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[GDS] October 2011 "Rest in Peace" - Critiques

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sedjtroll
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Use this thread to post constructive critiques of the entries to the October 2011 Challenge in the Game Design Showdown series.

This month's Challenge was entitled "Rest in Peace".

-Seth

mindspike
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I really liked Grave

I really liked Grave Spotting, gave it two votes! But for all that I thought it was a really cool game idea, I don't see how the mancala/Dorn tower mechanic was executed. Part of that may simply be that I've never played a "Dorn tower" game. My own entry was "A Slab to Call My Own", a lame title for what worked out to be a straight-up mancala variant (now that I've had time to consider it).

I'd like to see this game developed further, and yes, I'm willing to put time, effort, and money into doing so! I think this would be a great party game with some refinement and clarification. In particular, I'd like to see this calibrated for 3-6 players, and have some more interactivity.

I would:
* combine the graves and grave designs into a single deck
* expand the range of scope of card values and special abilities
* streamline the card distribution and play sequence to a more traditional model
* allow players to play off of and interfere with each other's designs

These are just some initial impressions. So, Grave Spotting..... post a reply or PM me!

dobnarr
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My feedback

Congratulations to the winner. Here are my notes from reading the entries:

#1 Charon's Quadrate Lake -
Interesting idea; I think the repetetive bidding might get old. It seemed pretty probable that the game could be completely out of your control by the end, and the game would likely take a long time with lots of bidding. It wasn't clear whether diagonal movement was allowed, in which case the game would take a minimum of 10 turns, or if not, 20 turns or more. It wasn't clear to me how the Mancala/Dorn mechanism was incorporated, and the "Captain can turn a quadrate" rule is also unclear.

0 votes.

#2 Zombie Shuffle -

This is very clever and seems like fun. I like how the colors are incorporated, and the multi-directional dropping pattern seems really cool. I'd be curious if this has been tested and if it actually plays well. It makes me think of a neat logic puzzle; I think it would make a pretty cool computer game. In terms of mechanics, this is not too different from entry #10 below, but I think it would play a lot better

2 votes.

#3 Grave Spotting -

This entry has over 800 words, so I gave it no votes. The concept seems interesting, and the use of historical figures and graves is neat. The tableau design part could be fun; I imagine the patterns and graves would have to be carefully designed to work well, and they're not present in the game description to evaluate. I think it would be hard to balance the scoring with the designs. The Mancala element could be interesting, although it would be a tricky decision giving other people cards in order to get one you wanted.

0 votes.

#4 Attack of the Mutant Moss from Outer Space
Neat concept; the theme is really great. Duel games like this can be very hard to balance. Not having the board as a diagram makes it a little harder to imagine, since the board isn't described too much in terms of size and layout. The dynamics of the game could be fun, but the rolling and the lose turn/slowed mechanics might be luck-intensive and a bit tedious. This could lead to a lot of luck in the game and some unsatisfying turns. It seems like it might be pretty easy to ignore the moss and just move all your robbers to the gland to take it out immediately - I don't see why that wouldn't be the optimum strategy, but again, if I could see the board, it might be clearer.

0 votes.

#5 Zombie Ball - this was my entry.

#6 A Slab to Call My Own

Great title! I love it. The story elements at the start are great, too - I like the humor. I never have room in my rules for this kind of thing in these contests with the 800 word limit.

A diagram of the play area would *really* help here, although I think I understood it. It's not clear whether you have to have the same body count in each team's mausoleum array (i.e. does each player get one 2, one 3, one 4, one 5?) or whether you have to have them in order from high to low or whatever. The Mancala/Dorn part isn't too stringently regulated here, either - you have to place in different mausoleums, but there's no required sequence. It's not clear from the description how difficult this is, either - it seems like with the freedom you have in placing guys, it might be very easy to win within a turn or two, but I haven't thought it out too hard - maybe it's more complex than that.

1 vote.

#7 Lurch
Note: You shouldn't include a "By Dan LePage" line in the game description - it's better if these are anonymous, I think.

Another good title. This one was actually sort of similar to mine - zombies lurching around on a hex board from a starting position - although the mechanics, object, and gameplay are quite different. The game seems like it could be fun, although I think the board might be a good bit too big - you only get two zombies a turn, and they end up distributed into small stacks pretty quickly, I think, so it's hard to cover much territory. The combat seems like it might be pretty slow to figure out and resolve, too, so that might cut down on the fun. The spells could be interesting, but I have trouble rating a game where there are a ton of spell cards mentioned but not described; the sample ones seem cool, but giving up zombies to cast them would be a big sacrifice, I'd think. I also think the game would take a really long time and might end with tiny groups of zombies chasing around other tiny groups of zombies very slowly in a big board. The MacGuffin Ball one seems more workable. It definitely uses the Mancala/Dorn mechanic as assigned - more than many other entries.

0 votes.

#8 Dorn Bones
Yet another entry that would very much benefit from a diagram. This is an interesting idea, and it makes use of the Dorn/Mancala mechanic. It has way too much die-rolling and luck for my taste; it seems like whoever gets a foot first (and later, whoever destroys his opponent's skeleton first) will have a huge advantage - a mostly unrestricted chance to move around the board and gather parts and treasures. Because of this, I don't think it's likely to be all that fun, since whether you win or lose will be based on die rolls and on the initial location of the feet markers. Even if the feet are equal distance from the starting locations, the first attack roll will likely determine the winner, and because the guy who moves first will be able to move close enough to the other guy to score a big hit, the game will likely be over by then. I could be wrong; I'm playtesting in my head here, but I think that might be the outcome.

0 votes.

#9 Graveyard Shift
This is a neat use of the theme and the mechanic restriction. I feel like playing it would make my head hurt, but in a good way - lots of strategy and many different choices to make, and a neat mechanism for moving the pieces around the board. I like the simple rules but the complex gameplay that would result. Finding the smartest move would be very difficult, I think. In the section on movement, I think you meant to say that you move in a straight line once you start moving (it's implied, but not explicit).

2 votes.

#10 Bone Pile
This sounds fun, and it definitely has the Mancala/Dorn mechanic as a central feature. My guess is that after a few turns, it's pretty easy to engineer a closed grave for your parts on nearly every turn, because you get to place so many pieces, but I could be wrong - I'd have to see it played out. A lot of the outcome seems like it will be determined by how many of your own color you happen to pick on your random draw. If you pick two of the same color, it will be pretty easy to get at least two of your color in a grave (three if you use a piece already placed). If you pick the right part combinations, you'll be able to complete skeletons pretty easily, also. So I think you'll end up with a quick end to the game and a feeling that it was pretty random how it turned out.

It's not clear from the rules whether the player gets to choose which part they drew goes in which grave; I imagine you mean it to be up to the player placing items, but it could be done blindly, I guess, as the beginning of the rule states.

1 vote.

dobnarr
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Rules change suggestion

I'd like to propose a rule addition to the GDS:

If you have an entry in the showdown and you do not vote for a winner, your entry is disqualified and cannot win.

Because entrants cannot vote for their own entries, then every entrant who votes is necessarily helping others win. Therefore, not voting benefits you relative to other entrants, definitely unfairly and perhaps significantly given the small margins of victory these things usually have. It seems like a no-brainer that if you don't vote, you ought not be able to win.

Anybody feel the same way?

PierreNZ
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Comments

Before I get on with my comments, I must say that I am one of the evil non-voters. I felt I didn’t have enough time (real life stuff) to give the same attention to each entry and didn’t think it would be fair to vote for the few I really looked at so I chose to abstain. If the disqualification rule for non-voting is enforced, then I’ll abide by it but I’d say it probably opens the door to random voting to avoid disqualification which would lessen the overall quality of the votes.
Just my two cents at the moment. But I’m the new guy so nevermind :-)

Entry #1 - Charon’s quadrate lake

I like the idea of trying to navigate the lake as each player is pulling the captain in different directions with their bribes. The inclusion of the seven sins also makes it very thematic. I dislike Charon being portrayed as a mean character that enjoys the suffering of his charges, but that’s just me ;-)
But I have to admit that the gameplay confused the hell out of me, the more I read it and the more I got confused. It’s probably a lot clearer with visuals and actual components but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it all.
Laying the course with the sin cards hidden and then repeating the path created feels mechanically interesting but I can’t help but thinking it might not be very practical

Entry #2 - Zombie Shuffle

Similar setup as #9 but rather different gameplay. Not sure which one I prefer.
I’d replace the colours by types of monster. That would help us colourblind and inject more Halloween theme than just zombies (which seem to polarise some people).
Overall it feels this game would play rather smoothly. Can’t quite see if the scoring is balanced.
I like the idea of using Lego-like bits and physically build the zombies. But, more concerning than the potential tangle, a player could feel for the piece he needs. Puzzle pieces could be neat as you snapped together the pieces, would also help with scoring so that the different zombie pieces don’t get mixed up (intentionally or not).

Entry #3 - Grave Spotting:

This was my entry but I gather from the above posts that it’s uncouth to discuss one’s own so I won’t. I will however note that the 800 word limit seems to be absolute (I worked with a +/- 10% limit to include an example of play) so I’ll know for next time.

Entry #4 - Attack of the Mutant Moss from Outer Space!

Cool idea, some form of modular board would keep the game fresh for replays.
The theme feels a bit artificial with alien + zombies fighting grave robbers and a winning condition of escaping the cemetery. I can see this game being re-themed/re-centered around alien invasion or some mutant trying to escape a laboratory and doing very well.
Hard to get a good feel of the pros and cons of each team without the board. How far are the exits from the pod? How much relative ground can the robbers cover with 4 spaces (seems the best option is to rush the alien player and limit his access to grave stones)? etc
The use of the dorn tower mechanic to expand the moss feels very organic and …err… tentacul-y? I picture a giant amoeba in my head when thinking of the way the moss would develop, which made me think of a re-theme along the line of a war between microorganisms or the way infection spreads in a body (alien = infection, exit = vital organ, zombie = cell taken over, robbers = white cells).

Entry #5 - Zombie Ball

I’m not keen on sport-related games (even if Halloween-themed) so I take my comments with a grain of salt.
The Passing action card feels rather strong, especially when combined with the speed of the skeletons. With a good starting hand (say a Pass 4-5), the first player could start with a skeleton, swipe the ball and score on the first turn … actually not quite :-) but passing without the chance to intercept feels broken. Especially when the ability to pass is tied to getting a Pass card from the action deck.
Not sure I completely “got” the Dorn/Mancala procedure on the skull bonus board but I couldn’t help feeling that the bonus should apply to all players to bring some interesting decisions, like I want to increase my skeletons’ speed but I’ll have to give out bonuses to the other types and allow my opponents to summon some more creatures too. This might make the game more dynamic and more interactive.
On that note, there ought to be reactive cards to be played during an opponent’s turn to throw a wrench in his plan e.g. Fragile bones: Destroy a skeleton adjacent to one of your creature OR all skeletons moving more than two spaces are destroyed at the end of the turn (probably too strong but you know what I mean). Those cards might be planned anyway but aren’t mentioned in the rules and the “you may play action cards at any time” might cover playing cards outside your turn.
The different creatures pro/cons have a real good RPS feel and that works well.

edit: just read about playing tackles to interrupt others, tanking with a Zombie and out-of-turn tackling might be an even better strategy :-) All in all the quality of your initial action cards might greatly influence the rest of the game and will need to be balanced carefully to limit the randomness factor.

Entry #6 - A Slab to Call My Own

Lack of time to properly consider this entry.
Setup and game in progress visuals would greatly help evaluating the game
The end game condition (all Mausoleums with the correct number of WDs) feels rather hard to achieve considering the constant interference created by the other player but I could be wrong.

Entry #7 – Lurch

Really can’t say much about this one. Didn’t get the time to really look at it in depth but general impressions are: the board would have to huge (or the zombie tokens very small to accommodate multiple stacks on the same hex), 100 tokens per player is a big barrier to prototyping or PnP-ing that game (+board+artifacts+spell cards), it needs an incentive to force interaction (variant looks more promising) or players might just build up one enormous zombie stack and go for one big lunge across the board.

Entry #8 - Dorn Bones

Again lack of time to properly comment so sticking to general impressions:
Concerns of a runaway leader and luck (or lack thereof) factor when rolling for movement.
The locations cards could be replaced by a system of coordinates with two colours of dice (and a 6x6 board). See Flash Point: Fire Rescue
Collecting treasures (in addition to body parts) doesn’t feel especially thematic.

Entry #9 - Graveyard Shift

Sounds very cool and definitely a deserved victory. With the right artwork, this could be a winner with half demented Igors running around the cemetery dropping bits on their way.
Nice tight package of components, should be rather easy to print for further playtest.
Not a fan of 2 player games. But I’d like to put that game together to see if it handles the way I think it does or if there are some tweaks to be made.
Love the determination of the first player :-)

Entry #10 - Bone Pile

I like it.
I wonder if removing/easing some (all?) the restrictions on token placement might speed up the game.
I’d replace the chit bag with cards for a card only game. Slight tweak of number gets you 3 Artscow decks, then we just wait for a special offer :-)
Some visuals would have helped too.

Messeya
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Comments to the comments.

dobnarr wrote:
#10 Bone Pile
This sounds fun, and it definitely has the Mancala/Dorn mechanic as a central feature. My guess is that after a few turns, it's pretty easy to engineer a closed grave for your parts on nearly every turn, because you get to place so many pieces, but I could be wrong - I'd have to see it played out. A lot of the outcome seems like it will be determined by how many of your own color you happen to pick on your random draw. If you pick two of the same color, it will be pretty easy to get at least two of your color in a grave (three if you use a piece already placed). If you pick the right part combinations, you'll be able to complete skeletons pretty easily, also. So I think you'll end up with a quick end to the game and a feeling that it was pretty random how it turned out.

It's not clear from the rules whether the player gets to choose which part they drew goes in which grave; I imagine you mean it to be up to the player placing items, but it could be done blindly, I guess, as the beginning of the rule states.

1 vote.

PierreNZ wrote:
Entry #10 - Bone Pile

I like it.
I wonder if removing/easing some (all?) the restrictions on token placement might speed up the game.
I’d replace the chit bag with cards for a card only game. Slight tweak of number gets you 3 Artscow decks, then we just wait for a special offer :-)
Some visuals would have helped too.

dobnarr-

Thanks for the comments and thanks for the vote! I've play tested Bone Pile (renamed Bag of Bones) about a half dozen times and so far I haven't seen randomness as the determining factor. Moving a partially constructed skeleton can be quite strategic to guarantee completing multiple graves or to break up a skeleton that another player is close to completing. I'm not sure if I'm misunderstanding you or the other way around, but when you draw from the bag or move a skeleton, you're only allowed to place one bone in each grave and those graves must be consecutive. So, while you may get a lucky draw for yourself, at the same time you may be forced to finish or help finish someone else's skeleton because it's the only bone you can play.

Just the drawing is done blindly, you chose which grave to start dropping bones, which direction to go, and which bone to drop in which grave along the way.

PierreNZ-

Thanks for the comments. I'm not so sure about going card only, I like the cost effectiveness, but It would make it pretty difficult to tell at a glance who is winning which graves unless you have a very large table... Hmm... Scratch that, I could always have a larger version of the bone in the center of the card and icon sized bones in the corners and just have them overlap in the graves so the icons are showing... Food for thought.

I'm actually working on getting this on thegamecrafter.com under the name Bag of Bones, hopefully in time for Halloween. I'll have to check with the guy doing the artwork to see what he would think of going all cards instead of tokens and stickers.

Thanks everyone that voted. Now to look over the entries again and jot down some notes for everyone else....

mindspike
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A reply and another comment.

@PierreNZ
- I don't think it's uncouth to talk about your own project. I thought the purpose of critiques was to help develop the games. I'm about to talk about my own game here.....

"A Slab to Call My Own"
Thanks for the kind words on the title, dobnarr. And I appreciate the vote!

I get that visuals would help tremendously, and I'll have some of those done by the end of the week. I think there's time to post the rule set and some printable elements on my website before Halloween..... As to strategy, well, you are partially correct. There is a two-turn winning strategy dependent entirely upon the other player either not interfering or interfering incorrectly. After the third turn, if no one has won, it gets very complex very quickly.

PierreNZ commented that achieving a winning condition may be too hard. I'm actually worried that it is too easy! None of my playtests have run more than 15 minutes a game. For a strictly two-person game, this type of time consumption works best in a points-scored environment such as with Rummy or Spades. That might not be a bad idea, letting you score points on the Walking Dead in the opponent's Mausoleums while he scores only on the Burial Yards......

"Attack of the Mutant Moss..."

I'm with PierreNZ, I think an alternate theme would definitely benefit this game. The zombie and graveyard thing doesn't seem to track well with the alien moss. I do like the idea of an experiment escaping from a laboratory, but having this be a necromancer instead of an alien would work well. As for the mechanics themselves, I don't see the need for players to be fighting zombies. Since the game revolves around controlling territory, I'd like to see movement for territory play a more important role, with players gaining access to resources or increased options as they gain control of modular board components. I do love the way the moss moves, and I like the idea of playing on teams. I'm just not sure how exactly that is supposed to work out, which player controls which piece, and so forth.

dobnarr
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Thanks for the feedback

PierreNZ wrote:
Before I get on with my comments, I must say that I am one of the evil non-voters. I felt I didn’t have enough time (real life stuff) to give the same attention to each entry and didn’t think it would be fair to vote for the few I really looked at so I chose to abstain. If the disqualification rule for non-voting is enforced, then I’ll abide by it but I’d say it probably opens the door to random voting to avoid disqualification which would lessen the overall quality of the votes.
Just my two cents at the moment. But I’m the new guy so nevermind :-)

Reading the entries and assigning votes never takes me very long - no more than an hour, depending on the number of entries. The critiques are the real time sinks - sometimes that takes me a couple hours, but I try to do it every time I enter in the hopes that others will critique mine. All of the feedback parts are usually way less time than designing my entry.

Just the math of the situation seems to me to make non-voting not fair, as I said. Many of these contests come down to a couple votes, and if you don't vote and then win by a vote or two over a game you'd have voted for, that seems pretty skeezy. I understand that people get busy, and I'm sympathetic. Also, taking the time to vote (and critique) if you enter and get votes and critiques from others seems like the decent thing to do, as sedjtroll said in his post earlier.

It's also entirely possible that I have too much invested in these things. :-) But I do enjoy them.

PierreNZ wrote:

Entry #5 - Zombie Ball

I’m not keen on sport-related games (even if Halloween-themed) so I take my comments with a grain of salt.
The Passing action card feels rather strong, especially when combined with the speed of the skeletons. With a good starting hand (say a Pass 4-5), the first player could start with a skeleton, swipe the ball and score on the first turn … actually not quite :-) but passing without the chance to intercept feels broken. Especially when the ability to pass is tied to getting a Pass card from the action deck.
Not sure I completely “got” the Dorn/Mancala procedure on the skull bonus board but I couldn’t help feeling that the bonus should apply to all players to bring some interesting decisions, like I want to increase my skeletons’ speed but I’ll have to give out bonuses to the other types and allow my opponents to summon some more creatures too. This might make the game more dynamic and more interactive.
On that note, there ought to be reactive cards to be played during an opponent’s turn to throw a wrench in his plan e.g. Fragile bones: Destroy a skeleton adjacent to one of your creature OR all skeletons moving more than two spaces are destroyed at the end of the turn (probably too strong but you know what I mean). Those cards might be planned anyway but aren’t mentioned in the rules and the “you may play action cards at any time” might cover playing cards outside your turn.
The different creatures pro/cons have a real good RPS feel and that works well.

edit: just read about playing tackles to interrupt others, tanking with a Zombie and out-of-turn tackling might be an even better strategy :-) All in all the quality of your initial action cards might greatly influence the rest of the game and will need to be balanced carefully to limit the randomness factor.


Thanks for the very detailed feedback. I've actually now played about five games of this. There is a good bit of luck-of-the-draw as you indicated, and the pass cards are pretty powerful. We agreed after the first game that the Pass 5 had to go - it was just too easy to get close enough to the goal to pass it in. But there wasn't really a balance issue; the skeletons are so wimpy that it's very easy to destroy them; they barely ever last more than a turn, so getting a pass off is hard. The vampire control and convert cards are very powerful, as are the zombie tackle and detonate cards (not sure I mentioned them), so the skeleton pass is often balanced out well by other cards. Getting your skeleton the ball can be hard, too, because if a stronger enemy creature is carrying it, you have no way to get it from them with a wimpy skeleton.

In the two-player game, the cards you draw (and the luck involved) are pretty important, and you're often able to create strategies that last for a turn or two. In the three or four player games, it is utter chaos, and it's very difficult to plan anything that persists until your next turn. But you always have something cool (and unexpected) to do to others.

So, the game ends up being pretty chaotic, often luck-based, and the scoring of goals is rare and often involves fairly ridiculous combo plays with multiple cards. This might make it sound not very fun, but I have had a blast (and lost) every time I've played it, as have my friends who helped test it.

The Dorn/Mancala aspect, which I initially included just because it was required in the contest, seems to work pretty well; it's very useful to have your choice of bonuses on your turn but not complete freedom to get exactly what would be useful, and it becomes part of the strategy that's actually predictable, unlike the cards, which are hidden. I thought initially that it would be good to apply the bonuses to all players, as you suggest, and my initial rules had that, but having a slight edge on your turn is actually fun and feels OK in the context of the game, and it also often eliminates ties that would otherwise make the game more zero-sum.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback - it's very helpful. I'm going to try to get the game worked up on TheGameCrafter.com, although the best customizable pieces there (the stickers on tokens) are 1.25" wide and would make for a very big play board. I used 1" tokens in my prototype, and those are more manageable.

mindspike
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A visual reference and more.

So I put together a Print-and-Play download of "A Slab to Call My Own" that includes a complete set of rules as well as printable board components and paper minis. The free download can be found at the Critical Press Media website.
A Slab to Call My Own
I can't seem to figure out how to include images in posts (if it's even allowed), but there are images on the external link that includes a quick suggested layout of the Cemetery that ought to clear up questions raised by this thread's respondents. Thanks for the input, guys!

dobnarr
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One more thought on voting

One more thought, and then I'll let this go. I gave the winning entry two votes, and I came in second by two votes. If I hadn't voted, I'd have tied for first. Because I voted, I didn't win.

I liked the winning entry a lot; I'm happy that it won (I voted for it, after all) - but everybody who enters should have to vote.

dobnarr
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OK, two thoughts

Would it be better to say that you can give one vote to your own entry (if you think it deserves it), or that you get an automatic vote for your entry as a reward for voting yourself? That phrases it much more positively but would still solve the problem.

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