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[GDS] January 2012 "Back 2 Basics" - Critiques

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sedjtroll's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008

Use this thread to post constructive critiques of the entries to the January 2012 Challenge in the Game Design Showdown, entitled "Back 2 Basics".


GreenO's picture
Joined: 11/14/2011
Horde by dobnarr

Despite the fact that I'm sure some voters passed this one by for crowbarring the restrictions into the design synopsis, I thought this sounded like an interesting game idea. It got my votes but, looking at the results, what do I know ;-)

It has a Botswana/Loco feel about playing a card and choosing a monster that will eventually be worth a number of points at the end of the game. I think that drafting a massive army of monsters is a good hook to get people to play. I would go for broke with the design though- go for 100 monsters, all different but with shared characteristics throughout (different colours, different types, with bows/without, riding mounts, flying/not flying). Then you could have a 10 different characteristic cards that score from a deck of many more that would allow players to have a hand of cards or choose from a selection in the middle rather than flipping the top card.

Running the card scoring slots from -3 to +5 might add a bit of player interaction too. I liked the game. I think it could be a good quirky filler that didn't feel too mathematical.

dobnarr's picture
Joined: 07/29/2008

Thanks, GreenO -
Hee hee - I was kind of proud of myself for still fitting the whole rules and description into 200 words, although I guess that's not the point now. I think this could be a really fun game, although I haven't playtested it - I'm planning on getting a set of different pawns in a bunch of colors from TheGameCrafter and see how it goes.

I originally considered having negative point values, and although that was appealing ("Oh no, you made my blobs count negative!") I had two second thoughts: (1) there's no real difference between negative and positive scoring, as long as it's ordinal (i.e. 0,1,2 is the same as -1,0,1), and (2) there'd be a somewhat artificial tendency not to take monsters that could count negative, while people would still be willing to take monsters that could count zero for their other traits.

I love your idea of adding more traits and more monster types, although at some point you get to having too many monsters out there to keep track of, and if they were plastic figures, it would be ludicrously expensive. But I could do something like this on mini-cards and have them all laid out face up to start - that might be cool, and you could put their traits as little symbols along the sides. With good art, this could be really cool.

Thanks for the feedback (and the votes!)

dobnarr's picture
Joined: 07/29/2008
My Jan 2012 GDS critiques

Here are my comments about the entries:

Entry #1: Hollow Words - This entry was 530 words, more than double the restriction, so it broke the rules and gets no votes from me. It looks like it could be interesting, but it could be really hard to balance the bid cards and the artifact effects in a way that kept the game from being kind of random and silly. Random and silly can be really fun, of course (see Fluxx, Munchkin). Auctioning helps balance, as it always does, since the artifact values might even out then. Some of the bidding restrictions (multiple colors of beans, lose a bean even on losing bids or non-bids, etc.) might be really hard to keep track of and annoying without having much impact. For efficiency of play, I'd suggest that the bidding be just in beans (most beans wins), without using the bean color scoring values until the end of the game. Of course, most of this game isn't shown in the brief description (e.g. bid cards, artifacts), and that would determine if it's a good game or not. I'd love to see it more fully developed - could be great. (0 votes)

Entry #2: The Dam - It's really hard from the new short descriptions to figure out how this game might play out. It has some elements I like - resource management, choice of actions, worker placement. There isn't enough in terms of mechanics to see how the game actually works here. Best case, all of these ingredients come together into something fun; worst case, you spend the whole time doing accounting and math and shuffling little bits around. Having so much of the goal be cooperative (all building the same dam on the same deadline) makes the competition to make the most money seem a little false, since non-completion penalties would presumably affect everybody equally; this might work better as some kind of cooperative game. I don't see where the challenge restrictions to use things in pairs comes in, and the resolution part is only one part of the game (when the dam deadline is). (1 vote)

Entry #3: Greed and Government - This sounds like it could be really fun if the cards were good; I'd need to see some examples of the pledges and resources to know for sure. I like the complexity of the scoring, where some stuff is canceled, and the add-a-rule part of it, which can be really fun if the rules changes aren't too drastic. From a theme point of view, I don't know why pledges create resources and also add to public ire, but maybe I'm missing the point. This definitely used both of the challenge restrictions (pairs, resolutions) very well and integrally. (3 votes)

Entry #4: Horde - my entry.

Entry #5: Vice, Virtue, and Values - This sounds interesting and could be fun, I think. The theme wouldn't really do it for me, but it's not essential for the mechanics - this could just as easily be a game about carpentry or politics or horseracing or whatever. As described, it sounds like it might be a little simplistic, without much in the way of strategy for players to develop, since they are only going to be able to conquer the vices if they get the virtues, and they only get the virtues if they draw the right cards. So, not too much there yet, but it could well be worth developing further. (1 vote)

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009

Congratulations to everyone who entered and to the GDS this month for bringing in so many non-entrant voters!

Here are my comments on the entries:

1. Hollow Words - Like Dobnarr, I could not vote for this entry due to its length beyond this month's limit. Beyond that, the approach to the criteria felt fairly cursory. For instance, players receive the bid cards at the start (why two, other than because the contest said pairs?) that tell players how to bid for a bonus. This doesn't feel like a player making a resolution so much as a game-imposed restriction. The fun here seems to be in making good combos of artifacts so that players can optimize their bean counts. Pretty cut and dry, but effective.

2. The Dam - The game here seems to become the most efficient of the builders working on the dam. I'm not sure how the resolution in the beginning of turns available/amount the group (I assume the group) borrows each turn would matter if it affects all players equally. If you set the amount of debt high, all the players must dig out of it equally at the end, and the goal of each player remains the same. This feels almost like setting a point limit on armies in a tabletop war-game; it just determines how long a game you want to play. That's fine, but doesn't seem to resonate with this month's challenge as much. The rest of the game; action selection among the five choices - seems like it might stale quickly if there is no way to affect these choices, which I'm sure would appear if this game was developed more fully. I'd like to see this one fleshed out because I'm a sucker for action selection games.

3. Greed and Government - My entry. The idea behind it is that you can promise a lot and as the other players feed off the promises you made (the resources) you will probably not fulfill all of your promises. The public Ire pool is meant to simulate how for every group of people that support government action, there is another group that opposes it. If those people aren't dealt with (through actions you can take on Pledges that you make permanent), then they will come and bite you in the butt at the end of the game by canceling out points.
I think the give and take is compelling enough to develop, so I'll start a thread with a longer description.

4. Horde - I really liked this game's simplicity; it feels like a Knizia game (in a good way) that would work really well as a game on platforms with a touchscreen. I like how the "pairs" mechanic is put in as other players duplicating the number of monsters you take on your turn. At least, that's where I imagine i'm seeing the "pairs." I also like how Resolutions are included in the promise to score monsters a certain way, and that it just won't change - for better or worse.

5. Vice, Virtue and Values - I think this game has got some potential, even though it's very simple. I don't think the player agreement in Vice difficulty at the start of the game matters much - in the same way as in The Dam. I mean, do players have their own Virtue cards in hand when they decide the values for the Vices? Also, I think the extra layer of playing values to get virtues is lost in the short description. They don't seem to add any value to the game when you could just be drawing Virtue cards instead.

Cogentesque's picture
Joined: 08/17/2011
This is the first game design

This is the first game design competition that I voted in and really took some thought over.

First of all can I say, well done everybody for your work - very cool :) I like how this new type of competition does not require having full (I would have to have it playtested too if it was mine) rules and just a nice synopsis - that's cool. Top marks for Seth in doing it like that, we will probably get a load more invitees people into this because of it.

I have to admit I didn' judge the games with reference to the compeition rules, I figured the rules are there for the designer to overcome and triumph against - that would be their task as the designer. My task as the judge/player would be to simply decide if I was attracted to the game as a whole or not, and as such did not pay vast attention to the "under 200 word limit" or the "involve pairs" - I figured the designers would work within these boundaries automatically.

So I looked on these games as imagining them as fully created playable ideas with boxes/manuals/cards/pnp: and thought if I would want to get into the game or not.

1. Hollow Words
This was my favorite and got most of my votes (please see above for: "I didn't worry about the rules".
Having an auction system that is ACTUALLY an auction is very cool. More so, the idea of having weird artifacs really inspired my brain to start churning out ideas - these could be game changing, really inventive thematic artifacts. Is everyone a wizards or summoner in some kind of inter-dimensional hithchikers guide-esque wacky auction room? Cool. I like this.
The actual game play was easy to understand and put you in the mind of already the kind of plays you could expect. One of the negatives for me was that the interdimensional currency used to buy these incredibley rare artifacts was "beans2 and made it feel a lot more childish. Perhaps something as simple as changing the name of it would have really helped me - but as soon as "Magic Beans" springs to mind, the rest tumbles down. But as said, this was my favorite entry

2. The Dam - A very Euro feeling game, I agree with our friend Rich's words it does have the makings of a Knizia style intensive Euro. Good points there. But for me, the game wasn't attractive enough. It didn't have the excited pull as some of the others - to me "Dam engineers" give me a lifeless scientist/engineer kind of chap, studying diagrams and what not - that coupled with Commercial business enterprise didn't help me out. There is a lovely touch in transporting materials, you can only transport ALL materials - this paved the way for my mind to leap into thinking about turn tactics already. Also I like how people must be "evacuated" - that ads a nice touch. I can see the game coming down to the wire, but as one has evacuated his chaps and the other hasn't - he is 1 turn behind and forefits the win. Nice idea. But as said, the theme for me at least is not as emotional or inspiring as it could be. Sometimes I like to imagine a game to be any other kind of fun entertainment (a song, a movie, a story etc) to see how it stands up as a theme in its own right and a song about Dam builders or a movie about borrowing money makes me sad. lol. BUT that is just my grumpy brit attitude and the mechanics sound very well crafted to be a solid Euro.

3.Greed and Government - the main point for me not voting for this game is that I am speaking to someone in another forum that is basically creating a slightly comical version of this which sounds great fun. So unforatunely I was stuck comparing the two ideas the whole time. The public Ire pool and the pledge pool counter-resource balance has a nice ring to it and could be quite promising but would need significat refinement (not changing, just really getting in to what goes on here) initial observation could show that if there are only a few resources and pledges take a variety of them, it would be very easy for a candidate to have exactly the same amount of public ire as pledges? As said, it needs refinement - maybe even just a further explanation t exactly how it works. Again I love the staying cards, certain promises that have lingering effects that later influence the game - a lovely idea which fits in very well to the theme.

4. Horde
Seeimingly quite random? As the rule cards are flipped they will depict the scoring values, but in initial turns, me taking a blue orca whale and you taking a green dragon will presumabley have nothing to base it on? And as such if, in the mid game someone slaps down "all yellow parakeet-manticores are worth 1 point" - it feels like it might (might) be quite a random win. Other than "what scoring I have, and what scoriung cards I think the oponent has" there is little in the way of future planning at this level. For me also, the theme is nice but needs to follow the "smoking gun" advice - that being that in the old days, when plays were on, a playwrite/director could only dress the set with a Musket Rifle IF at some point in the play, the Rifle was to be used. If the rifle was not to be fired (smoking) it could not be used in the play - the only gun to include should be a smoking one. In this case to me that means that if it is my job to build up an evil hoarde of monsters. I want to damn-well do something with those monsters! haha. A similar (although overegged) example would be to make a game about "Upgrading a Big Scfi Laser-Baring Space Battle Ship" ... and you win if your's has got more weapons than mine. It feels like there should be a hige ecxplosion of energy and excitement as you have built your hoarde up. But there is not. A simple superficial "Once you have finished your hoarde, they have a big battle and the winners are the ones that are the most powerful: eg- worth the most" or something completely non-game disrupting but at least puts this huge army to use :). The game design itself seems quite solid to me and further refinement would really need to be channeled towards the attaining and playing of the point cards.

5. Vice, Virtue and Values
I think the agreement in difficulty is actually a nice thing - all it would mean is that the game has different "play modes" - simply rephrase "the player agrees to..." to "Choose easy, medium, or hard mode" (or some thematic word thereof) in order to bring it up to scratch a bit more, each difficulty could have a list of the vices and their points - perhaps "speed mode" makes sloth very hard to overcome and the others less so. Either way , nice idea.
I am unaware though about what chalenges or choices the players have, surely they merely draw their values and the first one to have a decent enough pair to match the points up to take the virtue gets it. Other than "I'll save this combo for later" I don't think there is much in the way of challenging gameplay. It wouldn't be too hard to addd something to it thoguh as the rest of the game is set up quite nicely. A good platform on which to work from :)
The theme is not super-hot for me personally, but my girlfriend would LOVE it and it would be MUCH easier to explain to non gamers :)

All in all, everyone did a great job, looking forward to joining in a game design challenge myself if this is the style we will be using!


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