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[GDS] JULY 2014 "This Game is Stacked" Critiques

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richdurham
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Congratulations to the JewellGames with the top entry of Stack Skirmish!

Title Designer Points Critique Date
Stack Skirmish JewellGames 21 Tuesday, 22 July
Workload kevinburg 15 Tuesday, 22 July
High-Rise nazcagames 13 Wednesday, 23 July
Les Miserables: Barricades of Freedom Tahrirfirma 10 Wednesday, 23 July
Penterwaltz Zag24 9 Thursday, 24 July
TriXagon andymorris 8 Thursday, 24 July
Piles of the Dead DifferentName 7 Friday, 25 July
Beaverdam Mr.S 7 Friday, 25 July
Stapel LucasPereira 4 Saturday, 26 July
Stack Overflow DanielGarcia 4 Saturday, 26 July
Rise of the Pyramids AstriumRex 3 Sunday, 27 July
Tower Melx 2 Sunday, 27 July
Toppling Towers Bubblechucks 2 Monday, 28 July
Grab a Stack Let-off Studios 2 Monday, 28 July
Squares Cubed KrisW 1 Tuesday, 29 July
Skyward: War above the Stars Toa Lewa 0 Tuesday, 29 July

Remember in your critiques to say why you did or did not vote for the entry, what you'd want to see more of, and any comments about the writing.

JewellGames
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Thank you

Thank you all for the support! There were a lot of good entries this month so I look forward to both receiving and giving feedback.

MicroStack Games
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Congrats

JewellGames wrote:
Thank you all for the support! There were a lot of good entries this month so I look forward to both receiving and giving feedback.

Congrats! Nice job on your design. Well deserved.

Zag24
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Critiques

I remembered to save them this time. Let me preface this with the caveat that this was just stream of consciousness as I was going through them, and I didn't really go back to edit. Also, I know that I mention that a couple of games don't particularly interest me, for one reason or another. This doesn't mean I think that they are bad games, just not a style I particularly enjoy. My point is, please don't take anything personally.

Entry #1 - Stack Skirmish

Intriguing. It wasn't clear to me how players get Hero chips. Do they just start with a full set, so they are allowed one of each during play? If there's a random aspect to it, then I am concerned that some of the powers are too game-changing. To flip the top of a 4-chip stack is a four-point swing. Since you could be place the chip on an enemy hero, it could be as much as a 7 point swing, which I suspect is a lot. OTOH, if both players start with one complete set of all the powers, then smart players can save their powerful heroes for the end, and it will somewhat balance out.

Entry #2 - Penterwaltz

This was too awesome for words, and I am unable to comment. :-) (Just kidding. This was my entry.)

Entry #3 - Rise of the Pyramids

By "2-dimensional pyramid" I assume you mean just a triangular wall. I suspect that it would be a lot easier to make these flat on the table rather than stacked, because stacked they would tend to fall over. (That is, they would grow away from you rather than growing up, eliminating the "stacking" requirement.) The "complete pyramid" bonus seems too much -- if you get a couple of the Engineer cards, you can place a single cube, call it a completed pyramid of one level, and earn 35 points for it. If you never manage to pick up an Engineer card, you place 6 cubes for 55 points, but placing one more cube is going to cut its value down to 30 points, and you need to place 10 total before you exceed that again. I guess what I don't like is having a required placement reduce my point value.

Entry #4 - SQUARES CUBED

I really wanted to like this game as I read the components. Color-coded cubes inside color-coded boxes -- what could go wrong? However, I feel like the game would come down to a paralysis where people don't want to place cubes because it would give their opponents a chance to build on the next level, but wouldn't aid in their own opportunity to earn points later. Since they can just pass their turn, I think there would be a lot of passing, once the outer ring of the bottom level was filled up. Placing the fourth of a square would never be a good move, because you only enable your opponent to score.

I want some rule along the lines of, "If there is a cube with open side up which contains a token, then play on top of that is restricted to: Player whose tokens are the cube color; Player whose tokens are the token color; Any player if either color is the current Key Color." This would make it very powerful to play a cube of your own color with your own token face up -- only when that color is the Key Color could anyone else play on it. (In fact, this is so powerful that, with this rule, it shouldn't get a point bonus.) Possibly you might also allow someone playing a cube of that color, so that you don't end up with holes that no one can play on. (... since playing on an upper level has to be a legal play for all for cubes below it.)

Entry #5 - Tower
I always hated the balanced stack game that we had in my family, because I am the youngest of four (by several years) so I was never as coordinated as my siblings (at least when they were still young enough to be willing to play such games with me). :-) Sorry, but your game brings back bad memories.

Entry #6 - TriXagon
I'm sure if I had the physical pieces in front of me, this would be clear, but I don't get the shape and stacking. Are the triangle pieces smaller than the board triangles, and they rest on the beads? I don't quite see how you'd do this such that they wouldn't just flip sideways and fall down, unless the beads have grooves that the points of the triangle pieces fit into. It sounds a little like a triangular version of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dots_and_Boxes, but with some opportunity to steal a box (a triangle) on a higher level, and a different win condition. This sounds like it could be quite fun, and I would certainly give it a go if someone brought it to game night.

Entry #7 - Toppling Towers
I'm sure there are people who feel exactly the opposite, and more power to them, but the whole catapult concept turns me off.

Entry #8 - Piles of the Dead
The stacking aspect seems secondary to this game, so I'm not voting for it for that reason. Otherwise, it looks like it might be a fun, quick zombie game (though lacking "Shotgun," how fun can it really be? :-) ) Is there a win condition? It sounds as if you just keep playing until you all die. (One might consider this to be an appropriate result, considering the subject.)

Entry #9 - Nuclear Tactics
It seems as if the only stacking going on is the count of hit points for the units, plus the opportunity to land on a waste barrel (I guess).

Entry #10 - Grab a Stack
~grumble, grumble~ -- OH, I get it. In placing the tokens on a "matching stack" you mean a matching by color (and/or shape?) I feel like there needs to be more rules here: What if you draw a 2 and there isn't a stack of that color or shape, because someone else just grabbed it? Do the stacks have to go up in sequence? (I had originally thought that you meant matching number, and I couldn't figure out how you'd ever start a stack of numbers other than zero.)

I think this game might be quite interesting, since different players are trying for different goals. I'd give it a try.

Entry #11 - Beaverdam
This sounds like fun, but I don't really see where stacking comes into play. It does use the third dimension, but the specific challenge called for stacking.

Entry #12 - High-Rise
Simple, fun -- I like it. I am concerned that the tower would not be stable if it gets very high. Possibly bricks (i.e. 2x1) would work better.

Entry #13 - Skyward - War above the Stars
From another galaxy? Really? There are billions of stars in our own galaxy, and the closest other galaxy is REALLY far away, by comparison. (Sorry, the space geek in me is coming out.)

Anyway, it sounds like a decent space combat game, but I'm afraid that isn't my cup of tea.

Entry #14 - Workload
I can't say I would ever have thought of a game based on workplace drudgery. :-) But it sounds like it could work. I assume you get to see the top few cards of your stack, all the time? Or maybe your whole stack? I think that the game might be too slow if you can only get one resource per turn, and that only if you don't score a card. Possibly you get two of the resource, or you can take one each of two resources but you don't get any side-effect. Also, I could see an expanded version of this game that includes worker placement a la Lords of Waterdeep, which has some similar concepts. http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/110327/lords-waterdeep. Anyway, I like the concept and I'd give it a try.

Entry #15 - Stapel
I'm concerned that this game would be too easily solved. While it's a little more complex than tic-tac-toe, it isn't much more than an order of magnitude more complex.

Entry #16 - Stack Overflow
I don't really see that this game fits the spirit of the challenge, which was physical stacking in the 3rd dimension. It sounds like it might be a fun game, but I don't think it fits this competition.

Entry #17 - Les Miserables: Barricades of Freedom
As with the zombie game above, I think the stacking aspect is secondary to the game. Otherwise, it looks like it might be a fun game.

JewellGames
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Clarification

Thanks Micro!

Zag24 wrote:
Intriguing. It wasn't clear to me how players get Hero chips. Do they just start with a full set, so they are allowed one of each during play?

From the contest rules, "Contents: 16 double-sided hero chips (2 sets of 8)" and "Each player takes a set of hero chips as their reserve."

I had to keep it short and simple for the 500 word limitation so maybe this could better explained in the next iteration of the rules. But, yes both sets have the same 8 chips so both players have one of each hero.

Tahrirfirma
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stack skirmish critique

Stack skirmish got my top vote. It was a standout in what was a strong field this month. The stacking mechanic is seamlessly integrated into a coherent ruleset. And I liked the head to head take that feel of the game.
I can imagine players finding interesting ways to use powers to devastating effect. This is a strength which could keep players coming back to explore it. But with a non-random game like this you would want to run plenty of playtests to check that there is not a single winning strategy that "solves" the game.
Stack skirmish works perfectly well as an abstract game. However, I think it would benefit from a theme which more clearly matches the mechanics. (I must declare some bias here as I am a big fan of bucketloads of theme.)
It would sit well in the Oddball Aeronauts cardgame universe with its radar-like board, madcap powers and, goal of getting "altitude" over your opponent.
Another theme which could be a snug fit is a battle to claim the heavens between light and dark angels.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Stack Skirmish

Congratulations great job on the win. I like this idea there are lots of interesting things going on. This was a strong contender for me, but didn't ended up getting a medal. This game did a great job of using stacking, but I felt like a couple of other games did a little better job of forcing you think three dimensionally (which I felt was the heart of this month's challenge).

I'm not sure that six spaces on the board is enough. I think eight might be better. I think it might make sense to then add some generic pieces for each player that don't have a power. I think that would allow for more strategy in the use of hero powers.

DifferentName
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Congratulations

There were a lot of good games in this one. Congrats on the win JewellGames.

Stack Skirmish: I think I voted Silver for this one. I really liked the kinds of strategies I could imagine with the powers in this one. I wonder if more could be done to make the game interesting before getting to the powers, like a bigger play area, or some default abilities/attacks, but maybe that stuff is unnecessary.

The theme doesn't really seem to fit well, like it was just tacked on. It sounds like the game could be fun though!

Workload: I think I voted gold on this one. After reading through the rules, I had to take another look at them to find how you get the resources you need to complete tasks. When I realized that you get those resources by moving your tasks around all the time, the whole thing clicked. I love the idea that before you actually get any work done, you have to spend twice the time or more shuffling papers around your desk, passing your work off to other people, or simply throwing work away. Good interesting use of stacking, sounds fun, and the theme is funny.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Workload

I really this idea. It was one of my favourite overall ideas. I think the theme would have a lot of appeal. However, I did not consider it for a medal since cards are the only thing being stacked and I didn't feel like that quite hit the heart of the challenge.

I like how taking a resource forces you to do something else as well. However, I think it might be nice if there was a choice. For example, I don't think you'd always want to be forced to trash cards just get more focus. Also, being forced to trash cards for focus would make it impossible to complete your last task if it needed more focus. With the current setup up you'd have to keep taking brain power even if didn't need it just to avoid trashing or giving away a card you didn't want to lose. It might also be nice if each completed task also let you manipulate the stack in some way. That give those turns a little more weight.

DifferentName
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Not a critique

andymorris wrote:
With the current setup up you'd have to keep taking brain power even if didn't need it just to avoid trashing or giving away a card you didn't want to lose.

Well, once you trash that card, the game ends, so you would want to trash it if you're in the lead. Also, you do a lot of rearranging of cards and could choose not to put that one at the bottom, but I see what you mean. Maybe it would work if you got to kiss up to the boss for victory points if your stack is empty, encouraging players to pass work to anyone whose stack is empty (with a different end game condition).

let-off studios
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Stack Skirmish & WorkLoad

STACK SKIRMISH
I felt that there were some intriguing themes involved with this month's contest, and unfortunately none of my medals made it to Stack Skirmish. In terms of theme, I can almost imagine it being a game about making sandwiches with different ingredients as stackable layers... A fierce "Iron Chef"-style competition between rival chefs across multiple cooking ranges. I'd prefer that to the typical heroic arena-style battle you've depicted here.

It's almost like a perfect-information game, which is intriguing to me. The players can select specific heroes that have specific powers and abilities. They can also select specific monsters with specific abilities. Everything starts out in the open and becomes interesting to remember once stacks begin to develop. The order of the placement, the notion of flipping tokens, moving chips from one space to another and/or to the top or bottom of their current stack is all very nice.

I'd suggest you come up with a better theme, then maybe develop scenarios or specific "teams" or factions of heroes or even clans of creatures if you plan on sticking with the "heroes vs. monsters" theme.

Congrats on your win, man! :)

WORKLOAD
This game's rich theme and subject matter resonated with me personally and I voted it for my Silver Medal. Almost everyone is, has been, or knows someone who has been stuck in a drudgery-infused office day job. Additions like "Coffee Run" and manipulating the workloads of yourself and your opponents via "delegating" and moving cards to their stacks allows for lots of thematic connection.

I could also see this game connected to some sort of pre-existing IP, like The Office or The IT Crowd. And it's not a TERRIBLE game, like so many licensed games out there... High levels of player interaction and exceptional adaptation of theme help me visualize this game strongly from just a short description provided for the showdown. Nice job! :)

JewellGames
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Thoughts

I thought Workload did a great job of marrying its theme and mechanics, much better than I did. It is a game I could see playing with the wife. The task cards work great as-is but I was imagining actual stacks of papers to shuffle around and complete such as "TPS report" for the cards. Overall, nice job!

For my game, I really like the above suggestions for a slightly larger board (8 spaces) and 1 or 2 regular chips in the set for each player to add more strategy. I also had a few other ideas that I stripped out of the base game to keep it simple and adhere to the 500 word limit.

I absolutely agree that the theme is bland and needs an update. I had the rules written in about 20 minutes and just threw in a weak theme as the last step. In hindsight, it would have been better to keep it completely abstract until I found a really good theme.

MicroStack Games
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Stack Skirmish

Gregg - Tash-Kalar might give you a few ideas for your design as well.

Mr.S
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Stack Skirmish and Workload Reviews

Stack Skirmish

Congrats on the win

An interesting take on the challenge. Is the board separated into pie sections? What is the point? Can a player only use one of those sections? If so, can they only add chips to their section and the ones adjacent? Why can’t they put chips on any stack? This would also streamline the game a bit as you would not need the board and less hero powers. Basically all you need is hero powers for flipping, adding a monster or hero. That would be my suggestion as the game would be more in the hands of the players and less in the rules.
This game used stacking well, but could have been done with cards. The chips work as 2-D. This game didn’t explore the 3-D aspect of the challenge enough for me, but I liked it and think it will be an interesting game to play.

Workload

Great relatable theme for a lot of people. I don’t think that stacks of cards are in the spirit of this challenge. Hell, UNO could be considered a stacking game with stacked cards.

DanielGarcia
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Stack Skirmish / Workload

Stack Skirmish
It was my gold, clear rules and interesting gameplay, but i agree that there could be some vanilla heroes (or restricting availability of chips, though that would change the game considerably) as how it is right now could lead to analysis paralysis because of the overload of having to consider 11+ different effects and some of them being really swingy.

Workload
Gave it my silver, i liked the theme and felt that it did better mechanically some of what i was trying to do with my entry. Player interaction seems a little light as there is only one way to do it, and it’s directed against only one player, would prefer to being able to affect all other players stacks, and by the conversion provided by the cards, Energy < Focus < Brain, but i don’t see the energy ability being that relevant to merit it being worth less.

Mr.S
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HIgh Rise and Les Mis Reviews

High-Rise (My Silver)

I think Legos are a great way to make this game work – or those larger blocks for younger kids. Cubes might fall over, so it would be nice to have the support of interlocking bricks. I thought the patterns going vertically, horizontally, etc. was a great idea and adds another dimension to the game. This game really forces players to work in 3 dimensional space. They will constantly have to move around the table or spin the stack to see what is all going on.

Legos would also allow you to use different sized blocks that may add to gamepley – for example a block that is two vertically in red / blue.
Why can’t players see the others’ objectives? I think they should. There are so many options that you would not be able to stop anyone from completing an objective. As it is written, players are really just working individually on the same board. Revealing the objective would make this game more like a connect-4 strategy. Players would have to weigh the value of stopping other players or helping theirselves.

I think this game has a lot of potential.

Les Miserables: Barracades of Freedom

I have tried watching this movie 3 times and haven’t even made it 20 minutes in. I don’t understand how people can like the movie. Anyways, I tried to not let MY personal opinion of the movie affect my review. It has a zombie feel to it… hoards approaching and you are trying to survive. I like how you can build different items that are going to help to varying degrees and the blocks that represent them.

I did not see a “stacking” element in this game, but the 3-D experience will help players to get drawn into the game. I understand that the barricade can be stacked, but how often will they actually be stacked? Most of the time there will be a few on the base layer. Perhaps the final chokepoint will be stacked much higher. Do the 4-square (for example) tables have to stay together, or are they broken into a line?

I am uncertain of how the uprising points work and why they are necessary. I think this game would work just as well with a time tracker. If you can hold off the army for a certain amount of turns, you win. I think it will be easier to adjust difficulty with the # of turns thing

JewellGames
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~

MicroStack Games wrote:
Gregg - Tash-Kalar might give you a few ideas for your design as well.

Thanks I will check it out!

Mr.S wrote:
Is the board separated into pie sections? What is the point?

Not quite, it would look kinda like this:

As you see, the board has 6 spaces (maybe now 8 spaces as suggested) and the middle section is taken out. This missing section was to be designated for "location cards". Before every game, a location card would be randomly drawn and placed in the middle. The location would apply a unique global effect for the entire game. Example: Kokinda Winds - When moving a stack as your action, you may move it an additional space.

Ultimately, I removed this idea for the contest to save space and keep it simple.

Mr.S wrote:
Can a player only use one of those sections? If so, can they only add chips to their section and the ones adjacent? Why can’t they put chips on any stack?

None of the spaces are directly assigned to players, they are free to place chips where ever they choose. The rules specifically state, "Place a hero from your reserve onto any space on the board." It doesn't specify whether those spaces have to be empty or already have a stack on them. So, a player can place a chip on any space (section) on the board regardless of the number of chips already there (unless the stack already has the max of 4 chips).

Mr.S wrote:
This game used stacking well, but could have been done with cards. The chips work as 2-D. This game didn’t explore the 3-D aspect of the challenge enough for me, but I liked it and think it will be an interesting game to play.

I didn't use cards because I felt like chips served a better purpose in spirit of the contest and who doesn't like stacking chips?!. While I did use the final top chip of the stack and the stack height (4 = +1 pt) for scoring, I probably could have used something like precise stack height for attack or abilities as well. This would have made better used of the 3-D aspect. Example: A chip second from the bottom can only attack another chip that is also second from the bottom, etc.

I didn't use that aspect because that would have added even more complexity that couldn't be fully explained in 500 words.

kevnburg
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Second Place! Wow!

I was expecting most people to look at my card game and consider it not stacky enough for a medal. So surprised and happy to see all the support for what is only my second entry in BGDF's monthly showdowns. I've been focusing on some other games of mine and haven't yet completed the task of a Workload prototype, but that task is definitely staying in my stack.

Zag24 wrote:
I assume you get to see the top few cards of your stack, all the time? Or maybe your whole stack?

I was originally thinking that players would only ever look at more than the top card of their stack when brainstorming, but the way I see it there are three options worth playtesting:
1) Can pick up top 3 and, by picking up the top 3, see the fourth card only when brainstorming
2) Can pick up top 3 to look at them + 4th card at any time
3) Can pick up and look through entire stack at any time.
My hunch says that #2 is the best option, but I'll test them all, starting with #1.

Zag24 wrote:
I think that the game might be too slow if you can only get one resource per turn, and that only if you don't score a card. Possibly you get two of the resource, or you can take one each of two resources but you don't get any side-effect.

The main ways I'm thinking of scaling game length down are by decreasing
1) Scoring requirements on cards
2) # of cards per deck

Increasing resource gain options to more than +1 also has potential for speeding the game up, though, and it would create more interesting resource management situations where a player scores a card but then still has resources to spare (e.g. if +Energy always give 2 energy and a card only needs 1 energy to be scored). Definitely worth testing.

Quote:
Also, I could see an expanded version of this game that includes worker placement a la Lords of Waterdeep, which has some similar concepts. http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/110327/lords-waterdeep. Anyway, I like the concept and I'd give it a try.

I've looked into but haven't gotten a chance to play Lords of Waterdeep just yet. Somebody actually mentioned it in a thread for another game of mine. I might need to pick it up myself.

andymorris wrote:
However, I think it might be nice if there was a choice. For example, I don't think you'd always want to be forced to trash cards just get more focus. Also, being forced to trash cards for focus would make it impossible to complete your last task if it needed more focus. With the current setup up you'd have to keep taking brain power even if didn't need it just to avoid trashing or giving away a card you didn't want to lose.

I understand the point but I'm not sure if the choice of ignoring the ability is one the players should have. Having to use the ability makes the game more challenging (okay exception: you're never going to screw yourself up by brainstorming). It'll need playtesting. Going back to Zag's comment about ways to gain more than 1 resource a turn, the option of gaining an additional +1 resource instead of using the ability might work. I have similar concerns, though: gaining 2 resources instead of 1 might be overpowered and lead to a boring metagame where use of abilities is rare. Again definitely needs playtesting. A change like this will be necessary if playtesting finds that having to use the abilities makes the game too hard.

andymorris wrote:
It might also be nice if each completed task also let you manipulate the stack in some way. That give those turns a little more weight.

I like this idea. I'm going to try and think of something for that. When I do think of something, I'll initially test it out as an ability that happens whenever a card is scored, but in the future I can see myself testing multiple abilities, with the ability that happens depending on the card that was scored.

DifferentName wrote:
Maybe it would work if you got to kiss up to the boss for victory points if your stack is empty, encouraging players to pass work to anyone whose stack is empty (with a different end game condition).

I like this idea, but I can't be sure if it would be balanced. Alternative end game conditions: A turn limit or "first player to X points wins."

let-off studios wrote:

I could also see this game connected to some sort of pre-existing IP, like The Office or The IT Crowd.

That would be very nice.

DanielGarcia wrote:
Player interaction seems a little light as there is only one way to do it, and it’s directed against only one player, would prefer to being able to affect all other players stacks,

I want there to be a lot of player interaction in my games, and I'd like to find ways to increase it here. There's the currently non-existant option of taking the top card from another player's stack, for example. I may want to throw that in as a way to add cards to your stack (though I worry if it would be overpowered). I've contemplated the idea of introducing new powerful stack manipulating abilities that the player has to spend resources to use. I want to test this current "base game" before toying with those ideas though.

Quote:
and by the conversion provided by the cards, Energy < Focus < Brain, but i don’t see the energy ability being that relevant to merit it being worth less.

Hm? Conversion provided by the cards? Are you suggesting that players should get the ability to convert one resource into another? That could maybe work, but I personally as a designer don't like resource conversions. There's a wilderness survival game I've been working on (my first game design, actually) and I had one playtester suggest a resource conversion mechanic that I also didn't like very much. They feel like handicaps to me. I, especially with that wilderness survival game, prefer brutal simplicity: If you find yourself with excess of Y resource and really wish you had more of X resource, then you should have managed your resources more efficiently. If after playtesting I do incorporate a resource conversion mechanic, it's either going to be punishingly resource-intensive or its going to involve trading with other players (could trading work with this game? I'm doubtful but maybe…)

Thanks for the feedback, everybody. I'm excited for next month.

---Stack Skirmish---
I gave this one my gold medal. I really liked the simple mechanics and how much variance the abilities provide. It seems like a game where many moves seem cunning but can't be sure which is best. As for the theme: I agree that it could use a change. The suggested idea of light and dark angels fighting over the heavens stands out to me; try to find a theme that drives home the importance of being on top.

andymorris
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Thoughts on High Rise

This one got my gold medal vote. Nice job. I think this game did the best job of making you think three dimensionally. I like how everyone is working on one tower and trying to achieve your pattern in any direction. The big concern would be worrying about the tower falling. The lego suggestion is interesting. Regardless you'd need some way of helping the tower be stable. I'd suggest trying it with hidden objectives and also trying revealed objectives to see which works better. I think you could also try making a progression of objectives that all players have to work through instead of the cards.

DifferentName
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High Rise

It's kind of tough to think of things to add or remove from this one, yet it feels a bit too simple to me. I imagine the player interaction would feel a bit weak, because you don't know what the other players are going for. Even if you did see their cards, it would probably just lead to analysis paralysis as you try to figure out what they're going for, and how to stop it, while still getting your own goals. Maybe shared goals would work well, so everyone is going for the same patterns, but trying to be the one to complete them.

It sounds like everyone has access to the entire collection of cubes at all times? Having a limited amount of cubes, randomly drawn out of a bag might be interesting.

DifferentName
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Les Miserables: Barricades of Freedom

A one to four player cooperative game where you build a barricade?! Great minds think alike, right? :)

The cards giving you different shapes you can add to the barricade is interesting. Aside from that, I'm unclear how the game would play since there's almost nothing describing what the army does. Even though the words are limited I wanted to see some more description of this, because the army is the only thing that can stop a player from winning.

andymorris
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Thoughts on Barricades

I did not think this game had enough three dimensional thinking to get a medal. It certainly has some interesting concepts. However, personally I don't think the player objective and opposition was compelling enough for a cooperative game. It might make for an interesting asymmetrical two player game.

BubbleChucks
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Stack Skirmish I liked the

Stack Skirmish

I liked the simple idea behind this game. After reading it through for the first time I was drawn to a loose parallel between it and the novel coin based deck builder Pieces of Eight.

I agree with the previous respondents that the theme is a weak point.

In contrast to the other critiques I can’t imagine any theme that would work, without having the appearance of being pasted on. You move and manipulate pieces in an abstract manner and nothing exists to imply a deeper connection to anything other than that. The mechanics don’t feature enough “hooks” to support a thematic experience.

I think it might be an idea to consider playing to what the game actually is, namely an abstract strategy game, pure and simple. Such games generally do okay with quality pieces, a carefully considered color scheme and cute or bold iconic graphics.

My main concern was with the game play itself.

If a player mirrored the actions of the other player (my first assessment for any abstract strategy) would the results simply revert to a win based on starting positions?

Following on from that, how important is the benefit of going first or second?

Reducing the counters available to the other player would have a big impact on scoring. So the destroy other counter actions would have a high value. I suspect the game would involve an initial amount of do-si-do shuffling and then Armageddon would break out and the players would destroy tokens back and forth.

Passing on the chance to immediately retaliate to a destroyed token would seem to be a poor strategy. And the relatively free placement of destruction tokens (not having any strict conditionals attached to placements) would allow the players free reign to act and retaliate.

The notion of first strike advantage could be escalated by the free drawing of the valuable monster action tokens. Having these tokens with their action face down, so they are draw randomly, could alleviate their impact a lot.

As it stands I would play the game and probably enjoy it, but in its current form I doubt its ability to sustain my interest over a longer term and I suspect that a clear “winning” strategy could emerge that would obliviate any tactical flux.

I would suggest looking at Pieces of Eight with a view to the introduction of combination actions where the actions of a piece are influenced by the pieces adjacent (not opposite) to it. This would add more dimensions to the game play and create a lot more “hooks” to hang a theme onto. An Orc engineer token that is adjacent to a sector that contains a cannon token can fire it, but an Orc grunt can’t, and so on.

I might also look at introducing some placement restrictions to break up the potential for “mirroring” maybe giving the board sections terrain that improves, degrades or precludes the placement or actions of certain pieces.

Workload

This game appealed to me and I think I gave it a silver medal. I agree with some of the mechanical problems that have been suggested but the main drawback for me personally was the theme.

I view games as a source of escapism and an opportunity to put myself in situations of experience that aren’t part of everyday life. I’m never going to pilot a star fighter, but its fun to see what might happen if the opportunity to do so was available to me. If somebody has spent all day in an office pushing around papers I seriously doubt that they would find an invitation to sit down and do the same thing in their “free time” very appealing.

I might be in a minority by suggesting a change of theme, but the mechanics could easily support a number of alternatives.

High Rise

The simplicity of the game and the physical stacking of the pieces are attractive elements to the game. In terms of strategy and tactical planning within the game play, I couldn’t really see much to focus on.

Each player, in isolation, tries their best to complete the patterns on their objective cards. However, by doing so they can inadvertently create patterns that complete the objective cards of their opponents. If a player satisfies their objectives without tripping scoring opportunities for the other players they have been lucky, not skillful. So winning the game is luck dependant, to a very large degree.

Quite a few games approach the stacking of blocks idea and they might provide helpful insights. The Make n Break series of games jumps to mind along with La Bocca as a more recent take on the idea.

75 x 1” cubes (colored), a game board and cards equal a big box and a big production cost for a luck dependent game of stacking. I think some form of visible information revelation in relation to the objectives of the other players could to be looked at and tested.

The idea of drawing cubes for placement from a bag would certainly reduce analysis paralysis to an extent and increase tactical thought, but it has the danger of bringing even more luck into the game.

Mr.S
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Penterwaltz and TriXagon Reviews

Penterwaltz (my bronze)

I had to look up pentoonimo shapes. If you had just said that they are like tetris or blokus, I am sure everyone would have understood. After the first paragraph, I knew exactly where you were going with this game. It makes me think of games like scrabble slap where you are placing cards on top of existing cards to create new words.

I am not convinced that the stars are necessary. I think that this game could use a game board with a grid to prevent the game from sprawling too much. I think if you could find a way to do it without randomizing the pieces, the game would be more fun and have much more strategy. Even if you randomly divided the pieces before the game started, there would be a lot more strategy to the game. Is there a limit to how high the blocks can be stacked? In regards to the challenge, the blocks don’t add significantly to the 3-D component of the game. It is possible to do this with cutout paper. It has potential to be a great strategy game though.

TriXagon (my gold)

I like this game. The rules are ‘elegant’, but there is quite a bit of game play. It’s basically an evolution of Connect 4 or O-mok (Korean connect 5 game). I think there is a lot of replay value there as well. I need to know more about the multiple beads rule. I don’t think it is necessary for this game. Keep the game simple and I think this game has a lot of potential. The pegs may need to be higher though. It may be difficult to get 9 triangles at one time, especially if it’s played with 3 players. I could also see this being played with teams (4 players).

andymorris
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Thoughts on Penterwaltz

I voted this one for bronze. I also needed to look up what a pentonimo was. I was intrigued by them. I think the game creates some interesting three dimensional thinking. I agree with Mr. S that you should probably limit the base size. It would be nice if there were a way that you could place the pieces vertically as well as horizontally. Maybe if you were allowed to place two pieces at once it would help keep things stable while allowing the pieces to be placed in any orientation.

andymorris
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TriXagon quick response to early feedback

Thanks for the thoughts Zag24 and Mr. S. Yes the triangle pieces would be smaller than the triangles on the board so that they could lay flat in between the beads. I included the option to place more beads, because I thought it added a nice extra wrinkle to consider, but Mr. S you could be right that it is not necessary. I would certainly want to try it both ways.

DifferentName
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Penterwaltz

I think the pieces should be thinner than Jenga pieces since you're only using two sides in the game. This would also allow the stack to get higher. I agree with others that suggested a limit to the board size, so you can't always place a piece directly on the table. Maybe it would also be good if you had more than one piece at a time that you could choose from, like a hand of pieces (drawing one each turn).

DanielGarcia
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High Rise / Penterwaltz / TriXagon

High Rise
I like how each side matters, adding to the three dimensionality of the game, but it could be pretty impractical to play, it would need a rotating table, to everyone to be standing and move around, or to use the Lego idea (or anything like it) to rotate the board.

Also, i’m a big fan of hidden information but i don’t think the placement of the cubes gives enough information to bluff from (as it is pretty hard to memorize all the different figures and colors), one way to help in that could be having 3 public and 3 hidden cards or something like that.

Penterwaltz
My bronze, i thought it was the best use of stacking, but it didn’t seem clear how much you could plan in advance, with all the weird shapes played at random and having a limitless board, maybe having 3 pieces at all times?, though that would make the game longer and maybe it is just better being tactical instead of strategical.

TriXagon
It is really hard to analyze this kind of abstract area control game without playing it, it’s like having to critique Go just reading its rules, you can’t see its greatness if you don’t feel the flow of the game while playing.

nazcagames
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Tuesday & Wednesday critique

Apologies for the late critiques. This month had some great entries.

Stack Skirmish

This entry was very close to earning a medal from me. The stacking mechanisms were interesting and fit the guidelines of the contest spot on. I could see this game being a great little light abstract game. The fantasy theme felt to be a bit of stretch, but I don’t believe that would detract the audience that would enjoy this type of game. I would have loved to see more special abilities that brought out the fantasy theme a little more. Overall a great entry, excellent job!

Workload

This was an interesting theme and the mechanisms seemed solid. One of the reasons this wasn’t in the running for a medal from me was that the mechanics very loosely fit the guidelines of the contest. There really wasn’t any gameplay elements that used the 3rd dimension. I felt it was more about deck management than a game of stacking components. With that said, using cards gives a tremendous amount of creative freedom. I would have loved to see special actions or events on the job cards rather than just points. Overall, this was a solid entry. Great job!

Les Miserables: Barricades of Freedom

This entry had me excited from the start. The theme and cooperative gameplay were intriguing. Players can move around the board, trying to stay out of line of site of the soldiers and keeping the walls up to defend against the cannons. Or try to fight off the soldiers. The theme and mechanisms were very strong. The building of the walls based on the pattern of the card was a very interesting idea. A very solid entry, great job!

High-Rise

This was my entry, and thank you for all of the constructive critique.

@Zag24: Having different size bricks is a good idea.

@Mr S: The Lego idea is brilliant. I’ll have to try that out. Since this was a game that I just came up with in my head for this contest, I glazed over some details such as having the objective cards hidden or open. I do like the idea of having some public goals as well as some hidden ones.

@andymorris: Great ideas! I thought about the tower falling, so I added the variant where players could lose points to a dexterity element to the game.

@DifferentName: I like the bag idea. Bag of legos anyone? :)

@BubbleChuck: Intersting.. I didn’t imagine the game being heavily luck dependent. Perhaps on a first game. But you could be right. Everything is always better in my head, am I right? :)

@DanielGarcia: You could be right about it being fairly impractical to play unless you have chunky or interconnecting pieces on a lazy susan. Normally I don’t usually keep practicality in mind for these contests, unless of course there’s component restrictions :)

Thanks again to everyone for the feedback. And Congratulations to the winner!

kevnburg
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Wednesday & Thursday Critiques

High Rise (My Bronze): Solid theme and solid mechanics. I agree with the idea of making some of the objectives public and some hidden. You may want to try including some other shapes like rectangular prisms to add more variety to the building choices.

Les Miserables: I love the theme, but the rules were not as clear as I'd have liked them to be; I had trouble understanding this game.

TriXagon (My Silver): I'm very fond of puzzle-like games. I appreciate the elegance, the open information, and the exclusion of chance (no secret powers; if you lose its your fault).

Penterwaltz: Another puzzle-like game. I really liked this game once I found out what a Penterwaltz piece was. I agree with the above comment that the stars may not be necessary. High Rise ultimately trumped this for a medal award because High Rise had a solid theme.

High Rise & Penterwaltz: Both of these games have a risk of falling down disastrously. I agree that lego-like components would be nice to prevent such a disaster from occurring. If playtesting finds collapsing to be a problem an auto-lose condition could be implemented to discourage sloppy placement.

Les Miserables: I love the theme, but the rules were not as clear as I'd have liked them to be; I had trouble understanding this game.

Tahrirfirma
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High rise comments

This was my silver. The competitive-collaborative theme of construction managers fitted the mechanics so well.

I think the hidden objectives are fine. It partly comes down to the sort of player interaction you want to go for:
- Hidden objectives would make it more like Ticket to Ride where players are focused on their own objectives but can also try to guess at and block opponents' goals;
- Open objectives would make blocking opponents much more central to gameplay.
Both playstyles have their fans, and either would work in this game.

Having said that, I personally do like the idea of finding a happy medium between the two. To make hidden objectives more guessable by opponents you could restrict them to always be just one color. Alternatively, you could also try having each objective only partially revealed, so opponents might know the color you are going for but not the shape (or vice versa). This could be achieved in a number of ways. For example you could have players draw two cards to make up each objective: one color card ("color scheme") and one shape card ("floor plan"). They would then be required to turn one face up to opponents while keeping the other hidden.

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