Whenever I teach a game, there comes that inevitable moment where I’m explaining how to win, and 9 times out of 10, it ends with “and the player with the most points is the winner!”. The redundancy of that statement led me to start thinking about all the possible manners in which victory is or could be measured in a competitive boardgame. Points can’t be the only method, right?
This article is going to get pretty reductive. Games come in all shapes and sizes, and the method by which you win is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s how you get there that matters, as they say. Still, for the purposes of this examination, I’m going to be discarding the rest of the game, and only looking at the methods of measurement in determining victory. That’s the point of this exercise – and speaking of points… that’s a good place to start.
Games with Points seem to be the most common these days. To be clear, when we talk about points in boardgames, we could be talking about victory points, but we could just as easily be talking about money, influence, prestige, or one of the myriad of other measures that basically amount to the same thing. These games give players the opportunity to collect things and by doing so, they compete against other players. Points can come from a variety of sources. They could be tallied as the game progresses or only at the very end. I’ve seen some games put a twist on this, and offer victory to the player with the least amount of points. Whether it’s most or least, points are clearly a well utilized method of measuring victory. Most euro games utilize this system. It’s clean and it offers a way for players to rank themselves against one another, while also seeing the point spread. Games in this category might be “Puerto Rico” or “Concordia” or even “The Game Of Life“.
Another method of determining victory can be found in Race games. This is where players compete to see who will reach a goal first. This could be crossing a finish line, or grabbing the treasure, or completing some other task or set of tasks. Race games can even be mixed with point systems. The first player to 10 points is automatically the winner! If the players are trying to do something first – it’s pretty assuredly a game with a race style victory condition. Examples of race games are “PitchCar” or “Catan“, and even “Snakes & Ladders” (aka Chutes & Ladders).
Last One Standing
Last One Standing determines victory by a player needing to have eliminated all other players or pieces in order to win. Think of “Coup” or “Tsuro“, or even “Monopoly” as examples. To clarify, the winner doesn’t necessarily need to be responsible for the elimination of the others, they just need to outlast the other players or player pieces, and when that occurs, they’ve won the game. There are no points here, but in a sense, it’s kind of a subset of the Race game, only in reverse. Don’t be the first – but instead be the last to go.
Deduction is another method of measuring victory. Though this was unfashionable for a long time, there are plenty of social deduction games these days. These are games where players are given clues and will ultimately guess at an answer. If they guess correctly, they or their team wins. Many of the new breed of these games use the deduction mechanism in conjunction with a point system (ie. Resistance or Love Letter), but there still exist games that use pure deduction victory conditions. Examples are “Cryptid” or “Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective“, or even “Clue” (aka Cluedo).
The Connection category of victory conditions is comprised of games where a player is trying to connect one side of the board to the other, or make a row of X number of pieces. These are usually abstract games, like “Connect Four” or “Tic-Tac-Toe” or even “Through The Desert“.
Games where the objective is to capture an opposing players piece or pieces. Arguably this is a subset of the Points category, with the distinction that with Captures, the points are directly tied to opponent pieces. This type of victory objective is also regularly seen in abstracts and includes games like “Chess” or “Checkers” or the mother of all games “Go“.
Surprisingly, after looking at six different types of win conditions, we have now covered a wide part of the spectrum of win condition types featured in most modern hobby boardgames. If we try and distill these down even further, you end up looking at two individual metrics that all games use to measure player victory… Quantity and Speed, and sometimes both. In fact, you could argue that Race games are essentially about achieving a quantity of distance faster than the other players, or achieving a quantity of goals before other players. Last One Standing games are about outlasting a quantity of other players. Deduction could be seen as guessing a quantity of correct answers (maybe even just one) faster than anyone else. Quantity and speed are the best metrics designers have for measuring players against one another. At this point, however, we’re stretching the limits of what is useful.
So what is the point or purpose of deconstructing victory conditions like this? I was asked this question a number of times in my online conversations. For me it’s a fascinating exercise to see fundamentally how things work. Are all games basically the same because they use points, or because they have players racing with one another? Of course not, because it’s not the win condition that defines the game any more than it is the top speed that defines a car. It’s the journey toward that end state that matters, and the decisions and engagement that players experience along the way.