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Subject: Reviewing the designer’s review rss

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Emivaldo Sousa
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I never thought I would say something like that, but the definitive review you need for Supernova is the designer’s own take on his game.
Here is the link to it: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/334071.
Harrisson gives a very fair view of the game highlights and pitfalls, with an added backstage flavor, talking a little bit about the process of making a game. Great read!
So my review is also unconventional as I will use that one as a starting point, and just add my own take on the game to, hopefully, give you another perspective on the game without rethreading the basics all over again.

Why highlight the designer?

Because Harrison love for his game is obvious and his commitment to the people that are buying it is remarkable. The original rulebook was really weird and not very helpful. He just reorganized the whole thing, gladly accepting the input of everyone here, and taking every criticism very seriously, without ever losing his sense of humor.
He also is always ready to answer any doubt you might have and will often come to the rescue in any thread about the game.
So, I do think that one of the best things about Supernova is its designer. I wish to Harrison all the luck on the business.

Do I agree with him?

Mostly, yes. Here is what I like about the game:
- Conflict. Things can get ugly on this game and that’s terrific. The attacker has a small incentive and you really can’t go too far without stepping on someone else’s toes.
- Theme. Aliens running away from a Supernova in a race for territory, developing their technology along the way? Sign me in!
- Components. The thing has personality, that’s for sure. And quality.

And I do agree with some of his negatives:
- It is long;
- It has downtime.

But here is my take, in order of greatness:

GREAT

- The moons system. They are basically moving sources of victory points and resources. This is an absolutely fantastic idea and gives the game a very interesting dynamic.
- Components. The artwork is quite Spartan (clean and free of excesses) and is reminiscent of old sci-fi series. To be honest I found it unimpressive at first glance, but it grew on me. It gave the game a very unique vibe.
- The whole concept. Theme and gameplay are quite interesting. Your civilization grows as some kind of giant ameba, spreading itself throughout the galaxy and feeding on other civilizations. You have a tech tree to explore, you have research to do, you have nice decisions to make.

OK

- The combat system. The basic concept is ace, but to my liking it needs some tweaking. I think the comms technology needs to be buffed up (there is rarely any reason to go beyond level 2 or so) and I also think that the special cards are not that special. For those that haven’t played the game, here is a brief description of the combat: every player plays up to four cards (of just one suit or all of different suits), you add up to the result your weapons rating (if you are attacking) or your shields ratting (if you are defending), and the highest value wins. Comms is the technology that lets you have more cards on hand on the beginning of your level. But it is fun, and works reasonably well.

- The gameboard. In the suggested scenario in which every player has a planet, things can take their time to happen. You might like that (Preparing yourself for the final showdown), or you may find that it is boring. Fortunatelly, all you have to do is play with one less planet (and you can even play with less turns if you wish to). But I still thing that that are too many hexes in that galaxy… Or maybe just too many empty hexes (keep reading).

OH, BOY...

- I think the game needs variety to spice things up. The aforementioned conflict is too dependent on the players and your situation on the game. Sometimes, time just passes without tension, especially on the beginning of the game. Secondary objectives, hidden agendas, more things on the board to deal with (satellites, debris, space stations) are all missed here. The euro clean board gives a level of abstraction to the game that detracts from the theme. The mid-game scoring is also very uneventful and I think that a greater variety of VP sources or short term objectives would be interesting to have.

- Lack of personality: the game has plenty of personality on the visuals and gameplay, but not enough on the races themselves. Forget about random special powers - I want to play as the Sauropods (not actually a game race) because they are fearsome (start with 1 weapons) if rather stupid (can only buy one research card per turn). The generic races have nice pictures but no personality at all. I understand the balance appeal of the design (and its euro influences), but space operas are all about the story, and story needs characters.

- It is not the length of the game that presents a real problem (although it is long, matches can vary anywhere between 2 hours and 4, depending on the AP and level of experience of the players), but the downtime. As said somewhere else in the Geek, money really shouldn’t be worth VP - the final turns can become an exercise in optimizing that really burns all the fun. But even when players are keeping things fast, a series of combats can drag the game again. The player turn needs to be streamlined with more consecutive actions (everybody does research, everybody upgrades tech, etc.). I know the design as it is cannot just migrate to this format (Harrison said he tried to do something along those lines), but I do feel that the game looses rhythm sometimes. For some of my friends that was enough to keep them away from another go at the game.

FINAL WORDS

I like the game, but I’m not sure how many times it will hit the table. Some of my friends are all about the setting and they might want to go for a Twlight Imperium match (5 to 6 hours) instead of burning maybe 3 hours with Supernova. Another bunch have found that it is just not euro enough for their tastes and some, myself included, think that it is a great core game that needs some more icing on top of it.

But the fact that Supernova is streamlined is not a flaw of the game, it is a design decision and, in fact, cam be easily viwed as an advantage. The game did not hit my soft spot, but I can understand and respect its ideas, and a lot of gamers are digging this euro slash ameritrash hybrid. Didn’t quite did it for me, but I will play it now and then with the right crowd, but because of its designer, Supernova is already a better game than it was at launch and who knows what else Harrison will have for us in the future?


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Oliver Harrison
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Wow, great review.

The only thing I wanted to point out is that many people (including myself) forget that the starting setup is only a suggestion for the first play-through. The boards are modular for a reason - you want more/faster conflict, build it. Slam down less boards than suggested or a couple where the planets are closer. Make one planet far away and hard to reach. Give everyone 2 Encounter markers and/or extra RUs out of the gate. Create house rules like you've suggested for the Sauropods (awesome, btw!). You could have one race have Comms 3 permanently (and to start) but can't upgrade a tech of their choosing past level 1.

I was aiming for balance with this, as you've noted, but mixing things up (as above) would likely improve it on a massive scale.

Incidentally, I've got some (imo) really cool ideas for an expansion, but not enough time to test it... who'd be interested in that? The core "expansion" will change some things significantly about the game, such as the large amounts of downtime and the long combat.. and hopefully the length of the game itself. Other expansion ideas such as new cards, boards, etc would come later. Who's in?

As for the rules, you're right - they sucked. Happily, and thanks to BGG members, v2 has just been posted. Check the thread I just posted (here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/422311) and download and read them. They're not final final.. but pretty close. I'm willing to do more work on them to get them up to scratch.

Oliver
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Emivaldo Sousa
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Oliver,
great work on the game and thanks for the repply. The modular aspect of the game really does make us think, doesn't it?
I would gladly playtest or comment on anything you are able to throw at me, but I'm in Brazil, so distance might be an issue. If it is not, I'm glad to help.
I can also try to be more precise with my ideas if you think it can help.
By the way - the new rules compilation are very good - and a necessity.

Very best to you.
 
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Shane Is Board
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Haven't played the game yet, on my radar when I have money to buy more games, but I was wondering...would it be possible to get a good idea/list of possible configurations for games as you described? Like the "more combat board" or whatever...I'm imaginative and all, but I always feel uncertain making up my own things for a game, and if the game takes 2 hours or more already, testing new boards is kind of unlikely with my group.
 
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Emivaldo Sousa
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If you just remove one planet you are off to a good start (if what you are looking for is conflict). Leaving one player without one is a great way to have the conflict start as soon as possible.
But a variety of scenarios would be great, no doubt.
 
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Oliver Harrison
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Shane Sather wrote:
Haven't played the game yet, on my radar when I have money to buy more games, but I was wondering...would it be possible to get a good idea/list of possible configurations for games as you described? Like the "more combat board" or whatever...I'm imaginative and all, but I always feel uncertain making up my own things for a game, and if the game takes 2 hours or more already, testing new boards is kind of unlikely with my group.


Sure, I'll mock a few sample boards up today and post them to my profile pics. I'll link them from here with some explanations.
 
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Oliver Harrison
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Okay, so here's a couple boards designed to mix things up pretty good.



This is more or less a "traditional" board that would work well with a 5 player short game or a 4 player regular game. The difference with this setup is a couple things - 2 players are likely going to grab planets on the first turn, but those two players will suffer by not getting moon income until their 3rd. One player will likely get moon income on their second turn. A distant planet and moon will get fought over probably early into the 2nd phase and likely until the end of the game.

The difficult to access moons will likely promote fighting with a setup like this. As mentioned previously, anytime one less board is introduced that players, there will be much more combat.



This setup is MUCH more imaginative. Here we've got a board that would work with 3 or 4 players or a 5 player short game if you *really* want to play nasty. To mix things up even further, place more Encounter markers on the planet icons.

So what we have here is a board where everything is going to shift. The planets are on the moon track and will move every turn, in the same direction as the moons. On one side, we have a planet with 2 moons, guaranteeing that player a lot of income, but at the expense of coming under fire a lot. In addtion, their planet is quite far away, keeping them from attaining it early on.

Feel free to mix up how you play these boards. Place encounters under a moon if you like - every time the moon moves, the encounter does as well. A new one could be placed down every time income is gathered. Perhaps you could stack a moon and a planet, or possibly have the moon and planet follow each other by one hex on the moon path? Reduce the size of the moon 'ring' by one hex, making it orbit the planet faster. Use your imagination, and you'll find the dynamics of the game changes pretty drastically.

Enjoy.

Oliver
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Emivaldo Sousa
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I really liked the first one. I will direct some friends to this link and see if I can arrange another match one the following days.
 
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