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[GDS] JUNE 2014 "The Play's the Thing"

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richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009

We have a winner!

Six Kingdoms

A difficult task comes to a close, and thank you to all our entrants! Full results are posted in the usual place, and each game will get some dedicated discussion in the coming days. Now head over to the critiques forum to view the schedule and share your observations!

The Entries are in!

Only eight this month tells me this was a challenge insurmountable to many. Kudos to those who even attempted the storytelling challenge.

For everyone - even if you didn't enter - take the next week (up through the 16th) to read the entries and cast your votes. Remember to cast your vote using the form here.

Please Read: Details on entering the Game Design Showdown.

Narrative is a tough nut to crack in board games. In RPGs it's easy. In "rules light" card games like Once Upon a Time or NanoFictionary very short stories are told by the players based on loose story elements. Board games that craft a compelling narrative that's a bit different each time are a bit rarer.

Betrayal at House on the Hill, Mansions of Madness, Tales of the Arabian Nights and Agents of Smersh are some of the modern examples.

Many of these larger games, you'll notice, use a reference book to tell the story. Some in a Choose Your Own Adventure style, some with a single large story that the players partake in.


  • Design a board game that crafts or tells a strong narrative This is open to your interpretation.
  • Your game, however, must NOT involve players telling individual stories and then comparing them as in a part game. It must weave a shared, single narrative for the players each time they play. This, again, is open to your interpretation as well as the interpretations of the voters.
  • Your game MUST include a board

There are no thematic restrictions, but it is suggested that your game have a theme.

Now the details:

Word Limit: Standard 500 word

Voting: Award a Gold, Silver, and Bronze (worth 3,2, and 1 points respectively) Medals to your three favorite entries. Any entrant that does not award all three Medals will receive a Pyrite Medal (that's "Fool's Gold") worth -3 votes!

When submitting your entry: PLEASE USE THE FORM LINKED HERE.

  • Submissions: Monday the 2nd through to Monday the 9th.

  • Voting: Through the 16th. Votes will be through a form (link posted after submission period is ended).

  • Voting Format: Each person has 3 Medals (Gold, Silver, and Bronze - with values 3, 2, and 1 vote respectively) to distribute any way they choose among the GDS entries with the following restrictions:

    • Entrants may not assign any Medals to their own entry!

    • Entrants must assign all 3 Medals.

    • An entrant who does not assign all 3 Medals will receive a Pyrite Medal (-3 votes) as a penalty.

  • Comments or Questions: Comments and questions about this Challenge are handled on the Comments Thread

  • CRITIQUES: After voting has closed the entries will be posted for comments and critiques. Post constructive critiques and commentary about the entries to this Challenge in the [Critiques Thread].

  • GDS Details: For more details on how these Game Design Showdown Challenges work, visit the GDS Wiki Page.

Enjoy, and good luck!

-Rich and Mindspike

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry #1 - Ruins and Riches


Each player is a financial backer supporting 1 of 6 explorers in their search for a lost treasure. The placement of tokens, in conditionally restricted pairings, generates a developing narrative that depicts their ongoing search.

Token placement also allows the players to employ game directives to help or hurt the various explorers. By doing so the players can disguise which explorer they are backing, while covertly ensuring that their explorer still finds the treasure first.


01 Narrative booklet with 36 double entries for each of the 6 locations

01 Game board featuring 6 ancient ruin locations

Six squares run horizontally across the top of the board, one for each ruin location. Each square contains two circular spaces that can accommodate 1 explorer token and 1 object token. Beneath this row are pictures for the six explorers, with a 3 hit-point bar and a 3 victory point bar for each of them.

36 Explorer tokens (in six colors)
36 Object tokens (in six colors)

Each token has two conditionals links. For example a red explorer token could have blue and green object links on it. In contrast a yellow object token could have orange and purple explorer links on it.

06 Explorer Cards

Each player is randomly given a card for one of the six explorers, which they keep hidden throughout the game.

Game Mechanics

Each player randomly draws 4 tokens to start the game. On their turn a player can put as many tokens as they wish onto as many locations as they choose. However, when placing a new token it must match one of the conditional links of any other token on the location.

Tokens can be used to replace existing tokens if they color match the explorer or object token to be replaced.

When the explorer and object spaces of a location are both filled the player consults the narrative booklet. They flip to the relevant location section, choose to read either the positive or negative narrative entry for the matching token sequence, and follow the accompanying game directions to help or hinder the explorer. The type of object token provides an indication of what the game directions will be.
Game directions can cause explorers to take damage, heal damage, or discover clues that equate to victory points. They can also impact on other explorers and dictate the movement of explorer or object tokens between locations.

If an explorers hit-points reach 0 all their tokens are removed from the game board. After spending a round healing their hit-points rise to 1 and they re-enter the game. While an explorer is healing no tokens for that explorer can be added to the game board.

After reading an entry all the tokens on the location are returned to the general draw pile.

At the end of their turn players draw 1 new token up to a maximum hand allowance of 4.

Win Condition

When an explorer scores 3 victory points the player backing that explorer wins the game.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry #2 - Operation SNAFU

3-6 players

Got an impossible job? You need a team that specializes in the impossible. Whether it’s rescuing the president, stealing a priceless work of art, disabling a bomb or kidnapping a celebrity, this crew is ready, willing and able. Despite any complications that arise.

Role Cards
Event Cards
Item Cards
Alert Cards
Loyalty Cards
Room Chits
Target/Decoy/Guard Chits
Character Pieces
Multiple 6-sided dice

Players randomly choose one of many missions and take on roles of specialists attempting to carry out the mission.

Room chits are randomly placed face down in each of the nine rooms, ensuring it’s never the same map twice. The chosen mission will provide instructions as to what cards, chits and roles are required and where to place them.

For example, in “Save the President,” the Locksmith, Assassin, Hacker, Sniper, Strategist and Demolitions roles are available. This mission takes place in a house, so it’ll use 9 specific house room chits (library, home office, bedroom, security room, etc.). The president target chit, 4 decoy chits and 4 guard chits are randomly placed face down in separate rooms. A map will show you where doors, windows and patrol guards are located.

Players cooperate to locate and complete the mission objective. In “Save the President” mission, the objective is to find the president and get him out alive.

The objective seems simple, but once you locate the target, you’ll hit a SNAFU, and your goal will become more difficult. Each mission has 9 possible SNAFUs.

The SNAFU is determined by the room the target is found in. Reference the mission’s matrix of scenarios to find what has gone awry and what needs to be done to finish the mission.

In our “Save the President” example, if the president was in the security room, there’s actually a traitor trying to stop the crew from completing the mission. Distribute loyalty cards and read the separate win conditions of the team and of the traitor.

However, if the president was in the kitchen, the target was an imposter, the alarm’s been raised and the real president must be found and escape with at least one crewmember.

Players win if they complete the mission’s win conditions according to the SNAFU instructions.

Player actions include moving, searching, unlocking, attacking and hacking. Roles provide perks and additional actions. After completing their actions, the player draws an event card. These could help or hinder the crew by providing useful information, alerting authorities, setting off a trap, finding a map, etc. The player then draws a number of alert cards depending on the current detection level.

Often, getting in and out quietly is the best course of action. But as the game continues, events like leaving the window open or a squeak of a sneaker can cause detection to increased. Players can either take three actions without increasing detection or risk detection with a fourth action. As detection rises, players must draw alert cards, which usually means trouble.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry #3 - MELODRAM-AHA!

A narrative storytelling game for 2 players.

A classic melodrama climax from the silent film era is the scene where a helpless Engenue is tied to the train tracks by a ruthless, moustache-twirling, top-hat-and-cape-wearing Bad Guy. Fortunately for the Engenue, there's a Hero on the way! The Hero must rescue the Engenue before the train brings about an untimely death. Of course, in the movies things always turn out right for the Hero and the Engenue, but in the world of board games, the story can turn out quite a bit differently depending on how the players play...Let's see what happens!

- 1 Game Board
- Four Winner Tokens: two each of the Hero and the Villain
- 50 Tiles
- Engenue Token
- Hero Token
- Train Token
- 1 six-sided dice

1. Place the Train Token, the Hero Token, and the Engenue Token on their corresponding start spaces. Either side of these tokens can be face-up (for each, one is obviously gendered male, while the other side is obviously gendered female).
2. Each player takes one of each kind of Winner Token: Hero and Villain.
3. Each Player decides which Character they want to be the Winner of the current match: The Hero or The Villain. They place the corresponding Token in front of them, face-down, and move the other out of that match. These Winner tokens are revealed only at the end of the game.
4. Turn the remaining tokens face-down, and shuffle them. This will be the Draw area for new tiles.
5. Each player draws 3 tiles, and the game begins.

1. Each player chooses where their 3 tiles will go:
- One tile is Played, and placed face-down in front of them.
- One tile is Moved to the Mystery Row and kept face-down.
- One tile is Discarded and removed from that match.
2. The order of Tile Play is resolved, with the highest-numbered tile going first, and then proceeding in descending order.
3. Once the Mystery Row is filled, that tile is selected by rolling the six-sided dice and selecting that tile. It is then resolved, and the rest of the Mystery Row tiles are Discarded.
4. Play continues until The Hero reaches The Engenue (and The Hero wins), or The Train reaches The Engenue (in which case The Villain is the winner).
5. Players then reveal their selected Winner. Each player that selects the matching Winner Token earns 1 point for the match. Both players may win points, and/or both player may also earn 0 points for a match.
6. The Player with the most points at the end of a series of matches is the winner!

- Train +1/ +2: move The Train forward 1 or 2, respectively
- Hero +1/ +2/ +3: move The Hero forward 1, 2, or 3 respectively
- Thug 2, 3, or 4: Hero must roll that number or higher to move forward 1. If unsuccessful, move Hero back 1.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry #4 - Entanglement Agents


Two to six players compete to control the fate of two dueling Secret Agents in a future-tech Cold War. New advanced drugs, Quantum Entanglement Agents, allow them to enter alternate realties and change their decisions in the past, present and future. Will the world end in a nuclear holocaust? Will the Agents live to tell the tale? Will love or hate grow between them as the treacherous Cold War unfolds? Soon the final future will be present and the consequences of decisions past will decide their doom.

Game Board

The game board/time-track is divided into twelve stages each representing a stage in the story. (Modeled after the 12 stages in The Hero’s Journey). Each stage is divided into six parallel alternate realities of that stage. Each of these realities depicts an event in graphic novel style with a short description and six choices listed. The consequences of each choice affect the three plot lines that the game follows: Nuclear War or Treaty Made, One or Both Agents Live or Die, Agents Fall in Love or Become Bitter Enemies. A dice is placed on one reality in each stage with the number facing up corresponding to the choice for that reality. Some choices, especially earlier on, yield bonus Entanglement Cards.

Game Play

Players roll to see who goes first with play continuing clockwise. First player draws two Entanglement Cards and then arranges a dice as they choose on the first stage. Subsequent players do likewise with subsequent stages until the first five stages have a dice placed. The first stage is now marked as the “present” using a token. Play continues with the next player playing a normal turn.

For a normal turn, players first draw two new Entanglement Cards and then play one card (unless using a Sync card) or may pass.

Once the tenth stage is unlocked with a Stage card the first stage is now locked into place and may not be changed. This continues so that there are only ever, at most, nine stages available for manipulation until the “present” moves past the twelfth stage and the game ends.

Entanglement Cards

Switch: Trade positions of present dice with any other.

Shift: Move the present dice to a parallel alternate reality.

Spin: Change the present dice’s number.

Sync: Combine with other card to allow its effect to apply to all dice of the same number.

Suspend: Combine with a card to allow it to be played as an additional card that turn.

Stage: Immediately advance the "present" to the next time stage and arrange a new dice how you wish in the next available future stage.

Doom Cards

Each player receives one Doom Card that shows three story outcomes as their goal. Example: Treaty Made, One Agent Dies, They Fall in Love.


Whoever completes all, or the most, of their Doom goals wins. A tie for winner triggers an additional round to be played with all time stages changeable allowing for dramatic comebacks and subversive planning.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry #5 - The Wild West

The Wild West

A city in the Wild West with gambling and fights in saloons, outlaws who seek refugee, gold found nearby, and surrounded by cattle. Just a few miles away live Indians to trade with, but treated unfriendly, they might attack! During the game the lives of seven characters is followed. They influence the development of the city, and they react on others characters and events.

The board has:

  • A long road with buildings on both sides. A saloon, bank, hotel and prison are built at the start
  • Some shallow water where gold can be found.
  • The Indians sacred ground lies close to the city. The Indian village is not on the game board.

Select seven characters per game. The game comes with twenty to thirty characters for replay value. Some characters can be selected individually; some are needed together because their stories interact. Each character consists of several cards, of which one is active, with on each card a part of the story and three tasks to perform (in order).

Like: building a saloon for gambling; find gold; meet someone.

After at least one of those tasks is finished, the character can change its objectives. Depending on the situation on the board it has the option of two or three follow up cards. The new card replaces the old one, and gives three new tasks.

For instance, after building a saloon there were too many fights (because the number of outlaws has risen). The character wants to sell the saloon and setup a gold mine (unfortunately this will be on either cattle ground or sacred Indian ground, but that is another story). Had the number of outlaws been smaller, another card would be selected, with tasks: create a third saloon and a hotel.

Each player has their own character on the board helping one of the seven characters performing their tasks. The players choose the character they want to help and place a marker on that card. Other players cannot select that character.

The character of the player has six qualities which are registered at a player map. These are violence, trade, gold search, gambling, herding and diplomacy.

The player must perform the tasks of his selected character. Tasks can be performed by (from easy to hard): going somewhere, meeting someone, perform an action, destroy or create buildings. Actions have one or more qualities as condition. Buildings cost gold.

Players throw three dice: one with quality icons, and two normal dice. Players choose one dice to walk, and the other to increase the quality, which becomes harder and harder. Qualities can be increased in buildings as well. Gold is earned (or gambled for) in buildings.

After every finished task the player earns victory points, and may decide to switch to a free character. This means that the character he leaves will advance to a new card (part of his story).

Game ends when any character finishes his story. Most victory points wins.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry #6 - Telltaletown

A game of storytelling, misdirection, and deduction for 3-6 players - you must work together to tell a story, but don’t let anyone know what you’re really up to.


The stories are set in the small town of Telltaletown, which is represented by the game board. It has places like: corner store, gas station, diner, bank, church, jail house, forest, etc. There are ten characters represented by pawns: sheriff, banker, bar keeper, butcher, preacher, teacher, farmer’s daughter, mayor, storekeeper, out of town visitor. There are also several prop pieces like: shovel, shot gun, treasure chest, etc. The setting, props, and characters are the same each game, but everything else changes. First, a genre card is selected (comedy, mystery, drama, etc). Next, one character is chosen for the protagonist and one for the antagonist from the deck of character cards. Lastly, an inciting incident is drawn to get the ball rolling (e.g. explosion, missing person, murder, etc).


The game is divided into three phases: rising action (7 rounds), climax (2 rounds), and falling action (1 round). The players take turns adding to a single, continuous narrative. Players start with four action cards each and play one action card per turn. The action cards provide guidelines for adding to the story. For example, move exactly three characters, two characters must be at the diner, a new player must take the treasure chest, draw 2 new action cards. Important note: players aren’t connected to any character or characters in the story. Every player can freely control all the characters and props.


Players also start with plot objective cards that give them something they must try to steer the story towards. Each player gets one primary plot objective card and three secondary plot objective cards. The primary objective will be a binary outcome to try and make happen by the end of the story for either the protagonist or antagonist (e.g. move away, go to prison, die, etc). The secondary objectives are related to the positions of the game components (e.g. have each character in different a location, have one character possess three props at once, etc).

The catch is that each player also starts the game with two veto cards which can be used to negate any other player’s turn at any time for any reason. Meanwhile, throughout the game everyone is trying to figure out what objective cards the other players have. At any time, any player may guess at a primary or secondary objective of any other player. Players earn points (and additional veto cards) for achieving their secondary objectives as well as correctly guessing other player’s plot objectives. Players must forfeit action cards and veto cards for guessing incorrectly or having an objective card guessed.

The winner is the player with the most points among those who achieve their primary objective.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry #7 - Six Kingdoms


Six kingdoms have held a tenuous peace for a generation, but tensions may lead to war once again. 2-6 players play as a lord or lady from one of the six kingdoms. Your goal is to get 6 Victory Points by gaining influence over other kingdoms, conquering their capital cities, or by completing quests. As you travel the world, events that change the world happen around you, leading to alliances and wars between kingdoms.


1 Board, showing six kingdoms, each with their own capital city.

1 Story Book

1 Kingdom die, with one side for each kingdom

6 Player figures

Cards - War deck, Peace deck, Politics deck, Quests

Status Tokens

War and Peace tokens for each kingdom

Victory tokens

Diplomacy Board, with 15 relations tokens: 15 scales ranging from -3 to +3, showing each kingdoms relationship with each other kingdom. If the number is negative, those kingdoms are at war.


Each player chooses a kingdom, and places their figure on their kingdoms capital. Each capital city starts with 3 war tokens and 3 peace tokens, matching their color. Each player draws one quest card. Roll the Kingdom die to determine the first active player.



Move up to 2 spaces in friendly territory, or 1 space in enemy territory.


Draw a card from the War, Peace, or Politics deck based on the kingdom you are in: Politics for your home kingdom, War for a kingdom you are at war with, and Peace for a kingdom you are peaceful with.

Read the card aloud. Cards direct to a specific passage in the story book based on status tokens you may have, your relationship with other kingdoms, or a choice you make.

Another player finds the passage in the story book and reads it aloud. This may tell of events that are beyond your control, or give you options to choose between different outcomes based on statuses or other requirements. This often raises or lowers the relations between kingdoms, and may let you add war or peace tokens to a city. Passages may affect the kingdom you are in, or other kingdoms that may be determined by you, or by a roll of the kingdom die.


If you meet the requirements of your quest card, take any status and victory tokens it provides, and draw another quest card.

Count your victory points by adding your victory tokens and all capitals that you have Influenced or Conquered.

Conquered: If you are at war with a kingdom, and have more war tokens in their capital than any other kingdom, you have conquered that city.

Influenced: If you have equal or more Peace tokens in a city than it's owner, and it has not been conquered, you have influence in that city. Influence is shared with the cities owner, counting as a victory point for both players.

If you have 6 Victory points counting your cities and completed quests, you win. If not, the next player takes their turn.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Entry #8 - Life of Blalil


This game is set in the Monster Inc. universe. Players are trying to influence the life story of Blalil, a young and impressionable monster youth.


Game Board – I picture using a scroll as a game board. The scroll is split into four sections that represent stages of life. At the end of each stage there is a life event (scoring).
Play moves from left to right following diagonal paths (grid pattern). Players will dictate which path Blalil will take.


Life Event Cards – Players will secretly choose which outcome they want before the game starts as represented by these cards.

1 Die – (UP, UP, Down, Down, Back, Diverge)

2 Life Tracker Tokens – to mark progress of Blalil.


Each round has a vote. The life tracker may be moved up or down depending on the majority of the vote. If there is only one trump card (MOTHER KNOWS BEST), that player can choose where to more the tracker. If there are two or more trump cards or there is a tie in voting, roll the die to see where the tracker will move. Trump cards may only be used once per life stage.
If BACK is rolled, move the life tracker to the previous space. This is not possible when the tracker is on a life event.
If DIVERGE is rolled, add a new life tracker. Place the original one on the up diagonal and the new token on the down diagonal. This will create two life paths. If there are already two tokens on the board, remove the oldest one.

  • Players may only vote for one of the life tracker tokens at a time. The first life tracker to reach the life event is recorded, while the other is removed. If both trackers make it to the life event in the same round, they both count.

CHANGE CARD can be used during the vote stage. Add your current life event card to the unused deck, shuffle, and randomly select a new card (it is possible to choose the same card).


At the end of each life stage, there are life events. At the beginning of the game players will choose one of the life event cards for each of the four life events. Players will earn points if Blalil ends up passing through their life event. There are two life event cards for each life event space. There are four life events (getting into pre-school, choosing a clique, getting into college, and finding a job). The life events towards the center will be worth less than the ones on the outside. Also, the life events towards the end of the game (college, job) will be worth more.
There are 5 – 7 possible outcomes per life event.

When the story reaches the end of the scroll (job), play stops. The player with the most points (ie. Whoever has influenced Blalil the most) wins.

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