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[TiGD] Player goals 3 -- Victory Point acquisition games

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jwarrend
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Ok, time to turn our attention to another class of player goals, that of acquiring "Victory Points". In contrast to "race games", these games don't have the "all or nothing" feel of either being first across the line, or not; instead, players make incremental progress towards winning throughout the course of the game. The routes for VPs can be quite varied; a game could have contributions to your VP total from a single kind of action repeated over and over (example?), from different actions that all pay out VPs similarly (eg, Carcassonne), or from different actions that give multiple mechanisms for VPs (e.g. Puerto Rico, where shipping and building VPs are qualitatively different).

What makes VPs so popular as a player goal? I know I myself lean heavily to making VP systems. Why is that? What kind of player experience do they lead to? What problems/flaws can they exhibit?

(Note that discussions of "Open/closed VPs" are valid for this discussion, but discussions of "rich get richer" problems are not so much on topic, since we're going to talk about "cash acquisition" games like Acquire and Settlers next week--although, Settlers can still be discussed as a VP acquisition game this week...)

-Jeff

Scurra
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[TiGD] Player goals 3 -- Victory Point acquisition games

(I wrote a reply wondering why you had classed Settlers and Acquire together as the same type of game, but eventually concluded that you were right and deleted it ;-))

VPs are used because they are a simple scoring system. It's what I described as the split between "race" games and "optimisation" games. A race game doesn't need to have any sort of scoring system - first past the post wins. An optimisation game has to have one, as otherwise it's impossible to judge who has optimised their game the best. (For instance, having conceded that you were probably correct in classing Settlers and Acquire as both being money-acquisition games, I still think that one of them is a race game and the other isn't!)

And there is a difference between scored VPs and secret VPs - and I think this is slightly different to "open" and "closed" holdings. For instance, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride both have intermediate scoring points, and these need to be tracked. However, they also both have big scoring rounds at the end which can change the positions dramatically without players being completely sure how things will turn out. (I know that you can count things up in Carc, but I'm not sure I'd want to play with someone who spent all game doing that!)
IOW the visible positions aren't necessarily a good guideline to actual positions ("San Marco" is a really good bad example of this!) But these semi-open scores are a great driving incentive as it gives some (albeit possibly misleading!) direction to the "losing" players about what they need to do. If they were being kept secret then all most players would be able to do is to say "Joe's doing rather well" without really knowing how well.
In other game I think closed VP holdings are essential. The canonical example must surely be Euphrates & Tigris. Some people argue that players with a good memory will do well at this. Frankly, I think that tracking four different colours for each other player is just not viable. But playing with the scores open would cause the game to completely collapse into AP mode - there's enough optimisation of moves as it is without additional factors entering the equation!
Whereas I have played Acquire under "open holdings", "completely closed holdings" and "semi-open holdings" and found that it works fine under all of those conditions, but that has rarely had an influence on anyone knowing a player's final score (except for our resident math genius, and even the rest of us usually have a general idea of the positions.)

Unfortunately, I think that leads to my position on "open" vs "closed" being one of "whatever suits the game you are playing and who you are playing it with" which isn't terribly useful :-)

In the end, I use VP systems because I like to let the players drive the game. They should be in charge of their progress through their chosen strategy, not because it's obviously better to use top gear on a straight.
I would also note that games using a VP system do need to have some sort of "big-bang" end-game scoring mechnism (regardless of any incremental systems.) I know this seems self-evident, but it does seem to distinguish these games from race games: the first player to cross the line will often do so (if given the opportunity) only because they think they are winning, not because they win if they do so. And so you need some additional scoring feature to affect that result.

zaiga
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[TiGD] Player goals 3 -- Victory Point acquisition games

I also lean heavily towards VP acquisition as the primary player goal in my designs. There are many good reasons to use VP's as the way to determine the victor.

An important reason to use VP's is to be able to separate the winning condition from the game ending condition. This makes it much easier to prevent all kinds of nasty problems such as kingmaking situations, unsatisfying endings, anti-climaxes, situations in which the winner is already apparent turns before the game is over, etc. These situations can still arise in VP games, but they are much easier to prevent, for example by making a portion of the scoring hidden, or by awarding a significant portion of the points at the end of the game, or by having a more-or-less randomly triggered game ending.

In a VP game it is much easier to introduce "multiple roads to victory". The designer can award a different number of VP's for different achievements. VP's can be awarded at specific intervals, for example at the end of a round, or they can be awarded when a player performs a specific action, or at game end. These all have different advantages.

Interval scoring create a few, nice "tipping points" in the game. Players want to optimize their score for when interval scoring occurs, but they have to balance this against their overall progress in the game. It's nice to score big in one round, but not if this means you score much less in the next two rounds. Good examples of games with interval scoring are "El Grande" and "Ra".

Scoring for specific actions in the game is nice, because it gives immediate feedback to the player. This gives the player the idea that he is actually accomplishing something.

Almost all VP games have a scoring round at the end of the game. Sometimes this is simply the last of the scoring intervals (El Grande), but also very often extra points are awarded for certain accomplishments. End game scoring can cause big shifts in the standings, this is often a great source of tension, especially when points are scored for hidden goals (Ticket to Ride). Big end game scoring rounds also create an overarching, strategic goal for the players, something that they can work towards during the course of the game (the farmers in Carcassonne, for example).

VP games give the designer a lot of freedom to tweak his design. By tweaking the VP payout scheme the designer can push the players in a certain direction, but in a good design it won't feel forced because players can still choose which road to victory they want to pursue.

There are downsides to VP games as well, of course. A game with many ways to score may be daunting for casual or first-time players and it may take several games before a player "gets" it.

The designer has a lot of freedom when he designs a VP game, but it may also take a lot of time to tweak the VP payout scheme so that it is balanced.

Finally, the "goal" ("What am I doing?") in a VP game is often a lot less clear than in a racing game and this may make it harder for a player to identify himself with what he is representing in the game. This in turn makes it harder for the player to immerse himself in the game.

- René Wiersma

Trickydicky
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[TiGD] Player goals 3 -- Victory Point acquisition games

I'm not sure if VP games also include games where you simply count each players total score at the end of either their turn or the round, i.e. History of the World, Torres. If so I really like the system of scoring, especially if it has a variety of ways of getting those points. For example in History of the World sometimes it is better to go for control of an entire area, other times it is better to go for presence in every area, and other times it is simply profitable to take over all the capitol and monument lands on the board.

I've used a scoring system in a number of my games. Then again I haven't in others. I feel like the scoring system can cause a somewhat down and out player to still have hope that things will turn around. This is especially true if the end of the game scoring is weighted to be more important than at the beginning of the game, i.e. History of the World.

The problem with scoring systems like this, is that the opposite can be true. Sometimes somebody gets so far ahead that there is no chance, unless of course everyone else decides to go after that player only. I usually don't like it when something like that happens in a game. I've found that in those cases many of the players don't even care if they win, they just don't want the person who is kicking everyone's butt to win. At that point the game often becomes lame. I don't know that race games have similar effects on player's actions and hopes (mostly because I haven't played many race games).

I personally prefer games that have a set time, or number of turns and whoever has the most points wins, compared to a game like settlers where it is the first player to a certain number of points. That is simply my own feelings.

GeminiWeb
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[TiGD] Player goals 3 -- Victory Point acquisition games

To date, I have seen myself lean towards VP acquisition games.

The first reason stems from a thematic approah I have been using for my games, where VPs provide a reasonable abstraction to that which I want the players to be striving. For example, in Pirates Cove, VPs are abstracted to fame points. In Puerto Rico, VPs abstract to "contributions to shipping goods to the 'old world'" and "contributions towards buklding up your town". I find this particularly useful when making a german-type game where the VPs are an abstraction for making somesort of achievement of contributing towards something.

The second reason, as indicated by Zaiga, is the opportunities to provide multiple paths to achieve VPs, be it shipping versus building in Puerto Rico or different building strategies in my own GDW'd "High Council of Evensford".

Lastly, I find tweaking the VPs a good way for tweaking game balance.

- Bill

Zzzzz
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Re: [TiGD] Player goals 3 -- Victory Point acquisition games

jwarrend wrote:
What makes VPs so popular as a player goal? I know I myself lean heavily to making VP systems. Why is that? What kind of player experience do they lead to? What problems/flaws can they exhibit?

I agree that what has been stated on this topic already, here is what I have to add

I feel that VP lends itself (maybe because of abstraction) to be used in a game that seeks an added depth and/or strategy. It seems that games that use VP in this way do it to help add the "unknown" or add to a players decisions (or thought process). In general it can make you think more about your actions in a game and the consequences of the actions you take.

VP can be used in ways to hide what is going on in a game, again it makes you think about what is going on, you might be right or wrong. But that added to the unknown, it adds for some people excitment!

ooops have to run.... I will post more later.

Anonymous
Hidden VP games

I for one am working on a game using hidden VP, somewhat similar to Tigris and Euphrates' system, with the addition of "Wild: VP attained from a subsystem of the game mechanics. As in T & E, the winner will be the one with the highest number of VP's in his lowest category. I find this to be a superb system using hidden VP, and presents the frequent problem of leader bashing less often. Interested to hear ant ideas you all may have. :)

jwarrend
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[TiGD] Player goals 3 -- Victory Point acquisition games

I agree that T&E has a great scoring system, just one minor quibble: since all of the cubes are acquired publically in Tigris, it might be more appropriately labeled "hidden but trackable" information. There's the perenniel discussion over whether games that have such a system (Puerto Rico, El Grande, Acquire, etc) would be better with fully public information. Ironically, someone pointed out to me, correctly I think, that the people who more commonly object to such mechanics are actually the ones who are better at tracking information, whereas people (like me) who can't track all of that information don't generally mind such systems as much.

Also, I don't know if it necessarily solves the problem of leader bashing; it actually can create the corollary problem of "perceived leader bashing", where one player is erroneously identified as the leader and then hammered, letting the true leader coast to the win. It becomes a question of how clearly you can identify who the leader is, and how much it's in your interest/ability to attack the leader rather than working on your own position. I think it's probably game-specific.

I don't think it should make you rethink your use of the mechanic at all, just some things to be think about when trying to identify your target audience.

-Jeff

zaiga
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[TiGD] Player goals 3 -- Victory Point acquisition games

I also think that E&T has a great victory point system. I do want to point out, however, that there are two different mechanics at work here.

On the one hand there is the idea of "hiding" victory points. We have discussed the pros and cons of this mechanic at length before on this board and in the chats. It's a great mechanic for 95% of the people who can't accurately track such hidden VP's. It gives them a sense of who is in the lead, but they can't really be sure, keeping the game exciting until the end. For the other 5%, it's an annoyance, because it they have to do extra mental work, memorizing the VP's, without adding any extra tension.

On the other hand you have the mechanic of scoring points for your weakest category. This is a great mechanic, because it forces players to do a little bit of everything, which, in some games, is more interesting than focusing on one thing. Another game that uses this mechanic is Reiner Knizia's "Einfach Genial". In that game the VP's are actually public, which shows that you not necessarily have to "hide" the VP's when using this scoring mechanic.

- René Wiersma

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