TGDRT #67: Game Phases & Pivots

TGDRT

Episode #67 is live!

Rob joins Jon and Dirk to discuss phases (the early game, the late game, etc.) and ‘pivot points’, which are moments when focus shifts from one aspect of a game (such as economic engine building) to another (scoring points). Some of the titles brought up during the conversation include Chess, Monopoly, Dominion, Lords of Waterdeep and Zimbabwe, the game that got Rob thinking about this topic.

Pacing is one of the great dark arts of game design where you have to work almost entirely on gut feel. Should a game wrap up in a 60 minutes or 30? Should the ‘end game’ comprise the last quarter of a game, or simply the final turn? It’s almost entirely personal preference.

We also got touched on one of my favorite punching bags: victory points. It’s certainly possible to have major pivots without them (e.g. an RTS where you build up economically in order to craft an invincible army), but their extreme abstraction often leaves a bad taste in players’ mouths.

The most poignant example I brought up during the episode was Dominion, which is particularly bad. Once you shift over to the ‘grab as many points as you can’ phase the whole strategic fabric unravels pretty quickly. Because points rarely have any gameplay value a point chase for its own sake is rarely very interesting.

I do admit that VPs are probably necessary in certain types of games, but I’ll still always be attracted by the design purity of victory conditions.

- Jon

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4 Comments

  1. Jon: I just got to the part of this podcast when you all talked about victory points, a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. For me, the biggest detriment of victory points is the disconnect from the theme. Like, in Agricola (I game I quite enjoy), who is awarding players these points for cows and crops and rooms in their house? In real life, no one ever shows up at your house and says, “Four rooms, two bathrooms…I give you 10 points!”

    So I’ve realized two things: One, I think there’s a big difference between “point-salad” style games where there’s an accounting of points at the end of the game (Agricola, 7 Wonders) vs. games where you have to reach a certain points threshold to trigger the end game. Moving towards a specific number retains a lot more of the theme for me because it’s ongoing and meaningful, whereas points accounted for at the end of the game feels strictly like a game mechanism.

    The other thing I realized is that there’s a difference between a point-salad and very specific categories for getting points. Because in real life there are actual quantitative categories that we use to gauge success. Wealth (money), popularity/fame (Twitter followers or # of votes received in an election), knowledge (academic degrees or IQ), power (# of employees or amount of land owned), reputation/glory/prestige (awards received or restaurant rating), etc.

    Thus I think the ideal victory points condition for a game is a marriage of those two ideas. Ongoing points in several quantitative categories that move towards specific goals that trigger the endgame. Plus maybe a secret goal or two so players don’t have perfect information.

    What do you think?

    Reply
    • I agree completely. Any time you can eschew the abstract for the concrete it’s a win. Accumulating money just feels better than accumulating points, even if the two are mechanically identical.

      And I really like your “point salad” term – think I’ll borrow that one any time I have need to evisceration VPs in the future!

      – Jon

      Reply
      • Thanks! I can’t take credit for that term, but I have no idea who said it first. It is often used in reference to Stefan Feld and Uwe Rosenberg games.

        Reply
  2. Love the podcast. I’ve been listening at work, so please excuse me if I discuss something that was so obviously mentioned…

    I think it’s interesting to discuss victory conditions in the context of player motivation, especially in more open games like Dungeons and Dragons. Players have a degree of authorship over their experience with the game. The interactive nature of most games both facilitates and demands the relinquishment of a certain amount of control or perspective to the player. Everyone plays for different reasons, whether that be to admire the art style, kill enemies or explore. It only seems logical then for game designers to carefully manage the scope of a game, how it fosters play styles, and how to enable the game design to facilitate those play styles.

    On a side note, is there any way you can poke the site dev to allow the podcasts play in Google Play Newsstand when you add the RSS?

    Reply

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