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[GDS] SEPTEMBER 2015 "The Only Way Out is Up" - Critiques

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mindspike
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We have a winner!

Congrats to andymakespasta for "Towers of Bologna".


With a unique challenge and an open theme, quite a few designers submitted entries. Some excellent variety and some interesting design decisions. Let's see if we can make some sense of it! Mega-kudos to everyone who participated in this month's challenge!

Game Designer Score Discussion
Towers of Bologna andymakespasta 15 Sept 19
The Golden Flower iamseph 9 Sept 20
King of the Hill Arthur Wohlwill 8 Sept 21
Dulosis 537h 7 Sept 22
Skyline markgrafn 4 Sept 23
Steam and Steel lonebluewolf 4 Sept 24
Android Beanstalk Tyberius 3 Sept 25
Nuts and Bolts andymorris 2 Sept 26
The Phaistos Disk MarkJindra 2 Sept 27
andymakespasta
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Thanks

I really have too much spare time on my hands...

I actually liked The Golden Flower better than my own design. It had some quirks, like how you "build ladders" instead of just having the guy stand there to give a boost, and how moving takes food. In spite of this, I think the overall idea is pretty solid.

Dulosis had the exceptional idea of using vertical surfaces. The theme and game play are a little lacking, but now I'm really excited for a game that can be played on fridges or on blackboards and whiteboards in classrooms.
I'm absolutely going to steal your idea and not look back.

Skyline, in my opinion, has the most potential to be developed into a full game. The theme and the suspense... Makes me think of The Fifth Element and the ending of Crank at the same time. The game is thematically vertical, but not really played vertically, so points taken there.

537h
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Thieve Away (Dulosis)

Feel free to co-opt the vertical "board" idea. I originally included an option to use components with suction cups to make it playable an other large surfaces, like windows and such. I think it provides some fun options for larger scale, ongoing games since it doesn't require table space.

Since it was my first time doing one of these GDS things, I just picked the first semi-interesting theme that came to mind (slave making in ants) and ran with it. This resulted (as I should have anticipated) in a document with too much flavor text, too many rules, details, and, consequently, more that twice the allotted words.

Anyway, I had a fun time and would like to thank everbody who participated, voted, and/or facilitated.

I'll try to come back here and leave some comments on the other entries when I've got more time.

adversitygames
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I liked Towers of Bologna.

I liked Towers of Bologna. The changing costs of goods with supply and demand appeals to me (I like capitalist elements in games).

The "highest tower" bonus was substantially unique for each region, which I think is an important feature. Though I imagined it would take a lot of playtesting to fine-tune that to perfection and avoid one region giving a dominating advantage.
Btw small rules discrepancy - you say only the "highest tower" gains perks (in "City Sectors") but the second highest tower also gains lesser perks.

The main problem I can see with it is the fiddlyness of building the towers, and having to remove blocks from towers when dealing with the invasion cards. I imagine it would be very easy to knock a tower over and cause a horrible domino effect. I guess if you were to make it you could have pieces that slot together to avoid or at least minimise that problem.

andymakespasta wrote:
I actually liked The Golden Flower better than my own design. It had some quirks, like how you "build ladders" instead of just having the guy stand there to give a boost, and how moving takes food. In spite of this, I think the overall idea is pretty solid.

TY :)

I think it makes sense in my mind, but presentation is important! If it makes sense to me but not others I probably haven't explained well.

Regarding "build ladders", I had in mind each level of height is a substantial amount (eg 3-5 meters height difference). You can climb up one level unassisted, but two levels would be too much.
The needing food to move thing is just that every round you spend one food, and spending it when you activate seemed like a good way of keeping track of it. But I guess it would "fit" better to call it something else eg stamina, endurance.

I actually noticed a big fault in the game after I had submitted it. Because of the way the heights are set up, if you build 3 ladders on your first round and send them with a full expedition the next round you are guaranteed to reach the top! I think allowing players to "stack" ladders was a mistake and disallowing that would fix the problem. I think I also need to make it a little harder to reach the top (eg by giving it an extra level of height, or reducing the expedition food/endurance stock)

I'll comment on the others later on.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Bologna

First off congratulations on back to back GDS victories. Great job.

I liked this idea. It got my silver. You did a great job of including the gravity factor. I like the use of the cubes for building and as currency. It seems like there'd be lots of good decision points. The only thing I wasn't clear on is how you generate more cubes?

andymakespasta
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At the start of your turn,

At the start of your turn, you take cubes till you have 5/6/8 cubes.
Then you can buy/sell commodities and build. This forces players into the market or to start building. You can hoard lots of cubes in the market, but that makes you vulnerable to robberies and market crashes.

The big unsolved problem I'm sure everyone has noticed, is maybe players will be pissed off if their towers are knocked down by bumping the table, or when chain reactions of falling towers happen and everything is leveled.

The current solution is
Accidents: for the knocking down player to pay a block/tower height + fine. So The knocked down player can instantly rebuild the same height (though a very flimsy tower). If you can't pay, you have to take apart your towers to pay.

Chain reaction: only if your own tower is destroyed during an attack. You pay everyone affected a fine. If you have control of the city center, you can gradually lower the fine, and use shoddy towers as an offensive weapon. Or, if you're afraid of this, you can increase the fine to prohibitive levels, and potentially gain from getting your tower knocked down.

Not very elegant.

Arthur Wohlwill
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Towers of Bologna

One of the main reasons I picked this one first is that I could visualize the game. It is quite a challenge to make rules understandable without any images. Perhaps I could learn something about how to do it!

andymorris
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Thoughts on Golden Flower

I like the premise of this idea. I really the concept of a worker placement game where multiple workers have to work together. This one missed a medal for me for two reasons. First, it could be represented 2d (which would be more practical). Second, I felt like it needs to incorporate so more kinds of obstacles that you'd face trying to climb a mountain.

andymorris
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Thoughts on akng of the Hill

This one got my gold. I feel you did a great of striking the simple, but interesting strategic choices balance. I like how just a couple little restrictions make the whole thing work. My only concern is that the king of the hill chip is worth a little too much at the end. Perhaps you should get a couple points each time you claim it. Great job.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Dulosis

While I very much enjoyed the creativity of this idea, sitting in front of your refrigerator to play a game is rather impractical. That kept it out of the medals for me. I like the way the dice are used to represent the ants, but I think the game would be better suited on a regular 2d board. Having said all that, if you made a kids game about ants that was played with magnets on the fridge it would be fantastic. I have little kids and having a game they could play on the fridge while I was making supper or doing the dishes would be perfect.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Skyline

I gave this one my bronze. I like the ship changing altitudes as a use of vertical space. I like the way the cooperation mechanic is setup. I think it would move pretty quick and have a good sense of always having more problems to deal with. I'm not perfectly clear on how the skyline and obstacles are setup or how the ship's altitude is reflected. However, it sounded like you have a good sense of how you want it to work, but it was hard to clearly detail within the word limit.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Steam and Steel

I like how the ships can only go to towers at their starting height or lower. I like how you get cards when someone else goes to your tower. However, I was unclear on what drives how and where you make your routes. As a result, I was unsure about the strategic depth (not that there isn't any, I just couldn't gage it). That kept it shy of the medals for me. I felt like it needs something a little more to it. If you'll indulge me, I have a couple of thoughts.

It would be logical that the ships are carrying things between the towers, so I think it would make sense for this to be a pickup and delivery type of game. I think the tower pieces could each specify different goods/resources and then the top most piece dictates what you pick up from that tower. The roof pieces could then dictate what you need to drop off. You'd then have to choose whether to pick up the piece for future building or to use it for a drop off. I also think it's important for a game to have an element of here's the standard rule, but now I can modify it. I think you could incorporate a special function on each card so that each card for each region is not identical. Then maybe you would choose one special function to use per route or something.

Anyway just my two cents. Feel free to ignore it, but I think there's potential in this idea for sure.

Arthur Wohlwill
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Thoughts on King of The Hill

Thank you very much for your support and advice. While this game had been kicking around in my head for awhile, I still have not played it and had not written the rules down.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Beanstalk

I haven't played any of the Android games, but an elevator to space sounds pretty cool. It seems fitting for the theme of a board game. This one did not get a vote for me because the vertical element was mostly a gimmick (albeit a cool one) rather than being central to the game play. I think it sounds like an interesting concept. It sounds like it combines action point allowance with worker placement. I was left a little unclear on exactly how the AP and stats fit together to meet the challenge cards (it could be simply because I'm not familiar with any of the examples).

adversitygames
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Further critiques

King of the Hill
This didn't pull me in. It could do with an explanation or introduction or something at the beginning.

The big problem though is the endgame here seems disastrous! If I'm reading it right the last player with a scoring chip can just keep stacking up until they run out of pieces to stack up, then claim that.

Dulosis
Couple of problems with this. The big one is, are you supposed to play this standing in front of a fridge? What other magnetic surfaces do people normally have at home? That doesn't sound very convenient.
Also I thought 10 moves per turn seems a bit much. I don't see what harm it would do for players to just move 2 or 3 at a time (for example)

Skyline
Btw there is a game called Skyline already.

It wont be great for less players, since those players would need to take on extra roles to play. I think it's better to reduce the volume of the game for less players, rather than keeping the amount of work needed the same and spreading it across less players.

Crisis resolution is pretty random (ie you just roll to see if you can do it), doesn't really give the player a lot of choices. It seems like the crises could spiral out of control, since every time you fail to resolve one you get another one it could easily reach a point where you can't possibly resolve them and they just keep piling up out of control. After that point playing becomes pointless (and so un-fun) and the players are just going through the motions until the inevitable end.

Though I see that, with more crises on board, your odds of getting the right rolls increase. Idk enough about the exact details (like number of dice rolled, rolls required to beat crises etc) to guess whether that's enough to compensate though.

Steam and Steel
My main problem with this one is, since other players moving through your districts is the only way to get cards, you could potentially have 0 cards and no way of getting more (eg if players happen to be using different districts to yours).

Arguably this is the players fault for building badly, but the cost for this mistake seems a bit high! Plus they could have just gotten unlucky with the card draw and only had cards to build in regions that don't end up getting used.

Android Beanstalk
The thing that was really missing from this for me was: what's the point? You've got a theme and setting, but no specific idea of what you're doing in that setting.

It would really help if you had some example objective cards, or maybe some general victory condition that anyone could work towards. Just on the surface there's no indication of what sort of thing I'd be trying to achieve in the beanstalk, what my character is like, what their motivation is, why they're on the beanstalk in the first place, etc.

Nuts and Bolts
I think this is potentially mechanically very clumsy. Immediately I have a feeling that the screws are either going to be too loose (so the pieces spin downwards on their own) or too tight (hassle to turn them, prone to jamming, awkward).

I don't know why you place posts on your go. I thought that during setup you place all the posts, so why would you place more on your go?

I imagine it being really hard to tell what actions you have available (would need to look all around the game, checking each of the faces on the octagons, which sounds like a hassle). You'd need a guide to the octagons for each player to make that accessible.

What is a vertical position? Presumably octagons can only move up (since you can rotate them 0-7 places around). How many rotation steps does it take to go up one position? If each vertical position is more than one step of rotation, does it matter how far up that vertical position the piece is?

The Phaistos Disk
How many different pictograms are there?
Presumably 122 gold rings is the maximum number of rings that can be on board (if the black tokens go on the least valuable pictograms).
Problem there is that seems like a LOT of setup placing all of those coins for what seems like a short game.

Why do gold tokens move with the player pawn? Why can't the player just hold on to them?

537h
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Brief Comments on Entries

I had a fun time participating and voting in my first GDS and it was tough for me to decide how to distribute my votes. I'm a total noob and game design and have very limited play experience as well, but here are some thoughts, for what they're worth.

Towers of Bologna
I liked this pitch a lot. For one, it was the description that I found easiest to understand and visualize while also having a lot of interesting elements/mechanics in play. I also really like the idea of intentional tower-tipping.

The Golden Flower
This one has grown on me a lot, the more that I've looked at it. It took me a while to visualize what the mountain pieces look like and how they are arranged in a hex. I really like the concept of a race-to-the-top where there is a lot of zig-zagging up and down to base camp to get and activate resources to finally get you all the way. (One other thing that's not a big deal but a type of detail that tends to nag at me is the thematic justification for ladders's being single-use only.)

King of the Hill
For some reason, this one didn't quite grab my attention (probably having something to do with my attraction to thematic content). I do like that the description basically tells you everything you'd need to know to actually try it out very quickly with a set of poker chips or similar, which I might actually try do at some point.

Skyline
This sounded like a potentially fun co-op to me, though it also seems like it would be quite complicated to figure out a configuration of obstacles and crises that would hit the balance between assured destruction and fulfilling challenge.

Steam and Steel
This one didn't make my top three but I did like the theme (though, with the taller-to-shorter tower rule, I couldn't help but envision a modified version where people were flying across the city on ziplines).

Android Beanstalk
I'm a bit of a sucker for cyberpunk stuff, so this one had a bit of an advantage for me from the get-go. I also like the idea of the telescoping play-space and the modular ring rotation. I think it would nice if there was more integration of the verticality into the game, like differences in difficulty/reward for objectives completed higher up the stalk or something.

Nuts and Bolts
I really like the physicality of this game. As I've hinted at before, abstract games are a bit hit or miss for me and it's hard for me to judge quality (or at least how much I would like it) without direct experience with the game.

The Phaistos Disk
I like the idea of using the Phaistos Disk in a game quite a bit. The game play as described didn't really strike me being as cool as all that though.

537h
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Dulosis Responses

Thanks for the input, folks.

Re: the limits of the playing surface

Part of the game that I envisioned but wasn't really able to get across with the word limit was the potential for different playing surfaces and at different scales. I was envisioning the game as being available as a base set with two colonies provided along with a, say, 30x30 inch metalic board that could be played on and stored mid-game either vertically or horizontally, with refrigerators, classroom whiteboards, etc. as additional options which would allow for variable sizes of play area as well as allow for games to be broken up into multiple sessions without worrying about disrupting the game-state. With additional sets of ant colonies and larger play areas, the game could basically be upscaled infinitely in colony size and number of players. I also envisioned an option for using small suction cups attached to the magnetic components to open up large window areas as play spaces. So, in addition to using the vertical play space to reference the theme, I was also deliberately trying to make something that would facilitate a different take on "tabletop" game conventions.

Other things left on the cutting floor

In the process of thinning the word count I also ended up removing some more details about things like raids on enemy colonies to steal enemy eggs/larvae/pupae for use as either food or as slaves. I also cut out things like a pheromone effect which allows ants to travel more quickly to a food source once one of their colony-mates has returned with food from that source along with some more flavor text details about how that actually are species of ants that make slaves out of other ants--including adults (Dulosis is the term for this slave-taking).

andymorris
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Thoughts on Phaistos

That's an interesting piece of history to pick up on. It's fun to think of people in ancient times enjoying a good board game. Although it sounds interesting, I did not vote for this entry. The vertical element was simply placing the rings on the pawns, so not central enough.

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