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Futillity in Games

August 10, 2010

I’ve been playtesting a couple prototypes, and a problem I’ve been running up against is futillity: when it seems that a player no longer has the means to achieve victory but must continue play anyway. This comes up in a lot of games, monopoly and risk for example tend towards a stalemate, but nearly all games run across this to some degree. Depending on the game, one player might be far and away the leader in points, one player might be unable to surmount overwhealming odds, and sometimes the game sets up elimination down to the final two players, leaving everyone else to watch.

I’ve seen an unwinnable Pandemic scenario that built up in 15 minutes, and then forlornly watch the world suffer for another 30 minutes. I’ve played a game of Last Night on Earth, where the Heros got the keys, the gas, and escaped in the truck before the zombies could shake off the dirt from the grave. I love Bang the Bullet, but I have a friend who won’t play it because he’s played 3 games but hasn’t taken a single turn.

When you lose, you want the game to be over quickly thereafter. Or you want it to be uncertain who has won up to the very end of the game.

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From → Misc

One Comment
  1. Some game designers and game customers get so engaged by the theme or art of a game, they don’t pay enough attention to the game mechanics. I belong to the New York City Board Game Play Test Group, a group of mostly published board game designers who meet monthly to primarily help each other with the balance issue you mention. My personal ideal is to create games in which all players feel they have a chance of winning until the last couple of turns in the game. The solution of keeping the players’ standings hidden until the end of the game is a less desirable one, because players’ engagement also depends on being able to judge their standing during the game.

    A good example of this sort of balance is Ticket to Ride. Through accumulating during-the-game points for every route you build and by seeing how many destination tickets each player has taken and how many train cars each has left, one can estimate one’s standing without being certain until the tickets are revealed at the end of the game.

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