Board Game Design Diary: Our first Cage Match! review plus final game changes

We’re getting great coverage and feedback on Cage Match!, check it all out!

Do all of it.  Do it now.

I’ll give it 2 thumbs up.
– Graham, Board Crazy Games

It does a really good job of taking what makes MMA appealing and putting it in a small board game package.
– Will, Board Crazy Games

The review from Board Crazy Games was largely positive, but I take feedback seriously, and am going to respond to each individual criticism of the game from D, Will and Graham.

In regards to the game being “not done,” there are some UX types of changes we’re making to the components, plus a few other small things, that hopefully, will add up to making an already fun game just a tad more enjoyable.  The game isn’t changing, the art isn’t changing, but we’re reducing the game’s footprint so that it’s more compact.  In addition, the thickness and durability of most printed components, such as the screens and fight cards, will be upgraded from what you see in the video.  Finally, we’ll make one adjustment in response to BCG’s criticisms, basically to remove a couple of attack options from the base game.  In terms of their other criticisms, I think some would prove to be not true upon playing more, while others I think are true, but I’m willing to live with them to keep this a fast-moving game.

“One of the ways in which it mimics the actual sport is that it moves quickly.  I thought the game play flow… is pretty similar to the actual sport.” (Will)

  • I’m highlighting this because they say it up front as something they really like about the game, which it is important to consider in some of the game’s other criticisms.  In my correspondence with these guys, the words “we really like the fast pace” keep coming up.  This was intentional and to keep this a quick game, a lot of sacrifices had to made.

“You’re going to have fights in this game that are completely one-sided, and boring…” (D)

  • True.  I wouldn’t say it’s typical, but it definitely happens a fair amount, though hopefully some of the big moves that make it that way aren’t too boring. The one-sided part isn’t really a bug, though, more of a feature.  It wouldn’t be MMA if this isn’t how it goes sometimes.  A successful 3-stage combo can catch you up any time, so to me, you’re never really out of it.  As Will points out, there are Combos that, when they work, can catch you up quickly.  And, as Graham points out, that type of game is like, “Ok, I lost, but it only took 5 minutes, let’s just play again.”

“Compared to an actual fight, there’s a lack of drama.  In an actual MMA fight, a guy can be losing and boom, one punch, he won the fight.  That’s not really possible in this,” (D)

  • It is quite possible, and I think you’d see this within a few more plays.  Drama is a big part of this game, Lightweights have only 40 hit points to the head, and O’Connor’s Straight Punch does 20 head damage with his characters bonus.  You can even add 2 focus on top of the focus cost, to do up to 28 damage with it.  Ok, that’s not quite completely a one punch knockout, but doing 70% of damage in a single turn is not really different than Derrick Lewis’ sudden knockout of Alexander Volkov at UFC 229 after getting stomped for pretty much the whole fight.  I don’t think people, including these guys, particularly want to see a player do 100% of damage in a single move, but let me know if you feel otherwise, we could potentially remove the focus limit.

“He could have made a headier game that would have more nuance and more little rules,” says Will.

  • Yup.  In the trade-offs between fast-paced action and a headier, more nuanced game, we went with fast-paced action.  If enough people like this game, we’ll do a headier Advanced Game expansion.  It’s not like we don’t have one already, that had to be pared down for this fast-paced version.

“The game could tweak the “Parry & Strike” (being changed to “Block & Counter” btw).  I think it should do 4 [body damage, not 6].  It was one of those things where someone every time they want to try something, Parry + Strike is what they’re met with, it’s a little disappointing.” (Will)

  • We’re going to make some changes based upon this feedback, because something that Will said resonates with other feedback we’ve received, even if it’s not the change Will suggested.  Graham calls it a “safe move” and I think they’re trying to say that it can be a bit of a cheap move, because it counters EVERY punch and kick, no matter how big or how special.  Now, as the guys point out, the Shoot and Throw beat the Block & Counter, so it’s not like it’s an unbeatable move, but it beats 6 of the options on your board.  The part of Will’s statement that resonated about there being a lot of moves you want to try, in fact there are 6 that get beat by the Block & Counter plus special moves.  We’re going to reduce it to 4 moves by removing the Cross (punch) and Head Kick as moves that everyone has, but we’ll keep them in the game as moves for Specials and Combos.
  • I actually think that even though this doesn’t seem to address Will’s concerns directly, it will alleviate the issue he’s raising, of aggressive players having so many moves they want to try.  It will also reduce how often new players are overwhelmed by having so many options.
  • The other thing that this change does – removing the Cross and Head Kick – is that it further emphasizes the differences in the characters, which these guys said were their favorite part of the game, and it’s definitely ours too.  This change allows the boxer types to use Crosses, and kickboxer types to use Head Kicks, in their Specials and Combos, which would be unique to each of them.  It also means boxers will have to use some kicks and kickboxers some punches as base moves, but that’s ok, this is MMA.  This also makes Combos better and more important, which this game kind of needs.
  • Feel free to tweak it to 4 for your own sessions, but I think 6 is the best balance.  The fact that it’s body damage is critical, because it’s the one move that really gives you incentive to go after the body, balancing out the always-useful Jab, which is a head-damaging move.  Everyone would go after the head, every time, without the 6 body damage, I think.  Besides, MMA fights are typically pretty defensive in nature, something these guys say in the video.
  • We used to have a roll off for this move and if the defender loses he takes half damage, but that just bogs the game down.  Feel free to use it for your own sessions for a little bit less cheap of a defensive move.

“The only reason it hasn’t reached that A range for me, I don’t know if there’s the overall depth there… I want a few more caveats.” (Will)

  • So, I appreciate this feedback from Will, especially since he’s a MMA fan.  The thing is, Graham gives it 2 thumbs up, probably in large part, as we talked about at the beginning, due to the fast pace, and it’s something they’ve mentioned several times.  Adding caveats makes it more satisfying for the hardcore fan of both MMA and games, and Will appears to be a hardcore fan of both, but making the game more satisfying for him would probably make it less satisfying for Graham.  In regards to MMA among board gamers, we think the best bet is to make a fast-paced game, therefore, I’d actually like to make it even simpler by removing the Cross and Head Kick.  However, Will gave it a B+, and we really want to get an A from him.  We think Will will still put this in A territory with a few more plays, where he’d likely see some big, dramatic special attacks land, which is really the best part of the game.  Plus, we’ll incorporate the game change of removing a couple of moves to put more emphasis on the character asymmetries and on Combos, which will also hopefully make the Parry & Strike feel a little less cheap.  Finally, we have some changes coming that will upgrade not only the game and the quality of the components but the overall UX and feel of the game.  More on that in the next post.
  • During the play-through there were a couple of small, but inconsequential errors:
    • During a combo, if your Stage 1 attack is a Jab (or Low Kick), you DO get the focus from it.  You can even use it for your Stage 3 attack, if your combo gets that far.  These guys had a Jab but figured you could not get focus from it.  I added a sentence to the rules to clarify this.
    • I sent through some additional rules via email, and they came up during the game.  In regards to the GROUND game, the rules read that IF a submission requires winning 2 rolls, but you win only one, you keep wrestling on the ground and take another turn.  They mis-read it as “a submission requires winning 2 rolls” so Graham had to win 2 rolls to gain a submission, though he actually won the second roll-off so it didn’t matter!

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