And The Winners Are!

Once again, I apologize for my tardiness in getting all of this done. But, finally, all votes have been counted and all scores have been tallied. Here are the winners of the 2007 BibliOdyssey Design Challenge!

Best Integration Of Images: The City At The Edge Of Sleep, by Mike Addison, with a total average score in the category of 8/10. Followed by:

  • Troll Lands (7.8)
  • Once More (6.8)
  • In Inordinate Fondness & Dark Explorations (6)
  • Friends or Fortune & In Frankensteins Wake (5)

Most Playable: In Frankenstein’s Wake, by Eric Boyd, with a total average score in the category of 8.5/10. Followed by:

  • An Inordinate Fondness (8.3)
  • Once More (7)
  • The City at the Edge of Sleep (6)
  • Friends or Fortune (5.5)
  • Troll Lands (4.6)
  • Dark Explorations (4)

Best Overall: In Frankenstein’s Wake also had the highest score in the category, with a total average of 7.25. As a game cannot take more than one title, the next highest was a three-way tie! The City at the Edge of Sleep, An Inordinate Fondness and Once More all received a score of 7. As City at the Edge of Sleep is also ineligible, the official winners of this category are both An Inordinate Fondness, by Mark Villianatos and Once More, by Mendel Schmiedekamp! The other scores:

  • Troll Lands (5.6)
  • Friends or Fortune (5.5)
  • Dark Explorations (5)

Congratulations to Mike, Eric, Mark and Mendel! I look forward to playing your games!

The individual pages will be updated with their scores and review links real soon now. There’s also a thread at StoryGames to talk about the winners, and the contest in general.

Thanks everyone!

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Review: An Inordinate Fondness

In Short…

An Ordinate Fondness is Mark Vallianatos’s game of person-sized insects exploring and theorizing about the artifacts of lost human civilizations. Definitely quirky, and with some very cool mechanical bits to it, it seems to me that it needs a stronger sense of focus in order to tighten it up.

Incorporation of Images

The game is obviously inspired by the image set, but I was sad to see all of the images in question clustered onto one page. While using them as inline pictures would have interrupted the well-designed page layout, I think that they could have been imagined as half-page or full-page spreads with accompanying text giving examples of how the insects misinterpret the human artifacts that they are interacting with in the images.

Playability

The mechanics aren’t terribly complex, and the running examples in the text are fabulous and helpful. I love the fact that cards are used both for their values, and also to represent the “stats” of the different body parts of the insects. Very thematically elegant.

The game is short-form enough in scope that the lack of an endgame state or win condition makes me go “huh”. Perhaps some kind of upper limit on Status or something involving total theory acceptance? I don’t see enough meat on the bones of the two-phase system to sustain more than a couple of rounds of it, without a definite goal to be aiming towards.

Overall

What a cool weird game! While I don’t see any reason I couldn’t play it, there are two areas of possible improvement that would make me more likely too. The first is an endgame state, as described above, to give a concrete goal to be working towards throughout the game. The second is that I don’t see much reason to roleplay in the Exploration phase, as is. The interactions between the insects are fairly minimal, and as each person only has a couple of things that they need to narrate in the scene, I fear that thats all that those scenes would consist of. You can see one of my thoughts to address this below. Overall, I liked the game, but I’m not really interested in playing it without something more to give me a tighter focus for play.

Further Thoughts

I had one thing that I thought of that would address my concern with Exploration scenes, and also introduce an overarching theme of tension that could easily get tied into an endgame scenario. That is that, maybe, lower-status characters could change cards with higher-status AFTER they are all revealed, by narrating how they use those respective parts of their bodies to alter the conflict in their favor (I bat his head aside with my wings, making him dizzy so he’s more attractive prey to the ants!). I think that this would provide something cool for having low status, would complicate conflicts (in a good way), and would provide grist for competing agendas in the Theorizing scenes.  I just fear that the game as is is too far towards the “parlor narration” style of game for it to be interesting to me.

-N

Published in: on March 14, 2007 at 2:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Inordinate Fondness Review

Overview
Inordinate Fondness puts the players in the role of insect archaeologists that explore the earth after the fall of human civilization. Using card mechanics that include card swapping, hand building, and a bit of risk-reward assessment, players explore the ruins of human civilization, recover artifacts, and attempt to gain status by interpreting their findings to their nest.

Use of Images
Inordinate Fondness makes great use of the source images as inspiration for the game. The images juxtapose the trappings of human civilization with various insects. The theme and design of the game embraces that juxtaposition, offering players the opportunity to explore the same emotional range found in the images.

Unfortunately, the images are not incorporated into the mechanics of the game, and are half-heartedly cut-n-pasted into a single page of the rules document. It seems like the designer was most interested in delivering a solid gaming experience based on his concept, and included images in the rules solely to meet the base requirements of the contest.

Playability
The game mechanics are great: simple, playable, though slightly idiosyncratic. The game is broken down into logical phases, which gives the reader a good sense of the cycle of exploration and scholarly theorizing that fill their character’s lives. Each mechanic within the game interwines with at least one other part of the game, so that decisions made in one phase have an impact on later phases. Also, every mechanic ties directly into the shared imagination space and enforces the themes of the game.

The game has an interesting idiosyncrasy. The risk level at several points in the game is fairly high. Survival during exploration depends on having a card that is identical or ‘adjacent’ to (i.e. one higher or one lower than) the value of a facedown card. Careful maneuvering of cards can increase a player’s odds of survival, but one round of bad luck can spell doom for one or all of the characters. Likewise, social status, an important commodity in the game, greatly depends on a random poker hand draw. A dominant character with a lot of status could easily be overturned by bad luck or persistent challenges from other players. If the focus of the game were strategy, I would call the high risk a flaw. However, the point of the game seems to be the story told, in which case I think the high risk makes for a more lively tale.

One problem I see is that a successful character could become stagnant. Once a player has a good hand, there is not much motivation to change it. However, I think the high level of risk mentioned above counterbalances this issue. Even if you are dominating the game, you have no guarantee that you will survive the next Exploration.

The layout and play examples do a pretty good job of supporting actual game play. I especially like the way the author divides the play example into its own column, like a running commentary or conversation with the meat of the rules. I only have a few quibbles in terms of play support. Steps Nine and Ten make reference to the players ‘hand’ of cards, and it is not immediately evident that the rules mean the Insect Cards drawn in Step Four. Lastly, in Step Fourteen, I was a little confused by having the listing of status rewards for introducing and supporting theories on the same line. I was able to figure it out, but it would be clearer if each reward was listed separately.

Overall
I’m really pleased with the direction Mark took with his game. In fact, you could say I have an inordinate fondness of it (sorry, couldn’t resist). Good work, Mark! I’m eager to try it out.
As for fulfilling the spirit of the contest, I feel that this design only goes about half-way. The game design is great, but I feel that the author could have done more to incorporate the image set past the initial inspiration for the game.

Suggestions to the Designer
I have two additions to suggest, and a few minor nitpicks to tighten up what you already have.

I would like to see an endgame added to the design. In its current form, it seems like players simply play until they have had enough, or they run out of time, etc. It would be nice if players had some guidance for wrapping up their story when they are ready to end their game. Perhaps the player with the most social status at the end becomes a personal attendant of the nest queen, or wins the right to narrate how the surviving theories shape the future of the nest. Or if you feel that having a ‘winner’ undermines the spirit of the game, maybe a group narration of the end is more appropriate.

I also think it would be nice if the legacy of dead characters counted for something, especially if you add in rules for an endgame. Maybe the status of dead characters factors into determining a ‘winner’ at the end.

The descriptions of player order in Step Nine could use some clean-up. First, I would include the player with the lowest status in your list. Simply state that they are not allowed a card swap. Second, your second bullet point refers to the “third highest status player”, when I think you mean “third lowest”. That caused some initial confusion for me.

In Step Four, it would be really useful if the example displayed images of each player’s hand, rather than listing the cards in text.

Finally, I’d like to see a record sheet for theories, with spaces for supporting and detracting evidence and current credibility.

Published in: on March 8, 2007 at 2:11 am  Comments (1)  

Review of “An Inordinate Fondness”

I need to keep this short and sweet, so I’ll cut to the meat:

The game itself is intriguing, and worth a play.  The rules are tight, fast and easy.

Incorporation of Images:

While the game is indeed evocitave of the images, the incorporation of them is poor, with all five images used appearing on one full page of art.

 Playability:

A little clarification of the text would be nice; I had to read the Interpretation Phase twice to get it.  Overall the rules are easy and tight. 

Overall:

I would play it, and now that I have some time after work, I likely will.  Easy rules and a short game-cycle make this a great pickup game.

Published in: on March 8, 2007 at 12:36 am  Comments (1)