06 Apr Developing a Game Design Philosophy – Player Elimination
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.
As a gamer I love a wide variety of games: Dominion, Magic: the Gathering, Warhammer 40k, Axis and Allies, Scythe, Splendor, Legendary, Star Trek: Ascendancy, and Pandemic to name a few. However, there is one game that I love above all others; poker. Specifically, Texas Hold’em Poker.
Author’s note – I’m going to state here that I have always loved poker. Long before the Chris Moneymaker fueled poker boom that followed his 2003 WSOP victory, I had been playing in leagues all over Pittsburgh. I would never claim to be some sort of O.G. poker player, but I have competed, and performed admirably, in my share of small-to-mid-sized local tournaments.
I almost never play poker with my friends. I don’t like the idea of taking money from people that I personally care about, but I also think of game time with friends as an opportunity to socialize around a mutual love of games. There’s one aspect of poker – a critically important aspect – that makes poker unsuitable for friendly gatherings: player elimination.
Player elimination is a simple concept; as the game progresses each player is picked off one-by-one until there is a single victor remaining. There’s no point calculating, territory control or other victory condition. Last man standing is the name of the game.
The problems with a game designed around this principle are simple. If you are knocked out of the game, what do you do while your friends continue to play? Watch a movie? Play solitaire? Read a book? No one wants to be excluded from a group activity, and conversely no one wants to exclude a friend from a group activity. Games that have a large player elimination component are rarely considered when Slightly Twisted Games sits down to play.
Star Trek: Ascendancy technically has a significant player elimination component, though I will confess to never having witnessed a player being eliminated prior to the game ending. Axis and Allies has a pseudo-player elimination component where one country can be eliminated from the game, but can later return to the game if their capital is liberated. Monopoly also has player elimination, which is compounded negatively by the fact that eliminated players may die before the game ends.
At Slightly Twisted Games we work hard to keep all our players involved in our games. As a game design concept, it’s fairly simple to manage. Victory within our game Glory can be boiled down to a race for, well… glory. The first player to earn 20 glory (or achieve other victory conditions in the game) wins. Much loved games like Splendor, Scythe, and Dominion work on a similar principle. Mechanically, everyone is working towards a goal, and the first player to achieve that goal, or the player who achieved that goal to the greatest degree of success, wins.
For me, little compares to the adrenal thrill of heads up play against a single opponent, especially after clamoring over a mountain of opponents. It’s an experience that evokes a heart-pounding physical reaction, but it’s also an experience that I reserve for myself. Enjoying a good game with friends, and sharing equally in the fun until the very end will always trump any game with player elimination.