What Makes a Good Game? Part 5

For this part of this series I will follow up on a topic that I mentioned needed to be talked about last week: player elimination in game. For this discussion let us just look at its pros and cons and how that ties into what makes a good game. This can be a topic that people feel strongly about in boardgaming circles given that it is not fun to be eliminated in a game. There are games, however, that are really fun that do involve player elimination so let’s dive into the concept of elimination, why it is use, and how it can be used well.

So with player elimination there is a sense of urgency and that the players have a stake in avoiding this elimination sense it means that they will not be able to play but watch instead. This brings us to some of the good points of player elimination: it keeps players interested in the game as long as they are not eliminated. Good games approach player elimination by focusing on keeping the player in having a vested interest in the game which could be to use difference mechanics or even to avoid elimination altogether.

One way to keep the player interested is to provide other actions to do while eliminated so they are still in the game. A great game that does this is Cthulhu Dice since the eliminated players still play on their turn. While they may not be able to win, it still keeps players involved in the game and their goal can be to be a hindrance to players still in the game.

This leads to second thing a good game with player elimination is that there is a way to come back into the game. The game Slamwhich (where the object is to have the full deck of cards gained by slapping certain patterns of cards played one at a time by players) does that by having a mechanic that allows players who have no cards left to participate by slapping back into the game taking the cards in the pile and thus having a chance to win again.

Another thing that a good game with elimination does is to keep the time that a player is eliminated to as small as possible. With short rounds or time that a player could be eliminated the players feel less penalized and incentivized to do something else due to boredom. Monopoly is terrible at this, in the original rules (that Parker Brothers used) the game was not over until there is only one player remaining. This makes the game slow and dull for those eliminated and is a pattern best avoided.

Some games (mainly Euro games) just eliminate player elimination altogether and try to keep players in the game at all times. This strategy is good since it avoids the pitfalls of games with player elimination but instead needs to keep the players feeling like they could win at any point. This of course then entirely sidesteps the question of how have player elimination be used to make a good game but it is worthy to note that there are great games without player elimination as well and most of the time the choice to have it in a game comes back to the original design intent of the game.

Now all of these solutions that can help make a good game try to address the paradox of elimination in games: a game is fun when you play it but you can also just be stuck watching other people play instead.The root of the problem and then solution is that players need to be engaged with the game or as engaged as they can be while they are eliminated. This is not that different to making sure that players are involved in each other’s turns except that there is a potentially longer waiting time for the eliminated player. The ways to combat this are to give actions for the eliminated player (they can participate even if they cannot win), provide a way to get back into the game, keep the elimination time as short as you can, and you can even not have elimination if it is not in the design intent of the game. Each of these ingredients are used in a some way to make a good game and when games turn out to not be fun it could be that they have elimination in them but fail to hold the eliminated player’s interest.

The important thing to note is that the lack or presence of player elimination does not mean a game will be good or not. Instead, If a designer keeps in mind that the point of a game is to keep the player’s interest and works with that idea then the game could be good.

This is just something to think about this morning, I hope you have a wonderful day!