Wednesday, May 02, 2007

It's All in the Points

You can take just about any set of tasks you want and slap them into a game if you just figure out how many points to give as a reward.

Figuring out the points is the hard part. In fact, it's the only part.

You got a few cards going. You can roll the dice and pick the flooie. Play a green card on the flooie for a few points, or save up three green cards to trade for a hoozits for more points.

All that really matters is: how many points for playing on the flooie right now, and how many points for the hoozits? When is the game going to end?

If flooies are a lot of points, and hoozits's not much more, you go for the flooie. If hoozits's are a lot of points, and flooies not much at all, you go for the hoozits. Unless the game is about to end and you won't have a chance for a hoozits, or unless playing on the flooie gives you bonus abilities that will ultimately result in more points.

If the decision is too obvious, then there's no real choice. If the decision doesn't make a difference, because you get the same amount of points either way, it's also not really much of a choice, is it?

The only time it's really fun is when you don't know exactly what's coming:

- When you can't be bothered to add up all the possible point combinations,
- When the result depends on a certain amount of luck or skillful exertion, or
- When your opponent can figure out what you're doing and thwart you if they are on the ball.

Tiebreaking Means That Points Are Being Undervalued

Imagine Louis XIV with different point assignments. 50 points each for the missions, and 1 point each for the chips. You get a game where the missions are all that matters, and the chips are simply used for breaking ties.

That's kind of what you have in Power Grid, where the money only matters if the city points are tied. Imagine Power Grid where each city is 5 points, and each $5 you have left over is another point. The inevitable annoying win based on a tiebreaker is no longer as annoying.

I think that's what's blocking me in my own game design at the moment. I have a whole barrel full of nice mechanisms, but unless I get the points balanced, the game doesn't make any sense.

Multiple Wins for Multiple Types of Points

You know me. Always trying to find yet another alternative to points and winning.

I was thinking of how Gilbert won the medal, while Anne won the Avery Scholarship. Couldn't a game do that, too?

For instance, a game could give out red points and blue points. At the end of the game, there would be a "Red winner" and a "Blue winner". As a result, you would have to decide which type of points to focus on - which track to pursue - based on overall competition during the game.

Kind of like many real-life situations, no?

Wouldn't you play a game like that?



Anonymous said...

As a fellow game designer, I'm beginning to recognize the importance of scoring myself. In fact, your article reminds me of two excellent articles over at the Journal of Boardgame Design, where Jonathan says:

"Your scoring design is your game design."

The Art of Scoring

101 Ways to Score - The Art of Scoring Part 2

I'm in no way affiliated with this site. I just thought you'd like to know that you're not alone.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Thanks for the links, Tim.


Dave The Game said...

I think what you might be asking near the end about red vs. blue scoring is whether it bothers people to have multiple winners. Part of this is how many players the game is for- if you have a three player game and two of those players win, it's not as satisfying as 2 out of 6. A lot of it is personal preference, but multiple winners don't bother me as long as it makes sense in the context of the game, and isn't just a patch.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Dave -

Actually, I'm thinking much more grandly than that.

Imagine there are ten possible winner states. In a three player game, then, player A may win 1 and 3, player B 6, 7, and 8, and player C 2 and 10.

Or, imagine 100 winner states, where some types of wins are only rarely achieved in the course of 100 plays of the game.

People like to assume that the object of a game is for all but one person to lose. I like to mess with their minds.