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[GDS] September 2011 "Stick Around" - Critiques

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sedjtroll
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Use this thread to post constructive critiques of the entries to the September 2011 Challenge in the Game Design Showdown series.

This month's Challenge was entitled "Stick Around".

-Seth

Empires
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Congratulations to all people that submitted!

Who made Last Bot Standing?
Last Bot' Standing was my favorite submission, I voted 3 times for it. I would like to congratulate whoever made this submission and would love to see it fully developed and rules posted. I wouldn't mind helping make it into a real game, as I would like to see it completed. Also, a better rules explanation (such as how movement worked, and how parts were attached) would be awesome. Congrats to you!

I voted twice for Over There because I thought the theme was interesting and it best displayed the permanence aspect in my opinion. Congrats to you!

My last vote went to Nations of the World, mainly because I like Diplomacy/Civ-Building games and it looked really interesting (exceptional art too!) Congrats to you too!

Wheel of History I didn't really understand. I liked the theme, and I would have voted for it, but I just didn't understand how it fit together. Your pictures were good too, but sadly, I had voted before the error was fixed.

Gods and Heroes seemed neat, but didn't grab my attention. I liked the idea of making the board with hexes and triangles in the beginning, but I didn't understand how heroes worked.

Congratulations to everybody!

Shootout in El Tiroteo was my submission, and I am sure everyone thought it was terrible. Please let me know why in this Critique thread I have posted: http://www.bgdf.com/node/5316

By the way, El Tiroteo means "The Shootout" in case anyone was wondering

The Loneliest Banana
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The concept behind Wheel of History is that you make your own cards by writing an ability on a blank card, and by adding abilities to existing cards you played. Cards made in previous games are brought into future games. It's pretty simple.

I'm not sure how well the "each game is a reincarnation of the previous games" concept came across. In thematic terms, the game is supposed to take place in cyclical history, where each game is one full cycle around the Wheel, and empires from previous iterations of history rise again, as if destined to always emerge. Again, I don't know if this actually came through.

Actual gameplay would consist of using +3 food abilities to get food to pay upkeep. Once you have a good food base, you use +1 gold abilities to get gold, which you use to buy monuments with abilities like 4 gold -> Monument. Whoever has the most monuments at the end wins. Along the way, you fight wars to delete abilities from powerful cards, trade cards to gain an advantage, generate echo cards to affect the next game, and use gold to upgrade cards and play new cards.

In hindsight, I should've gone with my original idea for echoes, where certain game events generate echo cards. For example, a war generates an Earthquake echo card for the next game, gaining a lot of monuments generates a Ruins echo, running out of food generates a Famine, and so on. It's mostly the same as deliberately generating echoes with activated abilities, but it *sounds* cooler.

For my critiques, I felt all entries were more or less evenly matched. There weren't any that I felt stood out, or were especially terrible.

I guess I'll just give some thoughts in order:

OVER THERE – What hooked me was rule about the match ending when a player conquers all the cities or 20 games have passed. When I read that, the concept clicked. This was a game simulating WW1. Each game was a battle in a long, drawn out war. The use of permanence was decent. The armistice line was an interesting way to make players fight for territory, and to mark the progress of war. I'm not sure how well the line would erase on a physical board though. The ripping of corners didn't really accomplish anything that damage counters wouldn't, and upgrade stickers might as well have been upgrade cards. The ability to easily remember the damage/upgrade status of soldiers for next game is a benefit I suppose. Ripping technology, on the other hand, is a neat way to mark which technologies are permanently active. Technology also would do a great job capturing a sense of progression across games. What made me finally vote for Over There, though, was the board change. The idea of a pristine board becoming messed up and ugly over the match is a great way to set the a changing tone as the games go on, and I really wish the designer had included more material on what scars exactly the board was supposed to get instead of spending so much time describing movement and attacking. Are cities destroyed? Buildings constructed? Barbed wire fences put up? Trenches dug? There is potential here.

GODS AND HEROES – I couldn't quite figure out this game. It seemed like just moving heroes aimlessly on a board, with which type each space is (impassable, resource-generating, victory-giving) permanently decided as the game is played. As for permanence, all I could remember is the board changing (pretty standard; Over There and Last Bot Standing did it too) and something about changing loyalty. I don't know why I didn't like this one. Something just felt off. For some reason, the game wouldn't coalesce in my mind.

LAST 'BOT STANDING – The theme is certainly enthusiastic, and I could tell the designer had loads of fun coming up with robot parts and effects. The game seemed to involve robots moving around and attacking, based on which parts they were made of. Sounds decent. It didn't involve permanence well at all, in my opinion. The introduction mentioned the board changing, and robots from previous games could be repaired. I didn't see any difference between repairing an old robot and making a new one, so I didn't count that as permanence. If they cost different amounts of money, that would just give one player a starting advantage for playing a previous game, which is unfair and weird. The board changing was only barely mentioned, and both Over There and Gods and Heroes had the same concept, only more developed.

SHOOTOUT IN EL TIROTERO – There were a ton of mechanics in this submission. I couldn't wrap my head around everything to figure out how the game would play. As best as I could tell, it would involve moving around and picking up resources, which sounded dull. The idea of having where a die lands in a shootout affect things was creative. Permanence only came in the example of wanted posters, which didn't sound like they'd have much of an effect (especially since characters are chosen randomly), and ripping up dead characters, which is just discarding in this game and all future games. I'm not sure having a character eliminated from future games will do anything to make the game feel different, and it means you need to buy a new deck eventually.

NATIONS OF THE WORLD – I fear I may have been biased by the great artwork, despite my vow to ignore art quality. Once I got that it was just a game about voting on how to distribute a random set of resources each round, it seemed appealing. I like voting and persuasion games, which also biased me. Roleplaying as a nation is a tried-and-tested fun theme. The use of permanence came in the form of global shifts, and changes to the nation's card. In hindsight, both of these could be achieved through cards. Instead of global shift stickers, you deal out one global shift card each turn. Instead of stickers on a nation card, you could have nations pick a new national agenda card, and pick a resource card to represent their x2 resource, etc. Changing the rules for the next game is pretty standard though. Over There used technologies, El Tirotero had wanted lists, and Wheel of History had echo cards. I consider the permanence elements adequate. While they're certainly a core element of gameplay, they aren't all that compelling.

feNix
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Comments/Critiques

Over There

I'm not a huge fan of world war games but I liked the card tearing and how it was used as a sort of health point track. Having tech remain throughout gameplay was nice as well but somewhat of a moot point, I felt, compared to the primary components change. Speaking of which, I wish that more had been said about unit upgrades which I thought should have gotten more attention.

Gods and Heroes

This entry and Wheel of History were my top picks.
I wasn't sure about the creation. Were the triangles to be colored in or would there be pieces? I'm assuming that the board would be colored due to the permanence requirement of the challenge.
I love stats so introducing heroes with stats definitely helped soften me up.
I know that it's not complete and more of a rough rough draft but I would have liked to have seen more detail on the loyalty aspect/stat of the heroes and cities. How much loyalty could one accrue? Would loyalty to one player prove to be greater after so many games and cover loyalty to any other initials covering the card?

Wheel of History
You know you didn't include where to get my starter deck, right? ;P
After seeing the images, I kinda wondered why you didn't leave the number next to settlements blank or have them covered up by stickers. Then I figured it out. To sell more cards!
I liked the concept behind this one and really like civ games and the Wheel of Time series. So to see this in game form was pretty cool. The fact that it didn't go the route that I feel most of us went was a definite plus. Although, the marking of the province cards is basically the same thing.

Shootout in El Tiroteo
This one used permanence in, I felt, a unique manner but it seemed to be more of a side item than something that made a difference in the way the game would be played.

Nations of the World

Was this a late entry? I didn't notice this at first.
Politics aren't my thing and that goes for round-the-table-meta-gaming politics. That said, I felt this did about as good a job as the rest of the entries.

Last 'Bot Standing

This was mine and, frankly, I was surprised I got any votes since I realized AFTER submitting that I had left out the most important section. *facepalm* I had been so set on trimming the entry down to 800 words that I forgot to do it. Ah well, c'est la vie. I wish that I could have been more creative with my application of permanence. As it was, all I had was the arena(board) modding and the bots themselves with the assimilating. (That's the part I left out.) Hopefully next challenge will be something that I'm better at visualizing, like juggling flaming tigers on a tight rope with one hand.

Overview

I was a lil' disappointed that most of the entries seemed to have followed in Risk Legacy's footsteps, mine included, and done more with the "map" portion of the board changing than anything else. Over There's tech additions and Shootout in El Tiroteo's wanted posters were the most innovative, in my opinion.

Responses

Yeah, I should have mentioned more about how the bots can make and break the environment. Unfortunately, all I did was include mention of it in the ability to build walls. That was s'posed t'be expanded. Maybe I'll go ahead and keep working on this one to see what I can do with it. Not sure that permanence will play a major role, however, besides the boards and the 'Bots Learning Integration Programming (BLIP).

As far as the repairing not being permanent. I don't agree. Just as a medic can stitch a soldier back up to full health between wars, a bot can be remade between matches. Only a helluva lot easier. What changes with both the man and the machine, however, is the experience taken away. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, in all my brilliance I forgot to include that one. Also the reason that I'm surprised to have come in as a runner up.

That said, I was glad to get a chance to participate in this challenge. It was a learning experience for me. I know next time to concentrate much more on how the game actually includes the required mechanics/themes/etc.

Looking forward to the next one!

ilta
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critiques

Two parts: one for you guys, one for me.

I thought this was a really evenly-matched GDS, and I'm glad to see that the close voting reflected that, and humbled to have won by a single point.

Over There

This one was mine, reflections are coming in the next post.

Gods and Heroes

Like others, I found that this game didn't quite gel for me. It sounded like the beginning of something interesting but there wasn't enough gameplay meat there to figure out what the game was about. I love the idea of a city being "loyal" to previously-occupying players though, and would be intrigued to know more just what that would mean in gameplay terms.

Wheel of History

Liked this a lot. Seems pretty straightforward rules-wise, with plenty of emergent play possibilities based on the different card upgrades. Would have appreciated a few more examples of the different card buffs you can buy, since that seems to be the heart of the gameplay. Also seems like you'd go through a LOT of cards since you're razing not only the echo deck all the time, but other cards from time to time as well. Still, my favorite of the bunch even if it didn't push the existing permanence mechanics very far.

Last Bot Standing

This is a very promising theme that, in my opinion, just isn't done enough -- there are just so many cool ways to explore fighting robots. However, this one suffered the most from what I view as the central problem in "permanent" games - how do you balance experienced players with newbies? There's really no effort to balance that here as more money will mean better parts, which presumably will kick the metal behinds off the newcomers. Additionally, a "last man standing" approach is tricky because your best bet to stay alive is to avoid combat and hope the others fight, possibly ending with a weakened victor you can waltz over to and punch in the face once for a knockout. I think you'd want to see some way to reward effective attacks, possibly balanced against the odds of the fight. So a less powerful robot beating up a bigger one scores huge points, but the reverse match-up only a pittance. This would ensure that the best robot was always under fire, and reward risk-taking. Or, if you didn't want complication, you could up the combat with a Battle Royale-style mechanic that essentially forced robots to confront one another every few rounds, either with a shrinking playing area or some sort of "the longer you go without rolling up to someone and throwing a punch, the more it costs you." A good start, though, and I'd be interested to see further development from this one.

Shootout in El Tiroteo

A solid first entry. Welcome to GDS! But there was just too much here and it never quite fell into place. A key task for any game designer, and especially for GDS designs, is to be ruthless with mechanics and ideas. I'll talk a bit more about this when I get to my own reflections. I also wasn't sure what the end condition was, or how permanence came into play beyond wanted posters and ripping up dead characters. Also, you have a troubling mechanic that only character-designated "enemies" can shoot at one another. What if there are no enemies this game? Or what if two players are enemies, but there's a third that isn't the enemy of the other two? Will he have an advantage, or just be bored? I'm just not sure what specifying enemies has going for it, gameplaywise -- it seems like you should want people to shoot at each other, not make it harder.

Nations of the World

I liked the pared-down metagame aspects of this, but I wish there was something... more. The "draw resources, propose divisions, divide" mechanic seems like half of a thrilling game, but only half. But maybe you'd just need a really fun, argumentative group to bring those meta-aspects out. The art was fantastic; basically finished game quality. So bonus points there. I didn't understand the effect that changing the desired resource icons would have for the next game, at least not enough to justify making it a Thing You Get To Do.

Overall

I think I've come off really critical here, but honestly there was plenty to like about just about each of the entries. It's neat to see such a new design mechanic getting the GDS treatment, since everyone's ideas about what "permanent" can do are still very fresh and essentially driven by only one game (Risk Legacy).

ilta
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designer notes on Over There

Part II: where I talk about me, me, me

Again, thank you all for the comments on the game, and of course, the votes. I'm glad that Loneliest Banana (and others, presumably) picked up on main thrust of the design, which is that WWI was just completely devastating to the nations involved. I had hoped to capture that central idea with most of the permanence mechanics I used:

  • The board itself getting messed up. I think ultimately it's OK if the armistice line doesn't go away cleanly each time, if players start getting a little frustrated about redrawing it and it gets harder to tell exactly where it is. That is highly thematic, of course, although in real-world gameplay terms it might just be annoying. Obviously if I took this concept further this would require a materials test, and possibly some other way to mark armistice (removeable or coverable stickers come to mind, of course, but I really liked the idea of hand-drawing the line).

  • Ripping the corners on troops. This came under fire (har har) a bit as unnecessary to track damage (wouldn't counters or cards do?), but I think that overlooks two things. First, that all unit cards are placed face down, but if they have ripped corners a savvy enemy can hope to guess which ones are which from their backs. Second, that the act of ripping these cards was a destructive one, and left you with a permanently and visibly weakened force. By game 20 I'm imagining two pretty much exhausted armies with one or two corners left on most of their cards, just slugging away at each other with appalling casualties (since any one-corner soldier is killed for the battle rather than further wounded, and similarly hurt leaders are destroyed outright). Ideally the cards would also get scuffed and dirtied up as a consequence of playing on a constantly-markered board, making fresh troops stick out like sore thumbs amidst their grizzled veteran buddies.

  • The permanent killing of leaders. You'd want to use your best leaders and their powerful abilities, but not put them in too much jeopardy, because unlike regular soldiers once they are knocked out, they're gone for the rest of the war. On the other hand, since dead leaders (and soldiers) earn glory, a quasi-suicide charge might be worth it, at least in the short term (ie this battle). Again, this was designed to be thematic -- to encourage the players to think like the historical glory-hound generals who would throw their men into meat grinders to take hills and plant flags so they could "win" a battle which changed almost nothing on a strategic level. The hope was also that by the end of the war, if you hadn't killed them all off, you could tailor your choice of leaders to your secret objective based on their special powers.

  • The other end-game options, which were basically a grab-bag of goodies but included a number of very destructive choices. Razing a city is, of course, a devastating permanent effect, and knocking out an enemy control point will make it easier for you to win future games, since you'll be denying them an easy source of glory. It's designed to be a hard choice as to which one to take, as much informed by what your opponent will want to do -- you can prevent him from doing it if you do it instead. I did include a few choices out there that would be satisfying second prizes, though, like the tech research and the unit upgrades, because I didn't want one battle to decide the war (WWI wasn't that kind of war).

Things I cut for wordcount and complexity:

  • A discussion of the various soldier and leader upgrades, which at least two commenters noted. Basically they would boil down to +1 buffs on the various statistics -- an extra combat die for upgraded weapons, extra range for a sniper team, etc.

  • Tech discussion. I mentioned some tantalizing tech titles (poison gas), but only actually described one (propaganda). Again, there just wasn't space so I hoped to give people a sense that techs would range from combat bonuses to rule changes to devastating battlefield weapons.

  • I even imagined, though didn't mention, political cards that would require players to decide how their nation behaved. For instance, there might be an allied tech card offering the choice between martial law and general elections -- you could pick martial law and get some free recruitment or something, but you'd have to ditch any "democratic" politics cards. There's a whole sub-game here that I tossed off as "some cards may require you to destroy other conflicting cards".

  • Tech upgrades. Originally I imagined that tech upgrades would work like this: you'd have a bunch of identical cards in the deck for certain upgradable techs (say, artillery). When you drew a copy, you were now at level 2 on that tech; another copy would bring you to level 3, and so on. So someone might get a bunch of artillery cards, and then they'd have one really powerful artillery at their disposal. I ended up just saying that you could obsolesce old cards but I like my original system more.

  • Airplanes. This cut hurt. Originally, I had airplanes come out of the tech deck but for the rest of the war functioned like soldiers for set-up purposes. They would be very effective at things like recon and fighting one another (which was mostly how they were used historically) and would have excellent movement, however if you moved them their full 3 spaces you had to reveal them as planes in the air. You could also put in AA guns to knock out enemy planes. However, all this was a very heavy and wordy piece of rules that just had to get abstracted out, at least for the GDS. This is what my theater producer friend calls "killing the babies" -- you have to cut out anything and everything that doesn't serve to get your point across in those 800 words.

  • I briefly imagined that artillery would work like this as well, and include a minimum range so you could sneak up on them and knock them out. Again, though, too complex and too many words to explain, so I also abstracted them. That was an easier choice than killing the planes but I was still sad to do it since it would have added a great deal of variety to the on-board maneuvering.

Regrets and Missed Opportunities

  • I should have definitely talked about entrenching, which I imagined in a sense similar to some of the terrain in Memoir 44 where you could ignore the first "hit" in any combat. I wasn't sold on the idea and I was at the word limit anyway, so I just slid past it. In retrospect such an important aspect of the war -- indeed, one of its defining elements -- deserved both more description, and more thought.

  • I probably should have given the winning side their choice of any two of the game alteration options, or made "move the armistice line" happen automatically and probably more cleanly (it seems easy to imagine a very messy back-and-forth armistice line as is). I think they should also be more exciting too -- some of the Risk benes are really neat.

  • I should have added a rule for set-up, of course, that a player who has fewer than 3 remaining leaders may break the 21:3 reinforcement deck composition rule; hopefully that would be obvious but technically it's a game-stopping hole in the rules.

Conclusion: Games as Art

I hope you all enjoyed my bloviating, or at least found it helpful or interesting.

I actually tried to reach for something bigger than just game mechanics with this design -- my hope was that players looking at their devastated board and scuffed, ripped up cards would approach WWI, and even war in general, with a much more sober perspective. Maybe? Is that too much to expect from a game? Do people even want An Artistic Statement from their games, or do they want to move their dudes around and conquer Kamchatka with a few die rolls? Based on the strongly-argued-but-mostly-positive reaction to Labyrinth: The War on Terror, I think that there is space for a game that tries to say something.

I think I got most of the way there with this design. I'm not sure I'm interested enough in permanence to take it all the way (and I have some other projects I'm working on anyway) but if people were moved by it I'd probably work on polishing it up a bit into something real.

feNix
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Too true.

I gotta say, most of my games don't get to playtesting let alone balancing, so this was especially an issue from me. Besides the fact that I concentrated way too much on the parts of the game that had nothing to do with the theme!

Thanks for the feedback, something to think about.

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