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Critique the February 2010 GDS games here!

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sedjtroll
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Use this thread to post constructive critiques of the entries to the January 2010 Challenge in the Game Design Showdown series.

This month's Challenge was entitled "iBoardgame - there's an AP for that!", and it was looking for a faction/team game using an Apple iPad as a central board and iPhones as player boards - with an available bonus for using The Pirates of Silicon Valley as a theme. You can find it here.

-Seth

sedjtroll
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Voting is over - congrats to ilta for DeathCurl!

This comment thread is now open for the February GDS. Ilta's thematic entry DeathCurl garnered the most votes, as many as the 2 entries tied for 2nd place combined!

Someone emailed me their critiques with their votes, so I'll paste them here:

From DogBoy:

Entry #1: iP Ouija (0 votes) Nice idea, but numerous rules problems. What stops me from asking the "Are you (person x)?" as my yes/no question? (Or, "do you live at (address)?") And what stops the spirit from answering falsely? How is it guaranteed that all participants even know each other? Also, where is the iPad?

Entry #2: iTook (0 votes, but would give it half a vote if possible) Reasonable use of iPad & iPhones, and original incorporation of bonus theme. Hard to guess the fun factor without actually playing the game. I suspect player interaction might be limited. Nothing obviously wrong, but not a definite "yes" either. Reminiscent of a certain successful indie computer game, which I've never played, so maybe I don't appreciate how fun the genre is.

Entry #3: Manufacturing Investments (0 votes) Sorry... sounds like one of those PBM-style web games. iPad completely unnecessary. Not sure I would play this - niche appeal?

Entry #4: Market Share (0 votes) Similar PBM-style gameplay to Entry #3, though board usage makes it sound a more interesting game (and also makes more reasonable use of the iPad). Sounds a bit too straightforward to warrant all the electronic kerfuffle though.

Entry #5: DeathCurl (3 votes) No attempt at bonus theme, but awesome use of iPhone and iPad. Great theme, sounds like it would be a blast to play if done right. Wii Sports-esque gameplay. Easily the best entry, in my opinion. I would give it more votes if I could!

Entry #6: Torrent Pirates. (0 votes, but would give it half a vote if possible) With a few tweaks, this is just a card game, so it doesn't really make use of the hardware. Some balance worries: the preference / drafting mechanism might be too biased towards the 6x strategy or the 5x bonus strategy; the game might reduce to "randomly guess which cards will appear in Phase 2". Good use of theme; this game could make better (and appropriately illegal) use of the medium by actually sharing real files rather than pretending to share imaginary ones.

sedjtroll
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Bonus theme

I wasn't sure how well the bonus theme would go over, and to tell you the truth I was a little disappointed that more entries didn't try to use that theme... maybe it was too esoteric, or maybe it didn't jive well with the component restrictions. Though it was kind of nice that not ALL the entries had the same theme!

I liked the idea of the bonus theme, and I will probably try it again in an upcoming GDS.

oicu12b12
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Congrats to ilta

Way to go, ilta! You can't go wrong with Curling for a theme in a game, in my opinion. It's kind of like bacon, makes ANY food better. Haha!

This was my second GDS, and I thought the type of challenge was EXCELLENT! It was something that was already kicking around in my head (I had read the article that contained the Scrabble illustration Seth referred to) even though the whole programming side would have to be done by somebody other than me if I were to seriously consider making a game for the iWhatevers. I also found it very interesting that right after the submission deadline for this challenge I listened to the most recent "The Spiel" podcast episode, www.thespiel.net (one of my favorites), and their regular "goober" segment (highlighting games with special components) was all about "future goober." Among two other things they mention was the iPad/iPhone combo. I posted about this challenge on their BGG guild and their site's forums. Hopefully a few listeners came over here to check out our entries.

One last comment and then onto the entries... I feel a little embarrassed that I didn't click on the "Pirates of the Silicon Valley" link in the challenge text until my submission went sent. In my mind the bonus theme was more general than about a specific movie. Hence the theme of my game, in my attempt at the bonus theme, was about stealing software and not related to the movie at all. I don't know if I was awarded points for attempting the bonus theme or not. I certainly own that I didn't click on the link. A small suggestion that I would make for future challenges that have bonus themes is to explicitly say it if they are about a specific event (or movie, etc.), otherwise keep them somewhat general.

Critiques:
#1 - iP Ouija - This seems like kind of a fun idea, but I had a couple of problems with it fitting the challenge. First, I couldn't see that the iPad was being used as a central board. It just seemed that players could use either iPads or iPhones/Touches to play as player boards. Next, I couldn't see the "faction" requirement either. It seemed like each player was playing for him or herself. I think the idea could be developed into a fun game, especially if the questions were pre-made and players could select which question they wanted to ask and the person to whom they wanted to send it. Otherwise, I think there would be too much typing, and the game couldn't be played together in the same room. (0 votes)

#2 - iTook - Good attempt at the bonus theme (and other themes too)! I almost gave this game a vote, but I felt it lacked the required "faction" element where players were to be distinct from the factions. I didn't count having multiple spies as having a faction, sorry. (0 votes)

#3 - Manufacturing Investments - Here's a game where the faction element is truly present, and there's a pretty good stab at the bonus theme. The reason this didn't get more votes from me is that it felt like more of a complicated simulation than a game. Also, by the example, I couldn't see how a good strategy could be put forward by owners of the challenging companies who want to catch up to larger companies. It might be in there, but I just couldn't see it. To me, it seemed like what may happen is that the companies would duke it out for a little while until one gets strong, and then it's a race for the players to get on board with the strong company which can't be taken down. Anyway, it seems like a game I wouldn't mind trying. (2 votes)

#4 - Market Share - This is another game that handles the bonus theme well. It made me think a little bit about one of my favorite old games, Acquire. The faction element shines through on the "team play" variant, but not in the other, so this is why I didn't give it more votes. Again, this is another game I wouldn't mind trying. (1 vote)

#5 - Death Curling - Again, Congratulations, ilta. I think you have created a very fun game that combines all the elements of the challenge (central board, player boards, factions, etc.) and uses the the technology of the iPhone/Touch in a creative way. I can imagine hearing screams of "HUUURRRY...HARRRRRRRRRRD...WHA...WHOAAAAAAAAAA!" while playing. I'm not sure about the nanotech cards, they may frustrate the game more than make the game fun. Perhaps if they were used in a very limited way or given as a balancing / catch up mechanism, they might be useful. Good job. (3 votes)

#6 - Torrent Pirates - my game. I welcome any feedback you may have.

Peace,
Matt

ilta
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Critiques

Wow. I'm stunned. I really thought I wasn't going to take this one, but I guess there are a few curling fans out there after all. Did you all catch that nailbiter of a bronze medal game between the Chinese and Swiss women's teams earlier today?

For other peoples' designs, I'll use the method that we use in my theater company for play development. Moments of heat (stuff that resonated with me), and moments that left me cold (stuff that didn't resonate). This takes the pressure off of "good" and "bad" and makes it more about the critiquer's personal reaction, which is the only thing he's an expert on.

General Note: I didn't give specific votes based on bonus theme, as I figured the 2 free votes would cover that. I think this is a tricky problem with the bonus theme; as a voter, I wasn't sure if I should take it into account or not. As it happens, the top two vote-getters were bonus-thematic anyway. Alright, on to the critiques.

iP Ouija
Hot: quick playing, good use of a distributed iphone network, risk that asking a "reveal question" puts you up on the chopping block
Cold: poor use of a license, felt a bit like 20 Questions meets Werewolf, lots of typing, no central iPad

This game represented a missed opportunity, I thought. With all the fuss over the multitouch found in iPhones and iPads, and a physical game that's all about something moving around a fixed board, it seems like you could make a neat game where each player is using their finger to "nudge" the pointer around somehow, rather than a game of 20 Questions mixed with Werewolf. To put it another way, why label this "Ouija" at all? It got me thinking about something that obviously had little to do with the game, and then feeling a bit disappointed.

Also, typing on the iPhone is no fun, and likely little more fun on an iPad, and this game is all about that. Also there's no way to keep people from lying or asking very specific questions like address, mother's name, whatever.

However, I liked that there is a risk inherent in identity guessing, and the game of chicken it implies. I also appreciated that the game was designed to play quickly and didn't require people to meet in person. This describes how I use my phone to play games anyway. But one requirement of the challenge was a central iPad, which implies a physical presence for everyone playing, so even if I had liked everything else about the game, I couldn't have voted for it.

iTook
Heat: Perfect use of what computers are good at, seems like a lot of fun, cute scenario descriptions
Cold: limited player actions, might feel a bit solitary, players moving guards

Love this one. Even if it feels a bit like The Great Museum Caper, I think that it's a great example of using board game mechanics within the environment of video games, and letting the computers handle what they're good at -- namely, processing full information while presenting limited information -- and otherwise staying out of the way. And I really liked TGMC anyway, growing up, and I think I'd like this one, too.

The main thing I'd be concerned about is the limited variety of player actions. It seems like, generally speaking, there aren't going to be that many things you're going to want to do. Move towards the target, pick the lock, take the target, get out quick. I'd want some more discussion about decoys, fighting, traps... it could use some more "spice." Without some more opportunities for interaction, this game could risk the dreaded "multiplayer solitaire" trap. TGMC avoided this by having everyone work against one person; here, everyone's on their own screen, plotting moves, hoping not to bump into anyone else.

I also think that idle guards should always move according to a set schedule, rather than be under player control, as this strikes me as rather powerful for the given player, and less thematic besides. Also, when do guards go from "alerted" to "idle"?

I appreciated the funny scenario titles and descriptions. Was hoping for some more variety though, in terms of gameplay. The "guards are raptors" is a good example of this; in contrast, the rules for the 1st and 3rd seem identical, although presumably the maps would be different.

All told, I liked this one the most. 3 votes. If it were in the app store, I would buy it.

Manufacturing Investments
Hot: reactive player choices, using one metric (percentage owned) to determine outcome of multiple events, good use of computing power
Cold: Title, some choices seem more powerful than others, no way to stop a runaway leader

I liked this one, too. My favorite part is that your ownership level in a given company determines the weight of your actions, up to and including generating income.

Like iTook, this game felt like it couldn't work nearly as well if it were a non-electronic board game design, because there's so much math involved -- this is a positive for this challenge. For what it's worth, I think the math could be smoothed out and the design made into a board game, if that's what you wanted to do; you'd just need a few tracks for market share and ownership, some action cards for the players, and some cash tokens (or another track!).

I also like that there is a rock-paper-scissors element in play here, where one action is bested by another, but that action is bested by the first. However, I'm not sure that defending is ever as strong as a counter-smear; I'd like defending to actually HURT the smearing company ("oh, there they go again, spreading lies about noble Nanohard").

I'd also be concerned that a runaway leader would be hard to stop. If somebody takes powerful control over a company, and that company is doing well, it's going to be hard to take them down. I suppose this is thematic, though, and experienced players shouldn't let this develop. It's the sort of thing that would be revealed in playtesting.

Lastly, the title left me really cold. It's dry and generic-sounding, and I'm not even sure what it means. On top of this, it doesn't describe the cut-throat nature of gameplay, which I think is the game's main selling point. This is a niggling concern, of course, but I think it's worth noting that the name is a potential customer's first experience with your game, and a bad impression gets it put back on the shelf (or undownloaded, as the case may be), even if the game inside is good. Still, 2 votes from me.

Market Share
Hot: overall game concept, balancing method, ideas for future expansions
Cold: overly technical description that left gameplay undefined

This was another good example of using the computer to figure out the math, yet still producing something that feels like a "board game." I also appreciated the very elegant way that uneven teams are balanced.

Beyond that, though, it's hard to understand what's going on. I think that this is as much an issue with presentation as with design. There was a lot of talk about the GUI and the way that iPads and iPhones connect to each other, but only a paragraph or two of actual game rules. When evaluating designs for a GDS, I don't care about the technical descriptions so much as the design itself; if we say that iPads and iPhones connect to play a single game, then they do; we don't need to walk through the actual process of naming servers and the like. Save those 800 words for rules, examples, and notes. I'd say the same thing to someone who spends words talking about card sizes, or pawn colors, or how a board folds up to fit in a box.

I'm still not sure exactly what a "campaign" is, or how to "start" or "move" one. These terms were all thrown around, but never actually defined. Is a "campaign" the measure of ad dollars specific to the square, or is it a player pawn that moves from the home office across the board? If so, how does that work? Can a campaign be reinforced? What's the effect of a square changing colors?

In the end I couldn't vote for this one, because I didn't really know what it was.

DeathCurl
This was my game. Thanks again for the votes, y'all. I was really surprised by a few things here:

1) That I won at all. My game feels the most like a video game of all of the entries, and I'm not even sure it's workable as one. In particular, I have no idea if the purported accuracy of the throws is even possible on the tiny iPhone screen, or if it's too much to ask players to steer their AI sweepers by tilting their phones, while also yelling and maybe even picking cards to play.

2) Related to this, I did very little actual designing here; mostly, it was proposed implementation of the rules of curling; the Nanotech cards were a way to throw some "design" at the process. It was remarkably easy to come up with both ideas and names for the cards. I'm not sure they would really work (hence the option for the "Olympic" variant), but I think they could be kind of fun if the atmosphere of the game, in general, is more "Wii Sports" anyone-can-play arcade version of curling, and less "Tiger Wods PGA Tour" hard-core simulation. I do know that it would be pretty fun to yell at your phone and get a response in the game.

3) Nobody else used multitouch gestures, accelerometers, and the microphone at all! This was by far the biggest surprise for me. Not to toot my own horn, but these features are the Big Selling Points behind the whole line of iProducts. Maybe I had a leg (finger?) up because I actually have an iPhone with dozens of apps to inspire me, but it seems like there's a whole world of fun here that nobody else explored.

In the end, I had a video game design, based on a post-apocalyptic implementation of curling, submitted to an online forum of board game designers. I even included a Jonathan Coulton quote! If only I could have thrown in a reference to Star Trek, D&D, or Lord of the Rings, I'd have maxed out on nerd points. When I told her about all this, my fiancée just rolled her eyes. That's good, right?

Torrent Pirates
Hot: multi-phase gameplay, interesting opportunities for metagaming, good implementation
Cold: not sure the theme makes sense, initial file-type preference doesn't seem to affect later strategy

Another game that would work without the technology, but uses the tech well to let players focus on strategy instead of math. I like the Settlers-like deal-making implied by the mechanics: helping out another player helps you and him at the expense of everyone else, and you're hoping that this happens enough to give you the leg up. Lots of opportunities for horsetrading, negotiating, and the like here.

The only thing I'd propose would be to reconsider the whole file type preference thing. It wasn't clear that this was an actual strategic choice, because you don't know which file types will be available until the next phase. I'd like to see some actual strategic benefit from picking one kind of file over another -- is one type more likely to come up than another? Is one type more likely to generate attention from rights holders? Is one more lucrative in terms of potential interest from customers? Do you build a reputation over multiple rounds? And so on.

Moving beyond this, the whole idea of file type preferences also seems a bit athematic, as you'd expect that your file-sharing site's goal wouldn't be to favor any particular file type in the first place, but simply to generate as much traffic as possible. I don't know.

This issue aside, the juicy bidding war and metagame possibilities persuaded me to give this 1 vote. Nice job!

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oicu12b12 wrote:One last

oicu12b12 wrote:
One last comment and then onto the entries... I feel a little embarrassed that I didn't click on the "Pirates of the Silicon Valley" link in the challenge text until my submission went sent. In my mind the bonus theme was more general than about a specific movie. Hence the theme of my game, in my attempt at the bonus theme, was about stealing software and not related to the movie at all. I don't know if I was awarded points for attempting the bonus theme or not. I certainly own that I didn't click on the link. A small suggestion that I would make for future challenges that have bonus themes is to explicitly say it if they are about a specific event (or movie, etc.), otherwise keep them somewhat general.

My apologies if I wasn't clear enough about what the bonus theme was supposed to be... I provided the link so that entrants could check it out.

The intention was that the theme revolve around the rivalry and piracy that occurred between Apple and Microsoft in the very early days of each of their development, which is what the movie is about. So a game about the movie, or about the events that the movie was based on, is really what I was going for there.

In retrospect I think it might be OK that I wasn't more explicit, as maybe participants should have to work a little bit for their bonus points! ;)

For the record, in no case this time did the bonus points change finish order, except that it allowed iTook to tie for 2nd rather than come in 3rd overall.

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Good point and other thoughts

"sedjtroll" wrote:
In retrospect I think it might be OK that I wasn't more explicit, as maybe participants should have to work a little bit for their bonus points! ;)

Good point, Seth. I acknowledge I didn't work as hard as I could have. :) I'll be more apt to click on the "blue text" in the future.

"ilta" wrote:
1) That I won at all. My game feels the most like a video game of all of the entries, and I'm not even sure it's workable as one. In particular, I have no idea if the purported accuracy of the throws is even possible on the tiny iPhone screen, or if it's too much to ask players to steer their AI sweepers by tilting their phones, while also yelling and maybe even picking cards to play.

Ilta, you are very humble. Part of what your game did to capture my votes is related to the popularity of "dexterity" games among BGG'ers. They are not among my favorite, but I acknowledge how much fun my family and students have with Sorry Sliders, and many gamers give a lot of love to crokinole. Also, there's just something about curling that fascinates a lot of people. One could argue that it's the most gamerish of Olympic sports, with strategies that I don't begin to understand. While your game may feel more like a video game than a board game to you, I certainly felt like you captured a dexterity game feel in a digital medium. We all know there's "nothing new under the sun," so it may not feel like you did much designing to put this together. But I applaud your creativity to connect all these dots and suggest what sounds like a very fun game (that also met the design requirements of the GDS challenge.)

Thanks also for helpful comments on all of the games. I like the way you lay out the "hot" and "cold." About my game, you wrote:

"ilta" wrote:
The only thing I'd propose would be to reconsider the whole file type preference thing. It wasn't clear that this was an actual strategic choice, because you don't know which file types will be available until the next phase. I'd like to see some actual strategic benefit from picking one kind of file over another -- is one type more likely to come up than another? Is one type more likely to generate attention from rights holders? Is one more lucrative in terms of potential interest from customers? Do you build a reputation over multiple rounds? And so on.

I had some thoughts that I wanted to put into the game that might answer some of your questions, but I ran out of words and time to think them through. ;) For the file types, I was thinking that some types, like video files, would take up more space, so they also could score more points, but they might be more rare. The players would have to strategically choose during the first phase if they are going to focus on a few types of files or try to maintain a balance of multiple types. You're probably right about this decision being a little athematic, but these choices seemed interesting to me. I like your other suggestions, and would certainly consider them if/when developing this further.

Peace,
Matt

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Firstly, sorry it took so

Firstly, sorry it took so long to get the feedback done, despite most of this being written while I was voting. Bit of an odd week or so for me, combined with an almost infinite capacity for distraction.

Congratulations to Ilta for winning.

All in all an interesting collection of entries.

I seem to have overstated the 'independent of player' restriction in my head, given the 'factions as teams' interpretation a few people went for.


iP Ouija

To me, the remote play of this entry lessens 'boardgame' aspect, and it doesn't seem to use an iPad as a central board with iPhones for player boards.

Comes across to me, essentially, as realtime Are You A Werewolf for netplay without a GM? The realtime 'yes/no' question aspect intreagues me, but what's stopping the Spirit lieing, and what happens if the time limit is exceeded (Which could be due to either the spirit or the players using stalling tactics)?

Overall, it didn't fit the component aspect of the challenge sufficiently for me, and only just about fits the factions independent of players aspect, though more in this case than the traditional 'team' interpritation seen in a couple of other examples. Also, specifying that it's for netplay makes me suspect it pushes the definition of boardgame a bit too much, due to eliminating the face to face socialisation aspect (Plus the mechanics are such that I'm not sure it could be done face to face). Still, the concept of 'realtime Are You A Werewolf' is something I quite like.


iTook

There is a faction distinct from the present (The guards), but I can't see any way for players to 'support' that faction.

Definitely a boardgame, and definitely something that couldn't be done without the aid of a computer, which is something I was looking for in judging, the component restriction is also handled well.

Seems a fairly clean design, with some shades of Metal Gear Solid as a tactical board game, but not much to say about it otherwise.


Manufacturing Investments

My game. Apparently I screwed up the second set of bullets, so appologies that it's harder to read than I thought it was. I was basically starting from a blind auction mechanic which kept the results of the auction hidden from the players, and from there wound up with a stocks and shares game. Possibly went overboard with the simulation aspect, and the equations certainly would need playtesting. And some strategies are probably degenerate (Although I was aiming for a bluff aspect, and felt that hiding shares in something that's doing well while having high control over a weaker company to manipulate the board was going to be the degenerate strategy, rather than directly and obviously competing for whichever of the companies is becoming major like the feedback indicates is the common feeling)

Apparently, despite trying to adapt genres and mechanics from more traditional boardgames to the iPad and iPhone restrictions, I wasn't as successful making it explicitly a boardgame as I was aiming for some, though others disagree with that. Which just highlights how subjective this 'boardgame vs videogame' thing when using computers is.

And, yes, I agree that the title is rubbish.


Market Share - 1 vote

Factions have slight independence from players due to being teams. Would have liked to see more independence, myself, but...

Would be fiddly to use a physical board for, and the conflicts might just edge out at too complex for physical anyway. Plus the iPhone component seems to be being used to allow simultainious turns, while this is clearly a board game.

To me it seems unlikely to me that a person who takes an early lead would be able to be caught by other players, though that probably depends on the board design.

Can you merge campaigns? (So if you have a $15 campaign and a $33 campaign, obviously you can have the $15 campaign wait for the $33, but can you merge them into a $48 campaign after they do so? Or at least set them into a group for easy control. If not, there's a potential user interface annoyance - Compare 5 armies in a game of Civ all in the same tile all going in the same direction with stacking those 5 armies so you can move them as one)

If a campaign is reduced to less than the minimum $10, what happens to it?

I found it interesting that we both, essentially, had the same take on the bonus theme but implemented it in very different ways, with me going down the lines of a traditional investment game while you went for a lightly themed strategy.


DeathCurl - 1 vote

The microphone rule for 1 on 1 play, if my experience of DS games that use the microphone is anything to go by, ensures this will only be played face to face in private property. Not sure if this is good or bad, however.

Again, use of teams means it lightly implements the factions independent of players.

Party game with dextrous elements. Couldn't be implemented without the tech, and the independence of iPad and iPhone seems to be distinctive. Possibly pushing the definition of boardgame more than most of the others, but I don't think it jumps off the knife edge clearly into videogame territory, although it's pushing up against it.

Incidentally - That the presence of a microphone is a Big Selling Point of the iProducts is news to me. Actually, that they have microphones is news to me.


Torrent Pirates - 3 votes

An abstract interpritation of the independent faction restriction, but seems to be there in the form of file types.

The bandwidth mechanic probably requires a computer, while it is again clearly a boardgame. I'm not entirely convinced the iPhone is used as effectively in this as it is in other entries, although given the bandwidth equations, the cards in question would need to be virtual.

This is the entry that seems to fit the faction limitation the best to me, since there are a faction or factions that are independent of the players, and which can be supported by the players, whereas most other entries were either borderline on the 'independent' factor in my opinion or . It also fits the component restriction reasonably well, seeming to both involve maths I wouldn't want to do by hand midflow of a game and clearly be a boardagme, and of all the entries this is probably the one I'd most likely want to play.

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