Looney Labs Icehouse Mailing list Archive

Re: [Icehouse] IGDC Summer 2007 Rankings

  • FromJeff Zeitlin <icehouse@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • DateFri, 21 Sep 2007 19:36:06 -0400
On Fri, 21 Sep 2007 11:34:05 -0400, you wrote to Freelance Traveller:

>Hi, Jeff.  Feedback from my playtest groups, as requested:

>The biggest issue we had, realized pretty early in our first game, was the 
>*very* specific situation needed for the game end conditions.  As the game 
>progressed, and the positions shifted so quickly and unpredictably, it was 
>clear that the game would never end due to any plan or skill on our parts. 
>In three attempts over the month, we never saw a game to completion, always 
>bailing in frustration.

>The fact that this problem was reflected in the rules made the game feel 
>broken or at least uncompleted.

Yes; when I realized the problem, I wasn't satisfied with my resolution,
but couldn't think of a good alternative that would in my view have been
'faithful' to the basic idea that I had.

Would it have been better if I had ignored the Treehouse die action
status in determining the game-end condition?  IOW, regardless of
whether you have a legal Treehouse die action, the game ends if you have
no legal ordinary moves?

>A game with moving goals and positions can obviously work.  A game with a 
>difficult or very specific end condition can also work.  The two together 
>was what left us not enjoying MCC.

>[This is actually a problem I ran into myself with the 4-player version of 
>Penguin Soccer, and as a result I will remove that version from the 
>"official" rules once the wiki is unlocked (*hint* *hint*, Mike . . .)]

>As was mentioned on the wiki, MCC is hurt somewhat by the fact that it is 
>theme-free.  We did not really know why we were doing what we were doing, 
>nor what a Chaturanga was.

I must confess that that's mostly ME - I don't really see the point of
telling elaborate backstories for a game; to the greatest extent
possible, the game should stand on its own merits, based on the rules
and playability.  But see below; I may add the bottom section of this
post to the Talk page for MCC.  BTW, may I paste your commentary there
as well?

>However, while I do like a strong theme, it is far from the be all and end 
>all - I voted Pylon as my favorite IGDC game, and there couldn't be a less 
>themey game!  The difference is, Pylon's rules were clear, simple and, best 
>of all, unambiguous - no theme required.  I wish I could get the Penguin 
>Soccer rules this clean!

>I find theme works best when it helps explain the goal or the mechanics of 
>the game - Moon Shot was a decent example of this.

>Our feeling is that there is a fun and dynamic game in MCC, but a tightening 
>up of the victory conditions is needed in order to allow the gameplay to 

>Hope this is helpful, Jeff, and taken in the spirit of constructive 
>criticism in which it is intended.  I had a great time over the last month 
>playing all 8 games, and created a number of Icehouse converts 
>("Tube-heads"?) in the process.

Your comments are helpful, in that they tell me WHERE to look to improve
the game.  Even more helpful might have been some ideas that you or your
test group might have come up with to 'correct' the perceived flaws;
even if they went in a direction that I wouldn't find acceptable based
on my basic concept, they could still act as a catalyst for ideas that
WOULD tie in properly.  That was beyond the brief of the IGDC, however,
so please don't take this as criticism or implication of failure on YOUR

                  *   *   *   *   *   *   *

In another message posted to the list in connection with my request,
someone expressed confusion as to the name of the game.  Herewith my
explanation of my thinking on the game and its name:

If you look at a history of Chess, you will find a related game called
Chaturanga (or sometimes Shatranj) mentioned, either as a possible
direct ancestor or as a divergent evolution from an earlier common

I wanted to develop a game that could be viewed as related to Martian
Chess the way that Chaturanga is to Chess.

I also thought that Martian Coasters was a Neat Game.

Lightning strikes.  Or at least a lightning bug flew into my face.

Why not combine the two ideas?  Martian Coaster Chess!

Wait a minute, I'm pretty sure that there already IS a Martian Coaster
Chess.  It's too obvious.  (It turns out there isn't, and in retrospect
I could have named this same game Martian Coaster Chess with no problem,
which would possibly have highlighted the relationship with its
progenitor games a little better.  C'est la vie.)  So, what's another
chess-like game?  Chaturanga?  An ancestor?  Even though this is in
reality a descendant of MChess and MCoasters, position it as an

OK, so that's settled.  Now, HOW do I combine them?

Hmmm... Let's look at key features of both games.

 - Martian Coasters lets you move a piece if it's your color.

 - Martian Coasters lets you change the board.

 - Martian Coasters uses the Treehouse die to define additional legal
   actions in a turn.

 - Martian Coasters restricts movement based on the arrows printed on
   the board.

 - Martian Chess lets you move a piece of any color if it's in your
   territory on the board.

 - Martian Chess has a game-end condition of a player not being able to

 - Martian Chess defines legal moves based on the size of the piece, not
   by a die roll.

 - Martian Chess has a winning condition based on number of points

A brief survey of the history of old games suggests that a moderately
complex ancestor will often give rise to multiple simpler games, which
will subsequently evolve independently, possibly going through cycles of
increasing complexity and then resimplification (take a look at
Tamerlane's Chess for an example of an evolution of chess that ended up
being overly complex - and look at Xiang-Qi (Chinese Chess) or Shogi
(Japanese Chess) for an independent evolution from a common ancestor
with chess).

OK, let's make Martian Coaster Chaturanga a moderately complex game with
elements that could easily be seen as the 'origin' of key features of
the two 'descendant' games.

I don't remember specific subsequent reasoning for each feature, but the
general outline should be pretty visible.