If you start with the game like scrabble it seems like having victory points (aka points) is completely fine. But if one were to layer a theme on top (“the wizards are thrilled by the letter Z”) do the points suddenly feel more stupid even if the game is the same?
Yes. Because the game is not the same. Theme - even when pasted on - changes our engagement with the game. The fact that some gamers trained themselves to ignore theme and focus solely on the VP math underneath, doesn’t change that.
Excuse me for this one, but what’s the point of the points? That’s what matters. If I’m playing a game of Scrabble or Yahtzee or even something ostensibly thematic and engine-y like Space Base, I know the point is points. Rack em up, get em better than your opponents, and in some cases get em the fastest. Victory points are cool in those games because it’s all about just getting them wherever you can eke them out.
But you can’t just say that victory points are therefore great in all point salad games. One of the things I agree with in the video is how ultimately fruitless a lot of games end up feeling at game’s end. Too often I feel like I spent a couple of hours just amassing whatever the game’s equivalent of wealth is, only to stop and tally at what feels like an arbitrary point. No real climax, just time’s up.
Because I mentioned it earlier, I’ll use Teotihuacan as a good recent example of lending meaning to a VP-based game. Thematically, we’re helping to build the city and, more explicitly, the temple. We work, pray, and die. Mechanically we collect currencies and exchange those currencies for victory points. [EDIT: This is where a lot of games kind of stop and fall into the trap of collecting and then counting.] However, most of those victory points are tied to three main progress tracks, and scoring happens at three prescribed (and very much player manipulated) times. This turns the game into a series of concurrent races and helps dictate the pace and direction of the game. You can even end the game prematurely by rushing to complete the temple.
These simple tweaks add real meaning to what is otherwise a shameless point salad (and a heavy one at that). It could have easily devolved into some rote exercise of going in circles grabbing stone and placing tiles until the egg timer went off. Instead I felt a part of a series of contests where each push forward meant taking points now and, critically, depleting the general pool for everyone else later.
This is the general spirit of the talk, in my mind. Teotihuacan has a handful of proverbial boss fights that play out across the game’s three eclipses and nobody draws a sword.
Instead of catch up mechanisms, every game needs a ‘resign’ option. I know players who have hated Food Chain Magnate, not because they lost, but because they lost 4 hours before the game actually ended.
Player elimination, whether outright or by-the-numbers is always tricky. Tons of people hate it for a reason, but one thing you gotta admit, it always makes for a story… even if it’s a salty one.
[EDIT] Well the video clearly got a lot of folks thinking about victory points.
This reminds me of a megagame discussion.
MASSIVE GENERALISATION ALARM
With the ideas of megagames expanding across the world it seems there are now two schools of thought.
Most of the original megagames ended before a side of individual could ‘win’. Teams had individual goals, but no person was ever the official winner (Lots of people would claim they won their own personal game)
Some of the newer games, and some iterations of watch the skies introduced trackers and point scores (I believe New York and a number of other US sites were the most prevalent in this area.)
Japan under Matt never won watch the skies. I don’t think that matters.
The one Megagame I played was TERRIBLE. It was Watch the Skies with some amendments. Will keep spoilers just in case it was close to the proper WTS
I’m not sure how WTS was structured, but it was basically hours and hours of roleplay before we were informed before the endgame that what 90% of people did had absolutely no influence on the game at all. As Russia, I spent the entire game trying to just do SOMETHING, but ran against a brick wall every time. It was such a big downer on the whole experience.
I’ve played two versions of Watch the Skies megagame. In the first one, every country shared some basic victory point categories (have a good economy, don’t get conquered, do science) and then had some nation-specific objectives. In the second one, countries drafted objectives and so got to pick what they would pursue and have some knowledge of what they passed onto others. I also played a mini-megagame at SHUX '18 about vampires that last a few hours, and it also had victory points (I forget if they were randomly dealt or if we negotiated/claimed them).
That said, I feel winning isn’t the point of a megagame: the victory points gave us an objective for the day, but the fun was being our role and watching the emergent narrative from everyone scheming to accomplish whatever goal they had in mind. My friend had fun as UN ambassador hammering out deals that benefited our country. I variously got to optimize a science subgame, used military forces to keep others out of South America, and made deals to get what my clan needed from the market before other parties grabbed it or made deals with someone else. I didn’t care whether we won or lost, just that the day was well-spent and people had fun. It sounds like @KIR didn’t have fun because a lot of people didn’t have agency. My actions were never the axis upon which the world spun, but I influence the course of the river in my own small way.
This is another article that makes interesting claims about victory points, which Ava linked to in the recent Games News. Its subtitle is How oversimplified historical simulations can perpetuate regressive views of Colonial history, which is quite a cool subtitle for an article about victory points.
The problem being that the article isn’t really about victory points, or, rather, is imo unconvincing in it’s Connection of victory points and theme, and too much Agenda-driven for me to be able to appreciate the interesting points the author does make.
One observation about Foale’s article is there is a trade-off between rules complexity and accuracy of the historical simulation. If games need to model the full historical context of events, then those games will need more rules to support the additional complexity. At the same time Foale states that complicated rules benefit the privileged. It’s hard to design games this way.
i really like Res Arcana but a battle amongst mages to end up with the most points is so corny. I mean if lll never care about that the part of the rules book again but it’s the first thing you see and it’s really weird to think how little care went into that compared to the rest.
So… I haven’t watched the video yet (it’s on my list… A very long list)
Buuuuuut, I honestly don’t understand why there’s a video at all. “Victory points suck” is, as far as thematic game design goes, objectively true.
Buuuuuut, I think restricting your win condition to one with a more pleasing name isn’t necessarily any better. For instance, Through the Ages has a great win condition - most culture - but fudges it with “war over culture”, which rewards military. Other games just assess all/more aspects of your play, but lack a good term to encompass everything, so call the total “victory points” or “fame” or “money” or whatever. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other.
Unless you want all “thematic” games to have win conditions that aren’t tied to a number. But that would be too restrictive. (This kind of) abstraction is necessary for a lot of games.
But that’s the thing, EVERYTHING in a board game is an abstraction. Why are VPs any more abstract than taking turns or worker placement or playing cards? I don’t see how people can look through all these other layers of abstraction and then pick on VPs as the thing that breaks theme.
I guess I should be clearer:
- “Victory points suck” <-- Yes
- “Victory points are an, often, elegant solution to an otherwise difficult problem” <-- Yes
Something seems to be getting lost here. If we boil the talk down to a single point, ignoring the clickbait nature of the title/refrain, then we get a proper point of contention/topic for discussion. Namely: let’s think about how we handle victory points.
In spite of the very specific horse Scott chose to beat dead for the last 20 minutes of the talk, I remain convinced that the crux of his argument stems from the idea that too many games rely on victory points as an arbitrary sort of timer and performance gauge. Specifically he seems to take issue with the way this frequently presents ludonarrative conflicts.
Again, I’ll use Root as my personal main offender here, as every game begins with a crowded map and several distinct, murderous factions hell bent on total domination of the forest through direct conflict. So naturally it all ends when someone hits 30… naturally.
Root is my primary example here because not only does it exemplify victory points being handled poorly, but it stands as a case for an alternative to victory points altogether. Many games use Victory Points, but few implement them in a holistic way, and the result is frequently a game that gets rolling, gets juicy, and then just… ends.
Scythe took a pretty good approach to this, I think. Scythe uses victory points, but they’re actually milestones of accomplishment. It has money, which are actually victory points. Sure, at the end of the game everyone tallies and a winner is determined, but that tally doesn’t take place until one player hits the prescribed number of achievements—they worked toward a list of challenges, and completed them first. Without even touching on the fact that the first to achieve isn’t necessarily the one to win, and that the question of when to initiate the endgame is one of Scythe’s most delicious choices, it’s not hard to see how much more engaging this approach is.
Anyway, I’m not sure I really accomplished anything with this post. I personally think there’s a really juicy debate to be had from this talk, but there’s an awful lot of chaff to remove just to get to the wheat.
That’s funny, because I think Root does it well, while Scythe does it badly…
An interesting take on victory points can be seen in one of Cole Wehrles’ designer diaries. You can assume that a lot of this also applies to Root, so you don’t really need to know anything about the more obscure Pax Pamir:
First, the game’s focus changed. For all of the original game’s differences from Pax Porfiriana, at it’s core, both were games about regime control. For those unfamiliar with the series, it works something like this: players collect different “suits” of victory points. Which suit ends up being the “correct” suit depends on the current climate. So, to use Porfirana as an example, if Mexico has erupted into Anarchy, the player with the most Marxists in their coterie is going to be victorious. Controlling these climates (or Regimes, as they are called in Porfiriana) was managed simply by hoarding special cards which had the ability to change the climate when played. Basically, for all its arguments about simulation and history, Pax Porfiriana was a hand management game (a damn fine one too).
This system makes a lot of sense in Porfiriana both mechanically and thematically. But, I had wanted Pamir to disrupt it. To do this, Pamir added a new layer to the victory calculation. Basically, players worked together in formal coalitions to accrue the right kinds of victory points, and, when their coalition won, the player with the most “influence” (yes…another currency) would win the game. I had hoped these bad marriages would provide the game with it’s central drama, but it turned out to simply be too hard to track in the vast majority of games. Climate control (basically making sure it was Anarchy when it needed to be Anarchy) was ultimately more important, and that’s where players focused. I wanted to flip this. The climates were still in play, but I wanted to make them less important and to elevate the coalitions to be the game’s most critical element. The forming of alliances and sudden, painful betrays needed to be the heart of the game.
The solution was ultimately simple, but it took me a long time to come around to. In order to decouple climate control from victory I simply had to make it so that the dominance conditions never changed. Dominance would simply be decided by roads and armies, regardless of current climate. Thomas Hobbes would have been proud. Now, in assessing the standing of each coalition, players simply needed to glance at a single track. Look ma, no bookkeeping!
Simplifying dominance allowed me to “spend” the game’s complexity elsewhere, and I decided to spend it building out the victory point system to be more dynamic and responsive to the game state.
Originally Pamir was envisioned as a sudden-death game. However, with the victory condition being as complicated as it was, all this meant was that the game ground to a halt when the cards that triggered the end of the game appeared in the market. Then, after a big stall, a whole barrage of betrayals and plot-twists would unfold in a few actions and one player would likely run away with the win. Victory points allowed me to extend this drama over a much larger period in the game because they could allow players to see the endgame unfold in slow motion and react to the shifting fortunes of the players. Victory points were like a spotlight that allowed me to point the attention of my players on the two things that mattered in the game: loyalty and influence. Basically, only players loyal to the dominant coalition would be eligible to get victory points. And, the number of victory points they got depended up their standing in that coalition. The player with the most influence points in a coalition would get five points. The player with the second most would get three points. The player with the fewest would get one. If no coalition managed to secure dominance, a lesser amount of points were doled out to those players who had built large bases of personal power.
To my thinking, this mechanical imposition gave the game a much more epic narrative range. With each dominance, few points were dolled out and the players inched to victory, adjusting their partnerships based on the standings of the players. By the end of the game, players got the sense that they finally unified a fallen empire in conflict that spanned a generation.
But, I needed the pressure of a sudden-death condition as well to fuel some of the original game’s riskier strategies. I did this with the “4 or more” rule. Basically, if, after scoring, a single player has 4 more points than every other player (individually), they immediately win the game. So, if a single player manages to gain dominance all by herself in the first check, she’ll have 5 points and everyone else will have nothing. Game over. Likewise, if a partnership is dominant twice and the influence race between them isn’t disrupted, the lead partner will have 10 points (5+5) and the secondary partner will have 6 (3+3). Game over.
Fans of the original Pax Pamir will see that these rules, while looking quite different superficially, actually mirror the end game conditions of the original Nation Building variant. This, I think, represents the core ethos of the new edition of Pax Pamir best. Most everything from the original game is still in this design, but those mechanisms are to be found as organic consequences of a new set of rules, not through bits of chrome scattered here and there.
In summary - Victory points good, obfuscation and complication of victory conditions bad.
I’m not trying to put Scythe up there as the gold standard (of anything), but I do think it’s an apt example of at least making an attempt to bring meaning to a game’s conclusion. Ironically I think the speaker would actually cite Scythe as a particularly egregious example of what he hates! Although you just know it’d be because he was upset he didn’t get to blow everything up and see a last man standing.
For what it’s worth, I sold on both Root (a few plays) and Scythe (3 years and a ton of plays). The former because I found it infuriating, fruitless, and miserable to teach. The latter because it’s possibly the blandest game I’ve ever played. They both do really damn cool things and it’s fun to talk about them, but there are better games to play.
[EDIT]Thanks for the above, it’s a good read. Nuanced language is so much more conducive to conversation don’t you think? He kind of exemplifies just how specific a designer should be when thinking of VP in their game. Not their games, that one game.
I don’t know Pax Pamir, but after reading that I’d be curious to know his philosophy behind Root’s VP track. I have a hard time believing the same level of consideration went into it. This is kind of where I align a bit with Scott Westerfield because unlike Scythe, Root is indeed my current gold standard for poor handling of victory conditions/game resolution.