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Subject: A poor game, and a poorly behaved designer rss

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Tim Earl
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This is the story of a bad game given a bad rating, and a game designer who does not handle criticism well.

The Game

Isla Tetra is a self-published game by Will Sargent. I had never heard of it, but at a recent game day, one of our group members pulled it out and four of us tried it. The game appears to have been hand made by the designer, and given that, I think he did a pretty good job. I’m sure a publisher could clean it up, but as a prototype it’s well done.

The theme is interesting. Although there have been a few other deserted island games recently, I don’t think it’s overdone, and the way it’s presented in Isla Tetra is different enough to stand out. Each player is trying to build a raft to get off the island, completing other tasks (some of them hidden to other players) along the way. For example, in the game we played, we each needed to find two vines and one timber to build the raft, and I had two secret objectives that involved gathering timber, raising my food level, and exploring one mountain terrain space.

I won’t go into great detail over the rules, but here is the short version: On your turn, you roll two regular d6 and 2 special d6 which contain one colored dot on each side. The numbers on the d6 and the colors on the other dice are combined to collect driftwood, represented by colored Tetris-like pieces. Your play mat (each player has his own) contains grids for different objects you can build, for example shoes and a spear. You complete each object by filling up its grid, at which point you receive points and/or a bonus or ability. This is a clever mechanic and it intrigued me. There are other grids that you can work on to go fishing, raise your strength or sanity, etc.

At various times (completing an object for the first time, or filling in the Explore grid), you explore the island. This is a grid on the main board on which you move your piece. Whenever you enter a new space, you draw a tile and place it there. It could contain timber or vines, which you then collect. In that case, you flip the tile over so that anyone who follows you does not collect the same object. Other tiles contain terrain or dangerous objects which you may have to fight off. (I managed to slay a snake, for instance). If you build a camera, you may take pictures of certain things which will give you points. There’s a bonus for photographing a certain number of things (the details of which I can’t remember), and some of the secret objectives involve taking pictures as well.

There’s a lot going on here, and that leads to the game’s main weakness. You find yourself constantly referring to the reference cards and/or rulebook, practically every turn. Obviously, you would do this less often with repeated plays, but it’s still a bit much. Here’s an example: the d6 determines the shape of driftwood you collect, while the colored dice determine the color. But a 6 is a special case. So, you’ve got one special case for a green 6, one for a yellow 6, and another for a pink 6. I felt like I was playing an old Avalon Hill wargame (or 1st edition D&D), rolling dice and then consulting the charts to see what it means. And since each player is doing this, you’ve got a lot of downtime in between your turns.

The other problem I found was the game just wasn’t interesting. After the initial novelty of the theme and mechanics wore off, it got incredibly boring. And it’s long. We played for about two hours and were nowhere near finished when we stopped playing. Again, as this was our first play, I’m sure it would get better, but we were all experienced gamers, so it couldn’t have gotten that much better.

The Verdict


So, I rated the game a 2. I’m a stickler for following the text associated with BGG ratings, and the text for a 2 seemed perfect. I don’t ever want to play the game again. It could get better, but only with a major overhaul. The problem is, this isn’t being distributed as a playtest copy. The designer is selling it for 36 GBP, which is about $60 US. I think that if you pay that much for a game, you should get a more polished product.

The Shakedown (or Game Designers Behaving Badly)

So this is where the story should end, but it’s only just beginning. Within hours of my 2 rating, I received a geekmail from the designer, Will Sargent, asking what went wrong. I am very supportive of this type of communication, but this message was a bit melodramatic, as he claimed that a 2 and a 3 from members of the same group could really damage his project. (One of the other players has rated it a 5, so I can only assume he changed it. He’s not someone I game with regularly and I haven’t heard from him as to whether or not Will contacted him). I replied with some details on what I thought the problems were, and even offered one concrete suggestion on how to improve the way object bonuses are presented. Later, I received a message from the game owner, who wanted me to give it another try. He said Will had contacted him about my rating, and he felt bad that he was not more familiar with the rules when we played. I’ve been playing games for 25 years or so, and I believe the others were all old veterans as well, so I know what it’s like to struggle with rules for a new game, but you can still form an opinion on the game. I’ve finished such games before and thought "We really didn’t do that game justice, but it seems really neat." This was not one of those times.

Will replied to my message with a list of reasons why my rating was unfair, including among other things, the fact that we were using the old rules instead of the new ones he sent out later via email. This is not true, as the game owner explicitly mentioned the new rules and some of the differences. We may have been missing extra pieces of driftwood meant for 4p games, but the occasional lack of the piece you really needed was not a big deal. Games aren’t always fair and life goes on. Also, according to Will, we played the game at the end of a long game day, presumably expecting a light filler game. Since I showed up to the game day after dinner and had only played one game prior to Isla Tetra, that was not the case for me, and it never looked like a light filler game to me. I entered the game with an open mind, prepared for a steep learning curve. Finally, Will said that Isa Tetra did not seem like the kind of game I would normally play, so why would I comment on it at all? I’m not sure how he knows what kind of games I play, other than looking at my ratings, which are generally high. (Half of the games I’ve rated are a solid 7, and 81% are 7 or higher). He again claimed this would destroy his game and urged me to withdraw my rating.

The reaction by the designer is disturbing to me. Anyone who has ever created anything knows that you will receive some criticism and negative feedback, but Will Sargent seems determined to stifle it so that the only public reviews and ratings of his game are positive. Sorry, but I did not find the game enjoyable, so I rated it appropriately. At first I wasn’t going to write a full review, but his actions convinced me that a public discussion of the games faults was necessary.

So, I’ll end with a summary of my opinion: this game needs more playtesting and design work, and it should not be marketed as a finished product until that work is complete.
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Andy Andersen
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At least the game is pretty
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Steve Duff
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Orangemoose wrote:
At least the game is pretty


And fun, too.

50% of the reviews for this game are a single play session. Must be a BGG record.
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Abdul Rahman Ibrahim
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The game looks fun. I like the concept of the tetris inventory system.

Though I think the reviewer is fair and honest in his assessment. As a designer, such feedback is extremely important to keep as a note on what to do/not to do for the next game you design. Board games thrive on first time rule perfection compared to any other hobby game genre.
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Jay Levy
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I'm not sure I'm a fan of reviewing the designer or his behavior -- it smacks of a review written purely to spite him and to make him look bad.

The review should have focused solely on the game and any personal issues should have been kept private. This just left a bad taste in my mouth.
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kevin long
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A slamming review is suspect when dragging the designers behavior into the same thread. Lets assume there is some out of control emotions on both sides. I for one am not surprised when a designer gets caught up in their design and could forgive the guy for going off the deep end if that did in fact happen here.

You should have resisted combining a review that was written after the skirmish and you should have resisted combining the review with your need to slap the designer around. Bad form. You owe the designer an apology and or deleting the out of line paragraphs or man up and actually delete the whole questionable review. Then go design a game to get some balance in your condemnation. Am I reacting emotionaly?

When you give a game a 2 rating - It just seems petty to bother to give it a review.

Again - you really should have resisted combining a review with a vendetta - getting the last word is not going to feel as good as you think

Rules Violation: Personal Attack
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Richard Ham
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Hmm, you give a game a 2 (literally rating it as one of the worst games of all time), after one incomplete play, because you have to refer to a reference card too much, and you found the game too long (though in your review you admit both of those things would improve with repeated play). That seems odd (though I guess that's more of a problem with BGGs completely out-of-whack-with-reality rating scale than your subjective opinion, TBH).

And then you divulge the contents of a private email conversation without the other person's permissions in a public forum, which seems iffy at best, IMO.

All of this to really smack down a first time designer who is so incredibly passionate about his game that he's already released several updates to his rules as the results of user feedback, as well as additional content for free, and who personally hand built every copy of his game out there as an incredible labour of love and dedication.

Suffice to say, the game isn't perfect. But the designer is trying to make it better, he's trying to build something special. He's involved with players, passionate, articulate, and hard working. He's not some faceless corporation out to rob you of your money. He's a geek like us who's doing the best he can, and it feels like you're pissing all over him.

Honestly, I don't get it. Even your own group says you should give the game another chance, but you flatly refuse, and instead come here and engage in character assassination (even going so far as to put it in your title, which is all that many people will see, because TL;DR). My rating of this review, on a 1-10 scale: 1.

PS: My review of the game itself, btw: "clever and tactile fun, but a little too luck dependant for my personal taste (but hey, it is a dice game, after all) "
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Mike V
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treece keenes wrote:
When you give a game a 2 rating - It just seems petty to bother to give it a review.


I don't agree with this - negative reviews can be very helpful.

treece keenes wrote:
You should have resisted combining a review that was written after the skirmish and you should have resisted combining the review with your need to slap the designer around.


But I think I agree with this. I'm sure the reviewers intentions were good...but a review of the game alone would have sufficed.
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Matt Ramsey
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I'm going to disagree here. I believe a review is warranted with comments about the designers behavior. I do not know the game or the designer but I do not think it is acceptable for a designer or publisher to pressure people to change their rating or reviews. This should be something that comes to light rather than stays in dark corners.

Some of the comments have compared this to a personal attacks which are not acceptable. I don't think this was any more that than the threads I have seen commenting on publisher behavior that they feel is unacceptable. How does this differ? The designer is representing those selling the game for better or for worse whether they agree with his comments to a reviewer or not. This wasn't name calling (as I read it) but rather commentary on a specific behavior.
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Paul Lister
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Revealing the contents of, what was intended as a private email correspondence, is in my book not the act of a gentleman. Whatever you think of the designers attitude it was churlish of you to then reveal private correspondence in a public forum. Shame on you.

EDIT ..and now having read the contents of the email in Will's post below double shame on you for what reads as a spiteful and mean minded review

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Richard Ham
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Quote:
This wasn't name calling (as I read it) but rather commentary on a specific behavior.
No, actually this is one persons subjective POV of a private conversation that we never saw, which paints the other person in a very bad light. We have no context for the conversation, are only hearing one person's side of it, and that's why it's character assasination. You yourself are now taking it as gospel that the designer is an asshole who operates in "dark corners", when in fact you have no idea if that's actually the truth.
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Rebekah B
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I don't know the designer outside of the interactions I've had with him in purchasing the game and asking questions/providing feedback. However, he's always been very helpful in answering my (many!) questions, and he has always seemed interested in feedback, both positive and negative (and I gave him plenty of both). Even before I received the game, he was proactive in making sure I knew about the intro game and some of the updated rules, and he did his best to ensure that my experience with the game was positive. He already got my money, but he's continued to provide a high level of active support after the purchase, even mailing out the updated rules and components overseas at no charge.

The designer has acknowledged that the game has continued development after some were sold. I can see where some people would view this poorly, expecting that a game was in its final state when sold. I see it as a positive, though, as it's clear that the designer has a real passion for making the game the best it can be. There are plenty of games that could use additional work after they are published, but it's not really possible. In this case, the game can be refined, and I hope the designer continues his efforts to do so.

As for the game itself, I ended up giving it a pretty high rating (7.5), but only after playing it several times. Had I rated it after my first play, it would have been lower. Many of the things that seem awkward in that first play do end up becoming easier.
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CW Lumm
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No matter what I think of this reviewer reporting on the details of his private conversations, though, I think designer interaction with players over ratings and comments warrants a broad discussion somewhere around here.

There should be some bright lines drawn. I've gotten that geekmail after I didn't like something, too, and straight-up asking someone to change a rating crosses a line, for me.
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Steve Duff
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kamchatka wrote:
No matter what I think of this reviewer reporting on the details of his private conversations, though, I think designer interaction with players over ratings and comments warrants a broad discussion somewhere around here.


That's what General is for. This is Reviews, where you review the game, not what a designer may or may not have said in geekmail.
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Lance
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There are two sides to every story, and I have heard one. I would be interested in hearing the other side.

At the very least, you brought this game to my attention. Might have to check it out.
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Tim - I haven't got a problem with you not liking my game. One man's meat is another's poison and all that. It's the fact you played with incorrect rules (which totally car-crashed the game-flow) that prompted me to ask if you might have another try. I apologise if you think this rude - I'd actually call it caring a lot about something i've spent two years creating (and hey, I announced Tetra long before 'Dorada was quickly rethemed and a bunch of other survival games were quickly pushed out to catch the trend - so check the dates of my first postings before you accuse me of copying ideas).

Also, the game's owner (Sam) confirmed he was really shaky on the rules as he hadn't played it before. I see from your very brief overview of the game you've mixed up the 2 dice system with the newer 4, as there's no such roll as a yellow 6 - no wonder this was chaotic, there would have been so much more to check each turn making the game an absolute chore to play.

Also, if you could have taken the effort to check your facts on the game page, there is an illustrated pack of 52 playing cards which replace the dice, which effectively do away with 90% of your gripes - you clearly don't like fiddly dice and this is why I offer cards for FREE to existing and new owners. I can't believe you'd slam the game without checking this. Why bother playing a game with a style you dislike? - it's like eating curry when you don't like spicy food. Also,why go to the trouble of slamming an amateur designer who'll maybe shift 100 games at best - C'mon, it's not like I'm FF throwing marketing surveys at you - it was a quick, polite email to ask what went wrong.



Yes, I could have simply asked 10 buddies to shill a 10/10 score (as happens with nearly every game on the geek that get hit by 1s and 2s to balance the books as it were) - but that's just not my way. I think the reviews of the game so far are fair and give a good representation of what I hope most consider is a reasonably original idea.

Why you feel the need to advertise the fact I politely asked you to check out the correct ruleset before slapping a 2 down, and make me feel bad about creating what many consider to be a genuinely original new idea, I do not know. I can only think there's another reason to this harsh attack on my game and 5-star after sales service.
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James Boardgame
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Good old BGG! It's about time somebody took a stand against these designer folks who have the temerity to contact people to try to find out what problems they have experienced with their game: and how dare a designer go so far as to suggest that a game may have been played wrongly, or the rules misinterpreted. For shame, William Sargent, for shame!



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Daniel Corban
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I laughed at someone suggesting this was a "personal attack".

If I had found out that a designer had tracked down and contacted players I knew, then asked them to convince me to play the game again, I would write off that game and that designer for life. It is overly aggressive.

The excuses the designer gave reminded me of many formal legal claims. For those who aren't familiar, often claims will take the form: "My client did not do it. But if he did do it, it was an accident. But if it wasn't an accident, he was coerced by someone else."

"You were using the old rules. But if you weren't using the old rules, you were missing pieces of driftwood. But if the missing driftwood didn't have an effect, you played the game when you were tired. But if you weren't tired, you just don't enjoy this sort of game."
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UndeadViking wrote:
There are two sides to every story, and I have heard one. I would be interested in hearing the other side.

At the very least, you brought this game to my attention. Might have to check it out.


Exactly why I think this review might be one of the best things to happen for this game. How many of us would be reading this thread if it wasn't titled "..... poorly behaved designer"?
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Paul Lister
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dcorban wrote:


If I had found out that a designer had tracked down and contacted players I knew, then asked them to convince me to play the game again, I would write off that game and that designer for life. It is overly aggressive.



What part of Will's email did you find aggressive? I thought it well mannered and reasonable. 'Tracked down' is rather theatrical language for a designer who cares about his game contacting someone who had not enjoyed the experience of playing it. Theres not much tracking down to be done on board game geek is there? Do you think it reasonable to put in to the public domain a private communication in a review?
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Brian McCormick
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In a market where company-to-customer relations is of utmost importance (unlike a lot of industries), I think it would be awesome to know that the designer is willing to contact me and see what went wrong. Not only is the designer reaching out to you to HELP, but they're doing it in the face of criticism. That's good customer service in my book.
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Jonathan Franklin
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I have the game. I played with the old rules. I have yet to play with the new rules. Will has been amazing through this process. He did not have to continue working on the game. He did not have to pay his own good money to send me new parts from across the Atlantic. He did not have to respond to my rule questions and other ideas. Yet he did all three of these in spades.

I think this is a trickier issue than either side paints it. BGG has become a gorilla. BGG ratings are too influential, esp. when games are rated by under 30 people. For a game that might have been played incorrectly or with old rules, you are effectively ranking a game that no longer exists. I can understand a game designer wanting to help ensure that players are playing by the right rules before rating a game poorly.

Personally, I think Will has done a great job with an unfortunate set of circumstances of his own doing. I am sorry you don't feel that way, but for most buyers and players, his efforts improve the experience of playing the game, whether you end up liking it or not.

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Peer Sylvester
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My rules came with an "introductary games" . That is actually quite what you said you would have liked: Easier, quicker gameplay without the need to cross-check everything.
Didnt you game include those as well?
Or did you choose to play the advanced game and are now complaining that your game was to advanced?
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TS S. Fulk
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TonyJF wrote:
UndeadViking wrote:
There are two sides to every story, and I have heard one. I would be interested in hearing the other side.

At the very least, you brought this game to my attention. Might have to check it out.


Exactly why I think this review might be one of the best things to happen for this game. How many of us would be reading this thread if it wasn't titled "..... poorly behaved designer"?


All news is good news for marketers.
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TS S. Fulk
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I don't think many people care about the ratings of a game too much. Comments and reviews are more important. Shoot, there are probably only 5 games in the top 100 I'd like to play.

grandslam wrote:
I have the game. I played with the old rules. I have yet to play with the new rules. Will has been amazing through this process. He did not have to continue working on the game. He did not have to pay his own good money to send me new parts from across the Atlantic. He did not have to respond to my rule questions and other ideas. Yet he did all three of these in spades.

I think this is a trickier issue than either side paints it. BGG has become a gorilla. BGG ratings are too influential, esp. when games are rated by under 30 people. For a game that might have been played incorrectly or with old rules, you are effectively ranking a game that no longer exists. I can understand a game designer wanting to help ensure that players are playing by the right rules before rating a game poorly.

Personally, I think Will has done a great job with an unfortunate set of circumstances of his own doing. I am sorry you don't feel that way, but for most buyers and players, his efforts improve the experience of playing the game, whether you end up liking it or not.

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