Shadows Over Camelot, from Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala

Involved, complex, and tough.

We spent our time rushing around the board, from crisis to crisis, trying to stay one step ahead of the many enemies around us. In the end, we won, but barely. Victory felt more like a staving off of defeat than outright success.

Three things I learned about game design:

  • For a complex cooperative game, leave out betrayal. It’ll increase the difficulty without increasing any enjoyment.
  • Tying your character classes to individuals (real, fictional, or mythological) is a great hook into the game world.
  • Having enemies refresh after defeat is a good way to generate a siege mentality in your players, but it makes the game as a whole feel darker. Use it sparingly.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf, from Ted Alspach, Akihisa Okui, and Gus Batts

Took longer to explain the rules than to play the game. Not that the rules are complex, just that the game itself is so quick.

Had a good time, but it always seemed like the werewolves had the hardest job. They have the most reason to talk during the day, if only to throw suspicion on someone else. In the games we played, whoever spoke first was probably a werewolf.

Three things I learned about game design:

  • If you build discussion and argument into the game, set a time limit. Otherwise things can get bogged down, and drag on long enough to not be fun anymore.
  • It is basically impossible for players to properly execute a team-based strategy if they don’t know what team they’re on.
  • If you design gameplay that rewards players for screwing over their teammates, they need to be able to win on their own.

Flash Point, from Kevin Lanzing, Luis Francisco and George Patsouras

A bit complex to setup and rather awkward to learn. First game was really slow as we tried to figure out what we could do and what the best way to beat back the fire was.

Once we got the hang of the rules, though, the game’s speed picked up and we had a good time knocking out flames and rescuing pets (I mean trapped humans. Yes, the humans definitely took priority).

Three things I learned about game design:

  • If your game is cooperative, you can get away with more complex rules. Everyone will be helping out each other on their turns, so it won’t be as intimidating.
  • Beware using tiny markers for important game mechanics. Unless they’re anchored down, they’ll shift too easily during gameplay (dice rolling, moving pieces, etc) and players will lose track of where they’re supposed to be.
  • Design your co-op player classes around the actions available to every player. The simpler your basic actions are, the easier it will be to balance those classes.

Splendor, from Marc André and Pascal Quidault

Easy to pick up and learn, tough to win.

I made the mistake of playing it like a deck-building card game, only picking up mines that had victory points on them. These were few and far between, though, so I ended up with a lot fewer gems to use to purchase the more lucrative mines that opened up later on.

Three things I learned about game design:

  • Don’t rely on just color to distinguish sides or types in the game. I’m color blind, and had a hard time telling two of the gems apart, because their colors were so similar.
  • Even a rather simple mechanic — gems buy mines, which give gems to buy more mines — can yield an interesting game, once randomness and competition enter into it.
  • Introducing an unbalancing element can be ok, if it pushes the game towards a conclusion