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[GDS] February 2011 "Geomancer" Critiques

7 replies [Last post]
Joined: 01/17/2011

I'd appreciate any feedback on my submission of the game "Geomancer" to the Feb 2011 Game Design Showdown. Below is the full text of the submission.

Geomancer is a quick dice game for 2-6 players (the more players the better). You must outlast your rival Geomancers while trying to achieve the harmony of the five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water.

Game Components
40 custom six-sided dice, with each face depicting one of the 5 elements and the 6th face depicting the Focus symbol.
Several reminder cards showing the interaction of the five elements

The objective of the game is to be the sole geomancer remaining in the game.
A player is eliminated when they have no dice.

Distribute the dice equally between the players, setting aside the remainder. Each die face represents one of the five elements, with the sixth face representing Focus. Roll your dice and place them in front of you. The number of dice showing each element represents your strength in that element.

Special: You can use your Focus dice to boost the power of the other elements.

Playing the Game
The player who rolled the least number of Focus dice goes first. If there is a tie, the tied players reroll all their dice (and keep the result). Continue like this until there are no ties for the least number of Focus dice.
Play proceeds clockwise in order and continues until all players but one have been eliminated.

Taking Your Turn
On your turn you may perform the following actions once only, in order:
- Create: Transform one or more dice into a different element.
- Attack: Declare an attack against one or more players.
You do not have to perform either of these actions if you do not want to.

Select one or more dice of a single element and use them to "create" a different element. Rotate these dice so that the new element face is showing. The element creation follows a cycle:
* Wood feeds Fire;
* Fire creates Earth;
* Earth bears Metal;
* Metal carries Water;
* Water nourishes Wood.
Focus dice cannot be used to create anything.

Example: You have three Wood dice and you decide to create some Fire. You select two of your Wood dice and rotate them so that the Fire face is showing.

Select one or more dice of a single element, optionally adding Focus dice to boost the element's strength. You may select a number of target players up to the strength of your attack. Each of the targetted players may defend using dice from the controlling element. The controlling elements follow a cycle:
* Wood parts Earth;
* Earth absorbs Water;
* Water quenches Fire;
* Fire melts Metal;
* Metal chops Wood.
If the targetted player chooses to defend with the controlling element, they must use all their dice in that element and optionally boost the element's strength with Focus dice.
- If you did not defend, give the attacker one die and then discard one die.
- If your defense is less than the attack, give the attacker one die.
- If your defense is equal to the attack, there is no effect.
- If your defense is twice as strong as the attack, you have "insulted" the attacking element and the attacker must give you one die.

Reroll all the dice used to attack and defend and all dice transferred between players.

Note: You may add any number of Focus dice to boost the strength of your attack or defense, but you must have at least one of the "natural" element.

Example: You select two Fire dice and one Focus die for your attack, for a total strength of three. Thus, you can make a strength three Fire attack on up to three other opponents. Each of these players may attempt to control (defend) the Fire with Water. Trish-Ann has four Water dice, and she uses all of these to control the Fire. Ramon has two Water and four Focus dice but he chooses to defend only with the Water. Ramon has made only a partial defense (strength 2 vs strength 3), so he must give you one die. Wan Li has two Focus dice but no Water dice, so he cannot defend because he has no Water. Wan Li gives you one die and then discards one die. You reroll your two Fire dice, the Focus die, and the dice that Ramon and Wan Li gave you. Trish-Ann rerolls all her Water dice. Ramon rerolls all his Water dice.

Example: Using the same example above, this time Ramon chooses to add all four of his Focus dice to his two Water for a total strength of six. His Water insults your Fire because it is twice as strong as the Fire. You must give him one die.

Special: Harmonic Defense! If you have one of each element you may declare a Harmonic Defense instead of a normal defense. You cannot use Focus dice in a Harmonic Defense. This is treated as a successful defense against any attack.

Special: Harmonic Attack! If you have one of each element you may declare a Harmonic Attack instead of a normal attack. You cannot use Focus dice in a Harmonic Attack. The attack can target every opponent, although you can choose not to attack certain opponents if you wish. The only way to successfully defend a Harmonic Attack is with a Harmonic Defense. Every player who does not defend must give you one die and then discard one die.

Special: Two Player Showdown! When there are only two players remaining in the game, any dice that would normally have been given to the opponent are discarded instead. This forces the game to a conclusion rather than going back and forth indefinitely.

Joined: 01/17/2011
Supplemental text to the rules

Additional notes post-competition which didn't make it into the original submission:

Rules tweak - Change:
"On your turn you may perform the following actions once only, in order"
"On your turn you may perform the following actions once only, in any order"
This lets players choose between an aggressive strategy (create first to maximize strength in one element, then attack) or defensive strategy (attack first, then create to fill in any weaknesses).

Strategy notes from playtesting:
There are a number of minor tactics you can use to increase your chances of winning (e.g. through selectively creating a missing element, or deliberately adding focus dice so that you can reroll them to try to get a missing element), however in a 2-player game the optimal choice is usually obvious. Thus, the main strategies of the game revolve around player interaction. Do you risk creating enemies by attacking many players simultaneously to reap the most dice, or do you play softly and avoid confrontation with the strong players? With no catch-up mechanism for weak players, the game is very cut-throat -- and deliberately so. However, several weak players working together can take down a strong player by knocking a hole in his defenses and then exploiting it.

drktron's picture
Joined: 07/18/2010
I liked geomancer and gave it

I liked geomancer and gave it a vote in the first round. I like the balance of the elements and their interrelationships. I think this theme lends itself well to a dice game. Theres a good dose of making the best of your roll and some meaningful tactics in whom you attack. The combat system itself is simple enough for the parameters of the competition with , I think, an appropriate enough complexity in the rock paper scissors lizard spock mechanism. Most of all this seems like it would be fun to play. Good job, im glad it made it to round 2.

Now here are the reasons I didn't vote for it in round 2:
While I like the theme its not the most original or innovative.
I think the main issue though is the player elimination. Its understandable for this type of game but still a negative.
Anyway, very good entry overall just too much competition for the win. :)

Joined: 01/24/2010
I liked geomancer as well. I

I liked geomancer as well. I like the high player interaction and the rock paper scissors element of the play.

I did feel the game could be a bit complicated. I would need to constantly refer to a guide to know what beats what and what transforms into what. Starting at a bucket of results trying to figure out what to do could take a while. I would have liked it more with less possibilities to make it easier to follow.

I had a problem liking any entry that had 40+ dice. Mostly because I know I would not enjoy rolling a ton of dice or trying to interpret the results. It's just a bit messy in my opinion. It allows for one clumsy swipe to ruin the game. Changing the system to incorporate a number of rounds with less dice each would maybe be easier to handle. I'm not sure if that would dilute the intent of your design too much.

cottonwoodhead's picture
Joined: 03/02/2011
Keeping Track

I think some clever component design could overcome a lot of the problems associated with keeping track of which dice does what. A small card with two wheels of elements, one for showing what creates what and another for showing what stops what, would make it relatively easy to keep track of things. A single wheel could be used with outer lines showing creation and inner spokes showing counters. The harmonic attack and defense seemed they might become a problem if players have too many dice, if it's too easy to get players would abandon the five element RPS system and just go only for Harmonic Defense and Harmonic Attack. I like the elemination mechanic providing that the game plays quickly enough, for example Cthulu Dice involves elimination but goes so quickly that it isn't really a problem for game flow. Though I suppose in Cthulu dice players continue to play even when they have no life tokens, not so in this game. You might want to consider making it so that players who are "out" can still take some action and maybe get back into the game.
All in all this was probably my favourite though I can still see why Rolling Plunder ended up the winner.

bhazzard's picture
Joined: 01/25/2011
Long winded

I really liked this game and it received my votes for both rounds. But I felt that the rules were a bit long winded.

At first I didn't think there was any die rolling except in the very beginning, because I didn't make it through the examples. On a subsequent reread, I got it.

The rules should stand on there own, with the examples just supplementing my understanding. I didn't notice anything in the rules about retooling until I read the examples.

bhazzard's picture
Joined: 01/25/2011
I'm blind

On yet another reread, the reroll rule is there.... Not sure how I missed it.

Joined: 01/17/2011
Thanks for the feedback

Thanks everyone for the feedback.

Normally I don't like elimination games either, so I understand that point. The only saving grace for elimination games (in my view) is if they are quick, so that you can get back into it next round. I tried to come up with a way to make this a non-elimination game, but in the end I resorted to keeping the elimination and just ensured that it was cut-throat (hence: quick).

Regarding the Harmonic Attack being the strongest: Yes, that is true. This is mitigated by the fact that you reroll all the attacking and defending dice after resolving the attack. So once you've used your harmonic attack, it is unlikely that you'll roll up another Harmonic Attack straight away.

Out of curiosity I looked into the cost of making custom dice, and in this case reality sinks this game (40 dice x $3 each = way too much). I did find a site selling dice with colors on each side (no pips) which would be feasible, though it doesn't fit the theme quite as nicely. (And, unfortunately, I can't find the site again. My google skills have failed me.)


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