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Critique the Nov 2008 GDS Challenge Entries

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Brykovian
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Use this thread to post constructive critiques of the entries submitted to the November 2008 Game Design Showdown Challenge, entitled "Peeps & Turf". Found here: http://www.bgdf.com/node/529

-Bryk

dannorder
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I'm surprised no critiquing

I'm surprised no critiquing is happening this time around. Not that I can complain, because I never really got around to critiquing other entries in the last one. But maybe I can get things rolling.

I sat this competition out because I couldn't wrap my mind around a social networking game. Well, I had ideas, but they're weren't going anywhere. Some of the entries this time around don't seem to me anyway to really fit the standards given for this competition. Just having territory control doesn't mean there's any social networking going on.

I'm also more into themes that just sound fun over nitty gritty mechanics. Perhaps a game design competition should focus a lot on mechanics, but if it doesn't sound like something I'd enjoy playing it's hard for me to get interested.

So, with those in mind, individual comments:

Hoppit: This one is nice and simple, and has a cute theme. It sounds like the sort of thing that could be fun for kids in a low level math class, but also something others could play just because they get to move frogs around lily pads. The restriction of where you could move frogs could end up making things interesting, but I am concerned that the "relate in some way" might be too broad. Certainly the lower numbers on a die roll are going to be able to be worked in to more lily pad numbers... so rolling for sixes is going to be bad in this game instead of good. How easily pieces can move around would depend a lot on how many lily pads are adjacent to each pad and how the numbers are distributed. Easy numbers might be on the outside so that they are easier to get to but less strategic in being able to reach other pads. While this sounds very basic, it could actually end up working well. You might even be able to work in some differing difficulty levels by changing the die around... a six-sided die could be numbered from 3 to 8 instead of 1 to 6, or maybe a better player would get stuck having to roll two dice and figuring some way to make a move. If the dice set up changed around somehow the more frogs you got, suddenly it's a very different game. But then I may be overthinking it... I have no idea if the designer considers it a child's game or something more. I don't see any social networking component, though.

Message in a Bottle: Definitely social networking, which is good for the competition end of things. Something about the theme doesn't jump out at me though. People send messages, but what does it end up meaning? How does someone win by just communicating? Maybe a bit of a theme retooling could help. If it were presented as spread of a philosophy, or a migrating stories, or spread of a family's genes around the world (though genes don't go by bottle or email) or something maybe I could picture it more. I haven't playtested, but the board seems like it might be too large (or too many territories) for how much gets filled during the standard turns. A big old mostly empty board at the end would be less than thrilling. It might be a great game, but something about it doesn't grab me.

Highschool Cafeteria: I'm a sucker for lively themes, and this one got my vote largely based upon that. It also helped that the theme was so directly tied to the competition's rules and that the mechanics, from what was seen, seem sound. But, really, this is just a sweet set up. Using the cafeteria as a microcosm for the social dynamics of a whole school is good, and having potential new clique recruits walk through the lunch line like a cattle call is sheer genius. And the bits people could have to play the game with has great potential for a publisher to go all out with. I'd have to playtest the game to see how well it actually works in practice, but I think any shortcomings could be balanced out by tweaking afterwards.

Career: This may be a contradiction of all I said above, somehow, but despite the fact that this one definitely has social networking and also the potential for fun game bits and so forth, this one seemed less fun. Sucking up to the boss seems like losing even when you are winning. Also, it seems to be set in disparate locations too much. Maybe focusing just on the bar, or just the office would help. The parking lot I didn't get at all -- parking close to the boss is a good thing? And you pay several hundred bucks to choose where to park? I can see parking being a reflection of your already established success, but buying up spots and having it directly lead to later success seems backwards to me. I think there's potential in this design overall, but the package as presented didn't do it for me.

Garden Invaders: This one is currently tied for first place with two other designs, so some people obviously see something in it, but I'm completely not following it. I don't see any social networking aspect at all (and if there is none it should be automatically disqualified, I think), and, though it shares the animal theme of the first entry, it doesn't seem particularly fun. I haven't play tested it, so quite possibly I'm missing something that makes it work, but it doesn't seem to flow logically either in a real world sense (maybe moles and slugs are more representative in another geographical area or something, but they're rare around here) or in a game play sense. I doesn't seem intuitive that players would randomly picks animals and possibly end up with major disparities in type that they can play, and a lot of the rules just seem random to me and not a natural extension of the theme or game. But then maybe it's a real good game just on mechanics and I missed it because I didn't play it.

K Street: If voting had an option for first place and second, this would have gotten second for me. The theme is understandable and seems reasonably well modeled within the constraints of the game, but of course lobbying is never going to have the same inherent entertainment value as some other topics. The rules seem to be creative, so that the cards become the board (I realize tile placing isn't new, but merging regular cards and keeping a strict layout could be). Using the standard deck of cards at least makes how that end of things work pretty obvious instead of having to explain suits and numbering from fresh, but I think being on a standard deck wouldn't work as well as some custom cards with humorous illustrations of all the bureaucrats at each level and each department holding phones and pagers and typing email into computers. For that bit of extra fun, I'd try to have each suit being as distinct as possible... so maybe instead of just being different federal offices lobbyists could climb up a route for the House of Representatives (clubs), the Senate (spades), the functionaries of the Executive branch (diamonds) and then one for the news media/popular opinion (hearts). Or something. I don't know, just some random thoughts.

Anyone else have thoughts they'd llke to share?

comfect
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Joined: 11/13/2008
More critiquing

I'm interested in seeing more critiquing in general, so I guess I should hop in myself.
Hoppit
I guess I join in not seeing any real social networking here, or territory control (since a frog on a pad doesn't control anything - in fact, it's a target). But I can see a good game coming here. The "relate to the number" criterion is very broad (exponents? complex functions?) and seems to favor low numbers, but that could add a degree of interest (let me see how I can squeeze six in there!) The simple setup also seems like it could be tweaked depending on desired difficulty/strategy mix/age group. An interesting question would be whether the player has to move, or if they can stay put. If the former, then there could be some trapping strategy (aha! you have to move to one of these pads, all of which I can jump to with some frog!).

Message in a Bottle
I like the theme of this game very much. I worry about an ever-depleted potential friends pool, because the numbers seem so small compared with how many can be placed (although allocation of scarce resources can be powerful itself). But with the size of the map it seems like players could form completely separate power bases for most of the game, until the Airplane or even Internet era. I very much like, however, the scoring system, which strongly benefits you for control. It's an odd mix of incentive for competition (massive points for the winner!) and disincentive (massive flip of points if you just barely lose/just barely win a contested region). So while I think it is definitely an intriguing way to score, I also worry that it might do too much...maybe a more China/Web of Power-like scoring system might be appropriate? That would also encourage competition, since there would be less scoring if you stayed apart.

High School Cafeteria
I like this one. It would require careful attention to balance of tables (# of seats/requirements/resources/points) but if that was well done, the basic idea seems well connected to the theme. I wonder what the players themselves represent though; is each player a clique of kids trying to maximize their influence (that seems to be the idea, but I'm not sure because of the specialization/diversification note in the scoring section)? A disinterested God assigning lunchroom fates? A teacher watching their class find seats? Maybe clarification of what each tables' "requirements" are could help, as well as what "resources" are. The loners scoring is a very neat idea; it can introduce interesting strategic consequences of allowing someone else to just squeak by you and so mobilize the loners to your cause. Overall, the game grabs my attention and interest; and if there were more words available and thus more exposition, it could be a very good game to play.

Career
I think this does match the theme well, as well as the territory control. Everything seems to be based on money - this isn't necessarily a problem, but it does seem slightly out of theme (which report an employee gets assigned is based on money? I wish my boss were bribable like that! Or is that bid with report points?) Also, there seem to be a lot of markers that are not easily explained - where do the business markers come from? How about the report points? I'm really not sure. But with more space, those might have been expanded. I do like the idea of ever-expanding influence in various departments; it seems very much like office water-cooler politics. And the queue for the parking spaces and the interaction in the pub both seem very applicable to the world of business and apt to the game as well.

Garden Invaders
I really don't get the idea of social networking from this. Are the animals of each color somehow allied in concert against the other colored ones? It would seem more thematic to have each player playing an animal and attempting to spread themselves, although I see how that would run into problems as well. This just didn't jibe well with me in terms of social networks. I did like the gardener/bird mechanics which seemed to create interesting constraints on action; perhaps they could be expanded (does the gardener ever chase the bird away?). The scoring was interesting, with the dual plurality required so that a player with all 10 ants could lose to someone with only 5 moles if there were 4 moles and 3 moles possessed by their opponents in the area as well.

K Street
I agree with dannorder that this could use some work in terms of theme. Changing from suits to actual bureaucracies would help; so would distinguishing individual bureaucracies (maybe one is shorter but harder to move up? maybe some can't take as many lobbyists/more lobbyists/are easy to move up?). I also fear that hierarchy control could lead to complete vertical gridlock (a Beltway negative that might not be worth simulating) unless there was some bypass (maybe the special moves can't be blocked by control?). I do like the ever-building contact sphere, although maybe having the lobbyists of the same employer help each other might be good? Perhaps the special abilities could be used on ANY of your lobbyists? Or if two of your lobbyists are in the same column, the lower one is bounced out but the higher one advances (or declines - that could REALLY through a monkey wrench into your plans). Some sort of inter-lobbyist interaction would be nice.

Kactus
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My Thoughts

Disclaimer: I think I look at the competition entries differently than most people, in that I am often more interested in the game mechanics than in the theme.

Hoppit
I thought this looked simple but fun. It had kindof a cute theme and I'm surprised it didn't get any votes (Last I checked it had none anyway). The social networking part could have been explained more clearly but the way I see it is that by landing on another frog to turn it to your side would be something to do with frog 'gangs' (lions have prides, what do frogs have?). Not sure I'm explaining it any better!

Message in a Bottle
I really want to play this one! I have all the necessary components... It just jumped out at me for that reason. I might have to read the rules again to make sure I have all the details though but it sounded like it would work really well.

Highschool Cafeteria
This just plain didn't make sense to me. Not sure why everyone else loves it. I guess a diagram or some examples of the scoring/strategy would have helped.

Career
A lot of this didn't make sense either. This marker and that marker and I'm not too sure what most of them do. Also parking close to the boss being a major part of the game doesn't make much sense, nor does paying to change your place in the line (how does money make you wake up earlier?) The overall theme seemed kinda interesting but then the mechanics and some of the details let it down.

Garden invaders
Not too sure why animals of the same colour are working together. I felt like the scoring needed to link back to the theme better, I didn't really understand why the points were set as they were, other than for balancing the game. I did like the theme overall , and the gardener and the bird.

K Street
I liked this too. Can't really see any problems with it. I want to try it out sometime as well. I can see what someone means that it would be more awesome with cards made especially for this game, but I like that it can be played with a regular deck as well.

I really like that some of these games have been designed to use existing game components. I really would love to see more of these. I'd think up new games using existing components myself, but I'm not really that good at it. I love seeing what people come up with on here :)

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