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Subject: An unconventional review. rss

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Oliver Harrison
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Yes, I designed the game. Hence the 'unconventional' part of this review. In spite of that, I'm going to do my best to simply lay out the game as I see it, and as I've seen it played by others. This review isn't going to rate the game on a numbered scale, nor try to sway you to see things my way. I simply want to chat a bit about what my goals were when we started designing Supernova, and discuss how the published game meets those goals.

I came up with the idea of Supernova on New Year's Eve 2005. I had had way too many vodka and cokes the evening before and instead of making me enjoyably tipsy on my New Year's Eve, they simply buzzed me with all the caffeine I had imbibed. I couldn't sleep for the life of me and I had one of those incredibly frustrating nights where you can't make your brain shut off, but you desperately want to sleep. This particular night, my brain swirled and flashed with thoughts of board games. I had recently gotten back into the hobby, after not having played much in about 10-12 years, but for Risk and Risk variants. I had tried Catan a few times as well and enjoyed it. Recently, being a lover of scifi, I had begun a search for a cool space-themed game. Hmm. That was a lot harder a task than I'd thought. It seemed that they didn't sell very well (I was amazed by this) and so the pickings were awfully slim. The only ones that stood out much at the time were Starfarers, Andromeda, and Nexus Ops. I picked Nexus Ops up shortly thereafter, but this obvious dearth in genre made me determined to create something to fill it. A few weeks earlier, I had played Java and it became my inspiration. I thought the 3D aspect of the endgame board was fascinating, but was incredibly disappointed by the fact that this awesome multi-tiered board with it's mountains and valleys held absolutely zero significance, gameplay-wise. Yes, it forced your play of tiles, but I didn't really think this was all that cool. I wanted cool.

So that night, I began a 2 year, 8 month, 18 day journey towards Supernova. I had no idea how to design a game, much less how to get one published. But I worked at it, we played it, we tweaked it, we worked at it some more. When a local game group began requesting it for weekend gaming over other, much more well-known designs, I knew we were onto something. After another year or two of reworking rules, ripping some things apart, and pulling some mechanisms right out of the game, Supernova ended up as the game you will encounter upon delivery. It was the culmination of many people's thoughts, feedback, opinions and comments.

I think it's important to qualify what Supernova is and isn't. (imo)

It is a boardgame about and requiring conflict. It is at its best when you deliberately take away your friend's moon solely so that they get no income that turn. Not because you get income from it. Oh no. Just so that they don't.

It is tactical. A long term strategy may indeed be attempted, but you're far better off if you're quick on your feet. And if you're nasty and have no problems using the solar flare to remove half of your best friend's tiles. Boo hoo.

It is a mixture of a Euro and an American-style game. Victory points? Check? No dice? Check. Huge urges to squash your friend and their puny little RU-generating moon? Check.

It is not a min-max game. Yes, you can play it that way. But the people you play it with will likely want to pummel you with large Nerf bats mercilessly. And possibly regular bats.

It is not a game for those who enjoy turtling as a viable strategy. In fact, I've tried to encourage the exact opposite, by rewarding you with RUs every time you successfully attack an opponent.

So after all that, what went right?

The tension, definitely. Because of the solar flares and the ever-more cramped board, the game gets more and more tense as it goes along. This is compounded by the end-of-phase scoring as if you start to get behind, you get more and more desparate to try to keep your opponents from holding on to their planets and moons. It become critical near the end of the game for you to have a leg up in the last few rounds - and this cranks the tension to a delicious 11.

The timeframe. Having a fixed timeframe of 9 rounds (or 6 rounds in the short game) keeps the game from going on and on. It simply can't - the game is punctuated by a big-ass explosion. And that is good.

The short game. The more I play it, the more I like it. It is an optional way to play the game; remove one large and small board piece from your usual setup and play six rounds. To paraphrase sisteray, it's like a knife fight in a phone booth. Everyone comes out swinging and it is deliciously vicious.

The production values. Valley Games have done a fantastic job here. From the artwork to the box insert, it is fantastic. It looks good sitting on the shelf and is even cooler to open up and show people the multitude of boards, tiles, cards and sheer amount stuff they've packed into this box. It's heavy, kinda like a giant lead weight. This is a box you're not going to want to have sitting on top of any of those mamby pamby euros, no sir. This game has to have its own shelf.
(2nd edit)I forgot to mention a couple things about the production. Mike Doyle has done an awesome job - laying out the rules, creating example images and adding the info on the back of the player screens. To make things even better, the insert is phenomenal, thanks to Rik (one of the owners of VG). All the boards fit nicely and the box closes to within 1/4 of an inch of flush. On top of that, the RUs are fantastic and the VG boys even included baggies to put all the little stuff into. There's precious few games nowadays that have baggies. Also, the cards are flat-out the best I've ever seen come out of China; linen finished with a great feel. They shuffle as good as any deck of cards I've gotten from a casino, straight out of the box. Sweet.(/2nd edit)

(edit)
The Desperation! card. This is one small bit of the game I'm quite proud of. After watching it be playtested and playtesting it a bunch, I realized that, if you're behind early, you're mostly out of luck. There was very little way to get back into the game, especially if you'd lost your planet and were struggling to even maintain a footing. There was a rich-get-richer problem. And I had a brainwave. (well it felt like one to me) Why not have players become desperate? It completely fit within the context of the game, along with how you start to feel at this point. When you get desperate, you might struggle to ship more resources from your homeworld; or send off reinforcements into battle; or possibly use your ships to expand. Hence the 3 options you have available to you when you get a Desperation! card: take one extra RU this turn, place one extra tile this turn, fully replenish your Battle cards any time this turn. Of course, this is only available for you when you don't own a planet, so you're technically still behind (points-wise). It just allows you to get a leg up. This has gone over really well - the guys who played at GenCon all loudly proclaimed that (and I quote) "this card makes the game. Without it, it wouldn't be nearly as fun." I wasn't even playing with them - just moderating the game. That was a very flattering moment for sure.

The balance of the tech tree. This was tricky to get right. I wanted to have more techs, but they just didn't fit. And even until about 8 or 9 months ago, they weren't quite balanced. At the time, all the techs gave you an equal value bonus for their respective level. Level 1 = 1 bonus to whatever tech you increase. The trouble with that was a couple of things; engines basically resulted in extra points at the end of the game. This meant that it was far more desirable than weapons or shields. If I were to get my engines up to level 3 or so, I might lose one or two tiles per round to other people, but I'd still come out ahead. After several turns of that, I'm expanding pretty quick. So I decided to make Weapons & Shields give a higher bonus per level, and have the colonization cards that give a bonus to those techs offer a 2 level bonus as opposed to one. This, combined with the values of Battle cards being changed to 1-5 from 1-7, made a huge difference. All of a sudden, people who were able to raise their level of Weapons or shield were a force to be reckoned with. Ignore them at your own peril. Engines is still strong for obvious reasons, but no longer overpowered.
(/edit)

That's all well and good, but what sucks about the game?

Yeah, I asked it. And I'm gonna answer it. Some stuff about Supernova sucks. It isn't perfect. Not by a long shot. Here's my take.

The length. Almost any way you slice it, this isn't a 45 minute game. And it never will be. Even the 'short game' will last you about 90 minutes with 4 players. And that's if you all know the game. A long game can be 3.5 hours or so. That's a long time. I could play 2 games of Ca$n & Guns, 1 game of Jamaica, and 1 game of Manila in that time.

Downtime between turns later in the game. This is definitely an issue. I've tried to think of ways around it and come up with ways to involve everyone simultaneously, but it's tough. If you're playing with a vicious crowd, there'll likely be enough fighting to keep everyone involved a good portion of the time. But it doesn't take it away entirely for sure. This is only exacerebated when you're playing with an APer. Those people you should just punch in the face cause they'll drive you bananas.

Lots of things that you can do. Sure, this is a bit of a good thing too. And there's by no means a huge number of things to memorize, like in a wargame with a rulebook bigger'n the bible. But there is enough stuff that by the end of your first game, you'll likely forget that you could even do some things like buy better battle cards, or fortify your planets or trade control tiles for encounter tiles. Stuff like that.

Because of the above, Supernova is likely just on the negative side of a gateway game. You might be able to get your friends to play it that have played Risk, but they'll likely find it intimidating with the 5 different card types, the RUs, the orbiting moons, the rules for playing Battle cards, the tile height differences etc etc.

It kinda sucks when there's not enough conflict. Yeah, it's true. It's pretty dull. Collect income, place tiles. Your turn. No, I don't want to fight, I just want to exchange a Battle Card. Yawwwwwn. All tile placement and no battle makes Jack a dull boy. This doesn't mean that all battle, all the time is the only way its fun - just that the battle and interaction between players helps lift Supernova to another level, which is what I originally intended. I didn't want it to be multiplayer solitaire.


Overall, I really feel that Supernova has succeeded much more than its failed. I still like to play it after more than two and a half years, and that says something. In fact, I enjoy it more now than I ever have. So something must be going right.

I hope everyone enjoys the game when you get it - check www.supernovagame.com/gallery to see all the photos I've taken of the final game. There are a few there that were declined here on BGG, so be sure to check both.

Oliver
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Alex
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This was an interesting read. It's very cool to see a designer pointing out what they feel are the weak points of the game instead of just pimping it and treating it like a holy relic. I've been looking forward to playing this, and your review might have pushed me over the edge into purchase territory.

Also, I've been wanting to put together a sci-fi combat/exploration game myself, so it's damned encouraging to hear that you had the same amount of experience when you started as I do now. If you ever want to go the effort, a design process geeklist or something would be very cool to read.
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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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tankexmortis wrote:
If you ever want to go the effort, a design process geeklist or something would be very cool to read.


I agree. I know you've shared some things here and there, but a more detailed accounting, especially once the game is in people's hands, would be really nice.

And thanks for the great review. I really look forward to playing this.

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Sheldon
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Good to see a fellow Canuck (though I assume anyone from Cow Town would hate to be called that) rocking some serious game design cred. I saw this game about a year ago here on the geek, thought it looked really cool, read about it, thought it sounded really fun but then never heard anything about again it until just recently. The spite factor sounds like it would go over huge with some of my crowd (others not so much but then they don't have to play.) the only thing keeping this from being a guaranteed slam dunk purchase for me is the play time. 3 Hours for a game is really hard for me to round people up for these days, few years ago, easy but most of those people have moved away or have far more demanding schedules. I have to say the Valley Games Modern Line is really appealing to me so far.

Anyways props for the awesome game and the amusing review, it's good to see game designers giving honest opinions on the ups and downs of their games, keeps people from having inflated expectations and know what they're getting into. Much luck in the future.
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Oliver Harrison
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polkeroo wrote:
...the only thing keeping this from being a guaranteed slam dunk purchase for me is the play time. 3 Hours for a game is really hard for me to round people up for these days, few years ago, easy but most of those people have moved away or have far more demanding schedules.


Just as an FYI; though it can go long, it isn't a guarantee. I'd recommend playing the short game with no more than 4 players your first time out. Get a handle on the game and all your options on your turn. By the end of that game, you likely won't have to check your player mats anymore to remember the turn order and how much things cost. Your second and subsequent games will be much quicker, I suspect.

I just didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea - it can go long, no doubt about it. Some games have lasted closer to 4 hours; usually 5 player games with 9 turns. But this is also generally a learning game. I've seen other games go long as well, but often due to someone who only starts trying to figure out what they want to do at the beginning of their turn, on round 8. That's just not cool.

Hope that helps...

Oliver
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Jackson Pope
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Hey Oliver,

Great read - it's nice to see a designer discussing the strengths and weaknesses of their design. Good luck with Supernova.

Cheers,

Jack
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Wrevilo wrote:
...the game is punctuated by a big ass explosion. And that is good.


I hope you meant a "big-ass" explosion, because I've been in a few games where there was a big ass explosion (sometimes it was me), and I can guaran-damn-tee it wasn't good. No sir, I didn't like it one bit.


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claymore_57 wrote:
Wrevilo wrote:
...the game is punctuated by a big ass explosion. And that is good.


I hope you meant a "big-ass" explosion, because I've been in a few games where there was a big ass explosion (sometimes it was me), and I can guaran-damn-tee it wasn't good. No sir, I didn't like it one bit.




Hastily fixed. There was no big ass explosion, just a big-ass one.
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This was a simply amazing read, quite possibly one of the best posts I've seen in BGG in months... it says a lot (of good things) about a designer's character to be willing to openly lay out the good and not-so-good about their work.

Additionally, Valley Games seems to be making quite a name for themselves in regards to quality inserts (and quality in general). Though it might seem silly to some, having a high quality insert is a big perk to me and the extra effort goes a long ways in generating an impressive package.

Props on both accounts!
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Wrevilo wrote:
Hastily fixed. There was no big ass explosion, just a big-ass one.


I didn't mean you actually had to fix it; I'm sure everyone knew what you meant -- as did I -- it was just that I was in a goofy mood when I read your excellent review, and the phrase caught me funny.

I enjoyed the article very much, and you showed a lot of guts in pointing out the perceived negatives, and I think anyone who reads it will feel the same.

Thanks for being so tolerant of my silly comment.
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Oliver Harrison
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claymore_57 wrote:
Wrevilo wrote:
Hastily fixed. There was no big ass explosion, just a big-ass one.


I didn't mean you actually had to fix it; I'm sure everyone knew what you meant -- as did I -- it was just that I was in a goofy mood when I read your excellent review, and the phrase caught me funny.

I enjoyed the article very much, and you showed a lot of guts in pointing out the perceived negatives, and I think anyone who reads it will feel the same.

Thanks for being so tolerant of my silly comment.


I was trying to be silly too...

As far as pointing out perceived negatives, I figure there's no other way I could have reviewed my own game. Otherwise, it would have been absolutely ridiculous and I would have lost a ton of credibility, likely. The thing is, the negatives I pointed out are not just for show - they are there and most people will encounter them. I'd way rather that people who are excited about the game are aware of the possible pitfalls of the game in advance than have inflated expectations that get disappointed.

Thanks to all for all the positive feedback.
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Oliver,

This is one great review! Thanks for writing this. I am sorry that I didn't have a chance to playtest the game but I am looking forward to playing it. I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime have yourself a great week and hope to hear from you soon.

Peace
 
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Oliver Harrison
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Thanks Mr Bunny! You too.. possibly sometime on the long weekend? Email me...
 
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Wrevilo wrote:
claymore_57 wrote:
Wrevilo wrote:
...the game is punctuated by a big ass explosion. And that is good.


I hope you meant a "big-ass" explosion, because I've been in a few games where there was a big ass explosion (sometimes it was me), and I can guaran-damn-tee it wasn't good. No sir, I didn't like it one bit.




Hastily fixed. There was no big ass explosion, just a big-ass one.


I just had to add this here:
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Oliver Harrison
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azuredarkness wrote:
Wrevilo wrote:
claymore_57 wrote:
Wrevilo wrote:
...the game is punctuated by a big ass explosion. And that is good.


I hope you meant a "big-ass" explosion, because I've been in a few games where there was a big ass explosion (sometimes it was me), and I can guaran-damn-tee it wasn't good. No sir, I didn't like it one bit.




Hastily fixed. There was no big ass explosion, just a big-ass one.


I just had to add this here:


LOL

nice ass-comic.
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Timothy Pride
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What a wonderful review. And a brave one to point out the negatives. Now, I just want to know how the level of enjoyment scales between the number of players? Is 5 players better than 3 players? Are there any 2 players variants?

Thanks
 
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Oliver Harrison
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Hey Timothy,

I've always found that the amount of fun you get out of the game depends on the players you play with, not necessarily the number. 5 can be a more interesting game, but solely due to the fact that there is more of everything - more battles to consider, more research cards out on the table, but also more opportunities to spread the battle around. There's definitely less of a feel of you getting 'ganged up on' in a 5-player game. But there's also a much higher amount of downtime between turns in a 5-player.

I'm working on a 2-player variant. The idea is that each player will control a programmed extra player. These 'AI' players will always do the obvious thing - always try to take planets and moons on their turn, always bid one less than their full amount on their turn for the solar flare. They will always purchase 2 of the cheapest techs available to them, if possible, on their turn. This is chosen by rolling a 4-sided die. They will never use their Special Power, nor purchase Research cards. They will attack/defend with 4-sided dice, 3 to begin with, 4 if they increase Comms to level 3. Comms below level 3 allows them to re-roll one of their dice for each level of comms (1 or 2) they have. That's the gist of it... I have yet to play it enough to know how well it works, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to tell you before the game is on the shelves. It would be great if someone on BGG came up with a variant as well as the more people involved, the better it'll likely be.

Oliver
 
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Greg Jackson
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Great review, I'm looking forward to picking up a copy at Essen.

Any future games you're working on?
 
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Timothy Pride
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Thanks for the reply, Oliver.

Wrevilo wrote:

I've always found that the amount of fun you get out of the game depends on the players you play with, not necessarily the number. 5 can be a more interesting game, but solely due to the fact that there is more of everything - more battles to consider, more research cards out on the table, but also more opportunities to spread the battle around. There's definitely less of a feel of you getting 'ganged up on' in a 5-player game. But there's also a much higher amount of downtime between turns in a 5-player.


I just want to know from the side of the game, not the player. Is it balanced with less or more, less conflicted with less player or it's still knife on the back all the time? On a related note, How long the average time for a player to take a turn?

Wrevilo wrote:

I'm working on a 2-player variant. The idea is that each player will control a programmed extra player. These 'AI' players will always do the obvious thing - always try to take planets and moons on their turn, always bid one less than their full amount on their turn for the solar flare. They will always purchase 2 of the cheapest techs available to them, if possible, on their turn. This is chosen by rolling a 4-sided die. They will never use their Special Power, nor purchase Research cards. They will attack/defend with 4-sided dice, 3 to begin with, 4 if they increase Comms to level 3. Comms below level 3 allows them to re-roll one of their dice for each level of comms (1 or 2) they have. That's the gist of it... I have yet to play it enough to know how well it works, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to tell you before the game is on the shelves. It would be great if someone on BGG came up with a variant as well as the more people involved, the better it'll likely be.


This is great! I always want AI in boardgames, not handicapped game system. They won't be competitive like players, but they give distractions enough to be a challenge. And having something to be a sandbag is nice enough.
 
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David Jackman
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Well, sir, this certainly feels unbiased. You talk yourself up a lot? Enjoy beating up on 8 year olds in chess, do ya? You kiss your mother with that mouth?

Well, i cant tell if i can trust you...so ill just order the game.


(Sarcasm aside, ive read about this at work all day and im really excited. I love space games. )
 
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WoW,
an honest review from the designer, not only pointing out the good things, but also the possible issues.
Well done.
I think Superova just moved up some spceas in my "maybe" list.
 
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