The End of a Game

So as we wrap up 2017, my mind was wondering this morning to the different ideas and techniques designers have for determining when a board game ends. The ending of a game can be as impactful to the player’s experience as the rest of the game. By controlling the end of a game the designer also help limit the gameplay time and what note people end the game on. In looking at a number of games there are two main thoughts on how a games end is determined either by having played a fixed number of rounds or by achieving a certain goal or game condition.

The simplest of the end conditions to talk about is that a certain number of rounds have been played. A number of traditional card games fall into this category as well as many more modern games for a number of reasons. It is simple to explain to new players that there are a certain number of turns it provides an easy way for players to keep track of how far into the game they are. In addition, the anticipation of the end of the game provides tension in the game play; players have to frantically make their last moves and those who have little to no chance of winning can look forward to either playing another round of the same game or a different game. Some of the best examples I have seen this done well are in the games Vinhos, Wizard, and Small World. The reason these games work well is because at the end players understand where they in terms of the score and they can work their way to victory in that time frame. As a note, a number of games can accidentally have too many or too few rounds in them potentially leading to a lack luster experience. Some other ways a game can conceal this end condition is by constantly using resources like a timer (although there can be other uses for those resources too). An example of this is in Carcassonne and Kindomino where the tiles played are limited to provide for a fixed number of turns. In short, the easiest way to have a game end is by letting people know it will end in a certain number of turns.

The other way a game can end is by meeting a certain condition, either there are no more of a resource left, a score achieved, or any other condition can be met. These different conditions provide not only a goal for players to play to but also can provide a visual/tactile way of quantifying the amount of time left in a game. In Collectors and Capers, for instance, the game ends a certain number of rounds once all of the treasures have been stolen from the center of the table. With this end condition, players can easily see what is left to be stolen and plan accordingly for the end of the game. Other varieties of this can obviously be when a player scores a certain number of points or when all but one player is eliminated. In particular with player elimination as a end condition, the remaining players can be bored or frustrated as they wait for the end of the game. One of the challenges in designing a game with this kind of end condition though is that a game can last too long or be too short due to the players themselves.  This volatility can lead to an exciting end of a game but is less consistent than by measuring out the number of turns.

The different ways to end a game, either by having a fixed number of rounds or a condition met, these can be used to help provide a satisfying end to a good game. For each of these strategies, the intent is to provide clarity and excitement to the players as they make their final bids for victory. Where some games tend to fall it is because either the end was too sudden or didn’t come soon enough. Now with 2017 coming to an end, I hope you take a little bit of time to think about your year and how the game you are play decides to come to a close.