30 Mar Developing a Game Design Philosophy – Kingmaking
Mark Rivett –
Whenever we get together, Slightly Twisted Games tries to make time to play a board or card game. We love games, and after we play a new game for the first time, we discuss both the things we enjoy and dislike about it. This has shaped our game design philosophy, and we work to incorporate our philosophy into each game we make.
“Barney Always Loses” is a mantra often cited by my business partner Thomas Ryan. This rivalry – born of a lifelong mutual love of tabletop gaming – is realized when we sit down to play a game. It’s a fun aspect of an already rich history of friendly competition. What it means on a practical level is this:
“If I, Thomas Ryan, must choose which opponent to attack/harm/or otherwise mess with, and there is no clearly correct choice, that player will be Bernard Elias.”
This is often quite logical. Barney is a savvy and strategic player who has pulled victory from almost inevitable defeat on many occasions across numerous games. However, I (Mark Rivett) have benefited from this behavior regularly, and I often find myself quietly building up my money/armies/ships/gems/meeples while my most dangerous opponents fight among themselves.
Writer’s note: Please do not tell Tommy or Barney about this. My preference is to maintain the status quo on this issue.
But this idea speaks to a larger, often lamented aspect of multplayer games – kingmaking. “Barney Always Loses” is not kingmaking, but let’s just say all of Slightly Twisted Games were to sit down to a game of Monopoly. For the sake of argument, assume we were forced by Satan himself to choose between playing a game of Monopoly or Armageddon (not the board game Armageddon, but actual Armageddon). If Tommy chose to forego any effort to win in favor of making sure “Barney loses,” and therefore gave me extremely lopsided property deals, that would be kingmaking. One player, long before the outcome of the game is determined, throws in the towel and adds their support to another player.
All non-cooperative multiplayer games have a kingmaker aspect to them to some degree. In Splendor, you might find yourself unable to win, but able to thwart the victory of one of your opponents while the other one wins on their next turn. In the game Scythe, one player might rush to end the game with another player as a clear favorite. In Star Trek: Ascendancy, you might provide lucrative trade deals to one opponent while focusing your military against another. Kingmaking is a challenging issue that can often boil down to the type of people within a gaming group.
In Slightly Twisted Games Glory, we recognize that there is no way to completely remove kingmaking from a multiplayer game. However, we do try to limit the ways in which kingmaking might be appealing for players. First and foremost, we’ve created a game that doesn’t take long to play. If a player is frustrated – an experience we have worked extremely diligently to prevent – their frustration need only last a short while. Secondarily, the balance that we have built into the game ensures that everyone is running neck and neck until the very last turn of the game. No player should ever have a hopeless game experience.