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Subject: Tomb: Great concept, bad execution. rss

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Ryan Olson
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First, a quick summary of Tomb – each player recruits a party of adventurers to explore a dungeon, hacking monsters and collecting loot along the way. For each monster killed and treasure collected, the player earns XP points. Once all of the crypts in the tomb have been raided and cleared, XP points are totaled, and the player with the most XP is victorious.

What sets Tomb apart from other dungeon crawling boardgames, is the clever way in which the crypts are populated. During the setup, each player draws three Tomb cards, keeping them concealed from other players. A Tomb card could be a trap, a monster, or a treasure. Each player, in turn, then places one Tomb card on a crypt of their choice, and draws another Tomb card to refill his or her hand. This process continues until all the crypt are filled with the requisite number of Tomb cards. Some crypts have only one Tomb card, while the more difficult crypts have five.

During this stage, you start to develop your strategy – should I place powerful treasures near the entrance to the tomb, and charge ahead and grab them while my opponents are still recruiting and equipping party members? Or should I place my nasty traps and monsters near the tomb's entrance, to strike down my opponents who hastily charge in, and instead build up my party to assault the deeper, more dangerous crypts of the dungeon? It's a great concept, and adds a layer of strategy that other dungeon crawls lack, while also testing your memorization. (Now where the hell did I put that magical sword, again?)

There are other great elements to Tomb, also. The mechanic to recruit your party members is fun, and all 84 (!) characters are interesting, with strengths and weaknesses. The game components are solid, with great artwork. Tomb plays without a lot of bits and pieces, so setup and cleanup time is kept to a minimum. Tomb isn't lacking potential – a great game is here, somewhere.

Unfortunately, all of Tomb's virtues are ruined by a terrible instruction manual, confusing card descriptions, and flawed combat and spell casting mechanics. It's as if the game wasn't play tested – at all. My friend and I were debating so many rules during our three sessions this weekend, each game stretched much longer than Tomb's advertised 60 minute game time. The game's website has a feeble FAQ, which addressed only a few of the problems we came across – but we often resorted to the coin flip to decide on rulings. Because of the sheer numbers of monsters and treasures included in the game, all with unique abilities, this is bound to happen on occasion. But the frequency of these hangups greatly detracts from the whole experience.

Here's one example – the Nimbic Scepter is an extremely powerful treasure that makes wizards' spell casting deadly. However, it's cursed – the downside of this treasure is that when you attach the Nimbic Scepter to a character, your party can only raid the crypt containing the most Tomb cards. In this case, that would be the five-card crypt in the back corner of the dungeon. However, to get to the five-card crypt, you have to travel through a three-card crypt. And you can't rid yourself of the Nimbic Scepter, unless the character wielding it is killed. The Nimbic Scepter card does read to “Ignore Crypts which are blocked.” But what does that even mean? It's not explained in the rulebook. So my choices were either to head back to the inn and research spells until I receive the “Teleportation” spell (assuming my opponent isn't holding it in his hand) or I can wait around until my opponent decides to kindly clear the way for me. We ultimately decided that because I couldn't reach the five-card crypt, that I would instead need to raid the accessible four-card crypt. This may be what the designers had in mind, but it certainly isn't clear, and these situations occur all the time during a typical play through of Tomb.

Also, the design of a number of the monsters and spells just don't work. This is very clear when fighting against spell casting monsters. When you raid a crypt that contains a spell caster, you draw cards from the spell decks, and these monsters can then cast these spells as a combat action.

But when Umbala, the evil priest lord, draws three Prayer spells, and none of them can be used in combat, this is a problem. And the Shadow Breath draws for his combat spell the utility spell “Slow”, which can only be used during a player's turn. What the hell is the Shadow Breath supposed to do with that?

Play Tomb once or twice, and it becomes very apparent that Tomb suffers from sloppy game design – my friend and I are already discussing numerous house rules to try and find the optimal game play experience that dwells somewhere within. Here's hoping Tomb's publisher completely rewrites the instruction manual, the text on the game boards (faults can be found there, as well) and the majority of the monster, spell and item cards, so players can experience what should have been a pretty fun, quick and dirty dungeon hack.

(5 stars out of 10.)
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David desJardins
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BigWhiteRyan wrote:
We ultimately decided that because I couldn't reach the five-card crypt, that I would instead need to raid the accessible four-card crypt. This may be what the designers had in mind, but it certainly isn't clear


It isn't clear? What else could it possibly mean?
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Gary Bradley
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I agree with almost all of this review: superb game idea ruined by very poor execution, and almost no play-testing. [If it had been play-tested thoroughly, then so many aspects would not have made the final game, and so many numbers on cards would have been changed, that I can arrive at no other conclusion].
 
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GaryB wrote:
and almost no play-testing.


Please provide a link stating they did not playtest. Thanks.
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Kevin Outlaw
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First up, I would just like to say this game sounds horrific. Really. Truly horrible. Spend ages dropping cards onto a board, then form a party, then move around the board until you reach some cards, then roll lots of dice. This couldn't sound more dull.

Also, I do not doubt for one moment that the rules are unclear, and there are lots of rules exceptions. You are not the first person to have said this.

However, the example in your review strikes me as a little ridiculous. I mean, seriously - you have a card that says you have to go for the crypt with the most cards in unless that crypt is blocked. There is a five-card crypt on the board, but you can't get to it because it is BLOCKED by a three-card room. And you couldn't figure out what to do in this situation?

I'm sorry, but if you need a rulebook to explain that any better, then there probably isn't a rulebook in the world that's going to cater for you.

I do understand completely where you are coming from - this is the kind of situation that would completely ruin a game if you were playing with a powergamer or rules lawyer or whatever the cool kids are calling them these days. So don't get me wrong, I'm not having a go at you, I just thing you might have picked a better example.

Good work anyway. I have already decided to stay well clear of this game, and your review has more than reinforced my decision. Appreciated.

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Mike Miller
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SDSUChemTA wrote:
GaryB wrote:
and almost no play-testing.


Please provide a link stating they did not playtest. Thanks.


If AEG did playtest Tomb, they must have ignored suggestions from playtesters, because the published game has too many problems. Or maybe they kept making changes based on comments from playtesters, but then failed to continue playtesting after the last round of changes. Either way, AEG has done a better job of playtesting Legend of the Five Rings in recent years.
 
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Chemist .
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
First up, I would just like to say this game sounds horrific. Really. Truly horrible. Spend ages dropping cards onto a board, then form a party, then move around the board until you reach some cards, then roll lots of dice. This couldn't sound more dull.

Also, I do not doubt for one moment that the rules are unclear, and there are lots of rules exceptions. You are not the first person to have said this.

However, the example in your review strikes me as a little ridiculous. I mean, seriously - you have a card that says you have to go for the crypt with the most cards in unless that crypt is blocked. There is a five-card crypt on the board, but you can't get to it because it is BLOCKED by a three-card room. And you couldn't figure out what to do in this situation?

I'm sorry, but if you need a rulebook to explain that any better, then there probably isn't a rulebook in the world that's going to cater for you. :)

I do understand completely where you are coming from - this is the kind of situation that would completely ruin a game if you were playing with a powergamer or rules lawyer or whatever the cool kids are calling them these days. So don't get me wrong, I'm not having a go at you, I just thing you might have picked a better example.

Good work anyway. I have already decided to stay well clear of this game, and your review has more than reinforced my decision. Appreciated.

:)


Why be on this forum if you dislike this game so much? Your post adds no information about the game. You starting an internet mob or crusade against this game won't work.
 
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I haven't run into any cards that have been confusing once the rules are understood. However, the rulebook is pretty poorly written.

There are definitely some balance issues. These are 99% related to specific cards that give effects that are just too good.

Specifically: go first (and its variants), blanket bonuses, and attribute stacking detract from the game IMO.

For playbalance, I think the only major playtest flaw that I have found was the monster spell casters not reliably drawing useable spells.

With that one exception, perhaps 10-20 of the cards should not have made it in the final cut due to balance/wording (IMO). This is about 3-5% of all the cards in the game... unfortunately you end up seeing a lot of the cards in the unmodified game.

Most of the responses have been somewhat vague as to what was unbalanced, which makes it hard to figure out what is going on. But in general the problem seems to be that people are building too long or drawing into those 10-20 problem cards.

Some other issues that people have posted regarding XP imbalance are missing the picture IMO. Simply, the game has a heavy element of risk and chance given that the crypts are equally known to everyone with no inherent bonus given to any one person. You have just as high a chance of drawing into a great treasure as the person next to you, this part of the game requires no particular balance. Really you just have to make sure there is a big enough gap between the person who rushes and the person who builds at home, and neither should be as good as a compromise between the two.
 
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Ryan Olson
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
However, the example in your review strikes me as a little ridiculous. I mean, seriously - you have a card that says you have to go for the crypt with the most cards in unless that crypt is blocked. There is a five-card crypt on the board, but you can't get to it because it is BLOCKED by a three-card room. And you couldn't figure out what to do in this situation?

I'm sorry, but if you need a rulebook to explain that any better, then there probably isn't a rulebook in the world that's going to cater for you. :)

I do understand completely where you are coming from - this is the kind of situation that would completely ruin a game if you were playing with a powergamer or rules lawyer or whatever the cool kids are calling them these days. So don't get me wrong, I'm not having a go at you, I just thing you might have picked a better example.


First, thanks to everyone who replied to my post. This is my first review on BGG!

I'll add further explanation for my Nimbic Scepter example: the card states to ignore crypts that are blocked. First, it isn't the five-card crypt that is blocked, it's the three-card crypt that I can't enter. And none of the crypts are blocked for my opponent -- he could waltz right in. What is the definition of a blocked crypt? There is a Hold Portal spell that can bar parties from entering a door -- is that how a crypt is blocked?

Here's another example of Tomb's murky rules -- the spell Stone Skin gives a character two additional hit points until the end of the turn. Let's say I cast it on my rogue, who has two hit points normally. In combat, he receives two wounds. At the end of turn, the Stone Skin effect wears off, and my rogue's hit points lower to two, and he still carries two wounds. Does he die? Or did the wounds only damage the temporary hit points bestowed to him by the Stone Skin spell, and my rogue lives to fight another day?

You could say that I'm being a "rules lawyer", but I'm of the opinion that boardgames should have a clear set of rules, that there should be no ambiguity. I'm okay making spot judgments in an RPG, which is non-competitive in nature. With Tomb, there is a winner and a loser, and therefore the nebulous nature of Tomb's rule set rubbed me the wrong way.
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David desJardins
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BigWhiteRyan wrote:
You could say that I'm being a "rules lawyer", but I'm of the opinion that boardgames should have a clear set of rules, that there should be no ambiguity.


You can't eliminate ambiguity, as long as the rules are written in English and not a formal mathematical syntax.

You could make them somewhat less ambiguous by making them much longer. I think 98% of people have no trouble understanding that "blocked" means you can't get to it. For all of those people, doubling the length of the rules to eliminate your own uncertainty wouldn't be a win.
 
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Brian Pedersen
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BigWhiteRyan wrote:

Here's another example of Tomb's murky rules -- the spell Stone Skin gives a character two additional hit points until the end of the turn. Let's say I cast it on my rogue, who has two hit points normally. In combat, he receives two wounds. At the end of turn, the Stone Skin effect wears off, and my rogue's hit points lower to two, and he still carries two wounds. Does he die? Or did the wounds only damage the temporary hit points bestowed to him by the Stone Skin spell, and my rogue lives to fight another day?

Just like with the blocked room example, I fail to see the problem.
You get an additional two hit points for one turn. You either "spend" them by being hit, or they are wasted because you take no wounds. I see no ambiguity here...
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Ryan Olson
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andrak wrote:
BigWhiteRyan wrote:

Here's another example of Tomb's murky rules -- the spell Stone Skin gives a character two additional hit points until the end of the turn. Let's say I cast it on my rogue, who has two hit points normally. In combat, he receives two wounds. At the end of turn, the Stone Skin effect wears off, and my rogue's hit points lower to two, and he still carries two wounds. Does he die? Or did the wounds only damage the temporary hit points bestowed to him by the Stone Skin spell, and my rogue lives to fight another day?

Just like with the blocked room example, I fail to see the problem.
You get an additional two hit points for one turn. You either "spend" them by being hit, or they are wasted because you take no wounds. I see no ambiguity here...


The rules state, and I quote:

"Whenever a Character or Monster suffers a Wound, a Wound marker is placed on it."

And later:

"When a Character or Monster suffers a number of Wounds equal to or greater than its Hit Point total, it is killed."

My rogue receives the Stone Skin benefit of +2 HP total, then receives two Wound markers in combat. However, the Wound markers remain when the Stone Skin effect ends at the end of the turn. My rogue has two hit points, he has two wound markers, he dies.

What I read, from the rulebook, completely contradicts what your understanding of the Stone Skin spell. Yet, you see no ambiguity.

Listen, you can be a fan of Tomb... that's fine. But I have a hard time hearing someone say that the rules are clear the way they are written.
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Anders Pedersen
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BigWhiteRyan wrote:
Listen, you can be a fan of Tomb... that's fine. But I have a hard time hearing someone say that the rules are clear the way they are written.

As I read it people are simply saying that the examples you give are not really problems in the game. Like some of the other posters, I see no issue with either situation.
That doesn't mean people are fan-boys or that they would not have seen the rules be rewritten.
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David desJardins
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I'm with Ryan on the Stone Skin. I think it's ambiguous and I would personally probably interpret it the opposite way from Brian.
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Bart Vandermeulen
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DaviddesJ wrote:
I'm with Ryan on the Stone Skin. I think it's ambiguous and I would personally probably interpret it the opposite way from Brian.
I would play it as Brian said.
That's what my common sense would tell me.
It would be like a temporary shield. It can take a few blows.
But throwing the shield away doesn't mean that ,in some magical way, the damage it took get's transfered to you, IMHO.

But I suppose the fact that several people have different opinions, proves the rules could be clearer (let's not get into the "who's right"-thing).
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Kevin Outlaw
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SDSUChemTA wrote:
RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
First up, I would just like to say this game sounds horrific. Really. Truly horrible. Spend ages dropping cards onto a board, then form a party, then move around the board until you reach some cards, then roll lots of dice. This couldn't sound more dull.

Also, I do not doubt for one moment that the rules are unclear, and there are lots of rules exceptions. You are not the first person to have said this.

However, the example in your review strikes me as a little ridiculous. I mean, seriously - you have a card that says you have to go for the crypt with the most cards in unless that crypt is blocked. There is a five-card crypt on the board, but you can't get to it because it is BLOCKED by a three-card room. And you couldn't figure out what to do in this situation?

I'm sorry, but if you need a rulebook to explain that any better, then there probably isn't a rulebook in the world that's going to cater for you.

I do understand completely where you are coming from - this is the kind of situation that would completely ruin a game if you were playing with a powergamer or rules lawyer or whatever the cool kids are calling them these days. So don't get me wrong, I'm not having a go at you, I just thing you might have picked a better example.

Good work anyway. I have already decided to stay well clear of this game, and your review has more than reinforced my decision. Appreciated.



Why be on this forum if you dislike this game so much? Your post adds no information about the game. You starting an internet mob or crusade against this game won't work.


Woah.

Did you even read my post? Who said anything about starting a crusade against this game?

Listen, I love fantasy dungeon crawls, and this is a new game. It’s the sort of thing I thought I might like, so I have been reading all the reviews. The more I read, the more I realised it was not a game I would enjoy. This review was the latest one I had read, and I wanted to post for two reasons:

1. I wanted to thank the reviewer for taking the time to give a review of the negative aspects of the game, which reinforced my decision not to buy.
2. I wanted to say that I didn’t think the example was strong enough to verify the main point the reviewer made. (Note, the reviewer didn’t take offence to my comments, and has since posted a different example which is much more compelling and a much better example of rules that are murky, convoluted, and difficult to understand. Thank you again to the reviewer!)

You’re right. My post didn’t add any information about the game. I can’t do that, because I’ve not played it. However, this is a discussion forum. I have the right to be part of that discussion and to give my opinions. How dare you suggest otherwise?

I would suggest you learn some manners.
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I think a lot of the problems here come from overthinking things.

@Nimbic Scepter
If you can't get to the room for any reason, it is blocked. That includes not having a card out that could concievably get you to the room. You can't get there, so it is blocked, the end.

@Stone Skin
There is nothing anywhere that says Stone Skin soaks wounds or heals you in any way. It is just like armor in Tomb as well. Neither of these things fits quite right for what they conceptually do, but they do work within the rules provided. Primarily this is a result of wanting to keep the rules and card mechanics streamlined, unfortunately this leads to some quirky effects in some cases. Now you can change the rules so that armor has HP and track wounds on it, likewise for Stone Skin, but this is yet another thing to keep track of for a questionable gain.

Teleport is another one that is often misused to move through walls etc. People get confused because they think that teleport lets you do this, which then leads to rules questions. However, teleport does not say anything about lifting any standard movement rules. Contrary to popular belief, teleport does not actually move you through walls (at least not in Tomb).

The vast majority of the cards work. They may not work how you want/expect them to work, but that is not a fault of the game IMO.
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Ryan Olson
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dbc- wrote:
BigWhiteRyan wrote:
Listen, you can be a fan of Tomb... that's fine. But I have a hard time hearing someone say that the rules are clear the way they are written.

As I read it people are simply saying that the examples you give are not really problems in the game. Like some of the other posters, I see no issue with either situation.
That doesn't mean people are fan-boys or that they would not have seen the rules be rewritten.


I don't ever use the term "fanboy", because I think it's a divisive term. My only point was that I can understand how someone can enjoy Tomb despite it's blemishes, because as I mentioned in my review, the potential is there.

I do have other issues with Tomb's game play, but I didn't mention them in my review because I felt as if I didn't have enough game sessions under my belt to comment on them informatively. I have only completed three games of Tomb, all of the two-player variety. In retrospect, I should have included this information in my review, and will in the future.

Ultimately, my frustration with Tomb's rules overshadowed my initial skepticism of certain mechanics in the game, such as:

The usefulness of a large number of spells and abilities that require your entire turn to use/cast, and;

Because you can only perform one "Turn Action" per turn (and moving takes up your entire turn) you'll often find that the only thing you'll be able to accomplish on your turn is moving a few squares to the next crypt doorway. (Because raiding a crypt takes up your entire turn.)

Maybe in a five player game, these problems are less pronounced. Or maybe I'm missing some nuance of game play, that only emerges after multiple sessions. So I'm not willing to come out and say that certain cards are unbalanced, given my limited experience.

Thanks again to everyone for their comments!
 
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Gary Bradley
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SDSUChemTA wrote:
GaryB wrote:
and almost no play-testing.


Please provide a link stating they did not playtest. Thanks.


Here ya go

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/344792
 
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Gary Bradley
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BigWhiteRyan wrote:
I'll add further explanation for my Nimbic Scepter example: the card states to ignore crypts that are blocked. First, it isn't the five-card crypt that is blocked, it's the three-card crypt that I can't enter.


You cannot enter the 3-card crypt, hence this means the 5-card *IS* blocked (by the 3-man crypt).


Quote:
What is the definition of a blocked crypt?


One you cannot get to?

 
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GaryB wrote:
SDSUChemTA wrote:
GaryB wrote:
and almost no play-testing.


Please provide a link stating they did not playtest. Thanks.


Here ya go

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/344792


Umm you linked to yourself saying that there was little to no playtesting... good job?
 
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I think you'll find this was probably a joke.

SDSUChemTA had asked for a link saying that the game was not playtested. Obviously the company that made the game would never release a statement to this nature, so I'm not really sure what SSDUChemTA was hoping for by asking for a link. The best you are going to get is someone's opinion of how much playtesting was done, so hell, why not post your own opinion?

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I fail at internet jokes without smilies :(
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Ryan Olson
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GaryB wrote:
BigWhiteRyan wrote:
I'll add further explanation for my Nimbic Scepter example: the card states to ignore crypts that are blocked. First, it isn't the five-card crypt that is blocked, it's the three-card crypt that I can't enter.


You cannot enter the 3-card crypt, hence this means the 5-card *IS* blocked (by the 3-man crypt).


Quote:
What is the definition of a blocked crypt?


One you cannot get to?



As I mentioned, there are ways in which I could get to the 5-card crypt. I could use, for example, a Dimension Door spell. Dimension Door, when cast, allows you to move to any hallway space in the Tomb. So I could transport my party to the small hallway between the 3-card crypt and the 5-card crypt.

So if I had the Dimension Door spell, is the 5-card crypt still considered blocked?

I'm not saying Nimbic Scepter breaks the game. My experience with Tomb was that there are lots of little rules in Tomb that are unclear, which results in arguing and debate around the gametable, which slows down the pace of the game and detracted from my overall enjoyment of it.
 
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Gary Bradley
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
I think you'll find this was probably a joke.

SDSUChemTA had asked for a link saying that the game was not playtested. Obviously the company that made the game would never release a statement to this nature, so I'm not really sure what SSDUChemTA was hoping for by asking for a link. The best you are going to get is someone's opinion of how much playtesting was done, so hell, why not post your own opinion?




Indeed. Anyone who plays this game and doesn't suspect that too little or at least too poor-quality playtesting was done is kidding themselves.
 
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