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All Lose in a Non-Cooperative Card Game?

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JustAnEye
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One of the games I'm designing is a deck builder. In this game, there are "enemies" that come into the "shop" area, similar to how they come up in Ascension. The twist is that in my game, once per round after the last players turn, the "enemies" all attack. The attack is basically a given stat on each enemy card, totaled up for all enemies in play, and that much damage is done to each player. It's not a heavy number, in nearly all cases it's 1 to 2 damage per card (with an extremely small number of cards doing more than this), and the total damage that can be done is limited to the number of cards in play. This is a simplistic explanation, of course. So the players can attack each other, or they can attack the enemies to clear them out prior to the enemies' attack each round. I'm working on putting in a second way to win, beyond just being the last one standing: what is currently the strongest "enemy" I'm turning into a sort of "boss", and a player defeating this card would be an alternate way to win.

I know that player elimination is generally frowned upon, but the enemy attack mechanic I believe (and have found) helps keep the playing field relatively level, and usually once one player is eliminated, others are eliminated shortly thereafter - usually within a matter of a turn or two (so within a handful of minutes). At any rate, the ability for the cards to attack once per round created a possibility for all players to be defeated simultaneously, leaving no winner. In this case, in my current rules, the "enemy" wins. And in the way I'm working the new idea in, specifically the "boss" enemy wins.

I've play tested the game maybe 10 times at most at this point, however until Saturday night, I hadn't had this actually happen yet. Although I kind of like the "nobody wins" mechanic in the game, the players did not - they wanted some kind of secondary method of determining who won. Even if my alternate new rule with the secondary win possibility had been in place for this play test, it wouldn't have helped - the "boss" card never came up in play. I'm early enough in an alpha prototype of the game that I'm taking all constructive criticism to potentially need to change the game, but this one made me pause, I'm not sure I agree.

My question to you all is, what do you think of having a "nobody wins" possibility in a deck builder type game? Does this exist in any other non-cooperative games that I can't think of or am not aware of?

FrankM
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Put yourself in the players' shoes

It sounds like a competitive game, and that the players expect there to be an unambiguous winner. In principle they could always simply play another game, but no one can ever be sure that a human player will within any given length of time. What if it's late in the evening and the players (informally) have some money riding on the game?

Personally, I don't have a problem with an indeterminate amount of time to declaring a victor (some professional sports insist that play continues until someone wins), but you might want to be explicit about declaring who wins a "match" as opposed to a "game."

If there are already "match" rules, then it could be as simple as every player getting 0 points in a Boss Victory game. If not, you might need to make up some stub "match" rules. Ideally, you already have some kind of "quick game" variant that could be used for additional games beyond what were originally scheduled for the match (e.g., professional chess).

The alternative is to have some kind of back-up scoring system to declare which human player lost least in a Boss Victory. I don't like this because it could cause players to position themselves for a victory on points then sabotage attempts to slay the Boss. But if you really want alternate paths to "victory" that might work.

JustAnEye
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True...

Personally, I don't mind a "nobody wins" scenario. I guess in my mind, if I'm not winning, I'm OK with nobody else winning. I may be in the minority on that, though? I agree that a backup points system might cause a sabotage that would lead to avoiding killing the boss. But what if maybe the backup point system was based on killing the "enemies", including the boss? Instead of the killer of the boss necessarily winning the game, maybe killing the boss ends the game, and the boss grants a large number of victory points? So the paths to victory would be:

A) Last man standing
B) If all are simultaneously defeated, winner has the most victory points, which are awarded by defeating enemies
C) If the boss is defeated, winner has the most victory points, which are awarded by defeating enemies including the boss

Do you think this would settle the no winner concerns without confusing things? My mind immediately also asks, "If I'm now adding victory points to the game, should other cards give victory points beyond just the enemies?" I feel like it would be much simpler if it was just the enemies, but...

X3M
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A, will not work. If someone

A, will not work. If someone dies at the beginning of the game. He/she has to wait a long time for another game.

If you use a point system. Make sure players can get points if they act co-operative. Or else, a player "camps" and lets the other players do their job.

let-off studios
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Simultaneous Competition

JustAnEye wrote:
Do you think this would settle the no winner concerns without confusing things? My mind immediately also asks, "If I'm now adding victory points to the game, should other cards give victory points beyond just the enemies?" I feel like it would be much simpler if it was just the enemies, but...
If you're giving out victory points, then the game really isn't cooperative anymore. I would consider it simultaneous competition against the game, and if everyone's bad at it and the game ends prematurely, then it's just a matter of counting up victory points anyway.

Don't waffle about. Just call it a competitive game. This is what made Castle Panic weird for me. It's also similar to those old roll-and-move games published in the late 70's/early 80's that had the space where if you landed on it like, "Nuclear War. Nobody Wins. Game Over." That was very silly, in a lot of respects.

Meanwhile, I like the previous suggestion of granting some victory points for chipping in on other players' contests. I recall seeing a game at this past Unpub event which was a viking/Norse-themed hero-making game that had semi-cooperative aspects to it.

There was a "group challenge" that appeared each turn, and unless enough players chipped in on meeting the challenge then the game was over. At the same time, players could elect instead to go for a "solo challenge" that granted them a weapon or other piece of equipment that would improve their ability scores. Of course, the choice a player made to go after the group quest or pursue the individual reward was secret and all players revealed their choice simultaneously.

The aspect of preventing the end of the game prematurely versus improving oneself was an interesting dynamic to explore. The theme of the game also lent itself to the simultaneous competition aspect of the game, while discouraging player-versus-player combat or direct conflict/gang-ups, and player elimination.

Finally: making players very good at defeating some kind of monsters, while not-so-good at defeating others, is a way to encourage players to ask each other for help in defeating the monsters that do appear. If your game allows players to take on avatars with different ability scores and strengths/weaknesses, the mechanics will enforce this. Either a player will play to their strengths, or they'll do the longer roundabout grind of improving their weaker ability scores (a la Talisman).

JustAnEye
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Ohhh...

I'm starting to realize why the comments were confusing me. This is a NON-cooperative game. The only reason I even brought up cooperative at all is because the only games I could think of that have an all lose game ending is a cooperative game. There may be examples, I just couldn't think of/don't know of any. This is definitely NOT a cooperative game, its competitive, but incorporates an all-lose possible game ending.

I'm sorry I confused. I'll be more aware next time I post...

So with that clarified, any thoughts that haven't been said already?

X3M
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Yeah sure. A still wont work.

Yeah sure.
A still wont work. :)

I think you need something that ends the game when one player gets defeated.
Don't think about the one guy surviving. But that one guy loosing. How long it would take between the 2 moments that this occurs.

let-off studios
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A and a Re-Worked B

X3M wrote:
Yeah sure.
A still wont work. :)
I completely agree with this. These days, no one wants to wait and play solitaire while the rest of the players are still going at it in the main contest.

I also think your option B should be the more brutal "no one wins" scenario, when all victory points are disregarded. This will encourage players to efficiently seek out the end-game objective instead of maximize their run for victory points. If you have an "all or nothing" scenario here, then the game will be quicker and more desperate. There will be a tendency towards more frequent interesting decision points and dramatic moments.

One way to do this is to have a time limit set into the game itself. Something like, "At sundown, the temple doors close for another 100 years. This is your one and only chance to explore its depths and uncover its secrets!" Or maybe, "If you don't defeat Dracula before the full moon, he'll raise an undead army that will kill your dog (and terrorize the countryside)!" Something that focuses the player's attention on the Big Problem and constantly tugs them away from selfish opportunities for victory point gains.

This can still be carried in conjunction with your idea of boss monsters and other monsters to fight, either granting victory points or ending the game when one player is defeated. Maybe they're all family members competing for an inheritance, or maybe competitors on a bizarre game show a la Smash TV or The Running Man.

Meanwhile... Apologies on not reading so closely to your initial post and misinterpreting the co-op/not co-op aspect. I'm frequently guilty of this on BGDF and have to read more closely (and perhaps stop posting on my short breaks at the day job).

JustAnEye
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Interesting ideas...

No worries on the misread. It just all makes more sense now.

I've been fairly hooked on the player elimination, mainly in that my favorite deck builders (in my limited experience) involve elimination - mainly Star Realms and Clank! - and it has never really bothered me. I do get that it's a no-no though. You guys have given me a bit to think about here... the idea of ending the game after the first player dies is interesting. Maybe remaining hit points at game end are added in as victory points? That would add an interesting aspect to the game - if players don't want it to end yet, they're more likely to try to act cooperatively even though they are competitors...

What I've found is that hit points decrease fairly slowly. Nearly 89% of the enemies do 2pts of damage or less (39 out of 44), with three of the remaining 5 cards doing 3 damage, one doing 4, and the boss doing 5. Obviously it can add up if a number of them are in play at a time, but this isn't as common as you'd think. Players start with 25 hit points (as of now, anyway), and the game seems to usually take 45mins to an hour to play. Again, I've only played a limited number of times, and only once with 3 players and once with 4 (the max). The 4 player game ended in the "nobody wins" scenario, and the 3 player game one player was eliminated something like 8 minutes before game end (don't have my notes with me).

As it stews in my mind, I'm liking the idea of ending the game when the first player "dies" and adding remaining hit points as victory points ("dead" player(s) adding 0 for their health), and adding victory points for each of the enemies killed. Could still consider ending the game when the "boss" is defeated, awarding victory points for that card, and again adding remaining health as victory points. And in the event of "everybody dies simultaneously", their victory points would still define the winner, they just wouldn't have victory points for health to add in. Would this make sense? Any thoughts on that?

The other question would be balancing the remaining health victory points against how much enemies would provide. By the time the game ends, I'd be FLOORED if any player had more than, I suppose, 30 hit points (starting at 25 and very limited healing capabilities), and would expect it to be more likely for the highest to be 10-15. Even if all players decide to gang up on one player to defeat him as soon as possible, they'd be leaving the enemies unaccounted for, and would be losing hit points in this way as well. It shouldn't be possible to do this too quickly anyway - the maximum damage a player can do on the first two turns is 4, so at the end of 2 turns in a 4 player game the most damage players could do to one player is 12. That's two rounds for the enemies in play to attack and damage everybody.

So if I assume (maybe incorrectly, maybe correctly) that 10-15 is the average high point, how many do you think I should be awarding for defeated enemies? between 1 and 5? 1 and 10? Less? More? My inclination would be to go with something like between 1 and 5 for the 89% of easy enemies and 6, 7, and 8 maybe for the higher difficulty remaining cards. On the other hand, I'd rather encourage players to defeat enemies with their attacks first, and only attack each other when they have nothing else to do with the attack, so maybe double these and make the hit point victory points more negligible. Thoughts?

Thanks for the input guys, this is really helpful!

Edit: In the 1-8 victory points per enemy scenario, in the way I'd set them up, it looks like I'd have a maximum of 117 victory points for enemies if literally every one of them was killed... if a player could earn as much as 25 victory points or maybe more with health alone, maybe I should consider tripling the 1-8 victory point scale... Hmm...

FrankM
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Sudden Death

Purely as a mechanic, I like the idea of ending the game on the first Boss or Player Character death. The uncertainty over whether there will be another round helps build strategic tension.

I am concerned, however, with what kind of theme could justify it. This makes the Boss on par with a Player Character in the game's metaphysics, which means they should appear to be qualitatively similar in power.

One way would be to have the battle take place in some location where death causes something significant to happen, and only the Bosses and Player Characters are actually alive (the other monsters being undead, automotons, etc.).

Turn this up a notch, maybe the Boss is on par with ALL of and Player Characters, each of which are godlings of some kind (cf. MtG's Planeswalkers). The death of any of these will tip the Balance of Power and determine the fate of the world for the next age.

A bit more macabre, but you could say that the Boss started some ritual that requires the sacrifice of a godling, using some Mytsical Meatgrinder to cause that godling's worth fears to become manifest in the world... and it just so happens that the Boss would thrive in any such horrific outcome. The Player Characters are using a loophole: the Boss itself is a godling whose death could cause a Good outcome.

Just something to make the game's sudden ending make sense.

let-off studios
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Big Numbers

JustAnEye wrote:
Edit: In the 1-8 victory points per enemy scenario, in the way I'd set them up, it looks like I'd have a maximum of 117 victory points for enemies if literally every one of them was killed... if a player could earn as much as 25 victory points or maybe more with health alone, maybe I should consider tripling the 1-8 victory point scale... Hmm...
Would you consider reducing the VP scale to 1 for a normal monster, 3 or so for a boss "killing blow," and then remaining HP be the tie-breaker? I only make this suggestion because math.

JustAnEye
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Theme

I've been pondering this today as well. The current theme is Steampunk based, and the vast majority of the "enemies" are indeed automatons and other mechanical type entities. The remaining enemies are human, with the "boss" being royalty - I started with a baron but decided to switch genders so the boss is a baroness - and the other enemies are essentially her followers/minions/whatever. Sky pirates, mad scientists, and an inventor. At least, this is where it is at the moment. So maybe the players are all royalty and it ends when one is killed, and it stops being just a friendly competition? I don't know. I'll have to think on this. Thanks for the input!

JustAnEye
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let-off studios

let-off studios wrote:
JustAnEye wrote:
Edit: In the 1-8 victory points per enemy scenario, in the way I'd set them up, it looks like I'd have a maximum of 117 victory points for enemies if literally every one of them was killed... if a player could earn as much as 25 victory points or maybe more with health alone, maybe I should consider tripling the 1-8 victory point scale... Hmm...
Would you consider reducing the VP scale to 1 for a normal monster, 3 or so for a boss "killing blow," and then remaining HP be the tie-breaker? I only make this suggestion because math.

I guess my concern on that was that if the VP are low for killing enemies, and the first death ends the game, it's too possible for players to gang up against one player, and have that player potentially being at a deficit of 15-20+ VP at no strategic fault of their own. I do agree that a lot of VP could be a PITA due to a lot of math...

JustAnEye
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BTW the likelihood of seeing

BTW the likelihood of seeing anywhere near all of the enemies in one game is pretty much nil... As of right now, there are 148 cards in the deck and 44 of them are "enemies". At the moment, I put VP at between 3 and 15 per enemy (15 for the boss, most are below 8), and health would add to it. I'm feeling like the VP totals will be somewhere near the end game VP in games like Clank! and the like. Could be wrong though.

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