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Critique the June 2010 GDS games here!

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sedjtroll's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008

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

This month's Challenge was entitled "Slippery Slope".


simons's picture
Joined: 12/28/2008
My reviews

First off, this was a really great challenge, and a lot of really great entries. This is the first challenge in a while where I wish I had like 10 votes to spread around.

I had a few new thoughts and questions about my own game, so if it’s okay I’ll raise those first (and if this is the wrong forum for this, I'll make a new thread)...

War of the Ancients- My game. I actually had a couple of ideas after the contest ended, that I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on. First, there is really no reason this couldn’t be a science-fiction game. Is wizard’s casting spells too cliché for a card game, or do you still think it would be fun? Second, I have an idea for a different way to end it. Each player starts with 4 Crystal cards in their action deck. They don’t do anything (except act as action cards that you can discard to do things), but can’t be gotten rid of. However, if you steal 3 Crystal cards from your opponents, you win. To steal a card, you either need to attack a player’s hand, their deck, or their discard pile (and as such, the player must keep monsters around to guard each of those areas). Crystals also might grant some one-shot power, like drawing 4 cards, or playing spells from your discard pile. What do you think?

Tower of Babel- Neat idea for a game. It seems perfectly playable, and possibly fun. But, it isn’t really a “deck-building” game, and I can’t see where the slippery-slope comes in, unless it was for the lowest player only being able to build 1 level, which seems like a rather arbitrary rule. Also, thinking about it, I see one trap that could make the game not very fun: The game does not end until every player has accomplished something (and something that I don’t think they are forced to accomplish). This, especially combined with the fact that the loosing player can’t make a giant comeback, could really create a situation where the person in last place can’t win, but gets to drag out the game.

Gentoo- (1 votes) Cute idea. Basically smooth game. Really cute idea. I really like it (I’d have given it more votes, except there were so many other really good games as well). So, it costs fish to buy a card, but not to play them? Interesting idea. I can’t help but think that the Leopard Seal card seems a little unbalanced. Also, if you’re only drawing 1 card per turn, I’m not sure what the advantage of a Thaw card is.

Super-mega-ultra-gladiator party!!- I must say, I like the playful and silly spirit of this game. It’s a really neat idea, but I feel like there are a lot of little things that you’d need to tighten up. I have a little problem with the way decks are created. In most CCGs, it takes a really long time to construct a really good deck, but once you have it, you can re-use it. In your game, it seems like that up-front cost would be added to each game. Also, as it stands, there is no cost (besides actions) to playing any cards. This could become problematic, because it means that every card would need a roughly equivalent strength, otherwise only certain cards would be used. Also, you have a lot of positive-feedback mechanisms, I worry it goes beyond “slippery slope” and into “runaway leader.”

Mind Duel- This sounds like a really interesting idea. I like how strategic it is, and how much it is about out-strategizing your opponent. However, after re-reading it twice, I’m still not sure if I entirely understand how the game would entirely work, and don’t really have a feel for how it would play.

League of Artistic Wizards- (2 votes) I really love the concept for this game. I also really like the way you end it. Each round builds to an advantage, but in the last round, it is anyone’s game. The way of earning applause is really interesting. You can get points if you play really massive spells, but you can get more if you tune your cards right. I don’t think I’ve seen a mechanism like that before. My only worry is would it get really random. I’d be curious to try it out. To make sure I understand phase 5, each deck will contain 1 new spell, and 4 spells discarded for player’s hands? That’s a neat way of shifting cards around. One question though, when will a player have more than 20 cards? Is it just if they’ve been winning rounds? Also, 200 additional cards seems a bit like overkill, especially if you’ll never need more than 20.

Cliques- Unique idea. So, just to make sure I understand it, each round is basically about who can muster the highest combination of whatever if the important resource that turn? It seems a little simplistic in my case. Really great artwork though.

Alma Mater- (2 votes) Another really unique idea. I like the creative use of “deck building” using tiles. Game mechanics sound really solid. This is something I’d enjoy trying out. I also like the tension between spending prestige to buy things with prestige being worth victory points.

A Hero’s Tale- A cooperative deck-builder game, way to think outside the box. I really like how you deal with monster actions, both the speed of actions and the randomized attacks. However, I kind of would have liked to see a little more. How do you win? Can players die? How do you lose? I feel like the game could get repetitive if it’s just a series of fighting monsters. Also, I’m not quite sure what the slippery slope is here.

Mow Money- Decent idea. Another very original theme. Everything sounds really solid, and well thought out. Nice way to include subtle slippery-slope mechanism. I feel like I can’t say that there’s anything bad or wrong with this game, but I guess I just don’t get excited about a game about mowing lawns. (of course, I think I said the same thing about Settlers of Catan, so take that with a grain of salt)

Gone Viral- (1 vote) Cool idea for a game. So, each turn you have to remove one of your possible tokens from the bag? I feel like that would result in being down to only 2 tokens really soon. Otherwise though, cool idea. I like the way you can set of a chain reaction of organs shutting down, it kind of reminds me of Pandemic. In fact, if anything, I wish it happened more.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Longish commentary on all titles...

Originally when I read through the entries, I was uninspired. Maybe because there were so many and I stupidly tried to read through and interpret them all at once. Maybe because I didn’t really feel good about my own entry in terms of adhering to the GDS design goal. In any case, now that I am commenting on them I see a bit more to appreciate in the entries.

Tower of Babel - This one is 3D (or implies that it is), and I can appreciate that. In fact it sounds like it would be a fun use-what-you-got-the-best-you-can game. I think. I see a rule for now many new tokens you draw, but not if their random or if you pick and choose from segregated piles. The game also doesn’t feel very deck-building to me, or seem to have an obvious slippery-slope mechanic, so I couldn’t give it my vote. Designer? Can you shed some more light on this one?

War of the Ancients – This says nothing about the game, just my tastes, but I couldn’t get behind the theme at all. Without playing it to see the potential beauty of mechanics, I just wasn’t inspired to play another drafting based dueling game. From the designer, I’d like to know what your inspiration was – what gets you excited about this one? I do like the little designer note at the end of the game description. It helped me know what to look for. In terms of the GDS, the deck-building was obvious, but in context felt very standard.

Gentoo (vote) – Clearly this game has gone through some development, and has benefited from it in terms of clarity, cohesiveness, and completeness. That’s why I voted for it, especially because it so subtly met the slippery slope part of the GDS. The transference of the nesting stones to other players is a brilliant way to keep the runaway-away. I do have one question for the designer – the 5 fish limit; is that the only fish you get? Obviously that’ll give some tough choices to make on how you spend your fish, although you’d obviously need to spend at least one on Hatch. I’d really like to play this one. Simple, quick, and with good choices to make. Nice one!

Super-mega-ultra-gladiator party (vote) – I dug the layer of deck building here that let you build up a roster of gladiators all players could see, and then force you to play with only one of them at a time, but with abilities that activate only if you DON’T use them. That’s what drew me to this – the play in knowing when not to use someone as much as when to attack. I wonder if it would lead to the same attacking/non-attacking combo each turn, but that’s in the details. I didn’t quite follow the wording in the description for when you defeat a gladiator. It seems that you defeat an enemy gladiator and you shuffle that gladiator and equipment into the opponent’s deck. I don’t see how that would alter their deck for the rest of the game, since they must have had that gladiator originally anyway. Designer, help? Also, it almost seems taboo these days to have player-elimination games – how long a game is this supposed to be?

Mind Duel – I liked this game. I don’t know why it got overlooked when I voted. Maybe because it felt like such a delicate balance I didn’t know how it would play out? I don’t know. Sorry designer; if I could I would revote for this one. I assume you don’t discard your cards when you play them for an action, and instead try to optimize your 10 card hand for how you want to play. And at that, you have constant access to all your cards – which some may say takes away from the deck-building aspect (if you say that deck building is more than just increasing/optimizing your options as the game progresses, and is more about increasing your chances for getting the action you want). This game removes the luck element, and I think it works for a duel game like this. I also like the slippery slope reversals by discarding to the endgame decks. Good stuff.

League of Artisitc Wizards (vote) – Wow, building a 20 card deck every round? Is that like a Magic the Gathering draft every turn? That was the most off-putting part, and if that’s it, then the rest looks good. If you plan on developing this, I’d say put a limit on how many spells a player can swap out each round. I like how the players play spells on other people’s routines; reminds me of other suit-matching games like…Uno? Except in this case, you’re scoring increasing numbers of points. As in many card games, the details on the cards here are what makes it, since otherwise the strategy is limited to suit-play as in the aforementioned Uno. Since that opened a lot of doors, I gave this my vote. I’d like to hear more from the designer on how the slippery slope is implemented.

Cliques – This is another one that, regrettably, I couldn’t get behind. I don’t think it’s the theme this time, but I wasn’t inspired while reading it. Again, playing the game might make me feel differently, but I’d put this game in the vein of Pimp: The backhanding. Neat theme with appropriate mechanics, but nothing that stands out as “hey, cool.” In fact, the deck-building is a pretty standard implementation, and the slippery slope mechanic isn’t readily apparent. I’d like to see some designer notes on this one to see the inspiration for mechanics choices!

Alma Mater (vote) – This one really captured the feel of the reality of capitalism in private universities. Everything seemed to fit in place without feeling mechanically contrived with artificial stats for professors or facilities. And I liked the tiles in a bag, so much so that I used them too. It keeps there from being too much information on the tiles, which can happen on cards. Cards sometimes make games less accessible or slow them down with the intricate strategies of lining up synergies. Here, it’s line up “Art with Art” for the best combo. Simple. I imagine the slippery slope comes in when bidding, since you bid with prestige and get more prestige when you win – and the event cards are what keep it in check, allowing other players to steal from the prestigious schools. Another one I’d like to hear from the designer on.

A Hero’s Tale – The rules description makes me think of a grind-fest, trudging through decks of monsters to get loot. Might be funsies over a short time, but through three decks with the only real variation in how varied my character is? How long are these decks? I like the way of leveling your character through gaining spells and abilities into your deck – if you develop this you may want to include a way to remove cards from your deck so you’re only left with the “higher level” cards. Would stink if you are toward the end of the game and you draw a hand of your first-level cards (which I can only presume would be weaker?) If the cards are all the same relative strength, they’d not have the feeling of leveling as much. Does the slippery slope come in that as you beat a monster you get more experience cards and therefore can beat more monsters than other players?

Mow Money – Tis a swell name, gangsta’. Really a bidding game, with a deck-building element to get the goods to make your bids. I like that; keeps the focus on something besides the deck-building, which is treated as a means to get a means to another end. (Deck building to get lawnmowers to get property…to get rep). I like that the runaway is avoided by having the lowest bidder win like a real contractor. I hope it works how I think it will – with lousy bidders losing their lawnmowers and having decks full of redraw-able currency to buy more. I wonder though, if a runaway happens with the tie-breaker. Say I stink at bidding and lose my mowers. I buy a few cheap ones because I figure I can win bets buy bidding lower, and frankly I’m desparate. Another player, who has won a few properties, also has a few cheap mowers. We both bid low – because that’s all we CAN do…we both bid only a $100 mower, but he wins because he had the reputation points. Does this work with a “lowest reputation wins” too? I like the minimum # of mowers on some properties, but I wonder if players might always bid the lowest possible and let their tie-breaking reputation points win it. Especially if it costs more to buy higher-value mowers, which I don’t really want, right? Please let me know if this is all backwards!

Gone Viral (zero votes) – This one was mine – and might be bigger in scope than was appropriate to try and lay out for a GDS. Design goals were: 1. To make the deck-building a decision in the game, but as a means to another goal rather than the focus. 2. To make the slippery slope obvious and always on the mind of the player as something to avoid by planning.

I chose viruses as a blatant runaway-mechanic. They multiply quickly and so made an obvious choice. First I laid out how a slippery slope unchecked would procede, and chose a territory-conquering style to emphasize both the physical spread of infection and to allow unchecked growth to get out of hand easily. The next step would be to put a check on it so it is a conscious slippery-slope without being able to runaway.

Gone viral tries this in two ways: First by only allowing players to multiply 1 territory on their turn (if they even take that action). This adds a level of strategy as to when and where you multiply to take over other virus’ territory when they aren’t ready (because they’re focusing elsewhere). Secondly by making growth that’s too fast actually be a detriment. This way, if a player multiplied too much before conquering he would destroy the spoils instead of scoring for it – with a small bonus of removing some opponents’ viruses too. If I was to remake this, I might remove that part to allow the runaway, because I think the limited Multiply action might be enough to keep it in check.

The deck-building is in the form of tokens in a bag (hooray, Alma Mater!) – because I wanted to avoid shuffling and cards with lots of text and numerous abilities. I think a half dozen or so abilities is appropriate to remember, and simple enough to print on tokens. Also I think tokens fit better on a board, since here they’re prizes. I liked the draw three, play one, discard one, replace one mechanic because I thought it gave a simple choice to the player while allowing him to plan ahead (knowing what he put back in the bag). And since you don’t start with a great number of tokens (8) recycling them often with a bag seemed easier than a deck of cards.

The deck-building comes in play as you choose which territories to infect, since conquering that territory lets you later multiply and mutate to buy that action tokens, or by being second best when a territory is conquered. Hopefully this will play out with players who play poorly still being able to gain new actions. Although I think what will actually happen is a kind of secondary infection, where a poor player will conquer an old territory while the leader is focusing elsewhere, and thus be able to buy the action token on that territory. I’m interested in developing this game a bit more to see where the balancing is actually needed.

Joined: 05/21/2010
slope or escarpment?

I'd love to get my hands on a PnP version of Gentoo, just the kind of game we enjoy at home!

For the rest of the games, I got the feeling that 'slippery slope' turned into too much of 'bash the looser' to suit my tastes.
May be just my interpretation/misread, but there you go...

I made Tower of Babel, and as rich notes it could do with a better presentation..
My aim was to avoid getting locked in by the slope (see reasoning above), so that while you're probably in a bad place if you're lowest, you still get the same chance as everyone else to build a good hand/deck ('deck' being interpreted as 'the combinations I can create from my hand') and there is always the chance someone else join me as 'lowest' -in which case I can build freely again.
The cards/tokens are built flat on the table, and drawn from either a mixed deck or a bag.
(Note to self: always blindtest rules)

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Your notes...

Thanks Ewain, for clearing that up. I think you’ve hit on something by simultaneously defining what you mean by “deck” and stating that your feeling on “slippery slope” was perhaps different than the others. These concepts have pretty open interpretations, but I wouldn’t have thought any more so than some of the earlier GDS’. But judging on the 38 post count on the contest rules thread, there’s a few differences in opinion!
Looks like in Tower of Babel you made it a goal to keep layers relatively even, and thereby avoid the ‘slope.

And I do think it would be great in 3D!

Joined: 12/15/2009
Critiques Overview

Some very strong entries this month! I was impressed by range of novel ideas in the entries, although they were more noticeable in the deck-building department than the slippery slope one. We had:

Slippery Slope
  • Slippery slope to a sudden windfall (Mind Duel)
  • Different acquisition for different card types (Ancients, Mow Money)
  • Fixed resources per deck cycle (fishes in Gentoo)
  • Refine your deck by dumping cards on your opponents (SMUG)
  • Unique, clever drafting mechanism (League)
  • Cycle your bag every turn (Alma Mater)
  • Cooperative choice (Hero's Tale)
  • Drafting with bidding (Mow Money)
Joined: 12/15/2009
Critiques (Entries 1-5)

Due to characteristic lack of organisation, I failed to get votes in on time this month!

I’ve written my critiques in the following format:

Name of game


How I remember which game this is.

Slippery Slope:

Which elements in the game feed back into themselves, and whether there’s a built-in way to avoid runaway leader.

Deck Building:

How the game incorporates Dominion-style deck building. I’ve interpreted this as: the gameplay involves you exercising ongoing control over which cards are in your stock, and you cycle through your stock frequently enough for this to matter.


How clear the rules were, and any rules issues or gameplay issues I think are in the rules as I understand them.


Pros and cons.

Tower of Babel


Build the highest ziggurat by placing tiles in the correct order on top of each other.

Slippery Slope:

The player who is behind gets punished by being forbidden to build more than 1 level. This is certainly slippery slope, but it has a runaway loser dynamic. Feels tacked-on to meet the design consideration, and I would imagine it detracts from the game.

Deck Building:

More ziggurat-building than deck building. No control over your hand, and no recycling of what you draw.


Some errors in English, but the rules are clearly explained and I'm not going to penalise non-native entrants. The win condition for this game wasn't specified; I assume that the player with the highest ziggurat wins. With the rules as stated, a player can indefinitely stall the game by refusing to build, since the game ends only when all players have built 5 tower levels.


Pros: nice simple tower-building game

Cons: weak on slippery-slope and deck-building; some minor rules omissions

War of the Ancients


Dominion meets Magic the Gathering. Medium-to-heavy complexity card game.

Slippery Slope:

Monster dominance is an advantage, but your monsters take cumulative damage in beating up other players' monsters. Combined with the damage to players mechanic, it might be a little too unfair. It also looks as though it might be difficult to collect all the right cards at the right time to research or use your spells, particularly at the start of the game. If you can buy spells which smooth and accelerate your deck, an early run of bad (or good) luck might cause runaway-leader issues.

Deck Building:

It's like Dominion. With 2 different decks, each with its own purchase mechanism. Action cards are bought from the bank by discarding any 2 Action cards; spells are bought from a rolling selection by discarding specific combinations of Action cards.


Explained clearly, though the number of players wasn't described and one or two example cards would have been nice to see. Not obviously broken. The game is moderately complicated as described, and that's without even knowing what the spell cards do.


Pros: Slippery-slope (but possible runaway leader). Deck-building with potentially interesting variation. Subject to final design, this could be a fun game.

Cons: I imagine balancing this game will be a challenge.

Gentoo - A game of penguin procreation


Hatch your penguins by collecting Nesting Stones, Eggs and Hatch cards. Disrupt your opponents and improve your deck with other cards.

Slippery Slope:

The author writes that stealing Nesting Stones makes for a slippery slope. I'm not convinced, since more Nesting Stones don't make for yet more Nesting Stones. They look more like an important bottleneck resource to me. If there's any slippery slope, it's the possibility for one player to supercharge their deck with Gone Fishing and Thaw cards.

Deck Building:

Card drafting. A really interesting variation where the resources used to buy new cards are replenished when the deck is cycled. I was impressed by this idea.


How many players? Otherwise, pretty fully described including all cards. Dominion players will be initially confused by "discard" meaning what they think of as "trash". Confusing Blizzard and Gone Fishing might be frustrating if you are repeatedly denied turns. Need to balance the number of "Thaw" cards compared to "Snow" cards.


Pros: Penguins! Playtesting! Maybe a minor slippery slope. Good deck-building element with an imaginative twist. Nice light elegant game.

Cons: Skipping your turn frequently is not fun. Slippery slope not very pronounced.



Anti-Dominion! Fighting. Dice. Card dumping.

Slippery Slope:

The fewer hit points you have, the fewer actions you take. Straightforward runaway leader, mitigated only by "pick on the leader" in multiplayer.

Deck Building:

Debatable. You design your deck to start with. During play you get to offload cards from your deck into your opponents' decks. And you get to remove random cards from your opponents' decks. As far as I can see, decks are not recycled. (If they are, this causes rules problems since you can never run out of cards as specified in a game end condition.)


The rules imply book-keeping which is not worked out fully: need to track who last hit a gladiator, and remember what you last did when you killed a gladiator. Rules as written are probably broken, because it looks like "never playing a gladiator" is a viable strategy. It's not clear whether a player loses when they run out of cards; I presume not. The card dumping mechanic is of dubious merit: you don't recycle your deck, so even giving an opponent a bad card allows them to have more cards in the end game. You might as well just keep the bad cards in your ever-increasing hand.


Pros: creative thinking. Cool cards.

Cons: multi-player game with player elimination. Unmitigated slippery slope. Rules need a bit of work.

Mind Duel


Use actions and attacks to make your opponent so angry and fearful that they lose.

Slippery Slope:

Interesting. Becoming fearful and angry restricts your access to more powerful attack and defence cards. But when it's gone too far, you get a windfall (if I've understood right).

Deck Building:

Selective drawing and recycling of cards. Recycling (endgame) mechanism not spelled out clearly.


Hard to follow: pictures would have been a big help here. Various small omissions: no indication of when you draw endgame cards from the Fear / Anger track; setup a bit ambiguous (you deal out ALL the offence/defence cards); no components list. Bookkeeping issues with how many turns you've been on the highest Chi level. Not clear what initiative system adds. Not clear what concealing cards on the Fear / Anger track adds. Are attack / defence cards on the track face up or down? Do you draw the top one, or can you choose any of them?


Pros: interesting ideas. The slippery slope with a pot of treasure at the bottom is cool.

Cons: rules (or explanation) need work. Not certain how strong the deckbuilding element is.

Joined: 12/15/2009
Cliques Design Notes

Entry #7 (Cliques) was my design. I also had another design (Byte Soldiers) which was a deck-building turn-based strategy game with tiles; I might post it for feedback and discussion if anyone is interested.

Design notes are below.


Cliques began with the slippery slope idea. I wanted one aspect of the game to move quickly into a self-accelerating cycle, but for that aspect not to determine who the game winner would be. That suggested multiple resources, one of which was useful for accelerating its own production but didn't win the game for you. Three resources sounded like an interesting starting point.

The rest of the design essentially came from there.

Slippery Slope:

I tried to design a subtle and complex slippery slope into Cliques, but perhaps I should have spelled it out more clearly, since it was only implicit in the summary at the end of the rules. The idea was:

The player who collects the Physical cards becomes a runaway leader in Physical cards (since s/he will have lots of Physical icons and relatively few non-Physical ones, allowing the purchase of more and better Physical cards). But Physical cards can't win you the game on their own! Rather, they will tend to make sure you don't lag too far behind the leader (because they favour catch-up mechanics).

In dynamical systems terms, the game contains a strong positive feedback loop with competitive inhibition (Physical cards buy more Physical cards and stop other players from getting them). The feedback loop affects a regulatory variable (catch-up access) which promotes stability with respect to victory conditions (the tendency to be in second place).

Deck Building:

Compared to many of the other entries, Cliques didn't really innovate over Dominion. The differences are incremental, not revolutionary:

I used three different resources to Dominion's one (gold), a draft/bidding mechanic instead of a bank purchase mechanic, and cards which accumulate you VPs when you play them rather than being worth VPs at game end.

Dominion's Action / Treasure / Victory distinction got dropped, essentially by allowing all cards to be used either as Actions (Leaders) or Treasure (Support).

Otherwise, this game is Dominion. No way around it. It's impossible to say without prototyping and playtesting whether the novel elements add anything.


The biggest issues here are card design. Everything depends on a properly balanced set of cards.


Cliques is pretty much a Dominion variant. Ideally, enough of a variant to play like a very different game, but that would require a lot more design & playtesting.

P.S. I've written critiques of almost all the other entries, but need to flesh some of them out a bit.

dobnarr's picture
Joined: 07/29/2008
My comments on the entries

I have to say, my first temptation in entering this contest was to make a game where you're installing hot tubs at chalets in a ski area. Get it? Slippery slope plus deck building? Thanks, I'll be here all week. Try the veal.

Anyway, a lot of interesting entries this week. Here are my comments.

#1 – Tower of Babel
I love the theme, and the mechanics sound intriguing, although I’m not sure this would actually work if you played it out, since it seems like it would be very difficult to build and follow the rules at the same time. Also (major point) – you don’t say whether the draws are blind (Scrabble style) or player choice, which seems like a very important distinction here.
This doesn’t seem to follow one of the challenge rules (deck building) at all. The slippery slope is kind of there with the restriction on the player with the lowest pyramid, but nothing is done to mitigate it in the rules – if somebody got a level behind, I think they might end up just losing.

#2 – War of the Ancients
A dizzying array of cards here. I like the counterspell mechanic, where a player must discard spells rather than play a counter-counter, as in some games. It’s very difficult to imagine how this all plays out without seeing examples of some of the cards – what do the spells do? How strong are the monsters? I feel like the action cards would end up being super-important, since they seem to control everything you do, but without an idea of how the spells work, it’s tricky to say. Also, the goal of the game seems to revolve around building the monsters, which would seem to make the spells less relevant. I also worry that a bunch of this would come down to accounting – keeping track of all the different costs, and then doing life points on the monsters, etc.
The deck-building mechanic is present, with the choice of spells to buy and the initial spell choosing. The slippery slope thing is there, too.
I’m always going to be reluctant to vote for entries where too much is left undefined to imagine the game, and that’s definitely the the case here.

#3 – Gentoo
This is my entry.

#4 – Super Mega Ultra Gladiator Party
This sounds potentially fun, and definitely has both the deck-building aspect and the slippery slope component. I suspect that the thing would be completely and nearly immediately unbalanced once the slippery slope (the strength tokens) start to slip. You can’t give the players too many of these tokens at the start, or the turns would last forever, and whoever went first would likely get way, way ahead by playing all their cards. And if you give them too few tokens, then whoever scores the first hit wins, because then that player gets more cards, more actions, and has more life left for the rest of the game. There would also be a real problem at the start, because there’s a strong disincentive to play a gladiator, because then you can be attacked.
The sense of humor present in the cards is appealing. I just think the thing would be completely random and very short, and pretty frustrating for the loser. There’s also some weird rules that would be hard to keep track of – i.e. remembering which gladiators have been hit, remembering whether you shuffled your deck or stole cards, etc. The shuffling into opponent vs. stealing cards mechanic is weird – I guess the goal would be to give the other guy bad cards, but if you get to pick your cards at the start, you shouldn’t have any bad cards, right? This seems needlessly complex.

#5 – Mind Duel
Interesting concept – psychological wrangling before a martial arts duel. Some pictures would really help me understand how the boards are laid out. Also, the descriptions of the cards’ effects doesn’t make much sense without understanding the chi layout. The shifting of tokens sounds interesting, but it’s very hard to visualize, and the interactions between the cards (and the rules for playing them) are impossible for me to understand from the written descriptions. The slippery slope seems like it might be pretty strong, since the weaker you get, the worse cards you can buy, but without seeing the cards, that’s hard to say. I like the idea of building a communal board of cards and then playing it out – that seems like a neat mechanic.

#6 – League of Artistic Wizards
I like this idea – a non-deadly competition, where what you do builds on what other people have done. The game mechanics seem fun and sound; I like the build-up of the reward piles at the end, with the losing player at least able to get rid of a bad pile. The slippery slope is present, with the winning players gaining rewards and first choice of the new spell piles. There’s also deck building here, both at the start and as the game progresses.
A components section would help the rules. There is a bunch unspecified here, which makes it hard to imagine – we only get a few sample cards, and there’s no example of what a reward power could be, or what an overseer might want. I’d like to know more, but I like what I see so far here.

#7 – Cliques
The game’s layout is well-specified, with the diagrams and sample cards. I’ve read the rules a couple of times, and I still don’t understand the bidding process from them – at one point it says that each player will add one friend to their deck each turn, and in another, it says you may not be able to afford any friends. It seems like this is a very important aspect, but it’s not described in a very clear way – an example would help here. Also, what happens if you bid a number that your icons don’t evenly break into? That’s not specified either.
It’s a little hard to figure it all out without seeing more cards – we only get a clear look at one of them, and the rest of them (and nearly all the special powers attributed to Body, Spirit, and Mind) are undefined. Also, I don’t see any difference between core students, founder students, and friendship cards.
The deck building is definitely present, but I don’t see a very strong slippery slope, or any attempt to correct it, other than the assertion that Body icons have a catch-up mechanic.

#8 – Alma Mater
I missed the meaning of “pr” at first and found it very confusing. If you’re abbreviating like this (and I don’t think you need to) then use capital letters (PR). I like how this is laid out – the interactions of the different pieces and the overall structure/theme seem like they’d work well. I like that there’s a conflict between spending PR and needing it for victory. The slippery slope is present, with more students producing more income – I think it might get out of hand, but it would of course depend on the rest of the game, and with the bidding, it would be your own fault, partially, if you got behind.
Some concerns: There’s no specification of what happens when bids are tied for facilities, or if you have an odd number of tiles in your bag when you’re drawing pairs. The education phase could be pretty slow and awkward, drawing tiles pair-wise and choosing, but maybe that would go faster once you were used to it. Bidding for students is a bit complex, too, but I think you’d get it eventually. The event cards seem tacked on – there’s never any indication of how you get these cards, or what they are like other than a couple of examples.
Otherwise, I like this design a lot.

#9 – A Hero’s Tale
I like the overall idea – a collective, cooperative card game, complete with character development. This is a cool concept, and I think it could be really fun. The details don’t seem quite as clear – lots of cards and card types are invoked, but few examples are given – it seems pretty rough. There seems to be a lot of complexity for not so much return – channeling cards, die rolls, tables for actions, rank levels, item modifiers, tracking how many turns between monster moves, etc. I don’t get a good idea of how to play or what it would be like from the rules. If a player dies, is he/she out for the whole rest of the game? That could get annoying, particularly if you get down to one player, and from a game balance perspective, it would be very hard to keep the game balanced if players die permanently – the boss monsters are probably too tough for just one character, right?
But I like the idea. It has the deck building part built in with the experience cards, and the slippery slope is unusual, since it’s the players building their power against a common foe.

#10 – Mow Money
I like the theme and the dual-use cards – that’s neat. The gameplay seems like it might work out all right, although it seems like you could get to a money shortage pretty quickly, since you can only earn money by bidding on properties, and the low bidder wins, so I’d think somebody’s always going to bid the minimum. (I’d have to see more on the balance of cards to understand if it is balanced in this way). The four actions are interesting and cool – I can imagine you’d often have difficult choices to make on your turn.
I like this one. There seems to be a moderate slippery slope with the currency stuff, although not too intense, and the deckbuilding is definitely there.

#11 – Gone Viral
This is intriguing; it’s very difficult to have a game with exponential growth and have it remain balanced, so that would be an interesting thing to see. I think you’d need tons and tons of little counters to get this to work, and you’d spend a lot of the game counting; from the examples, you could conceivably have 500 or more tokens on the board at a time.
There are some things unspecified – e.g. what happens when a space is conquered? Does it block movement, or can you move through it? How do you decide who controls an organ group at the end? How much does it cost to mutate?
There would definitely be a slippery slope part here, as the player who drew more replicates early would get a big numeric advantage. I think the math just naturally makes this difficult to balance. There’s a moderate deck-building component with the mutate option and with restoring the pieces to the bag and discarding others. I think the spread doesn’t work quite right – it would be better/more useful to be able to spread with a fraction of your virus rather than your whole pile, but maybe I don’t understand.
This would be much, much easier to play as a computer game rather than a tabletop game, I think.

#8 - Alma Mater: 2
#10 – Mow Money: 2
#6 – League of Artistic Wizards: 1

Joined: 06/15/2010

I must say I enjoyed this exercise immensely and was stunned at the level of creativity everyone put into it. My first feeling when the other entries were released was one of awe followed by conviction for the next GDS.

Anyway, here's my unfortunately rather brief rationale for how I voted. I apologise that it's not as incisive and insightful as the other critiques; I'm rather new to all this. I hate to comment on others designs when I feel they were all excellent and certainly stronger then mine.

Tower of Babel:

This sounded like a lot of fun and I'd certainly want to play it. However, as others have commented, I failed to see what I recognised as a deck building mechanic (although it is very open to interpretation). I didn't understand what the dice rolling for amount of tokens added to the game but I'm probably being fussy.
While it certainly seemed like it would be very fun and was written in a concise manner with clear rules I discounted it in the face of equally worthy entries that I felt adhered to the brief more closely.

War of the Ancients:

Certainly a design that I would benefit from playing to understand. It felt like it would be a lot of card shuffling. I liked the idea of performing actions using action cards as 'power' so you form a discard deck that is recycled later on but as Richdurham commented, it's rather hard to get a feel for the potential beauty of the mechanic without playing it. My meagre maths brain just can't comprehend how it would play out.

Gentoo (2 Votes)

I liked how polished this game felt after just one week. I felt I had a grip of how it would play in 800 words. In fact, this entry made me appreciate just how high the standard for this showdown was and how much could be explained clearly with just 800 words. I was certainly taking notes for next time.
As the designer mentioned deck building was inherent and the slippery slope is introduced and, I presume, limited by the nest stealing cards. All the cards made sense and felt simple and well defined. As a matter of personal taste I wasn't too keen on the theme. That isn't to say it isn't strong and well defined, it just wasn't to my taste.


I liked a lot about this game. I think I would have voted for it had it not been for the dice rolling which in retrospect seems a bit mean and not a little prejudice. I certainly can't think of a decent replacement mechanic. Thinking about it it would certainly add suspense and drama at exactly the right moment. I really liked how the deck building element is reversed so you effect opponents deck negatively while streamlining your own. However, I couldn't imagine how long the game might go on for (it seems there would be a lot of backing and forthing) or whether there would be a runaway leader effect.

Mind Duel (My Entry)

Firstly, worst name for a game ever.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this showdown. I enjoyed designing a game to a timeframe much more then I thought I would and I'm eager for the next one.
I don't think this entry was particularly strong though I'm quite proud of some of the mechanics and how I approached the brief. I feel the mechanics reflect the theme quite well also but that is obviously not elaborated on page as much as it is in my head.
The deck building is supposed to combine with the mechanic for stopping runaway leaders in that the losing player gets to use the cards that have already been played. I should have said that that player then starts discarding back to the offence/defence track so that cards are recycled and the decks become more predictable the longer you play.
I think the comments so far are right on the money. The rules weren't very well explained (I would have made pictures but I'm not very internet savy), the initiative system didn't add to the game and I don't think I could tell you how a game would play out.
To answer Dogboy:
You deal only to the offence/defence track to start with. You discard cards to the fear/anger track.
You draw from the fear and anger track when you lose three of your chi tokens to the fear and anger pools.
I wanted evry action to be discarded to the fear/anger track so that they filled up quicker and so that you spent longer optimizing your hand before making a play. This was mainly for themetic reasons in my head. I was taking the idea of two samurai staring each other down before one admits defeat without any blows being traded as the inspiration for design but it probably got in the way of meaningful gameplay somewhat.

I had a blast participating and will certainly up my game for the next one!

League of Artistic Wizards:

I loved the theme and how the mechanics reflected the theme. I can just imagine how rich and varied the cards could be. I felt like their would be a lot of messing around with cards to construct decks. I think I'd want to know what the 'powerful ability' was so that I know the extent of the slippery slope. That said, it certainly introduces a limited slippery slope mechanic which fits the brief perfectly; there is no runaway leader as it is all decided on the final round. I like that. The game felt as though it would be fun to play though I obviously couldn't know for certain. In retrospect I think I should have voted for this (though I'd then be saying that of the one I did vote for).


Personally the theme didn't appeal to me, but that isn't to say it's weak in any way.
This was another entry that made me want to seriously up my game. The write up was excellent. I found it hard to get my head around how the game would play out but I get the feeling that that is my failing. I have to say I feel a bit bad that I can't think of much wrong with this game other then it doesn't appeal. Especially after DogBoy has written such thorough and inciteful critiques of everybody elses games. Give me a deck to playtest and I'm sure I'd be convinced! (I haven't played Dominion yet, perhaps that's my problem here?)

Alma Mater: (1 Vote)

I really liked the theme for this one. The deck building element was clearly defined. I like the canvas bags element, they appeal on a tactile level and I think I'd appreciate that when playing. Simultaneous bidding, similarly, would involve me in the game more. I think it'd add a tense moment that would be rather fun.
It feels like it would be well paced; I can imagine each stage clealry and guess how long a game would take. I appreciated the simplicity of play. Can't quite see the slippery slope but I think i'm just being dense. Great entry.

A heroes Tale:

This game asn't for me unfortunately. I found it hard to visualise how it would play. I couldn't see much interaction between players (please please correct me if I just missed it!). I'm not a big fan of dice but as I said above I think I'm just being prejudice. I think I might enjoy it as a single player game if the event decks told a story or were rich in theme but it's obviously hard to tell.

Mow Money:

Gone Viral: (3 Votes)

(I think I'll have to write up on the last two after work tomorrow, it's late)

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
critiques part 1

A really strong batch this round forced me to be extra critical, both in my judging and in my thoughts below.

As usual, I'll critique in the tradition of my theater company's playwright feedback system: "hot" vs. "cold" rather than "good" vs. "bad." This is I am only an expert on my own reactions, not on your game, and I can only tell you what I enjoyed or didn't, what left me confused, what made me want to see more.

On to the entries!

Tower of Babel

hot: the idea of cobbled together towers, the neat interactions between different materials

cold: no winning condition, no slippery slope (instead, punish the loser), unclear rules write-up

I like the idea of building ziggurats with weird materials, creating a neat slapdash tower. But the rules, as written, don’t satisfy the challenge, because they don’t create a slippery slope, but rather just punish the person in last place. In addition to failing to meet the challenge, I don’t think that mechanic would be very fun in practice.

The rules were also a little hard to follow. Here’s one notable example:

Anytime during the game, a level can be expanded 1 section, as long as the one above is also expanded at the same time. Only 2 levels at a time can be expanded in this manner.

What does “expanded one section” mean? Made wider, I assume, but that’s not specified. Can you place tiles anywhere in the level, or only on the edges? The whole thing could be more clearly and concisely written as “expand any two adjacent levels by placing one extra tile on their sides.” Presumably you’d also want a rule that says that each level must be smaller than the one below it.

Most critically, there are no winning conditions! Again, it’s up to the reader to assume that the person with the highest tower wins, but maybe it’s the person with the biggest tower overall (most pieces)?

All in all, this is a neat idea for a game but needs more polish.

War of the Ancients

hot: good temporary and overall slippery-slope ideas, cards serve as both actions and resources

cold: overuse of “may,” lacked components list to help keep track of shifting terminology

I liked this game. It feels a lot like a cross between Dominion and Magic: The Gathering. I especially like the idea of using cards for either their action, or as discard fodder to fuel other, more powerful cards. I think with the right arrangement of cards there could be a lot of really interesting strategy to explore here.

The only major downsides were in the rules write-up themselves. There wasn’t a components list, which made it difficult to keep track of all these different decks and card types as they were introduced one by one during the rules. “Spell” cards were sometimes “Research” cards, I think? With so many different kinds of things going on, a components list or picture of the table layout would go a long way in helping people visualize your game.

Additionally, the rules suffered from what I call “may-itis”. Overusing the word “may” confuses the reader, making it unclear when something must happen, and when it is optional. If it’s optional, there should be a reason for not choosing to take that action; if a rational player would always choose one, or the game breaks if the player fails to do something, then “may” is inappropriate.

Here are some examples:

“If you pay that cost in research cards, you may pick up the spell card... Whenever you play a rest card, you may draw a card from your Spell Deck. When there are no cards left, you may reshuffle your discarded spells.”

Why wouldn’t someone pick up the spell card they paid for? Why wouldn’t they want to draw from their deck? If they choose NOT to reshuffle, where will they get their cards from? All of these rules should be written in the imperative – “whenever you play a rest card, draw a card from your spell deck” etc. – to let players focus on the rules that let them make real choices, of which (as I said) there will be many.

Compare to: “Each turn, you may discard any 2 action cards to add an action card of any type to your Action Deck.”

This is an appropriate use of “may” because here, there is a real choice to be made: use those action cards for their actions, discard them to fuel another card in your hand, or discard them to draw one you want more from your deck.

Still, with a bit of cleaning up, this game has a lot of potential. I’d love to see you take this into development and see what you come up with for cards. Balancing it would be hell, of course, but there’s a lot of potential here. If the field wasn’t so strong I’d give this a vote for sure.


hot: penguins! great slippery slope! clearly lots of work put in

cold: downtime?

Hard to say much that I didn’t like about this game. The penguins hatching theme is neat and not overused, the rules are clear and concise, and the pictures show a lot of work was put in. The slippery slope mechanics are effortlessly part of the game.

The only thing I’d have concerns about is downtime: you have both phases happening before moving to the next player. The game probably moves pretty quickly anyway, though, but if you get into a situation where there’s a lot of cogitating, since some cards talk about considering all the other visible cards in play, the other players might get a bit impatient.

Overall a sold choice. 2 votes and a strong desire to hear how that play-test went.


hot: hand-drawn pictures, sense of humor, “classic” deck building, messing with opponents’ decks is a really neat idea

cold: grammar errors, player elimination, poor slippery slope, hard to produce in real world

And on the other side of the “nice to see” visual coin, we have an entry that showcases the wild exuberance of the GDS with some crazy hand-drawn cards. Battle chickens? Smiley face buttons? A stick figure sucking blood out of another stick figure? Yes, please!

Also nice to see was the “classic” deck building. It’s useful to remember that before Dominion, the deck building happened before the game started, rather than during it. The identical decks idea is neat too, since it keeps this game from going down the road of M:TG and being about who can buy the most expensive and overpowered Rares to blow the other players out of the water. So, points for the “non-collectable card game” design.

However, there are three issues that keep me from really loving this game.

First, it’s described as “for any number of players” (awesome!) but comes in a set of six-differently backed decks, so it seems like either you’re really talking about six players, or you’re talking about creating different SKUs with different sets of colors (major colors pack, pastel pack, whatever). If it’s the former, you should just say “2-6 players.” If it’s the latter, which would be cooler in theory, this game suddenly becomes very difficult to create and market in the real world. How would you print this game? How would you sell it? The obvious choice for a game like this is actually by individual deck, rather than six-packs, but how to you ensure that everyone at the table has a different colored back? You could print identical decks, and sell them in packs with a set or two of sleeves, perhaps, and then vary the sleeves (which would be cheaper than varying deck backs), but then players are going to have to do a lot of sleeving every time they want to play...

Obviously this is the Game Design Showdown, not the Game Marketing Showdown, but I think real-world concerns are important here (a game with a million pieces would also be problematic), especially when the field is particularly strong, as it was this month.

Second, in a gladiator game you’re almost required to use player elimination, but I’m not a fan of that as a mechanic. It’s just a fundamental flaw of the theme – some might even prefer it – but I’m more of a euro guy and I like my players to have a shot at victory right up to the end, rather than simply win by virtue of being the last one standing. Or, if there must be elimination, I want it to result in a massive swing of power so that the game ends quickly thereafter.

This relates to the third issue I have which is that I don’t think that this game used the GDS requirement particularly well. The idea of “strength” being alterable, allowing you to take Fluxx-style actions, is a nice start at a slippery slope, but I don’t think it’s nearly enough. I’d want the gladiators to become stronger with experience, for instance, or if you take a player out to gain access to his cards. Something that really builds to an epic final showdown where two really powerful players slug it out.

Finally, I have to ding the design for the classic SAT errors of confusing number/amount and affect/effect. I know it’s annoying and pedantic to point out, but as an SAT tutor it bothers me to see these errors persist. And I’m not just being picky for the sake of being picky, either. If you want to take a design to someone else to print, or hope to get people to buy it, it helps to follow all the rules of grammar, just as it helps for any other business scenario. Someone who spots grammar errors will question the integrity and thought put into the rest of the design, even if it’s actually a great design.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about what I didn’t like, but the truth is this game could be wild and wacky and fun. I’m just not totally sold as is, and I think it needs just a bit more thought to turn it into real-world workability. Another one I’d give a vote to if the field wasn’t so strong otherwise.

Mind Duel

hot: theme

cold: grammar errors and typos, couldn’t follow the action

Again, grammar errors kept taking me out of appreciating the design: amount/number and affect/effect again, also who[‘]s/whose, it’s/its, and many other typos. Proof-read your entries! As a voter choosing between 11 possible entries for only 6 votes, I’m looking to find reasons not to vote for something, and a badly checked entry is easy to discount.

That said, even if this entry was better proofed, I still don’t think I would have been able to follow what’s going on. There are tracks and chi points and attack cards, and you’re laying them down somehow, but it just didn’t gel for me. I think the problem is that these felt like jotted notes about a game rather than a fully developed set of rules. I’m sure it’s totally clear what’s going on in the designer’s mind, but we’re new to your game and need to be hand-held a bit.

I will say this: the idea of a game that’s all about what happens right BEFORE combat is fantastic. There are a million games about throwing punches; I’ve never seen a game that’s about sizing up your opponent and trying to make him angry or scared. Kudos on originality!

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
critiques part 2

League of Artistic Wizards

hot: simple, fast-paced gameplay, highly cinematic theme, possibilities for fun card interactions

cold: overly complicated drafting rules, want more info on judges, not many choices once round starts

Wizards casting spells after one another – love it. There’s a theme that lends itself very well to fluid, fun gameplay. The play here seems a lot like some imaginary version of Uno where you get to stack your hand before starting.

My main problem is the same, in fact, as the problem I have with Uno. Your turn comes around and there’s almost certainly a “best move” you can make. Since you’re only choosing among four cards, and the only way to score lots of points is to happen to line up with the previous type, it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be a lot of strategy here: either you have a card that matches, in which case you play it for lots of points, or you don’t, in which case you play some other card for a pittance. You have no way to know what the next person has, so you can’t screw him intentionally, and you have no way of knowing what the chain will look like when it gets back to you, so there’s almost no planning ahead.

Additionally, the drafting mechanic seemed excessively complicated to me for a game that plays so light. Cards getting drawn and placed in piles, one of which is eliminated according to the last player’s whim... why not just hand them out randomly? What are you gaining from making people choose the composition of the piles? The only reason it’s here seems to be to fit the “slippery slope” theme, since the players pick in current player order.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but for me this feels like two different kinds of games stuck together, and the end result just doesn’t sound like it would be as organic and fun as the game theme promises. Props for the Trogdor reference though.


hot: theme, dual-use cards, clear rules, great slippery slope

cold: “trendsetter”

Ah, high school. Is there any venue more appropriate to the idea of a slippery slope than that madhouse of hormones and gossip? No, I didn’t think so.

I love this game. The play works well with the theme, as I imagine each group of friends working together to convince the new kid to run with them instead of those losers over there. Then, the new kid helps convince the next one. Fantastic.

I also appreciate the important strategic choice between using a card as a leader, possibly scoring those all-important VPs, or using it to best tailor its bidding to the card currently in play, making future gameplay strong.

The only thing that confused me was the bit about the “Trendsetter.” Is the Trendsetter saying which of the six cards is being bid on? How exactly does someone ever end a turn as not an “active player”? I feel like I’m missing something here and it’s more related to the fact that this is the seventh entry in a rather complicated group.

Still, love this game. 2 points, easily, and a desire to see this move forward somehow.

Alma Mater

This was my game. I'll write about it in my third post.

A Hero’s Tale

hot: role-playing games are classic slippery slopes, lots of examples

cold: incomplete rules

Is this a cooperative game? When does it end? What is the goal? These questions remain unanswered by this set of rules. As a result, this game feels like a template for some sort of never-ending roleplaying game, rather than a rule set for a board or card game.

I will say that I appreciated seeing examples, which so often get cut to get the rules down to 800 words. And of course, role-playing is a classic instance of slippery slope, where players grow ever more powerful with time, and take on ever more powerful opponents, who in turn drop ever more valuable loot.

But as I said, it didn't feel like a board game to me, so I couldn't vote for it.

Mow Money

hot: theme, blind bidding, dual-use cards, amazingly clear rules

cold: nada

It’s a rare GDS entry that doesn’t feel a bit compressed by the 800 word limit, but this one felt totally natural and comfortable in its skin, like it came right off the pages of a professional rule book. The gameplay was easy to follow, the strategic choices clearly laid out, and the theme is something I’ve literally never seen before. As with Cliques and WotA, I really appreciate the ability to use cards in more than one way. Do you use those powerful equipment cards for their action, or to bolster your bid on the high-value property? And as anyone can see from my entry, I’m definitely a fan of blind bidding, too.

Love this one and can’t think of anything bad to say about it. Another 2 votes and promise to buy it if it ever reaches production. See if you can get the Plants vs. Zombies guys to do your card art.

Gone Viral

hot: theme, slippery slope, cute diagram

cold: theme, risk of analysis paralysis, players likely to focus only on infecting the brain

Why is “theme” both hot and cold for me? It’s hot because I’ve not seen many games where you’re a disease actively trying to kill people. There’s a perverse pleasure in being the anti-hero, and it’s not often explored. The only similar game I can think of is Black Death, which is about infecting and killing millions of people across a continent. This game leaves me a bit colder, though, because you’re trying to kill one person.

The distinction is critical. As the guy playing Stalin said in that PC classic, Command and Conquer: Red Alert, “if you kill one person, it’s a tragedy; if you kill millions, it’s a statistic.” And I think that’s why this game theme left a bad taste in my mouth – each game ends with one guy, getting sick and eventually dying. It’s like an episode of House gone wrong. I feel bad for him, when I should feel great about being the virus that did the most damage.

The game could be totally the same with any other theme – zombies across continents, corporations across the marketplace, political parties across states – so having it be about viruses trying to kill that one guy with the goofy “I’m sick” face (which I love!) seems a bit too macabre for me.

I think you also have a situation where the players are likely to focus on just one goal – the brain. What’s to stop players from focusing only on the brain, which is both the high-point target and also the end-game trigger? It seems like all things being equal, at the start of the game I should definitely focus on the brain and let others worry about the lesser organs.

Finally, I think that with so many locations and the dozens, if not hundreds, of tokens likely to be found on the board toward the mid-game, you’re seriously skirting the dreaded land of Analysis Paralysis. Something to be wary of.

Again, these were a bunch of great contenders. I’m proud to stand in second-place, and my last post will be about my own game, Alma Mater.

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
notes on my own game, Alma Mater

Alma Mater

This was my design. I hope the slippery slope aspect was clear enough, where the single engine of victory points/cash (“Prestige”) would be used to purchase further improvements, which would in turn generate Pr at ever-higher rates. The idea of a "single-engine" game (unlike Dominion, which has a Treasure/VP distinction) was really the heart of this game design, and I've been wanting to make a "college" game for a while; the two seemed to work together so I went with it.

As always, it took longer to get the rules down to 800 words than it did to design the game itself. A few elements that were cut:

  1. Extracurricular activities. These would work more or less like Facilities, in that they would generate pr and might also attract students, but they’d come out only when drawn during the Education Phase, rather than being out all the time.
  2. The idea that some Facilities could hold more than one class, or teachers that could teach more than one student. I really like this idea, as it’s much more thematic than a college built entirely on independent study projects, but it just wasn’t explainable in 800 words.
  3. T.A.'s that were brought in as students but could be used as either professors or students. Again, not enough words.
  4. Some more examples, including an admissions round with a model priority list.

Some responses to critiques I got so far:

  1. The abbreviation of PR, which someone mentioned as confusing, was one of the dirty little tricks I used to cut the rules down to 794 words, since I could merge it with the numbers it referred to – “3pr” is one word, but “3 prestige” is two. Such is the cost of the 800-word limit; I would always avoid abbreviations like this in a less artificial scenario.
  2. It is actually specified what to do if you draw an odd tile – you set it aside, too. But it’s easy to miss a tiny rule like that.
  3. I can’t believe I missed what to do if you tie on an Institution bid! Thanks for the catch. There are two choices here: one is a game of chit/empty hand chicken, similar to the “financial aid” bidding, the other is the option for one tied player to “buy out” the others for the right to pick before them. It’s basically the choice between negotiation and blind bidding, but ultimately the idea is the same: if you tie, you’ll end up paying more to beat the other players. Thoughts?
  4. Campus Events are part of the Institution tiles, so they come up during the Capitalization Phase, along with Facilities and Professors. This was confusing because I used too many nested lists in the components section, and for a while it wasn’t formatted properly, although Seth did a great job correcting the formatting errors after I pointed them out. They are very much a key part of the design, because they are the primary ways that you can mess with other players. As one person pointed out, they are the means by which a runaway leader can be targeted. You can also use them to prune your own ranks of useless teachers and students, of course!
  5. I don’t think that the Education Phase would drag overmuch, because you’re making a series of either-or decisions, and then grouping the tiles in front of you. The tile arrangement part of it might slow down a bit in the late game, but I think everyone will probably be at about the same stage in terms of growth so it shouldn’t be too bad in terms of downtime.
  6. The “slippery slope” part of this game, as some have noted and as I mentioned above, is indeed that each turn should generate more Prestige than it costs, and that Prestige is used to purchase ever-better tiles and outbid other players. If you fall behind in firing up your Prestige engine, it will be that much harder to climb back up out of the hole because the other players will be outbidding you, just as in Dominion a deck filled with coppers will be outpaced by a deck filled with golds. And of course, you’ll have less Prestige to win the game with.

Ultimately, I’m not entirely sure if this game is producible. You’d need a LOT of those little tokens, which would drive the price up very quickly. The original plan was to use cards, but there’d be no way to bid on the students without some sort of complicated Taboo-style card feeder, or an envelope or something, since they have partially hidden information but later have to be randomly integrated into the player’s deck. I think that bidding on students and not always knowing what you’re going to get is an important part of what makes this game tick; if you always know exactly what you’re getting, it’s less like college admissions, and I think the “messiness” will scatter the game a bit, in a good way.

I'm glad you all liked it! I might yet move forward with the design, which at least seems more do-able than my volcano-erupting tile laying co-op, Pompeii.

Joined: 12/15/2009
Critiques Part 2

League of Artistic Wizards


Impress the audience by continuing chains of flashy spells.

Slippery Slope:

The winner of each round gets a lasting advantage in the form of a bonus and better cards. As written, this veers into runaway leader territory. It could have been averted somewhat by making the bonus cards last one round only, and preventing a player from acquiring two bonuses in consecutive rounds.

Deck Building:

Card drafting using a very clever allocation mechanism. Deck design between rounds.


Very clear. Good use of images. Card drafting mechanism and scoring mechanism are both clever. The round scoring may be a little too luck-dependent, since long chains are rewarded more than good cards.


Pros: clean, simple, subtle design. Neat deck-building element.

Cons: slippery slope too pronounced? Round scoring may need tweaking.

Alma Mater


Bid on Institution tiles. Generate prestige by making sets. Compete for students of uncertain value.

Slippery Slope:

More prestige allows for better tiles, giving more prestige. Prestige accumulates between rounds. No mitigation.

Deck Building:

Cycle through your entire bag every turn. For 12 turns. Add tiles between turns (if you have enough Prestige).


Very clear. Nice bidding mechanism for students. I don’t have much else to say since this was an elegant, well-designed game. Good job!


Pros: really well-designed "Dominion meets Rummy" game. Good use of bag cycling and bidding for tiles. Uses tiles instead of cards. Elegant use of both tile sides. A well-deserved second place.

Cons: slippery slope too pronounced? Rewards rote learning of student tile backs?

A Hero's Tale


Cooperative Thunderstone.

Slippery Slope:

As the players defeat monsters, they get access to better cards and loot. No runaway player leader (since the game is cooperative), but possible runaway victory / runaway loss for the players.

Deck Building:

Cooperative choice of cards to add to each player's deck.


Pretty clear. Combat chart for the monsters is missing; this will make a difference to gameplay.


Pros: Deck-building present. Slippery slope present, with no runaway player leader. Sounds like a fun way to waste an hour or so!

Cons: No glaring ones

Mow Money


Win properties by bidding Lawnmower cards.

Slippery Slope:

Minor slippery slope in that VPs are used as tie breakers for bids. Possible slippery slope in that earning money improves your deck thereby making it easier to win VPs and earn more money. Complex dynamic where the lowest bid wins VPs but low bids earn less money.

Deck Building:

Draft Dominion with a mixture of buying and bidding.


Clearly written. Minor omissions: Fertiliser cards place cards face-down under Property cards; the rules don’t specify what happens to these cards (I presume they go to the winner of that Property card); book-keeping missing for keeping track of who bid what on what (this could be easily remedied with coloured bid tokens). The Discard action is likely to be frustrating because it turns up a new card - which other players then get the first shot at buying or bidding on.


Pros: well-designed game.

Cons: Fertiliser cards do what now?

Gone Viral


Dominion meets Pandemic. Inside your body. Win VPs by adding Virus Chips to Organ Spaces. Buy new tiles by removing chips from spaces.

Slippery Slope:

A mild slippery slope element where better Action Chips lead to better opportunities for acquiring better Action Chips. Offset by opportunities for screwage, and tension between getting VPs and buying Action Chips.

Deck Building:

Interacts with the boardgame component: you buy Action Chips by building up Virus Chips on appropriate spaces.


No tiebreaker rule for rewards in shutting down Organ Spaces; presumably, the player whose turn it is takes precedence (or chooses). Shutdown mechanic limits exponential growth. Interesting cascade mechanic might make for challenging play - certainly, swingy turns.


Pros: Nice use of a board with deck-building. Interesting design, and looks well-thought-out.

Cons: No glaring ones. Shutdown mechanic might be susceptible to overly crippling plays - not so fun early on in multiplayer games.

oicu12b12's picture
Joined: 10/02/2009
Better late than never?

I apologize for my tardiness in critiquing the last GDS. I've been gone for the past two of the three weeks without much time for writing. I was really hoping to write my thoughts down before the next GDS challenge was posted...bummer, looks like I missed it.

I enjoyed the challenge last month. Dominion has become a favorite game of mine and is asked for frequently among the high school and college students that I work with. I've even enjoyed a few games with my 5-year-old son, who as a pre-reader can play by remembering what different cards can do. And so a challenge to make a deck building game with a slippery slope mechanism was a lot of fun for me.

I have to admit that I have never played any CCGs. So while voting for this month's entires, I was heavily biased towards games that had a Dominion-esque style of deckbuilding. I also favored games that seemed to have complete and understandable rule-set. There were several games that seemed to do well at meeting the challenge requirements, so I broke from my traditional 3 votes for favorite/best, 2 for second, and 1 for third, and gave several games 1 vote. The one game that I felt best met the challenge and was written most completely was awarded 2 votes. On with the comments...

#1) Tower of Babel – seems like the beginnings of an interesting game, especially with the rules for what items can be stacked onto each other. I think there might be an interesting choice when deciding to extend out or up based upon the materials one has. I don't see a deckbuilding mechanic, and has been mentioned by others, I wish the last place player didn't have so much power.

#2 - War of the Ancients - (1 Vote) – I like how this game has two different decks to work with, and I like the interaction between the decks and the interaction among the players. It seems like the game might be a little bit fiddly having to remove cards from decks at certain points throughout the game. One of the questions I had was what happens to the victory points when a monster is destroyed? Do the points go away? It may seem like the second game ending condition may happen first before a set number of points is scored. I felt like this entry met the challenge requirements and has some potential for future development.

#3 - Gentoo - (2 Votes) – I appreciated the clearly written rules and the helpful pictures and diagrams. Excellent job on this entry. The penguin theme is awesome! I like how you incorporate the different actions with the different themed cards. Nice job. I'm not a huge fan of the blizzard and gone fishing cards; they seem a little out of place among the other cards. Otherwise, I feel like this one meets the challenge requirements and is one that I would enjoy playing the most of all the other entries. I would be interested to hear how future development of this one goes.

#4 – SMUG Party – There are some interesting ideas in this design, namely the playing of cards onto other players' decks. Very cool. I also like the subtle humor in the cards. Looks fun. The setup of this game seems a little ambiguous as well as the game end situation. I didn't rate this one higher because the deck-building was something that took place before the game started and not as part of the game. As I stated earlier, I was biased toward entries where deckbuilding was part of the gameplay and not just setup.

#5 – Mind Duel – I like the originality of this theme. Interesting idea about sizing up your opponent before actually fighting. The rules description was a little hard for me to follow. I would have liked to have seen a clearer layout of the rules and some examples of cards and what they do. As is, I'm not sure how to go from the sizing up part to the actual fighting part. I sense there is a seed for a good game here. Keep working on it.

#6 - League of Artistic Wizards - (1 vote) – I liked this game a lot. Great job on laying out the description of the game. Some of the things I liked were the applause points (very creative), the drafting in between rounds, and the build up to the very last round. I was a little uncertain about how the set up worked (what is a standard pile mean?), but I think I got it. I would have like to see an example of an Overseer and Reward card, but I think I understood the game without seeing one. Seems like a game to continue working on. Good job!

#7 - Cliques - (1 vote) – I also liked the creativity in this game. It's not everyday you see a game themed around high school drama! Great artwork and great layout of the components and rules. I struggled a little with understanding some of the concepts, like how bidding is based on decisions rather than just luck of the draw. If I understand correctly, the major decision in a turn is to figure out which card in your hand to use as a leader and make all of the rest supporters. Anyway, lots of potential here and think it's worth developing futher.

#8 - Alma Mater - 1 vote – Yet another game with a creative theme. Excellent job! At first I was a little turned off by this game because I didn't see the “deckbuilding” aspect in a tile game, but the idea grew on me as I opened up to considering tiles instead of cards for the “building” part. I like how there are a variety of choices in the game, and I like how you prestige points are the currency. I'm not sure how necessary the “event” tiles are and would probably need playtesting to determine their viability. The game seems interesting and engaging without them. Nice job!

#9 – A Hero's Tale – This entry seems like it might be a start to a decent entry, but I felt it was rather incomplete. I would like to see a little more about how the game ends, and what the winning / losing conditions are. I thought the cooperative nature of the game was creative. I might have missed it, but I didn't really see a deck building mechanic throughout the game, which was something I was looking for in casting votes.

#10 – Mow Money – my entry. I appreciate the comments from others, and if I have time later while on vacation, I'll write more about some thoughts I've had.

#11 – Gone Viral – This is a game that I probably didn't as good a read through before casting my votes. Like “Alma Mater” my first reaction wasn't to really consider this one because I didn't see the “deckbuilding” mechanic in the beginning. For some reason, Alma Mater broke through for me, but this one didn't. As I re-read it, though, I see some nice design ideas, and some interesting choices. Good job. I'd be interested to see if you develop this one further.

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