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[GDS] JANUARY 2014 "Big Ideas in Tiny Packages" - Critiques

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mindspike
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We have a winner!

Climate Control

I've never seen this much participation! There were some truly great entries by creators who really took the challenge to heart. Big kudos to everyone who submitted a game and voted on the tally. The large selection of entries resulted in multiple ties and an interesting voting distribution. The final scoring is posted below. Please take the opportunity to give feedback on the games and encourage the entrants!

Game Score Gold Medals Silver Medals Bronze Medals
Climate Control 15 pts 4 1 1
National Interest 13 pts 2 2 3
Frack 10 pts 2 1 2
Enner-Jee 10 pts 2 2
Climate Economics 9 pts 1 1 4
Fossil Fuels 7 pts 2 1
Nuclear Meltdown 5 pts 1 1
Peak Oil 5 pts 2 1
Energy Drafters 4 pts 1 2
From Oil to Wind 4 pts 1 2
Power the Galaxy 2 pts 1
Time Capsules 0 pts
Mines a Wastin 0 pts
richdurham
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Critique Schedule

Congratulations to the top entries!

Starting this month the critique schedule will be ordered by score, with ties broken by total number of medals (where possible).

We ask that all participants be active in the critique process, as this is the reason many people participate every month.

Be clear with what you liked/didn't, why you voted the way you did, and what you would like to see developed. Be concise so you don't burn yourself out on reviews, and be kind AND honest. Those two are not mutually exclusive, and this BGDF community is a supportive one. Potentially great games often get low votes - use this as a chance to see why!

With that, here is the critique schedule:

Game Designer Critique Date
Climate Control jhrrsn Friday, Jan 17th
National Interest ruy343 Saturday, Jan 18th
Frack sonofman Sunday, Jan 19th
Enner-Jeez jchester01 Monday, Jan 20th
Climate Economics baberahamlincoln Tuesday, Jan 21st
Parallel U - Fossil Fuels Corsaire Wednesday, Jan 22nd
Peak Oil MaxGamesSeidman Thursday, Jan 23rd
Nuclear Meltdown Mr.S Friday, Jan 24th
Energy Drafters dado21780 Saturday, Jan 25th
From Oil to Wind bike Sunday, Jan 26th
Power the Galaxy bitflip Monday, Jan 27th
Time Capsules KrisW Tuesday, Jan 28th
Mines a Wastin davidwpa Wednesday, Jan 29th
baberahamlincoln
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Feedback - Climate Control

I like the simplicity of this game, and how accessible it seems. The mechanics are very straightforward to me, and I could see this as a bonus when trying to get people to play this game and get people to think about the subject matter more, without trying to create a realistic simulation of the subject matter.

From a theme perspective, it hit on the major things I think about related to fossil fuels and sustainable energy - different power sources, pollution, pollution caps, etc. However, I felt like there was a bit of a disjoint between the game mechanics and the theme, as it relates to the accessibility of the power plants. By limiting the number of power plants (by my math) at 6 Oil, 5 Coal, 4 Gas, 4 Wind, 4 Sun (Solar), and 2 Nuclear, it makes it statistically easier to obtain the dirtier power sources. However, there’s already an incentive to obtain these dirty energy producers early game, as they produce more power and things aren’t all polluted yet. I think I understand mechanically why the decision was made to have these with different odds of coming up, but from a theme perspective, I’m not sure if it fits as well. Perhaps this was an intentional choice to balance game accessibility vs realism (which I often struggle with myself).

As this is primarily a set matching game with random card draws and limited trading, it seems like this will lead to players building whatever plants they can, as soon as they can. Through random draw, the chances of getting 4 of a kind seem relatively low, and without trading, would be looking at having around 16 cards drawn / in hand before even being able to make an Oil plant. The trading mechanic might change this, but I could see players wanting to hold on to their cards rather than allow another player to possibly make a set, especially if the other player would start polluting as a result.

I like the threat of pollution, and the idea that players may negotiate whether or not to activate a power plant that pollutes (and possibly end the game). I could see this as creating a sore loser / bullying effect, where a player that is losing the game just pollutes as much as possible (maybe because they didn’t manage to get any of the non-polluting sets - again relating to the odds / restrictions around gaining power plants), to destroy the world, with little or no way for other players to appease or stop that person. This may be completely intentional on the part of the designer, and could possibly be considered a very accurate reflection of the real life relationship between countries, but might cause some issues from a gameplay perspective. I’d be interested in seeing how that plays out in an actual game.

One of my top picks (I liked a lot of the entries). Was in a four way tie for bronze.

Corsaire
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#1 Climate Control

First off, congrats to everyone, it really feels like there was a lot of great effort to wrestle with the topic. I wish I had remembered to forward my notes home for mine and didn't have to wing it. As to how I viewed these, with a simple challenge theme I was looking for richness of addressing the theme and tightness of integration into the mechanics.

As to Climate Control, didn't make my top three but was close. I could see it as a full on game and the card availability versus costs was a nice thematic bit. I'm afraid in the larger span of the game it feels like most moves will be forced moves. The global pollution pool takes away the individual onus, and I'm not sure it leads to any useful game effect arguments.

I was completely baffled by the 10 seconds part, and I had an odd feeling I totally missed a significant aspect of the game.

I really appreciated the "Thoughts and Aims" section and wish I had included such in my entry.

To go further with this, you could look to figure out how to keep a losing player from blowing the game for everyone just because they can. And there is likely more tuning needed in the points as rational representation doesn't always make good play balance.

ruy343
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My thoughts on Climate Control

I think that there are a few reasons that I really liked this entry (and therefore gave it my gold vote):

The awesome:

First, I like how quick the game would play out: it sounds like the playtime for each game would be 40 minutes, and with rules simple enough that they can be taught to any non-gamer in a matter of minutes.

Second, I like that the game is semicooperative, with a pollution marker that keeps you from trying to mess up the communal pollution limit. I feel that will spark a lot of tension and serious debate between players.

I also like the potential use of the the "perceived need" mechanic, where your desire for one more wind card may be great, and your friend might not want it at all, so you could bluff them into giving it to you for cheap.

Additionally, the depth of the decisions is compelling: "I have two of each of these. Which am I willing to give up and try to reach a set with?" "I know that this is a good trade, but will giving him one more coal allow him to produce a lot of pollution that I will have to deal with later?

My only concern:

I'm simply worried that there aren't enough of the specified cards already in game. I say this only because I haven't playtested it yet. However, I think that if there are any problems with the build, you'll be able to get rid of them easily.

Ideas for building on your thoughts:

Could you perhaps grant the ability for a player to expand a power plant and thereby increase its output by having a 5th card attached to a power plant? I can also understand the desire to make it about building individual reactors, so take this (and all other ideas) with a grain of salt.

Could there be a card that represents a "wild card" of sorts that helps players that might increase the volatility of the game?

When a plant is built, are they just down that many cards until they draw (or trade for) more?

dado21780
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My votes.

Hi all!

I voted these entries following one principle, I liked the entries that stayed close enough to the theme, while explaining at least somehow some of the mechanics of the game.
Then based on how much they sounded meaningful or descriptive as a game they made it higher or lower.
1. Entry #12 - Enner-jeez
2. Entry #10 - From Oil to Wind
3. Entry #6 Climate Economics

I liked also Entry #9 - Mines a wasting because it really seems this could be a fun game, but renewable energies are not even mentioned so it doesn't make my list.

Thanks to whom considered my game worth of a medal!
I'm working hard on a game called Monster Chef. I won't put any links not to be accused of spam, but if you want you're very welcome to look for Monster Chef board game on Facebook and like us to follow the development!

Ciao and see you for the next contest ;)

jhrrsn
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Cheers! :]

Evening all, thanks for your votes and critiques!

Thanks for your feedback! I think you're right baberahamlincoln about the unnecessary 'double incentive' for fossil fuels (plentiful & efficient). On reflection I think a more even distribution of resources would be more appropriate. Although I'd still keep Nuclear rare, as this is both thematic & interesting mechanically (IMO!). I also think I'd use a card drafting mechanic like 7 Wonders rather than a random draw, where a communal hand is passed around and players pick & place one card face down. I also think I'd make the 'set collection' mechanic variable, so that players could turn 2, 3 or 4 cards in for a small/medium or large power plant. Hopefully this would increase the number of interesting decisions a player could make, as I agree Corsaire it's probably a 'forced decision' game in its current iteration.

The whole point of the global pollution mechanic was to promote discussions around who should use their power plants. Without trying to sound too serious, it was intended to hint at the way the developed Western world (built on fossil fuels) now lectures the developing world on their fossil fuel usage - though it would need to be balanced in playtesting. One idea I had was to include 'climate sink' cards, which are created like power plants but reduce global pollution rather than producing energy. The pressure would then be on leading players to place these, which would act as a balancing mechanic. Just an idea!

Cheers ruy343, short length and simple rules were two key design goals for this project. I hope that the changes I propose above would keep it relatively straightforward while adding more decisions and depth. It's always a hard balancing act, and in my experience it never really 'clicks' until playtesting begins.

Thanks again for your kind words, and I look forward to commenting on your other ideas.

Jack

sonofman
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Good changes

The changes you suggest will take care of some issues I had with the game - which I gave my bronze medal. I voted that way because while I thought it addressed the theme well and was expressed very clearly, mechanically it was a bit of a non-game. The only real choice a player is given is who and what to trade.

The drafting suggestion may give people the choice to screw their neighbor, but players might be given even more choice if they can utilize card that their neighbors have played, also like in 7 Wonders.

As I said, I really like the clarity this was written in, as well as the Thoughts and Aims section. It helped tie it all together!

jchester01
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Feedback on Climate Control (and some general comments)

As a first time participant in the GDS I'd like to offer kudos to all participants. They all passed my most basic test, "Does this sound like a game you'd like to play?". And thanks to those of you who voted for my submission (I actually had my game ranked 10th of the 13 games).

Climate Control received my Gold Medal vote. The game design incorporated the renewable energy theme in an elegantly simple way, with the "everyone loses" scenario adding just the right amount of complexity as the game progresses. As it was the first entry in the list, I finished reading it the first time and thought, "uh oh. If these are all this good, this is going to be a tough job assigning medals." Well, it turns out they were (almost) all this good, but after several passes through the list, this one kept coming out on top for me.

davidwpa
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Feedback on Climate Control

I liked this game and it actually got my gold medal. The components and rules seemed straightforward and while I'm very new to this whole experience, this game definitely seemed easy to play, and easy to teach my family to play. Based on the design statement, I liked the scoring idea which was similar to the thought process I had originally considered in my own design. I like the idea of different plants creating different energy points and pollution points but if there was some way to modify them (ie like some type of modifier card) I thought it would add variety to the game and make it less linear. After reading the other critiques and the author's comments since I was late adding my critique I do agree that those changes make the game even better.

It got my gold medal and it was close with another game that appeals to my personal tastes because of its elegance, simplicity to explain and play and I could see it. I also like the idea of everyone possibly losing which adds a strategic element as well. I think it totally fits the theme and that's why it got my top score.

David

baberahamlincoln
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Feedback - National Interest

I liked this entry. It has a good focus on a key issue related to the GDS, but also included the possibility of other related elements (politics, energy security, and alternative energy), and the all important Bear Cavalry.

The majority of the game play seemed simple and clear enough. My one area of concern was what seemed to be the potential for (relatively) complicated math related to World Demand and barrel pricing. Dividing World Demand by number of Barrels on the market = price per barrel, then multiplying the number of barrels being sold by the price per barrel seems like it will create a bit of a headache. If pursuing this design further, I’d recommend trying to simplify this, perhaps through reference charts / scales / score tracks, and keeping values within a predictable range, like between 1 and 10 for barrel pricing, which are easier to multiply. Unless the game is packaged with calculators - maybe with country flags on them!

Overall, a great submission. Good stuff. It got my gold.

Side note - caring about the environment isn’t just for hippies anymore.

Corsaire
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National Interest

I was looking for "big ideas" and this looks like a contemporary simulation. I don't see a chance for a persuasion away from fossil fuels or a conversation about what might or could've been done better.

As a game, the description of powers and events seemed like they belonged to a different scale of game than the single resource management pricing mechanic would support.

I did find the description clear and overall the presentation of the design was pretty solid. Some more player control in the sideways interactions would up the playability/fun in my estimation.

bike
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Climate control - critique

Sorry, wasn't able yesterday... since this was my gold medal some words about it.

Good small game. Easy to pick up, Plays fast. I do not like games where everyone can loose. Sounds like something a player can do when performing badly. However, here it might shine a light on the fossil fuel problem. Continue to use it means *everyone* loses.

(I would not give nuclear energy zero pollution.)

bike
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National interest - critique

Great game about energy. Very good on the theme. I do like every country has different starting points.
The second part of the GDS was to get some message accross. (See tiltfactor). To get a message accross, you need an audience. As good as this game is, it will only be played by serious players, and they will enjoy the game more than the theme. Like Powergrid is a great game about energy, but will not get a lot of discussion started.

jchester01
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National Interest - Feedback

I didn't have this game ranked as high as the the group did overall, I think I got lost in the presentation style and the sense of complexity that resulted. Upon re-reading the submission, I'm glad others found their way through and gave this submission the kudos it deserved. I was also probably put off initially by the "bribing for rig purchasing" aspect of the game. I'm personally not a big fan of games that have "unchecked" player interaction - it can detract from the game if players decide to "gang up" on another player (all agree to not let player X purchase ANY rigs) and can give one player too much influence over the flow of the game - their goal may not be to win, but instead to play the role of spoiler for another, or perhaps they just decide to act in a totally random manner. But again, that's just a personal preference, not an adverse criticism of the game. I would definitely give it a few plays if it showed up on my gaming table. Well done, ruy343.

jhrrsn
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National Interest - Critique

I enjoyed the core ideas of this game, especially the varying price for oil. One thing I'd raise is that it seems like there might be a runaway leader problem, since rigs get you money and money buys you rigs (if I understand correctly). Great entry though!

MaxGamesSeidman
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National Interest - Critique

National Interest has a catchy name and concept. It's a game that I can see being fun to play, and is simple enough to explain gameplay satisfactorily in 500 words. The design is pretty elegant, with seemingly few components.

A minor quibble I had with the design was the necessity of dividing the available money by the number of barrels provided to determine payout. Perhaps needing the players to do math could be circumvented with a chart where they could lookup the payoff?

My major issue with National Interest was that sustainable energy really took a back seat - it wasn't a winning strategy (and thus the game wasn't underlining its importance to our future); it was merely a tactic one could employ to help get an edge when producing oil. The game also didn't seem particularly critical of fossil fuels.

sonofman
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National Interest

I voted this my Gold medal because I thought that it'd really show players how the market for limited resources gets silly when it gets close to drying up. I don't know if the World Demand shifts according to the overall supply as counted by active mines or if the excluded chart is based on something else. Maybe the creator can explain?

I agree with the above statements that the math might be a bit cumbersome, at least in explanation, for someone wanting to learn the game. That didn't detract from the the clarity of the description or the quality of the model though.

I'm curious how the technologies - arguably the most important choice the player makes, as this is a market building game, are played out. Is there a chain like in Civ games? Or are they randomly displayed and purchased like Alien Frontiers?

baberahamlincoln
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Feedback - Frack

I think this is an interesting entry that tries to show a very real facet of the current global energy situation, as contextualized through the lens of small town america. Overall, I like the theme and what explanations were provided of the mechanics. I liked the voting on actions and tragedy of the commons reference. I think these are great mechanics for the theme of this game.

My one big issue with this game are its end conditions, which, as I understand them are, either a) the town goes bankrupt, or b) someone’s family dies. Assuming there is a continually increasing “price” that must be paid, and it is impossible to pay that price without selling your land for fracking, it seems like there is no motivation to actually work together and prevent fracking (it’s effectively inevitable), as if you can’t pay the price, everyone loses. The other end game condition (the only scenario under which someone can actually “win”) is for someone’s family to die (presumably as a result of fracking activities), which means that players are motivated to poison one another, so at least one of the players can say they won. I’d hope there would be some way for the small town to survive without fracking, and without killing each other off, though perhaps very difficult to achieve, and reward all players with a feel good “everybody wins” ending (or at least an ending where someone doesn’t die / the town goes bankrupt). However realistic it may be, I’m not sure how I feel about it as an aspect of gameplay.

Was one of my top picks, but fell slightly out of my top 3. I did really like the idea behind this game.

Corsaire
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#3 Frack

This was my silver medal. I like that this gets at issues in a clever semi-direct way. Too often we think of learning games as a single play through to get some set of information encoded in the game. Tuned right, I see this game as educational through pairing the understanding of the issues with sophistication of strategy over multiple games.

To maximize the benefit of multiple play throughs (and to get people to play more than once,) I think there needs to be some elusive non-tragic way to end the game. Along similar lines, the quicker this game plays the more likely you can emphasize the learning by having cumulative scoring across games (15-30 minutes per "hand" might be the sweet spot.)

All and all, a nice effort with some interesting design challenges ahead. Your abstraction narrative did a good job of communicating your vision. It would be interesting to see how the voting could be managed efficiently. Back to game length, I could see this easily getting over-designed and over-complicated.

jhrrsn
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Frackin' Feedback

I really liked the sound of Frack, it covered a very current topic that wasn't touched by anyone else's design. I agree with other commenters that the victory conditions are a little morbid, and while thematically excellent it's a little bit 'no hope' depressing. Still, very interesting design, well done!

richdurham
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Frack feedback

I'm glad a few entries, like this one, went for a more overall description instead of my play-by-play. It IS difficult to describe a game in so few words much less one addressing large issues.

As for the actual game, I'd like to see some examples of the events since they are so central to the game. I also think that secret votes on events might act counter to what you want out of this design. Wouldn't a simultaneous public vote better result in later social pressure, since everyone will know how each other voted in previous votes?

As the game progresses I think it would be neat if events started playing off of earlier events, perhaps by splitting up the event deck into different years that are played sequentially.

The game end is dire, as others noted; is this just to teach players a lesson? If the above idea of a year-based event deck is used the game could reach a natural conclusion after a decade or two. If no one has gotten cancer and died, you win based on a high score from the factors of money, health, etc.

bike
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Frack - critique

This actually was my gold, and Climate control silver. Now I did check and not let my memory help me. What I liked is the setting, putting the energy question into a small community with profits versus pollution. This game could be further developed as eurogamer-game, but also as simulation game with probably local council as target audience. I gave points for the latter option.

sonofman
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Frack

Thanks for the feedback everyone.

You're right, it is a bit morbid of an ending. I was feeling a bit pessimistic about it all when I wrote the entry :)

The idea about a turn limit based on the event deck jives with the idea for this game, since it is meant to simulate the actual tribulations a small town might go through. I wanted the players feel like local community leaders, and played by people who actually live in small towns and could relate to the pressures.

If I go anywhere with this I'll be use to do a further write up with more mechanics and examples of events cards.

Thanks again everyone!

baberahamlincoln
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Feedback - Enner-Jeez

I liked some parts of this - the random scenario generator, solution based play - but had a difficult time imagining how it would all work, both mechanically and play wise. A few examples, 1) the number of World Cards and TaE cards suggests a high number of possibilities when determining Applicability Modifiers, which seem like they would be difficult to manage when scoring. 2) Laying out Solutions facedown, and then revealing them (presumably by matching the layout of TaE to World Cards based on the grid - unsure) seems like an overly complicated mechanism. 3) Applying scoring modifications from the multiple in play SaSC cards seems like it could create a math nightmare.

I’m left thinking that with the amount of variables may make this game unwieldy. Theme wise, I see the potential for meeting all of the GDS requirements, as there is clearly room for reflecting many aspects of the fossil fuels and sustainable energy theme. Perhaps if this submission was written to be more high level, to see the strategies around the GDS theme, I would not have gotten so caught up in what I saw to be difficult mechanics.

Corsaire
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#12 Enner-Jeez

IRHA (I really hate acronyms,) everywhere in the rules for this with an acronym, I had to check a few times to get them temporarily straight in my head. In each case, I think there is a simple one word replacement like Tech for SaSca(or whatever that acronym was.) Also game titles that try to sound like regular words with alternate spellings are a bit of a flop for me.

All that said, those nits have nothing to do with how I evaluated the games. This was my gold medal selection because it wrestles with the Big Idea topic in ways that valuated cost/benefit thinking. I liked the world layout and the group reveal mechanic, which is a real industry problem where everyone tries to monopolize a situation independently.

I'm not sure the world map isn't overkill for sixteen tile lay down with a potential fast turn playout. I'm skeptical that a time limit adds value here, but the idea is to the point of doing some quick playtesting of the rude mechanicals to get a sense of flow. Five minutes setup for one minute play wouldn't be satisfying.

Another mechanic that didn't quite make sense was having a choice of reveaing your one card or not. I wasn't sure how that could be in the player's best interest. But without seeing the full on card design, it is hard to say.

Nice design ideas, if you plan to go further with, I'd suggest not constrainng yourself to having the full set of cards and tiles before playing around with it as I could see a time pit there of over-tuning before the first sanity check.

bike
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Enner-jeez critique

The idea of a random 4x4 world where all players must make the best of their own cards is good. The fact that I can keep my SaSC card hidden (I will) and that the hidden cards of all players have impact on the score, I do not like. Some hints about what to expect I would like to add. For instance, building step-by-step, so you can see what others are doing, and guess their SaSC card.

davidwpa
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Enner-Jeez Critique

I like the concepts in this game with the layout and the individual technology decks. I also like the idea of the modifiers that you receive randomly altering your strategy for card play each round. The problem I had with this is one probably of personal taste, but this struck me as less of an interactive game and more one of a simultaneous multi-player puzzle.

Unless I missed something it was lay down the world cards, get a Science card that you could show if you want and then come up with the best solution based on the cards present. There doesn't seem to be any interaction among the players. With that said, this concept lends itself terrifically to solitaire play, but it's just not my cup of tea as a game that I would want to play with my family. However, I suppose it is possible that after the solutions are revealed there could be discussion about what they were.

davidwpa
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Catchup

I apologize but the stomach flu is going around our house and I havent' been able to get on until now.

National Interest--Got my bronze medal. I liked the concept and the mechanics show a lot of promise. It lost points for me in that the demand phase seemed to be quite mathematically demanding and probably could be simplified, but overall sounds like a pretty good concept.

Frack--This game is topical and covers a very controversial subject. Like most, I found the end goal to be morbid and depressing and it also feels to me like the Sun/Wind components were thrown in gratuitously and don't really offer a valid alternative overall. I do like the event cards but I'm not sure on what types of options they would have that would provide items to vote on. A couple of examples would be nice.

davidwpa
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Climate Economics--Critique

This game has a great high level description of its components and strategies that could be incorporated into play. It definitely covers a wide variety of energy sources and provides differences for each one both in benefits and "costs". The idea of each player being a country is good and I like the interaction described in the strategy sections among the players. My criticism of the description though is it doesn't offer me enough to understand how these concepts would be implemented. How is each country defined? Do they change from game to game? It would have been of interest to me to have a basic understanding as to how a turn works or an example of gameplay and scoring. Overall though, it's a great high level design.

MaxGamesSeidman
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Climate Economics - Critique

I gave Climate Economics my bronze metal because I found it pretty well thought out without too much unnecessary complexity.

The most interesting part of the game, to me, was the tension and interesting player interaction inherent to the pollution generation system. This mechanic would also be the hardest system to balance around in order to avoid grimming problems (where the losing player attempts to destroy the world), and also to avoid anticlimax in the end game (if too many people are being affected by weather events, then without well-balanced end conditions the game could peter out or drag on).

The other challenge with the pollution mechanic is from a message standpoint: you don't want the optimal strategy of the game to be "ignore pollution and let all the others clean up your mess." This is a challenge pretty unique to competitive board games because, unlike reality, there is no tragedy of the commons problem - our games tend to have a winner and losers, and you don't care what happens so long as you're the winner.

All in all a solid entry and I'd like to play a prototype!

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