Thursday August 21, 2014

Life on the lily pad can be tenuous


It’s always cool when you get a sneak peak at a new game.

So when the opportunity to run off a preview copy of Bullfrogs - A Strategy Card Game of Amphibian Combat I jumped at it.

The game by designer Keith Matejka is a card game for two-to-four players.

Each player has a set number of cards, along with a handful of pieces representing frogs and bullfrogs.

The idea is to move your amphibians around the ever-changing maze of cards until they are full of frogs. The players with the most frogs on the ‘lily pad’ wins the card, and associated ‘victory points’.

As a two-player game Bullfrogs is very strategic, allowing for some definite forward planning.

In four-player strategy goes by the wayside as too much happens between your turn and the next time you have a chance to influence the game to hold a strategy in place.

The game has simple rules and that is a huge plus. You can teach it and have people playing in no time.

The game has some nice features, which Matejka was happy to talk about.

“How the sliding of the cards worked at the end of a turn went through a lot of changes,” he said. “At one point, it just moved the minimum distance. It worked, but had a bunch of exceptions, which is messy, and difficult to teach.

“For simplicity’s sake, I just tried it so people could slide it anywhere they wanted, and a bunch of interesting gameplay decisions opened up for the players.

“Another example is the ‘sabotage’ action. This mechanic went through the most changes throughout development. I liked giving the player a section option for their action during their turn.

“I had designed it to be the opposite of the deploy action which is just placing a piece on the board.

“Just removing one seemed logical. It worked, but something didn’t feel right about it. It had to include an exception (of only two allowed per turn), which is messy, and people used it to try to break the game.

“I also got feedback that it felt a little mean, which didn’t align with my family friendly goal.

“After trying a handful of different things (including removing the option), I decided to make it move a piece instead of removing it.”

I designed most of the game before I decided on a theme. After I was happy with the gameplay, I started looking for one. I solicited ideas from friends, family, folks on and I had my own ideas. After thinking about it for a few months, I decided on the frog combat theme that the game has now. Theme is useful in many ways, but the most important is that it helps the players remember and understand the mechanics of the game. I was able to match all the mechanics of the game to ideas related to the theme. It was also a theme that was family friendly, so it was the winner …

“The most interesting area of the game is the jumping of frogs when a card scores. Players can set up cascades of cards to score by controlling how the frogs jump off of each lily pad card as it scores. It’s really fun to set them up like dominoes and knock them down raking in a ton of points.”

I really enjoyed Bullfrogs. I thought there was some definite strategies that emerge quickly; use bullfrogs early on a three pad, where it can be saved; try to hold a ‘four action’ card until last turn if you can to give you more final play options; be ready to sink a few pads to by way of a tie to thwart another player scoring it; use sabotage to move a third player’s piece onto a pad you control to ensure majority.

With play options in terms of approach comes some game depth.

Matejka mentioned feedback. He said in regards to game design feedback can be difficult to deal with.

“In terms of design, the tricky part is figuring out how to filter feedback and knowing when to trust your gut,” he said. “Once the game design is relatively far along and you’re starting to get a lot of play testing going, there are a lot of opinions and comments to sort. What do I take on and try to solve right now? What do I put on the back burner and solicit more feedback on before trying a change? What do I dismiss?

“Sometimes you dismiss a comment, and then you hear it a couple more times in play testing and decide it’s worth investigating a fix/change for. Different people want different things out of a game.

“It’s important to have the core values of the game you’re trying to design in mind and get all feedback against that, but man, it can be tough.”

“Bullfrogs offers a new or rarely seen theme with a combination of mechanics I have never seen before.

“I think Bullfrogs is a unique experience for gamers which is light enough for new gamers, but also has depth of strategy for really experienced gamers.”

If you are looking for simple rules, quick game play, and family friendly, check out Bullfrogs at



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