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Victory Points Suck


#1

I really enjoyed this talk and figured it was ripe for discussion. There were a lot of things I agreed with and a lot I strongly disagreed with in the video. I also get the sense a few things could have been articulated better, especially near the end. I’m not sure if it was for brevity’s sake or if things just got away from him a bit, but I don’t suspect Scott really thinks all games should just come down to a boss fight.

Anyway, I don’t have a lot of time to post thoughts but wanted to get the ball rolling with this one. Here’s the video for anyone who hasn’t watched:


#2

Compiling my thoughts while watching:

  • I agree that endings are so hard! Forcing yourself to actually finish a story/or whatever is something I need to apply to myself.

  • I agree that endings of games are often blah and the accounting part is lacking.

  • I challenge the assumption that games need to have good stories which is what his whole talk is hinged on. Most of my friends who are heavy into euro or war games don’t care about stories. They’re there for the puzzle, for the mechanic, to break the game, and to have the biggest point salad. They may be weird robot people, but so are most of the people who design those games.

  • If the game changes your characters “motivations” and it feels “wrong”, like in his root example, is that not a challenge to write a shocking twist? Those cats were bound to betray us sooner or later and the vagabonds will not be surprised!

I’m still watching, but need to finish later.


#3

While the speaker has good points about games and stories, one of my thoughts when watching the video was that the proposed fix for the Midgard game sounds a lot like Munchkin, which is infamous for having an unsatisfactory ending. Basically, since players can play cards to hinder others, any player that is about to meet the victory condition gets wrecked by everyone else. A significant portion of the game is a group of players hovering just in front of the finish line until someone wins when others have finally run out of Take That cards.


#4

If you can’t come from behind to win on the last turn, what’s the point in playing the last turn?

If you can, what’s the point of playing the rest of the game?

There are obvious flaws in this idea, but finding them is an interesting exercise in game design theory.


#5

Similarly “If you cannot lose the game in the first turn, then the first turn should not be played” (Joris Wiersinga, Splotter Spellen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYjvu3ka2Gw&feature=youtu.be&t=726).

While I generally agree with the speaker, Food Chain Magnate is one of the games I think about the most at the moment, and it breaks pretty much all the rules of the video.


#6

There’s this response that I think is pretty much on the money


#7

Which has the added benefit of being written down. Is it just me who prefers reading to watching youtube?


#8

Depends. I read BGG text reviews and ignore the video reviews. Many BGG users are able to present their opinion and back it up with examples in an essay that I can skim over the sections I’m not interested in. I don’t want to listen to someone ramble while their webcam is pointed at them playing with bits. That is, I didn’t watch game reviews until I found SU&SD, and I realized that it wasn’t medium that was the problem but the fact that many BGG users don’t have the time or technical skill to craft a tight, engaging video. I follow a lot of YouTube video game channels because they make good videos and are lovely people.


#9

I’m actually the opposite. A large portion of my boardgame content is consumed at work, so it needs to be in audio/video form (I have a small YouTube window going most of the time).

I do still read a fair amount of reviews, but that’s generally limited to games that I want to really deep dive and see if it’s a game for us, or if there are limited video/audio reviews from sources that I follow.

I find that playthroughs are more helpful for me, as I want to see the game in action. Once I’ve seen that, a review can help point out and potential issues the game may have (or that I may have with it).


#10

I feel that the title of the talk “Victory Points Suck” is much stronger statement than what he actually argues for. My interpretation of his argument is that Pacing Is Important for Games, and there should be alignment between theme and points.

“Victory Points Sucks” as a statement is a pretty strange statement to me as VPs are just another tool to use for building games. It would be similar to a chef saying heat sucks.

I was amused by his “Champions of Midgard” example.
I found it pretty funny that he was upset that the King in his game of Champions of Midgard was the meat guy versus the heroic champion player. If I was a citizen of Midgard, I would support the meat guy over the champion for king. The meat guy is going to promise a brisket in every pot. What’s the champion going to do for you? There’s only so many Medusas in far away lands that you need to kill. Do the Medusas even need to be killed?

A side note. I personally don’t super like these more fantasy / combat themed euros. I’ve have played many games. I’d rather pretend to be a shoemaker or capitalist than a sociopathic murder hobo.


#11

Obviously I don’t know the people you play with but I would wager that even in the most dry games there will be a retrospective phase. Specifically at the end of the game any time someone says “I could have done this” or “you should have done that” or played a big combo in the last round they are implicitly creating a narrative Even if the tale involves all of the bits of a fairly mathsy plan coming together it contains all the bits of a narrative (because it has set up challenge and pay off in a sequential order).


#12

I thought that going in… but every opportunity Westerfeld had to explain his ideas in more nuanced terms (and he had a whole hour to do so!) he doubled down on ‘bad game design’ in completely unambiguous absolutist terms. Where was his avoidance of hyperbole?

To look at the things he likes in a game:

  • A game that focuses on narrative, and an optimal narrative structure, rather than mechanisms.
  • Big swings in play state. Creates big memorable moments and prevents the game from becoming too granular
  • Small gains in probability manipulation that are aggregated in a big end of game event that is essentially a massive gamble somewhat mitigated by the perks you’ve accumulated throughout the game.
  • The ability to attempt a win early by taking bigger risks, no matter how unjustified it may be. If you were more prepared but didn’t win, it was your fault for not taking the gamble earlier.
  • Taking control of narrative and not compromising on that to win the game. Game mechanics shouldn’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do (a pretty murky area to say the least).
  • No one left unengaged from seeing they can’t win. This is a general problem with almost every game. The only answer is catch up mechanics.
  • No counting points. No end game admin. No gradual scraping away at a win. A definitive winner at the end with minimal admin.

These are all mechanisms of an Ameritrash game - he’s described the term in everything but actually name-checking it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but using that as the standard to judge games against is deeply flawed.

I can see his viewpoint - Much of the boardgame culture and community (particularly online and at conventions) idolises euros as the perfect Nirvana of game design, but he enjoys Ameritrash, which is traditionally seen as the “lesser” game style. So instead of admitting his opinions are divergent from the Zeitgeist of BGG (and that’s okay), he decides he needs to change euros to make them more his style. The Zeitgeist has said swinginess and catch up mechanics are bad, but he likes them. So it must be everyone else that’s wrong. He must educate them.

Board game design is a diverse field. He could use these play experiences to identify what he does and doesn’t like in a game, and hunt down games that includes the elements he enjoys. If you enjoy a game but for one part, chances are there’s a game out there that covers that. But instead he tries to FIX games he doesn’t enjoy by making them into completely different games. Then admits his changes mean the original fans wouldn’t like the game any more…


#13

I thought that was a pretty interesting talk! Yeah there’s hyperbole in the title but let’s grant that for the purposes of advertisement and intrigue.

What I do like though is this idea that if you put a theme in a game then the whole thing should really match it. I’ve this stock story which I’m playing Agricola 2player game and at the end I’m the most monstrous farmer because the way to win is to cram horses so densely because that means you’ve spent all your actions getting horses rather than crap like “fences”. If the game was pure abstract that would be cool but I’m trying to be a friendly farmer (as depicted on the box).

Maybe the rub is to go the other way. You want to design a pure abstract but no one will remember that number of rules and you paste a theme for contextual help with the rules. (Eg instead of lose five green for every red you lose five cabbage for every person).


#15

The challenge with the talk, for me, is that I largely agree with the crux of his argument, yet disagree with almost every individual point he ended up making.

In my mind, something happened near the back end of the talk. Somewhere around the 25 minute mark he stops talking in generalities and starts to make his focused point (boss fights). As a one-off suggestion, that’s fine, but he really goes on about it as that single thing one could do to “fix” the “broken” nature of these games. And that’s bloody outrageous. This is why I suspect he got tripped up a little trying to drive home his point using a specific example. I don’t think he meant to be quite so black-and-white about things.

Quite honestly, the Ameritrash>Euro argument never even entered my mind. I kept thinking: this guy wants TTRPGs.

In any case, I think the core of his argument has serious merit. It’s definitely common for games with victory point mechanisms to boil down to end-game accountancy, and that absolutely can—and has—spoiled games for me. Why he didn’t use existing games that find creative ways around this problem (Teotihuacan being a recent example out of my collection) to strengthen his position is beyond me.

Now let’s get to Root, because he harped on that game quite a bit, and yet never really used it to exemplify his point, instead focusing on the thematic weirdness of his victory. This drove me absolutely nuts because, in my opinion, Root is the most egregious example of how stupid victory points can be. Here we have a highly thematic game, with asymmetric factions embroiled in a conflict for supremacy that affects all sides. So naturally, you win when your points track hits the threshold, game over, good job, want to play again? Me neither.

Victory points do kind of suck, I agree with him. But I’ll gladly count beans evermore if the alternative can only be some grind toward an ultimate battle. Victory points are just another mechanism, and like any game mechanism, we should evaluate its application and execution on a game by game basis.

A far more interesting talk, in my mind, is: “How do we make victory points suck less often”.


#16

I guess for me, I don’t think victory points suck, but does the game have a catch up mechanic that sucks?

My biggest gripe in games is when you make a mistake (or several), or someone else doesn’t make any, and you reach that point where you know you’re out of it. I don’t like “mean”, or “hard”, games that punish players with this scenario. It’s just not fun. You go through the motions and, at best, try to maintain interest in the game knowing that you can’t win, or at worst pull some annoying king making moves.

Games that have a good catch up mechanic allow people a chance to get back in it. Keeps it exciting and allows comeback stories. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, but when it it’s done well it makes for great stories. Which is this guys whole deal, I guess.


#17

I don’t think catch up mechanisms are good or bad, it’s just up to the game designer whether they want to use them or not. It’s a tool to be used to curate the experience, it quite literally ensures the players are in the right place of the game at the right time. If a designer wants a knife fight in a elevator, it’s not much use to have the players really spread out on win conditions - it disincentivises the leader to take risks since they have a clear lead as security. If they want a game of high skill long-term strategy it doesn’t make so much sense to have a strong catch up mechanism where the last player can keep up without much effort and pull a last turn win.

It’s almost like difficulty settings in a video game - it lowers the bar of entry. Food Chain Magnate is unforgiving, just as Dark Souls is. The lack of any forgiveness is baked into the game. Other games want all players to be close together for turn to turn tension or more casual fun that won’t leave non-gamers behind. Easy games aren’t inherently bad, but they can lack tension. Difficult games aren’t inherently bad, but they do demand more work from the players.

Keeping players at the back engaged is an issue of all game design, not just games with VP, and to a certain extent relies on the players to want to stay engaged (almost any game can be destroyed by someone purposefully going against the design of the game). It all depends on the social contract the game sets up. I think most people accept a 4 player game is likely to have only 2 true competitors in the final turn, and that’s fine.


#18

I think “catch up mechanisms” are generally pretty bad. What works for me is alternative win conditions. It’s difficult generalising, so I’ll give some specific examples.

Twilight Struggle - you may feel your push for hearts and minds is hopeless (VP win looks impossible, board state is bad), but there’s always a possibility that your opponent will lose if they become responsible for starting a nuclear war.

Innovation - you may feel that culturally your civilisation is lacking the storied history of your opponent (you are way behind in achievements), but there are so many other card specific ways the game can end, and there’s always the “ignore the past” ending you might be able to trigger by having the higher score when the cards “run out”.

These kind of things work even in very skill-based games.


#19

“Catch up mechanisms” are so close to “rubber banding” sometimes, they can be infuriating. It’s not quite the same thing, though, if they’re well implemented. I’ve often known I was losing, and I changed my strategy to hope I wouldn’t be eliminated and give a finishing blow (especially in games that involve resource management and hidden information).

And there are a lot of games where, unless you get really lucky, everyone has a chance of winning, which can be fun if someone is insanely lucky, or just can’t get a break, like really bottoms out hard. You don’t have much authorship of those games, though.

But as far as VicPoints? They aren’t bad in a competitive game, or a co-op game against the evil rules mechanics. If you only football for fun, than why keep score? (OK, admittedly, we’ve often not kept score).

Scott, maybe, kind of made that as a challenge for us to re-think our goals for end-game in general?
(and to make a bold declarative statement to get people to attend/watch his presentation).


#20

I’ve been increasingly confused and a little disappointed by the fervent rejection of this talk. I think it’s an interesting and fruitful perspective on play with some thought-provoking arguments about how people who aren’t deeply immersed in board game culture might experience a game.


#21

There’s a soviet era film called Battleship Potemkin. It seems really odd to fathom but is ultimately an interesting exercise because it has a narrative that doesn’t focus on individuals. I think what he’s basically arguing for is for board games to adopt a narrative that makes sense in terms of popular story telling, which is largely about individuals and often ‘heroic’.

I’m in the minority in that I think Lords of Waterdeep is actually a very thematic game. however it’s a narrative that’s about individuals seeking influence via the actions of their labourers rather than their own action. As it’s commonly seen as so unthematic, it could support his argument which I’m going to sum up through this prism as ‘can board games tells tories closer to those we’re exposed too regularly and form our cultural norms?’

I know why I enjoy euros, but one group of my gaming groups I never play euros with. I think his talk is something they’d all agree with. I enjoyed it what he said and thought it was fun, but it also doesn’t fit what I most often look for in games.