Jorge Arroyo
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Here are my thoughts for the all the entries of the Winter Contest (except my own game, Virus Fight) in the same order I ranked them. I also added some general thoughts at the end.

I managed to play every game except for WreckTangle and Martian Gunslingers. Now I realize I'm basically stating my opinions and I'm not sure how helpful those will be to the designers. I made the mistake of not writing down my thoughts right after playing the games and now I admit my memory is a bit fuzzy. Still, I think it's important that we all share our thoughts about the games, as it's what makes the contest useful to the community. Still, if I have the time (and my girlfriend accepts) I'll try to play each game once more to see if I can offer some more useful feedback.

* Martian 12s (1st)

This is the only game from those I played (not counting my own) that I can say I enjoyed and that I think works well as a whole. It's pretty much like Blackjack but with a twist: the fact that you can choose what size to draw. This lets you play (a bit) with the probabilities to try to finetune your score, giving you a feeling of control. It's a quick game (to setup and play) and I can see myself playing it again in the future. I'll add that the game's flaw (for me) was the lack of playaids, but they were easy enough to make, so that wasn't a problem. Also the game is not very original, but the lack of a more enjoyable game for me made this the clear winner.

* Timelock (2nd)

Here's a game I moderately enjoyed even though it uses the treehouse dice for special actions (I'm really, really tired of this mechanic by now). I found it slightly entertaining but too random. The thing is I love randomness when I play a game with loads of theme (think Ameritrash, or wargames). Over a long session, usually the randomness evens out and manages to spice the game up (introducing unexpected events) without totally deciding the outcome. But in short games like this, usually the player with better rolls will win (for the record, I don't enjoy Treehouse much either). Also, changing your opponents goal is a big deal, but something you can only do by rolling a six (or two threes). As this is pretty unlikely, it can be pretty significant if both players are close to the goal. A lucky player might be able to change the opponent's goal at the last minute and steal the game. This is the kind of randomess I usually don't like.

* Chicken Run (2nd)

While the concept is fun and I think the game has potential, it is is just too random for its length (see above). Usually our games were very short and the player that got better rolls early (capturing the small chicken) won the game pretty quickly (2-3 minutes). Spectators did come into play some times (when both players were unlucky), but their relevance was usually very small. It worked better as a game to play with children as my 4 year old son did enjoy it a bit, but it's too random and too short for the amount of randomness.

* WreckTangle (4th)

This is one of the games I didn't get to play. Reading the rules I thought the game was interesting (and I intend to play it). I didn't rank it higher because it was one of the games that was really a 1HOUSE game (In this case, when played as a 2-player).

* Timberland (5th)

Now we're reaching the games I didn't enjoy. This game also uses the treehouse die for actions, and as I said before I'm really tired of that mechanic. Also, it converted a short, random and simple game like Treehouse into an even more random game with the added complexity of trying to fit all the pieces in all the different angles in a Volcano board (This game really needs a bigger 5x5 board to fit all the pieces when lying down). It's also too long for what it is.

* Hunt (6th)

I did play Hunt once, but I didn't enjoy it at all. Again it uses the treehouse die for actions mechanic, but also the actions and movement rules usually mean you're getting pieces in your way and even harming yourself. It's very random but what makes it worse is the fact that the randomness in your own turn might even hurt you as you're foreced to move/rotate other pieces in a way that hit your stack (For example, when you're forced to tip a pyramid towards the inside of the board in your own row or column. Many times this means the piece fires at you). This made it very frustrating.

* Martian Gunslinger (6th)

This is the other game I didn't play. After reading the rules and being unable to remember what the cards meant in each possible situation where they're used, I decided I'd try to make a special deck with the information printed on the cards before I would try the game. I finally didn't have time for this so I didn't play the game. To me this game clearly shows the problems of trying to create a heavily themed game with abstract pieces. You have to provide the information that would normally be conveyed by custom components (such as tiles and cards) in some way. As themed games have much more information on their components than abstracts, putting that information on tables will make the game difficult to play. Remembering so much information is impossible (for me at least) and reading the tables each time I look at my cards/pieces is too much work and makes the game too tedious.

The other reason I ranked this game low is the fact that it was totally a 1HOUSE game. Wrecktangle at least needed two sets for more players, but Martian Gunslingers only used the second set to track scores. I'm sorry but I can't consider that a legitimate need for a second set when you can use so many things you already have at home for that task (pen&paper, beads, coins, etc...)

* Overall thoughts about the contest

After writing this post, the first thing that comes to mind is that I hope designers stop using the Treehouse die for special actions . It usually makes for very random games (especially if those are the only actions you can take) and frustrating too. Treehouse is a very simple game that can be played really fast. It's pretty much decided by the die rolls but at least you feel like you have some control. It's also over so quickly that it's not a big deal. I don't really enjoy it, but may play it from time to time (mainly with my 4yo son). It's also intended as a way to introduce people to the Icehouse system, and I think it works very well with non-gamers. Martian Coasters uses the die for actions too, but they're like a bonus. You can still usually acomplish something in your turn even if the TH die roll is useless for you (still it's a pretty random game, although I'd rather play it than Parcheesi). Anyway, I'm sure there are other ways of using the TH dice that may make for more interesting games (please, not "Totally Increase Points" again!!

Next (and related to what I just said) is the fact that most of the games had a significant random factor. This surprised me because usually Icehouse games, being pretty much abstract games are closer other games of that family such as chess, etc... Again, I've got nothing against randomness itself, just against the way it's used sometimes. I tend to enjoy abstracts that have little or no randomness, or where the randomness is in the initial setup. That's just my preference (and I do enjoy randomness in other kinds of games as I said before).

Also, I was disappointed about how the restriction for this contest was handled. First, the rules gave the impression that no games that could be played in any form with less than two sets would be allowed. Then it was stated that borderline cases would be discussed if needed. But in the end, two of the games were clearly 1HOUSE games (one of them only for 2 players). I think that was unfair because someone might have decided not to submit a game based on the restriction, only to find afterwards not only that it would probably have been accepted but that it could also have scored well. I think we really need to define well how important the restrictions are for the acceptance of games into the contest and then stand by those decisions. As I've said other times, I like it when the judges are the ones that score a game taking the restriction into account more than when a game is just rejected from the contest if it doesn't meed the restrictions, but the worst is when it's not clear which of the two approaches will be used.

And last, I was disappointed with the number of people that judged the contest. I'll just say that I really hope the new places the next contest is being advertised at will increase the audience and judges. I also hope to read more thoughts and feedback for the contest entries (especially mine, of course . That's ultimately what will decide for me the level of success for the contest, as it's the only "prize" (apart from the relative fame for the winners) we designers get for submitting the games.

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