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[GDS] September "The only way out is up"

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richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009

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 head over the critiques thread and see if we can make some sense of it! Mega-kudos to everyone who participated in this month's challenge!

Entries are up!

Take a look through our nine vertically challenged entries in the comments below. Over the course of the next week you may vote on the entries, selecting your personal "gold, silver, and bronze" recipients.

Remember that if you entered, you must vote only for entries that aren't yours. Any registered user of BGDF may vote, of course.

Please submit your votes using the form here by the end of the 16th.

Please Read: Details on entering the Game Design Showdown.

When you can't spread out anymore - whether it's a city, a building, or a stack of clothes - you can always build up. This applies to tabletop games as well, with the increasing number of games that threaten to spread off the edges of their confining surface.

So why not games that go, like buildings, up?

Your challenge for September is to design a game (a hybrid pitch and rules description, really) that primarily uses a vertical play space. You can still have some things that lie on the table surface, but the bulk of interactions with the game should be in this vertical space.

It'll help if you include the verticality in the theme of your game, and look at some games in the past that have used a vertical play space.

For reference, Terror in Meeple City and Connnect Four are vastly different games, but both are vertically oriented. Feel free to add more to the Comments and Questions thread.

The details:

Theme: Whatever you feel appropriate for a vertical game

Mechanic: The game is played in a vertical space.

Component restriction: Vertical play space!

Word Limit: Standard 500 word limit. Remember this is a concept pitch, not a full rules document.

Voting: Award a Gold, Silver, and Bronze (worth 3,2, and 1 points respectively) Medals to your three favorite entries. Any entrant that does not award all three Medals will receive a Pyrite Medal (that's "Fool's Gold") worth -3 votes!

When submitting your entry: PLEASE USE THE FORM LINKED HERE.

  • Submissions: Wednesday the 2nd through Wednesday the 9th

  • Voting: Through the 16th. Votes will be through a form (link posted after submission period is ended).

  • Voting Format: Each person has 3 Medals (Gold, Silver, and Bronze - with values 3, 2, and 1 vote respectively) to distribute any way they choose among the GDS entries with the following restrictions:

    • Entrants may not assign any Medals to their own entry!

    • Entrants must assign all 3 Medals.

    • An entrant who does not assign all 3 Medals will receive a Pyrite Medal (-3 votes) as a penalty.

  • Comments or Questions: Comments and questions about this Challenge are handled on the Comments Thread

  • CRITIQUES: After voting has closed the entries will be posted for comments and critiques. Post constructive critiques and commentary about the entries to this Challenge in the Critiques Thread.

  • GDS Details: For more details on how these Game Design Showdown Challenges work, visit the GDS Wiki Page.

Enjoy, and good luck!

-Rich and Mindspike

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry 1 - Steam and Steel

Steam and Steel

For 4-8 players.

As steampunk airship moguls, players compete to connect routes and build networks of dirigible depots in the city of Centropolis.

The board is a map of the circular city, divided into eight wedge-shaped districts. Each player is assigned their own district, where their first depot will be built. A deck of cards contains multiple copies of each of the eight districts, which are played to designate connections in a route, or for building new depots and improving existing ones.


Each player begins with one rooftop token in their starting district, one dirigible pawn moored at the depot, a hand of six cards, and two tower tokens in their supply. When the common pool of tower tokens runs out, the game ends and points are scored.


Tower tokens are stacked up to add height to a depot, with a colored rooftop token at the top of every tower to indicate ownership. At the start of a player’s turn, they may add tower tokens from their supply to existing depots they own by playing corresponding district cards. (For example, a player with three tower tokens wanting to increase the height of two depots in District 3 and one in District 4 would need to play two District 3 cards and one of District 4.)

Any remaining cards in hand may be used to create routes.


After the build phase, a player may choose any one dirigible to move any number of times on their turn. Dirigibles are neutrally owned, and can be moved to any depot in the district card(s) played, as long as they are of the same height or lower as the tower it is departing from. Playing a card that matches the district a dirigible is already in will move it to the tallest depot in that district. If there is a tie for the tallest tower in a district, the player chooses which depot to use.

Additional tower tokens are earned by building routes that use a sufficient number of depots, or to certain target destinations. Whenever a depot is used in a route, the player who owns that tower immediately draws a card from the deck, up to the hand limit of six, discarding any excess.

Districts that are empty at the beginning of the game must have a depot built there before that district can be used in a route.

New Depots

By completing progressively longer routes, players can earn more rooftop tokens to build new depots in other districts. Three copies of any district are played to place a rooftop token there, up to some maximum number of depots per district.


The largest amount of points are awarded to the player who has built the tallest tower, with a moderate amount scored for secondary objectives like having the most towers, or establishing depots in more districts than anyone else. Towers are then scored by height, with some fraction of points earned for unused tower pieces.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry 2 - Towers of Bologna

The noble families of medieval Bologna built towers to watch over their farmlands and safely store goods for trade. They built towers as fortifications against invaders. Most importantly, they built towers to spite their neighbors, in a mad quest to own the tallest tower.


  • wooden cubes, as resources and for tower-building
  • cardboard tiles of various shapes, representing tower floors and roofs.
  • deck of invasion cards
  • deck of market cards
  • 4 game boards, representing areas of the city where towers can be built

Building towers

Build towers by placing cubes in the foundation spaces marked on the city area boards. You then cover the cubes with a floor tile, on top of which you can place more cubes, thus stacking a tower. On each floor, you may place as many cubes as you can fit, or as few as a single cube. When you are satisfied with the height of your tower, place a roof tile on top, to show that your tower is complete.

City Sectors

Each sector has a number of places where towers can be built. Only the tallest towers in a sector gain perks.


The owner of the tallest tower in the fields gets 3 more resources at the start of their turn. Second place gets 1.


Players buy and sell commodities using resource cubes as money. Trading affects the price by moving it along a price track. Every round, price is also affected by three facedown market cards. The tallest tower in the marketplace gets to peek at the three cards. The second tallest looks at 1.


Every round, place three facedown invasion cards. Tallest tower gets to look at all the invasion cards. Second tallest looks at one. Invasion cards are global conditional, like: All towers in marketplace lose a cube from the bottom floor. Players can spend 3 cubes to defend a tower for a round. Players can also place cubes on the invasion cards to nullify the attack for everyone.

Town Center:

Every round, tallest assigns turn order and adjust fines, Second gets to adjust fines. Finable offenses are multiple towers under construction, tower falling, and accidentally knocking down a tower. Your tower falling knocking down an opponent’s tower is the only “legal” offensive play. You still have to pay a fine.

Game ends after a certain number of rounds. The player with the tallest tower wins.


  • Unfinished towers don't give perks, but you can't extend finished towers. Other players can wait until you finish a tower to "one up" you.
  • Defending the towers is much more expensive than building it sturdier in the first place, so do you build shoddy towers, fully expecting them to be knocked down (hopefully by your opponents), or do you build sturdy towers that will weather attacks.
  • Going early in turn order gives an advantage in the market, but going later allows you to make decisions based on other people's actions.
richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry 3 - King of the Hill

King of the Hill
A game for 2-4 players

Game components
6X6 square game board
144 white building chips
1 king of the hill token
Victory point tokens of denominations 1, 5 and 10

Per Player
10 blue scoring chips
5 green scoring chips
1 red scoring chip

Game set up
The white building chips are placed in a pool accessible to all players.
Each player receives the scoring chips listed above and the king of the hill token and victory tokens are put aside the board.

Game play
A starting player is picked and play proceeds clockwise.
In each turn, a player plays one chip on the board. They may choose from the common pool of white building chips or choose their own scoring chips. They may place chips on an empty space or on a space which already has one or more chips (A “hill)”. Players may place chips on their own chips or on chips of other players. If a hill is higher than all adjacent (horizontal, vertical and diagonal) hills, there must be at least one adjacent hill within 2 chips of height.
If a player plays a red chip, the hill created must be higher than all adjacent hills.
If a player builds a stack of height 4, they receive the king of the hill token. They keep it until another player builds a higher stack and the token gets passed to each player that builds the highest stack.

White (building) chips do not score.
When played, blue chips score 1 slope, which is the difference in height between the hill the chip was played on and an adjacent hill or space. The player scores the largest slope and gets one victory point for each chip difference in height. For example, if a player adds a blue chip to hill that has 2 chips and there is one empty space adjacent, the player would score 3 points.
Green chips score the 2 largest slopes
Red chips score all 8 slopes

End of game
When one player has no scoring chips left, each player plays one more chip.
If a player can not play any piece, the game ends immediately.
The player with the king of the hill token gets 5 victory points.
The player with the most victory points wins!

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry 4 - Dulosis

Players: 2+

The Stuff:

  • The “board” is some vertical, magnetic surface (refrigerator, etc.).

  • The Surface is a magnetized bar that represents the forest floor. Ants can tunnel upward to and move horizontally across spaces on the Surface.

  • Each colony has 3 chambers: Throne Room, Gathering Hall, and Nursery. Chambers are magnetized tiles that are affixed to the bottom of the designated playing area.

  • Ants are metallic d6es that track the life-cycle of ants and are used in battles. Dice sides:

    a. Egg (1 combat)
    b. Larva (2 combat)
    c. Pupa (3 combat)
    d. Ant (4 combat)
    e. Dead Ant
    f. Enslaved Ant

Ant types:

  • Queen: a coin depicting the Queen. You have one of these.
  • Warrior dice have 3 Ant sides and no Dead or Enslaved. You have 6 Warriors but start with 1 adult and 2 eggs.
  • Digger dice have the standard markings. You have 2 Diggers, but start with 1 adult.
  • Worker dice: you have 12 Workers, but start with 4 adults and 4 eggs.

    • Tunnels are magnetized strips that are placed on the "board" allowing ants to travel.

    • Food is small pieces that start out on the surface, the largest concentrations of food require traveling further (and closer to enemies).

    • The Bird is a d12 die marked on one side.

    • Each player also has an unused Ants bag.


Moving: each turn, players have 10 moves to distribute between ants. The Queen must remain inside the chambers. Warriors and Diggers can travel 1 space each move. Diggers are able to lay down tunnel sections. Worker ants can travel 2 spaces per move.

Foraging: When an ant finds food, she can carry it back to the colony, where it allows the player to draw a die from his Bag to place as an egg in the Nursery or to advance the development of one egg/larva/pupa to its next stage. Enemies or enemy children can also be food.

Battles: battle starts when an ant moves into an enemy occupied space. Each player can then move ants that are on adjacent spaces either into the battle or in retreat. Each player rolls the dice of her ants in the battle. Ants that roll a Dead Ant are dead. Ants that roll a Slave do not participate in the battle but are vulnerable to enslavement by a victorious enemy who gets to take control of it. The attacking player then chooses a target ant and sends 1 or 2 ants to attack. The outcome of these skirmishes are determined by the combat points each ant has. Battle turns alternate until only one Colony has fighting ants left.

The Bird: every time a player moves an ant on the Surface, the Bird die is rolled--Bird symbol=ant eaten.

The game ends when any player empties her bag of ants. Whoever has the most ants wins!

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry 5 - Skyline

The end of the line. Your ship has suffered massive damage during entry into the planet’s atmosphere. Your mission, your lives and your remaining purpose is now only to navigate the failing ship through the busy skyline to crash safely away from the civilian habitat below.


  • 6 Role Cards - with special abilities and stats
  • Ten(10) 6 sided dice
  • Deck of 30 Unique Crisis Cards
  • Vertical skyline board overlay with a 20x20 grid with peg holes at each intersection
  • One ship peg


Deal out the 6 role cards to all players. Pass out dice to each player according to the dice limit on their role cards. Shuffle the Crisis cards and place them face down on the table, place one card from the Crisis deck for each player face up on the table. Finally set up the vertical board and place the ship peg in the start position.


Navigate the falling ship to one of two safe zones, each with their own obstacles to make navigation difficult.


ALL players will need to strategize together to determine the best course of actions. On every turn the team will have to face multiple different crisis in order to move the ship. Players must select a crisis for each player to attempt (Multiple players can attempt the same crisis, but all players must attempt a crisis unless a card effect is preventing them. Crisis are roll based and are discarded when completed (remain in play if not), gaining the team the short ability to move the ship in the direction the crisis allows. EXAMPLE: Exhaust break requires a roll of a 6 and a 3 to complete and will allow the team to move the ship UP 1 space and LEFT 1 space. If two or more players are attempting the same crisis, the 6 can be rolled by one player and the 3 can be rolled by another – these players must be attempting the same crisis.

Once all players have rolled for an attempt at a crisis and the ship has been moved by the team, the ship falls directly down 1 space per each crisis still on the table. EXAMPLE: A team of six only completed three tcrisis, the ship falls 3 spaces – one for each of the 3 crisis still on the table. The rapid descent of the ship causes more issues with navigation, as the ship falls add cards from the Crisis deck to the table equal to the amount spaces the ship falls. If no crisis cards are on the table at the end of the turn, the ship is stable and the team can move the ship in any direction up to the amount of players(minimum of three), each move will reveal a new crisis for the next turn.

How To Lose

If the ship falls into any Buildings in the skyline, or any of the Aerial obstacles, the ship explodes ending millions of innocent lives in the city below.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry 6 - Android Beanstalk

The Beanstalk. An Android Universe game

Background: FFG makes a series of games set in a cyberpunk future under the Android banner. In this future, there is space travel. The main way to get to and from Earth’s surface is through an elevator that connects the San Francisco area to a platform/hub in space. This conduit is called the Beanstalk.
The Beanstalk is the subject of this game.

The game is contained in a box about the size of an old hat box (16” diameter, 4”. The beanstalk is assembled by pulling the center hub, and it telescopes upward, creating a tower 8 levels tall, each level is a cylinder 4” high. Additionally, the levels can be clocked relative to one another so that they align differently each game for a different ‘board’.
The artwork around each cylinder of the telescope shows different locales of the beanstalk.
On the joint between any two cylinders is a plastic ring, to hold various cards.

Each player gets a character card from the Android Universe. You could be a human, clone, or cyborg. The character cards all have names and background stories, and various stats, including action points, strength, negotiation skills, health.

Each character gets a ‘role’ card. This includes Hacker, Smuggler, Bounty Hunter, Fugitive. These cards show your goals during the game.

Along with your character stat card, you have a matching small sized card depicting your character. This depiction is placed on the beanstalk, and will represent you as it moves around the beanstalk.
Keeping the theme with Android and Netrunner, each player gets action points (AP’s) per turn. AP’s can be used for movement, and encountering spaces on the beanstalk. Going around the stalk would use 1 AP per space. Going a level up or down the stalk would be 2 AP’s.
Some of the space features might be: “Express elevator: go up or down two levels for 1 AP.”

Different spaces around each cylinder would direct you to draw from one or more encounter decks (like Talisman or Arkham Horror). For instance, stopping at a computer terminal space would direct you draw from the hacking deck which may let the computer-savvy ‘borrow’ credits, or shut down electricity on other beanstalk levels, etc. Stopping at a ‘mall’ space would let you buy an item from the item deck. Items will generally increase one of your stats.

At the end of each turn, a special encounter card is drawn and placed on the beanstalk randomly. These encounters are what various characters are trying to obtain or avoid. Security officer cards will then roam around the stalk, trying to catch Smugglers and Fugitives. High tech encounters attract the Hacker. Bad Guy cards attract the Bounty Hunter character.
Within the last 1/3 of the special encounters deck is a ‘Game Over’ card. When that is pulled, players tally their points for completed special encounters and regular encounters. High score wins.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry 7 - The Golden Flower

The Golden Flower

A mountain-climbing game for 2-6 players.


19 mountain pieces (1x height 5, 3x height 4, 4x height 3, 5x height 2, 6x height 1)

Discovery tokens in 3 different colours (matching height 2, 3 and 4)

A set of 3 workers and player board (with camp store and expedition bag) in 6 colours.

A supply of potion tokens

Stackable platform pieces

Ladder pieces


At the top of the mountain is the Golden Flower! The further up the mountain you go, the more exotic plants you find that have magical properties which you can brew up at base camp for the next expedition. You can also build ladders and platforms to help the expedition climb further.


The mountain is made of a 19 mountain pieces of 5 heights in a hexagon. The height 5 piece goes in the centre with the Golden Flower atop it. The placement of other mountain pieces is semi-random. Place a discovery tile face-down on each piece of height 2 to 4 with matching colour.

Each player places their player board by the base of the mountain with 3 workers.


In each round there are two phases. The Camp phase and the Expedition phase.

Camp phase

Each player can do one of the following with each of their workers:

  • Brew potions

  • Build towers

  • Build ladders

  • Send expeditions

Brew potions

One worker can convert one discovery token to one potion of the same type. This can give speed, endurance or carrying capacity bonuses.

Build towers

Two workers are needed to make one tower. Towers can be placed on the mountain to allow extra height to be reached.

Build ladders

One worker is needed to make a ladder. Ladders are like towers, but they are single-use.

Send expeditions

Send 1-3 workers on an expedition. Place them on a height 1 mountain space by your camp. They may carry one potion each. It takes two to carry a tower and one to carry a ladder. Put all the towers, ladders and potions in the expedition bag along with 3 food. They may only use what they take with them. A player can have one active expedition at a time.

Expedition phase

They pay one of their food to activate or return to base camp immediately. They have two activation options:

  • Move to an adjacent hex that is no more than one level higher. They may discard a ladder to climb one extra level. For each tower in their hex they may also climb one extra level. If there is a discovery token in their new space place it in their expedition bag.

  • Assemble a tower in their current space. Towers may be stacked in a hex! Once placed, other players can use your towers!

When an expedition returns to base camp move all ladders, towers and plants from the expedition bag to camp stock.

Game end

The first player to reach the Golden Flower wins.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry 8 - The Phaistos Disk

The Phaistos Disk, found on Crete in 1908, has puzzled researchers and stirred up controversy for decades. The small, two-sided disk is stamped with 241 pictograms, shapes and a spiral line. People have put forth scores of theories about what all those designs mean over the years.

  • A recent theory by an unknown ludologist claims that the disk was in fact a board game played by the Minoan royal families between 1850 and 1600 B.C.*

The game included six player pawns shaped similar to that of a chess pawn. A six sided die that matched each player pawn.two white six sided dice, a bag of pictograms carved onto wood tiles, 122 small gold rings, 21 gold disks, 35 black stone disks, and two cloth bags.

Before the game began two pictogram tiles were pulled from a bag. These two pictograms were considered taboo and a black stone was placed on each of the corresponding pictograms. Next a small gold ring was placed on each remaining pictogram. Because the number of each pictogram varied some games had fewer gold rings than others.

To start the game each player placed their pawn on their choice of pictogram taking the gold ring on the pictogram and placing it on their pawn. The most senior member of the royal family then drew a die from the bag and rolled it along with the two neutral white dice.

Your Die: If the die pulled was your own die then you could choose to replace either white die with its result.

Opponents Die: If the die pulled was an opponent's die. A gold ring was removed from that player's pawn and moved a number of pictograms in either direction along the spiral equal to the value rolled on the color die. Then they would move their own pawn equal to their choice of either neutral die picking up any gold rings on the pictogram where they stopped.

Black Stones: Ending your turn on a black stone forced you to remove a gold ring.

If the two neutral dice rolled the same value as the color dice the player on turn would take a gold ring from any player pawn and place it on any player pawn other than their own.

The next player to play would be the one whose die was chosen by the previous player. Once all players had take a turn all color dice would be returned to the bag.

Gold Rings: If a player had five or more rings at the end of their turn they could bank five rings to take a gold token that was then placed under their pawn and moved with their pawn.

When players had claimed all 21 golden tokens or no gold rings remained on the board the game was over. Each player scored one point per golden token. Ties were broken by the number of golden rings on their pawns.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry 9 - Nuts and Bolts

An abstract game that will really force you to think 3D.

Threaded wooden dowels are placed as posts into a base in five rows and five columns. The posts have lines drawn on them to identify vertical spaces, so that it creates a 5x5x5 play area. Each post has a wooden octagon on it that will move up and down as it is turned (like a nut on a bolt). Each player has coloured pieces which can be placed over the post to sit on the octagon (kinda like a washer). These pieces are used to identify who controls the post.

At the start of the game all players place one post/octagon in the centre position of the base on the side facing them with a coloured washer piece on it. The rest of the posts are set to the side. When posts are added the octagon should be in the middle vertical position.

The octagons have an action noted on each edge. Each turn, you choose one octagon you control and rotate it 0-7 positions in the direction of your choice and then perform the action noted on the edge pointing towards you. The actions are: place a new post/octagon, rotate another octagon (and perform another action), place a washer on an unclaimed post, and steal (I'll explain this one shortly). Each octagon has two of each action in varying arrangements.

Now to explain stealing, as this is the key to the game. In addition to the action on each edge there is also a set of arrows with numbers. These point to another space in the play area. For example, it might say out 2, up 1. That would mean the post 2 positions away in the direction it's pointing and 1 vertical position up. If there is an octagon in that position on a steal action, you take control of it (regardless of whether it is open or controlled by another player). This effect applies simultaneously in all directions from all the posts you control. The octagons will have varying combinations of arrows pointing different distances in different directions. You must watch closely where the arrows are pointing as you make your moves. The object is to control a majority of posts relative to the number of players (13 with 2 players, 9 with 3 players, 7 with 4 players). The first player to do so wins.

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