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[GDS] August 2010 - Critiques

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metzgerism's picture
Joined: 06/19/2009

Use this area for critiques on the entries for August's Game Design Showdown, entitled "Sharing."

Joined: 08/13/2010
Critiques from andygamer

Hey everyone – I’m a bit new around here. I’ve been designing board games as a lone hobbyist for a few years now and I just discovered this contest. Below are some explanations behind my votes. I hope the feedback is helpful!

Entry #1. Caravan This one was well thought-out, in my opinion. I like the concept of connecting tents and oases with multiple owners that can be “bumped”. I like being able to take over other peoples’ routes because I just like being destructive. Be careful, however, that this doesn’t lead to stalemates, as is often the issue when you can effectively undo a person’s hard work with little gain for yourself.

Upon initial inspection, it seems like the caravan raids are a bit too powerful. I’m not sure how rare they will be, but even if they are rare, it seems like this could really swing the whole game quickly.

I think the dual goals does work well here. You could work toward one goal, then suddenly switch when your plans don’t work out.

What seems to be missing here is a guaranteed way to make sure the game has an end. To me, most good games have some kind of device (e.g. “Step 3” in Power Grid) that prevents the whole game from going on forever.

Also, I like how the first player is chosen :)

Good ideas all the way through: 2pts.

Entry #2. Confidence – this one was mine.

Entry #3. The Cartel Republic This one struck me as quite complex from the outset, although I imagine the designer intended for the complexity. I had a hard time understanding how the sequence of actions are done – whether in phases, or as different options in a single turn. One concern I had here was that the players seem to have tons of options for play at each turn, which might be confusing (both in the initial learning curve and in developing strategy).

I like the idea of using interest with Stocks and Bonds, although that’s pretty difficult when you’re talking about board games where fractions are tough to calculate. Actually it seems like the game has a lot of math, which is fine for a computer game but is always tricky to pull off seamlessly in a board game.

Overall, the idea seemed less fully-formed, but seems to be on a good track with the theme. My advice is to start simplifying rather than complicating.

I did not end up giving any points to this one.

Entry #4. Machination I like the concept of all having secret agendas that determine the end of the game. The source of tension would be choosing between building your empire and completing your agenda.

One challenge with this would be making all of those secret agendas equally balanced (don’t want to screw over a player at the beginning of the game unfairly). The secret agendas all seem to be very different, so balancing those is critically important to making the game fun.

Also, be careful about not making the game all about what you draw from the Empire stack. I can imagine that a person could get lucky by drawing cards from the Empire stack that also coincide with their secret agenda – is the winner just the person who gets lucky, or is there some other strategy involved?

It’s hard to say whether or not this game is inherently imbalanced, but it strikes me as a difficult one to balance. It does seem novel and fun if you can get it to work.

I didn’t end up giving this one any points.

Entry #5. Political Capital I do like that this is a regular 52-card deck game, although the rules took me a while to digest. The examples helped with the clarity, although different words were used for the same concept – I take it dollars are points? It’s also kind of confusing to call it a “bank” if someone can take from your bank. Some of the sentences were pretty confusing in their structure – maybe a diagram would have helped me.

The general idea seems to be that you are trying to “bank” high value cards, but then other people can trade for your bank if they haven’t done much trading yet. I like the idea of limiting the trades where eventually nobody can trade anymore, although is it possible to go in circles forever? Also, the general strategy is not entirely clear to me, seems like a lot of luck is involved. A lot of “bird in hand vs. two in the bush” kinds of trades, but beyond that I’m not sure if there’s a deeper strategy.

I’m also not sure that this one actually has two winners, unless you can obtain the Presidential victory and the Commercial victory simultaneously? I’m not 100% clear on that one. I do like the overall simplicity of it, though.

I didn’t end up giving any points to this one.

Entry #6. The Sorcerer’s Apprentices The general idea seems interesting – I like the mechanic of having secret actions, much like the secret agenda from that other entry. I had a hard time figuring out all of the different kinds of moves and if they balance or not, although the idea seems solid to me. The theme is interesting and seems to adhere to the mechanics pretty well. The fact that two players have to share the magic tiles is a good idea, although maybe the game would be better if there was only one winner.

The strategy could be interesting here. I give it 1 point.

Entry #7. The Treasure is All Mine. And Mine. This was another of my favorites. Pretty well-written and clear. Overall a simple and easy-to-learn game. I like the idea of discovering the monsters - reminds me of “hunt the wumpus”. Being able to move freely is also a cool idea. At the beginning, everyone will do their own discovering, but then I imagine that everyone will be in the same path pretty quickly. If opening up a path to another player means that we can reveal multiple monster counters in one turn (instead of just one), then I’d probably try to combine paths.

For trading, are you allowed to announce to anyone saying “Does anyone have X?”, or do you have to ask someone specifically. Personally, I’d rather allow announcing.

I’m glad you didn’t waste more words describing “Pass” :)

As for the S rune, is there anything to prevent a player from stealing back the very rune that was stolen before?

Are there two winners with two different victory conditions? I think that was skipped for this particular entry. I’m not entirely sure how you define “helping destroy” – does being stolen from count?

The one situation that would probably not be as fun is the endgame. If too many monsters are revealed at once, then everyone knows what runes are needed and then nobody trades. Then it becomes all about who has the S rune and gets lucky in stealing.

Overall, my vote is 2 points.

Entry #8. Gem-Hunt I like the general idea of going after gems without initially knowing their value. But this one also had a lot going on all at once. Seems like there’s a lot to remember about what lawyers do and what transporters can do. Maybe that would be alleviated with cheat-sheets or something. The idea behind the endgame is also pretty intriguing to me. Although I didn’t quite “get” this game, I do get the sense that some of the ideas could be simplified some more. Hard to articulate what exactly could be simplified.

Good idea – I give it 1 point.

dobnarr's picture
Joined: 07/29/2008
My comments on August games

Hi, everybody - I really enjoyed this month's entries - the design and graphics in particular were really great this time. I had a really hard time trying to decide where to put my votes. I really liked the design of the game that won (Sorceror's Apprentices); I would have given it more votes except that I thought it didn't quite fit the restrictions, since it has a team-based victory condition.

#1 Caravan - This was my entry.

#2 Confidence - This was an interesting game. I like the idea of shifting partnerships and bargaining - I think there would be some neat possibilities for betrayal, broken expectations, and strategic hosing of others. Otherwise, the game seems pretty simple, without a ton of strategic depth - maybe suitable for a light opening game or one where you don't have much time.

I think the game might depend on how frequently you can line up a pair. There'd obviously be a huge preference to do solo jobs or jobs that were hacker/grifter, since you're not in competition with somebody not of your type. Doing same-type missions doesn't seem to gain you anything at all, unless there are three of your type, so that would only work in a game of six or more, which might be hard to put together.

I'm not sure it met the spirit of the third contest requirement, different winners with different conditions, since the winning conditions are so similar, and the categories of player are not really all that different. The sharing is likewise sort of there with the cards passed back and forth, but no single card is used by more than one player.

I did love the names of the sample jobs - very creative and appropriate.

#3 Cartel Republic - This seemed like it could be an interesting game, but I couldn't get a clear sense of how it would play from the rules description - too much was left unspecified, and it didn't seem like the various steps (asset purchase, vote buying, revenue and stocks) were clearly explained.
The hex tiles and the rules for their placement seemed neat, too, although the relative position of the tiles didn't seem to matter - they were just isolated resources.
The "top two players win" result was kind of like the earlier game - there aren't two separate strategies there, so I felt like it didn't quite meet the spirit of that restriction. The shared resources were also not so clear, although I guess the board tiles are shared, and there's the potential to buy other players' influence.

#4 Machination - I loved the concept here - alternate history, high-tech steam stuff.

The mechanics seem like they'd be interesting and fresh, too, although I'm not sure I understand the gameplay completely from the description. It would be very useful to me to have a sample turn played out in the rules.

Obviously, how fun the game was and how it played out would depend a lot on the empire cards, secret goals, and event cards, most of which are unspecified here, so it's a little hard to judge.

The pope and emperor victory conditions are cool, and represent distinct goals. It sounds like the whole board is kind of shared, at least from the Event descriptions, so that part is met too.

I wasn't clear how many players were required - it sounds like it almost needs ten players, one for each nation, but I guess it would also work with some subset of that.

#5 Political Capital - this is a creative way to meet the challenge here as a card game with standard cards. I think it sounds potentially fun; my worry is that there doesn't seem to be a strategy other than banking all your high cards and keeping the low ones around to steal from others. Bidding high for jokers or face cards seems to be the only real play here, along with protecting a bunch of cards if you've got a good one showing.

You don't specify whether the cards initially set aside (for trading) are kept secret or not - I think they need to be, because otherwise people can just look at how many cards the other folks are keeping aside and top them.

Not knowing when the game will end, and having the game potentially end on the first hand makes it hard to do much long-term strategy, too.

I like this, though - I'd be curious how it plays out.

#6 Sorcerer's Apprentices - This is neat - I think it would be a lot of fun, if the spells and goals are carefully playtested. I think it might be difficult to come up with enough goals that are the same level of challenge, but that would come out in testing. I like the creative use of the Othello tiles, flipping black to white, and the fact that all players share them and affect the board.

The explanations of the special spells aren't quite enough to understand what they do. I worry that some of the spell cards would line up too closely with the goals, so that having a particular spell virtually guarantees that you'll be able to meet a goal - that would be tricky to balance.

The white-black balance would be hard, since it controls movement and victory and other parts of the game. I think the victory condition at the end (that you can win merely by having a majority in your color) is bad - not only does it violate the two different winners in different ways rule, since you are cooperating in a team to have this majority, and sharing that goal. It also seems way easier than scoring the special goals. If you had this alternate path to victory, I'd put it at a 3/4 majority level or something harder to accomplish - so, a way to beat out somebody who's won the "regular" way, but not so simple.

Again, the experience here would depend a lot on cards not yet produced, but I think it could be fun. It almost, but not quite, meets the restrictions for the contest, failing, I think, in part of the victory conditions restriction. But I think it would be really fun to play if tuned and tested well.

#7 - The Treasure is All Mine. And Mine. - This seems like it would be fun; mostly negotiation-centered, but with some interesting prameters. I like the monster and spell mechanics, with the different letters and parts (I particularly like the component of the artwork where the monster's parts depend on what letters he has). I also like the rune sharing and stealing mechanic, which seems fun. The hidden information part is also cool.

Where I think the game falls short is in the victory conditions. For one thing, you don't have two separate victory conditions here, which pretty clearly violates the restrictions of the contest. Secondly, having one high-stakes event control the game in this way seems to limit the strategic component pretty harshly - nothing you do matters much if somebody else just kills the dragon. I also don't like that it could end up being a four-way tie for first, with no real winner. I think there could easily be better victory conditions - one way would be to add up the "points" scored by killing monsters, with anybody who helps getting half credit or something. That would mean it wasn't so heavily weighted to a single event late in the game.

#8 Gem Hunt - I like the board art a lot - it's clean, interesting, and appealing. The component list is kind of dizzying, and might make production of the game prohibitively expensive, but it gives the game some complex strategy. I like how there are multiple unit types, a construction part with the roads, and multiple resources to consider. I like the use of colors and the complementary colors at the end.

You don't say in the Build and Buy section whether you can do more than one thing per turn - that would be important to specify.

I don't really get the end of the game and the scoring - it sounds like one player gets to control what all the scores are worth, which gives that player a lot of power. It also seems like the cards will end up being worth more than gems, because you get points for every symbol. I don't understand how the scoring works; if I'm reading it right, the player who goes out just flips his cards each round, so they'll all apply at different times, so the order doesn't seem too crucial. I'm not sure what the other players are supposed to be doing during this time - flying around picking up gems and cards as fast as they can? When do they score the points? How can there be one winner for two colors, when the final player plays five cards? Or does the first play set the colors, and then the subsequent cards are merely scored? I don't get how the other players score their cards - all at once at the end?
Strategically, it seems like a advantage to be the guy who picks the scoring colors - you instantly void 2/3 of the gem colors. You've balanced that by making that player only score one color of gem, but without having played it, I bet there's a balance problem (although I'm not sure which way it would go).

I'm guessing it will either be a significant advantage to go out and pick the color, in which case it's basically a race to be the first one to five cards that match even a little, or (as I suspect) it's a significant disadvantage, because only 1/6 of your items score rather than 1/3, in which case, the game lasts forever, because nobody will want to take that hit, even if it means they can pick the color.

There are two victors, but with the same strategy. I don't see how any resources are shared, so I don't think it meets that part of the contest requirements.

1 vote #4: Machination
1 vote #5: Political Capital
1 vote #6: Sorceror's Apprentice
1 vote #8: Gem hunt

Pastor_Mora's picture
Joined: 01/05/2010
August GDS comment on restriction

Well, this month competition was quite an interesting challenge. I thought about the 2-players non-team simultaneous victory restriction a lot. Shared resources and 4-people minimum were a piece of cake in comparison. Still, talking about this with my gaming group, the obvious dumb answer came up: “Have the guy with the most money win; and the second one also win…”

Maybe the “different victory conditions” for winners restriction was added to counter this really brainless outcome. But I really think that spoiled the challenge. Because now we got a variety of “the one with the most A wins, the guy with the most B also wins”; which is basically the same mindless ending with a twist. In fact, I saw a rule there about what happens if the same guy has most of A and B. “Same guy cannot apply to both conditions” was the rule… boring… no votes there.

It took me a while to vote in this contest because I found many entries uninteresting mechanics-wise. (not that I didn’t saw good themes and layouts but still). I think that was a result of the unelaborated victory condition restriction. I designed The Cartel Republic knowing it didn’t fit the restrictions but instead trying to overcome the challenge this GDS spawn in my own mind: how can any 2 non-team players simultaneously win by working together using shared resources? Not that it came out great, but I enjoyed the exercise a lot and gave 2 votes for the 3 most voted entries I think. Anyways, thanks again Steven for hosting this challenge.

Keep thinking!

Disclaimer: I mean no offense, replace “dumb”, etc. with “unoriginal” if necessary.

joni's picture
Joined: 07/15/2009
My comments

My comments to GDS aug 10

It is the first challenge I have participated in, and it was an interesting one. I will make my comments in 4 points, the 3 restrictions and my personal opinion of the entry. I think my votes are based most on that last criteria, as long as I found the game to roughly fit the 3 restrictions.

About the restrictions:

Restriction 1: Some form of player-to-player sharing. The restriction sets the theme for the showdown in a nice way. The restriction is wide and I think it can be stretched to fit many things.
Restriction 2: Not less than 4 players. Because of restriction 3 it is obvious that the game may not play with 2 players. For 3 players it should be something more than a rule stating 3 players is not allowed.
Restriction 3: Exactly 2 winners. This was the real challenge in this showdown, the way I understood it.

Entry #1 – Caravan

  • R1: Oases and tents are shared. With that definition many games include sharing. The mercenary guards meet this restriction better than the oases and tents.
  • R2: I think the game could play with 3 players, but maybe it would be boring. It is possible the game will be unbalanced with 3 players, and that is good enough for me.
  • R3: The dual winner solution is good, and both conditions can be played for during the game.
  • Opinion: I get a good impression of this game, and I would love to playtest it. I gave it 2 votes.

Entry #2 – Confidence

  • R1: The job cards and the jobs are shared. Not that impressive, but good enough.
  • R2: This clearly does not play with 3 players, in fact it seems to be best with an even number of players.
  • R3: The dual winner solution suits the game. The winning condition is actually the same, but one for the two different roles. Easy to make this a one-winner game, the one with the most money.
  • Opinion: I like the concept of reading people and wondering who to trust and the need to cooperate. The theme does not appeal much to me (but that is only personal taste). I gave it 1 vote.

Entry #3 - The Cartel Republic

  • R1: The only sharing I find is the alliance tokens (and the game board).
  • R2: Definitely a 4-player game
  • R3: I think maybe the dual winners in this game actually are a team victory. But since the teams neither is predefined nor static during the game it can pass as non-team winners.
  • Opinion: Much good thinking here, but the theme did not appeal to me, and I did not completely understand the game.

Entry #4 – Machination

  • R1: It seems to me that everything on the game board is shared components in this game, taking this restriction to new heights.
  • R2: Nothing says that this may not be played with 3 players, but I guess it would not work as good as 4 or more players.
  • R3: As mentioned above it would be quite a job to balance Empire cards and Secret agenda cards. I am not sure how the strategy would be in this game. If everyone starts going after the Emperor position the game will not end until almost all of the empire cards are completed and the players give up on Emperor and tries for Pope instead.
  • Opinion: I like the idea with all the playing pieces being nations of the board and not the players themselves. The theme might be anything, I love the mechanic. I gave it 2 votes.

Entry #5 – Political Capital

  • R1: Sharing through trade (forced trade, but still trade).
  • R2: Playable, but surely boring, with 3 players.
  • R3: The victory conditions are OK, but it has the 2nd winner can not be the 1st winner necessity.
  • Opinion: This may be a good card game but I did not pay attention to it in this contest, maybe because it is “only” a card game.

Entry #6 – The Sorcerer’s Apprentices

  • R1: In the wide definition the board and the discs are shared. The game also has the spell sharing, suiting a more narrow definition.
  • R2: A 4-player game, no more, no less.
  • R3: The victory conditions are the same for both winners, completing 2 secret goals. But then there is a complicating IF in the rules. I understand it but it did not appeal to me.
  • Opinion: I see this being a good idea, but the game was (I think) too abstract and “simple” to catch my eye. It is fun to see that the winner was a game I gave no votes. :o) Congratulations!

Entry #7 – The Treasure is All Mine. And Mine.

  • R1: Again, in the wide definition the board and monsters are shared, but also has more sharing. The runes are shared by stealing and they are shared when cooperating to kill a monster.
  • R2: Could play with 3 players, but would be unbalanced, favouring the player “in the middle”. Restriction fulfilled.
  • R3: A perfect 2-player victory, because two players have to cooperate to kill the last monster. The rules say nothing about teams, but it will be easy for the players to form teams during the game.
  • Opinion: I like the game and its simplicity. I gave it 1 vote.

Entry #8 – Gem-Hunt

  • R1: Once again: In the wide definition the game components are shared. Roads are shared: The game has the neutral roads and players may use other players’ roads. There is also sharing by trade via the market.
  • R2: As a couple of the other entries: could be played with 3 players, but would be unbalanced, disfavouring the player “in the middle”. Restriction fulfilled.
  • R3: 2 players win the game, no teams. Victory conditions are the same, but for 2 different colours.
  • Opinion: I really like this game. Of course I do, it is my entry ;o)
    I see some issues already raised about it.
    I consider making a game journal to explore those issues further.

Thank you all for a challenging challenge and a showy showdown!

joni's picture
Joined: 07/15/2009
The winning conditions

Pastor_Mora wrote:
... “Have the guy with the most money win; and the second one also win…”
now we got a variety of “the one with the most A wins, the guy with the most B also wins”

I think it is a big difference between those two alternatives. I would agree that the first one is a bad solution to the challenge, and I would not give it any votes (in fact you could make a house rule in any game stating that the first and the second players both win the game). The second alternative I would call a good solution to the challenge, but only if it fits the theme of the game, one example being Entry #1 - Caravan (my opinion).

Pastor_Mora wrote:
... trying to overcome the challenge this GDS spawn in my own mind: how can any 2 non-team players simultaneously win by working together using shared resources?

It is interesting to see how the challenge is interpreted in different minds. I never thought of two players working together after I read the no-team rule...

pelle's picture
Joined: 08/11/2008

This was my first GDS, and I really enjoyed all aspects of it (designing, reviewing, reading critique) so far. :)

What I was hoping to design, and failing, then looking for in other entries, was a game that could fulfil the requirement of two winners without explicitly giving players two well-known goals. The ideal to me would have been a game with hidden goals cosntructed in a way so that because of limits in resources etc you would know that no matter how a player won the game there would always be two simultaneous winners. I'm not evey sure you could design a playable game like that... Anyway there was no game like that.

I based my voting heavily on victory conditions. I didn't give many votes to games that simply declared a "secondary" winner after one player had won, sort of (it didn't feel as if the two winners were equal that way to me, and also was a bit too obvious way to fulfill that competitoin requirement, imho).

As for the individual games...

Entry #1 Caravan: This started out well with shared resources and what seemed like a fun expansion phase. I wasn't convinced by all the rules required for the strategic phase and it also became a bit abstract here, departing from the more theme-based mechanics of the early game. Considered giving a vote, and probably would if the victory conditions had been different.

Entry #2 Confidence: This sounded like a game I might enjoy to play, with the simple rules and bluffing etc. Not sure about balance and how much sense the victory coneitions makes in the current form, but that seems like details that could be sorted out in playtesting (I know my entry sufferes from that same problem). I liked the division of players into two groups for victory, while still not inviting to team play. 2 votes.

Entry #3 The Cartel Republic: This one seemed a bit complex and confusing to me. I didn't quite get all of what was going on in the game. I think the victory condition was the second best of the entries I reviewd though, so 1 vote for that.

Entry #4 Machination: 1 vote for theme and what looks like a game that would be fun to play. Maybe could have been scaled down a bit, since I think with all the cards there could be plenty of variation without having so many special rules and tokens. Lots of details about play that might or might not work, but again that seems like a playtest thing to sort out. I liked the hidden goals, so +1 vote for that. A total of 2 votes from me.

Entry #5 Political Capital: I might be a bit unfair here, but I really don't like playing games with regular decks of cards. Maybe this design is better than it seemed to me, and maybe a custom deck with the same rules would have tricked me to see it as more interesting.

Entry #6 - The Sorcerer's Apprentices: I think this one, for me, sufferes from the use of the othello game. Suggesting some custom-made components, even if the function was equivalent, would have made me more enthusiastic. Gameplay seemed like it might be fun, but was non-trivial to analyze in all its details. Anyway the victory conditions were easily the most interesting of all the entries, with a nice twist on almost-team-play. I ended up giving it 1 vote.

Entry #8 - Gem-Hunt: This was a bit much of everything and a bit abstract. Like some other entries, I think too much complexity is not a good way to attract (my) votes. It is difficult to tell without actually seeing the game played if the mechanics come together when there are so many things going on and so many components. 0 votes.

Pastor_Mora's picture
Joined: 01/05/2010
Uncooperative teaming

I like uncooperative teaming a lot. I've tried it in some games of mine. The idea can be approached in two ways initially:

First, uncooperative teams. You can set a team of players that cannot harm "allies" directly, but as only one player will win, they have to jeopardize their allies without endangering too much the team's chances to overcome the opponent's team. A fine balance and good ground for backstabbing.

Second, switching alliances. You may have no teams, but players that cannot win by themselves, thus forcing them to ally with their opponents. You may need a mechanic to make alliances change all the time to keep the tension up.

That last one was my approach. Establishing different winning conditions (most of A and most of B) can be ok, of course, but it doesn't do it for me. I like complex player interactions and I've found this a good way of doing it. Just my thoughts.

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