01/05/2014

@ bubblechucks
Thank you for your long and thoughtful critique.
I’m not too worried about intellectual property, as I doubt this will ever make it to the publishers, but yes, a generic monster is possible. I think that using the movie will make players more engaged.
You are correct that the scoring gets in the way a bit. Originally, I was thinking of a story board that had multiple endings. Each player choose an ending and tried to get there. The winner would be the one whose ending came true. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure board game. But I could see that being boring if things aren’t going your way and there would be too many possible endings. So, I decided to make it a bunch of smaller ‘stories’ as parts of Blalil’s life. I was hoping to illicit the feeling of being a parent to Blalil and trying to raise them a certain way.
I added the ‘go back’ to the dice because, like you, I saw the dice as too important in key situations. Players will likely have used their trump cards the first time around and the second will be more difficult to get their way. Also, going backwards increases the possibilities from 2 to 4 outcomes again.

You have suggested an interesting take on the Life of Blalil. I just think it might be a bit too complicated for the intended age group. When I make family games, I think about my ESL students and how easy it will be to explain to them. I think your suggestion might be more of your style of game. It is not my style, but it looks like it would be fun. Also, your game has a different feel. It gets away from the ‘parent’ feel I was going for. You actually hit the nail on the head with the multiple life status values. At one point I was going to use overlapping ranges as life events. It would definitely make the game feel more like a coop game.


I guess I should have said, ‘family game’. I didn’t think that the Monsters Inc theme would interest an adult audience. But after reading the reviews, I think I was wrong. It’s a good thing though, as it opens the game up to a larger audience.


I suppose you could call it fan fiction, though I wouldn’t go out and call myself a fan. I just enjoyed the movies. As I was developing the ideas for the game, monsters inc. stood out as the best fit. At one point it was down to aliens or monsters. It was important to me that the game was set in an alternative universe or sci-fi because I didn’t want the play to get personal. I guess I picked a good name if it got you to double check for the character. In my mind’s eye I see using an unnamed character that appears in both movies for the artwork. I had hoped that you would get the feeling of being a parent trying to raise a little monster (not necessarily a mother)
I think Bubblechucks game idea offers more replayability than mine, but its not the kind of game I am interested in making. I like stripped down games where the mechanics are simple and easy. I like player interaction driven games. For me board games are part of an experience. While the mechanics are a big part of that, it is not the only thing. I think the most important thing to having a good board game experience is having great interaction with other players. Players talking about votes and trying to influence others (to me) is like bickering parents trying to decide how to raise a child. All the extra token, etc don’t really fit my style of game. I think as game designers, we tend to want to make games more complex than they need to be. To me the challenge is keeping things simple. Anyways, this is not to say that complex games aren’t good. There are markets for both styles of game.
Cheers for the review.

Joined: 01/05/2014

All players follow a shared narrative, but the story doesn’t really change. I felt this game missed out on the purpose of the GDS because the narrative was not the main focus of the game.
I liked that players can choose which side they want to be on. I felt this game was very basic with fairly obvious moves. I wonder if you could make the ‘traitor’ more deceptive in game design.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Re: Melodram-AHA!

Thanks for the honest feedback on this, Mr. S. I agree that I missed the point on this contest. No votes was kind of expected (and anyway, not surprising for a first go at a BGDF compo).

A more focused question: Given what you've seen in my meagre write up, what would you all recommend I do to somehow bring the game more in-line with the goals of this contest?

For one option ... I'd been toying with the notion of a "story generator," where the same linear structure was implemented, but the scenario would change. It could be anything from the train vs. damsel scenario, to a pirate king and admiral swordfighting on deck, to caveman vs. dinosaur, arabian nights or canterbury tales, aesop's fables, or anything in-between. I imagine I could use a book to structure that turn's narrative, and have multi-suited cards or tiles to indicate the actions or events that occur within that scenario's narrative.

In sum, I imagine a "narrative encounter construction kit." Strictly beginning-middle-end, short, linear tales, but the betting mechanic and the variety of scenarios adding spice to this quick, light-strategy game.

But that's simply one idea. Does anyone else have some thoughts on what I could do to bring this kind of thing closer to Betrayal (for example), or at least closer to the narrative goal of this compo?

DifferentName's picture
Joined: 09/08/2013

I can tell that you had the term narrative in mind while making this game, as it is based on a commonly known narrative. The trouble is that it didn't really create or tell a narrative, it was just based on one.

Also, while trying to imagine the gameplay, it seemed to me that players could just happen to both pick the good guy or both pick the bad guy, so both would score equally making that round a draw. Wouldn't that basically make those rounds pointless? You would just be hoping you and your opponent chose opposite characters.

Also, what is the point of keeping it secret which person you are supporting? There's only the hero and the villain, so knowing what your opponent is supporting wouldn't really change your actions. Hidden information can be great in a game, but it needs to have some kind of impact. Consider the kinds of decisions a player would make with the information kept secret, compared to what decisions they would have with the information available to them.

Joined: 03/05/2014
Thoughts on Melodram-Aha

I was intrigued with the introduction. I like the idea of using that scene and building a game around trying to save the girl/stop the hero. I think it should be decided before the game one player is the hero and the other is the villain. I didn't like the need to play several games to decide a winner. There needs to be direct tension between the hero and villain with some sort of asymmetrical gameplay. Here's what I picture: the girl and the train are at opposite sides of a train track. There would roughly 30 spaces between them. Each round the train moves closer to the girl. Initially it would move three spaces per round, but throughout the game the villain is trying to speed the train up and the hero is trying to slow it down. Meanwhile, the hero starts at the opposite corner of the game board with a maze-like series of roads leading to the girl. Throughout the game the hero is trying it to make to the girl while the villain is trying to block him. The hero wins if the train stops or he makes it to the girl. Whereas the villain wins if he blocks the hero from being able to move anymore or if the train makes it to the girl.

You'd have to sort out what type of actions you want use and how many actions per round. The narrative feel would depend on the details.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Guest Reviewer

As the critique cycle comes to a close for June, I want to introduce our Guest Reviewer for the winning entry:

Matt Worden

Matt Worden is one of the BGDF old guard, joining the site shortly after it had first been launched. He was the admin that took the "Designer Showdowns" that were originally run by Matthew "FastLearner" Frederick during chat sessions and turned them into the "Game Design Showdown" via the forums in the spring of 2005.

Matt's most successful game to date, Jump Gate, started out as a September 2009 GDS entry and ended up being named GAMES Magazines 2011 Traditional Game of the year. It was also sold in Europe by German publisher Schmidt Spiele under the name Space Mission.

He continues to self-publish a number of titles -- including the 3rd Edition of Jump Gate -- through, and actively posts on his website (, Twitter (@MattWordenGames), and Facebook.

His next licensed game -- Aether Magic -- will be Kickstarted by publisher Happy Mitten games later this summer.

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