Sunday, January 10, 2016

What is a win?

My Camp Nightmare Kickstarter didn't work.  That means that the production I am going to do is going to be smaller and only for people who I know IRL or can reasonably meet up with.  However, the game will be available to purchase online for anyone going forward once I get that all set up.  I wrote a bit about my feelings on the matter on my other blog here.


Yesterday I played a game of Dune, an ancient board game based off of the Dune books.  From a lore standpoint I really like the game and I feel like it drew a lot of great stuff from the source material.  However, from a mechanical perspective the game is really weird, mainly in that what counts as winning the game is not well defined for the players.  Note that I played with six players, which is the ideal number for the game I think since all factions are represented.

You win the game in a variety of ways, but mostly it involves having an alliance with at least one other player and controlling three of the five key points on the board between you.  In theory you can do it solo but in practice that is highly impractical.  However, the easiest way to win is to wait until the first opportunity to form alliances, make a five way alliance, and have the last person immediately lose.  All five of you win!

But really, does that count?  It is trivial and stupid and the game becomes a popularity contest, nothing else.

How about a four way alliance?  That still guarantees a win but it feels like a better win since more people lose.

A three way alliance definitely feels like the only 'real' win since the enemies can certainly stop you.  However, if the game breaks into two factions of three players each the game is nearly guaranteed to end on that turn.  Using that strategy a game that has fifteen turns in it probably only lasts two or three turns before one group wins.  I think a three person alliance certainly counts as a win, but it seems like if you get into a three way alliance the game is kind of stupid and ends immediately if people are playing intelligently.

Now the two person alliance, that is a real win.  Assuming no one else has an alliance of three or more players the game is going to be wide open and winning definitely takes skill and thought.  (It must be noted that like many old board games the final turn will usually have a coinflip for victory no matter how well you play.)

I wish the game had a slightly different win structure.  Specifically, I would love a structure where you can enter into big alliances and reap the associated benefits but you can't win the game in such an alliance.  If one player jumps out into the lead the other five can certainly band together to beat the frontrunner down but they can't *win* while doing this.  I am not sure that would happen much but I think it would be really cool because guaranteeing that you can't win could lead to cooperation that otherwise can't really happen.

I suppose that normal people would just all agree informally that winning in huge coalitions is cowardly and you suck if you do that.  Not me though, I like knowing exactly what the win condition is and going as hard as I can at it.  For my money, that game becomes a lot more interesting and fun if you can only win if your current alliance has two people in it or if you aren't in an alliance.

Not like I will likely ever play it again... old school flavour games that usually end on swingy coinflips aren't really my schtick.


  1. You may want to check out the WBC rules. They only allow 2 person alliances (or 3 person alliances in a 6 player game if all players agree) but also require one additional victory point for each extra player in an alliance.

  2. Having played a sum total of 3 turns of the game (with 5 other first-time players) you are able to immediately say how it will "usually" end, declaring that it will be a swingy coinflip.

    Should I admire your skill at breaking a game down so quickly, or should I question your arrogance?

  3. Skill... though honestly the idea that you need skill to determine that is a bit silly.

    You play cards to determine the outcome of battles. Those plays often come down to card A or card B with zero information, and that will regularly determine who wins or loses a huge battle.

    I mean, I am kind of arrogant when it comes to games, but anyone who can't figure out that this is how this game ends after 3 turns of trying it is hopeless at games.

  4. If it actually just ended on a coinflip I doubt the same people would be winning the event at WBC every year.

  5. To be fair, it isn't a 50/50 coinflip all the time. (although that does happen a lot). There are plenty of instances of 10% you lose the game, 90% you win the game too. There is skill, I won't claim there isn't. However, when you can play the entire game masterfully and then attack an enemy with overwhelming force on the final turn and get blown out by then making their 10% then I find it highly distasteful.

    1. Devil's Advocate:

      10% chance of losing on the final turn is distasteful. Suggesting that if you play well, you want to win 100% when you make the big move on the final turn.

      What about the N-1 turn (N being the last turn). Is it okay to have a 10% chance of losing that battle? N-2?

      Would it be more fun if you never lost a battle at all that you shouldn't lose?

      Is that fun for the opponent? Is that even fun to never have a chance of winning? Aren't you just playing Chess at that point?

      To be fair, you are talking about overwhelming force vs more even battles (where hopefully 10/90 is okay!). And it can be very frustrating to lose something you are odds on favourite to win (I play Magic, trust me, I know this feeling very deeply).

      But maybe the strategy then isn't to have everything depend on a single battle? Spread your risk out? Re-define overwhelming force such that the loss of your leader isn't devastating? Use the other knowledge in the game (eg. Atreides knows who has what weapons, people use the weapons previously, etc.) to give yourself advantage on that roll of the die? Judge the player and try to figure out what they'll play based on them and their knowledge of you and your cards?

      Heck, maybe after everyone wipes themselves out in the first 3 turns the battles become less epic and it's just leaders shooting at each other with a few guys keeping them company?