Apparently I’m bad at twitter and have to write everything in long essay format. This is probably true, but for practice let’s try getting some thoughts down in less than a bajillion words. I’ll do a quickfire analysis on my gaming shelf of supreme disorder. Let’s go!
Cash and Guns Yakuza
Neat Design Decision: Getting players to physically menace each other with foam guns and swords pretty much holds this game together. I play abstract games and often undervalue the importance of components compared to game-play, this is a perfect example of when it really matters.
Room for Improvement: The first time we played this we misread the rules and thought that players had to throw the shuriken at each other, rather than the card representing their character. Leading to feints and dodges and dives. This proved more enjoyable than the actual rule and we refuse to fix it.
The Haunting House
Neat Design Decision: The notion of a race through a modular board that is manipulated offers a nice twist on traditional race game formats.
Room for Improvement: In implementation that idea falls apart due to the moving end point. If you write “strategy board game” on your box then you shouldn’t periodically invalidate all moves made so far.
Hey That’s My Fish
Neat Design Decision: Deterministic, open information, turn based strategy games have been with us since Go, but the light theme gets people playing this who wouldn’t touch Go if their liberty depended on it. It’d be interesting to see a serious attempt to solve this one, I suspect it has much more depth that it lets on, but does a good job of making itself unintimidating.
Room for Improvement: Playing with more than two players can generate a kingmaker problem, it’s tough to see how this could be addressed without changing something core to the design. With an even number of players some sort of team game mode might work.
Flash Duel (Second Edition)
Neat Design Decision: It’s amazing how much character is achieved by three ability cards. Three cards feels like a small amount of design space to give a character an identity and make them feel different to play, but it really works.
Room for Improvement: It’s rare for the active player not to be able to set up a final strike victory when the deck is about to run out, while it makes for interesting strategy trying to make sure that your turn will be the last turn the back and forth seems to be less relevant as the “furthest advanced” victory condition matters less. I’d be interested to see what would happen if the final strike created some knockback rather than an instant win.
Wizard’s Academy (I’m designing this one, maybe I should skip it? Ach, n’evermind)
Neat Design Decision: The spell grid thing really works for me, it serves a lovely dual purpose of having players initially interested and surprised in the things that they have done and providing a neat series of options later in the game for devising some way out of this mess.
Room for Improvement: I’ve had a comment recently that some players don’t enjoy the slow start, with spells initially hidden all actions are essentially the same (“cast unknown spell”) making the first few turns less interesting. It could do with some scenarios that have more initial problems and some initially revealed spells.
Titan (Ancient 1980s edition, crumbling to dust)
Neat Design Decision: The building up forces and then using them aspect is really satisfying, while I’ve since played other examples of the mechanic this one still stands out for me. The rules are simple, but the emergent consequences interesting and they serve multiple purposes. Maximising opportunities to gather more forces, defend your titan effectively, find your opponents and capitalise on opportunities to attack creates the sort of balancing act that I enjoy.
Room for Improvement: It can take a really long time to play, two players can dance around each other building vast armies for a very long time. This would be tough to fix without breaking things core to the game, but perhaps it would benefit from a Smallworld like setup with different boards for different player counts.
Fury of Dracula
Neat Design Decision: I enjoy hidden movement games and this was the first one I played in which a trail of the last few moves is maintained. That addition makes seeking feel more satisfying and organic than the periodic revelation approach used in Scotland Yard.
Room for Improvement: The game length is very unpredictable. Depending on whether Dracula tries to win by evasion or hatching young vampires and assaulting for the last two points the game can last one to six game days – the hunters also reach a point of being capable of killing him with a few good rolls quite early on so a premature ending is possible in that respect. Sadly this game rarely hits our table because we’re normally looking to fill a particular length of time slot and it can’t do that for us.
Neat Design Decision: It does a very good job of capturing its theme, the zombies are slow, stupid, numerous and fantastically lethal in mobs. It’s nice when a theme and ruleset match up and the Zs in this game behave pretty much how new players might expect them to.
Room for Improvement: I’m sure they’ve dealt with this in the two editions since I got this copy and in errata, but it’s so egregious that it eclipses everything else: The vehicle rules made any scenario with a car both trivial and inconvenient to the point that we just started skipping them.
Neat Design Decision: Giving players control of several nations means that there’s always something to look forwards to. A lot of games on this scale lead to one player being boxed into a corner with a few units, not able to go and play something else, but not able to meaningfully impact this game – this approach neatly sidesteps that issue.
Room for Improvement: We get a lot of enjoyment out of ruining history, some of the limitations that I presume are balance or component limitations have stopped scenarios unfolding that we would’ve found interesting. Why can’t the Irish be kings of England if they do well enough? Why shouldn’t the Caledonians conquer more than a small portion of Scotlland in their best case scenario? The limitations on these (only some nations can be king, each faction has a maximum size) felt arbitrary to us.
Neat Design Decision: I’ve written about this before, but asymmetrical coop is great. The timer already solves the alpha player problem, but if it didn’t the notion of dividing up a team of players so that each person gets to do something they’re good at is wonderful. I’d love to see more done with the notion.
Room for Improvement: The swap stations card is theoretically interesting, in forcing players into stations that they’re not so good at – but in practice it’s become a “no effect” in which two particular players always swap seats each time it comes up. We might house rule this to everyone move a seat clockwise or something.
Huh, that wasn’t so bad. I still didn’t write anything that’d fit on twitter and had to inhibit my urge to go “but there are a thousand more things to talk about with respect to this game” on each game, but there’s something to this exercise. I might take to doing it for half an hour immediately before any time that I’m pinning down a new idea into a ruleset to get my brain moving in the right ways.
Try it in the comments! Pick a game at random from your shelf and tell me something neat about its design and somewhere you’d like to have seen an improvement.