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The best form of competitive game is 1 v 1

7 replies [Last post]
Joined: 07/28/2011

I always believe that true competition is usually one versus one. It can be one person playing against another, or one group playing against another group. However, recently I was challenged by the idea that 1 vs 1 is not necessarily the best, which I would like to hear your opinions.

For me, playing a 1 vs 1 game makes it easier to see your relative strength compared to the other player. In fact, this concept has quite a long history. For example a martial artist challenge another to see who is stronger. Ancient games like chess, go and backgammon are 2 player games. Even in sports games, it is usually one side against another. In my opinion, if there are more than 1 side competing in a game, the winner might be determined by petty diplomacy or king maker. In that case, a stronger player may have been brought down by two or more weaker players, making the strongest (and supposed victor) losing. (Although it can be said that games with 3 players or more may need diplomatic skills). It is also difficult to determine the strength of a player and how far he improved since his win or lost may be the result of king maker.

However, one can say that 1 vs 1 is hardly realistic at all. For example in business and economy, there are many different factions depending or competing (or both) with one another that can't be simulated in a 1 vs 1 paradigm. In history, although rivalry and wars are often depicted as one against another, in closer examination, you usually find that there are actually multi-sided conflicts. Recently, I also found out about 3 sided football, where people say is more of a thinking game than the ordinary 2 sided football which is called a simple us vs them mentality. And of course like what I said in the previous paragraph, games with more than 2 sides have the diplomacy element, which is also a skill.

I think this is getting more and more philosophical. Anyway, what are your thoughts?

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009
"Games are math," wargames

Read The Future of Tabletop Wargaming
and watch Three Kinds of Games: Math, People, Story
Then tell us what you think. You seem to be in the "Games are Math", old-time wargaming competition categories.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Diplomacy can be very interesting!

In my WIP "Tradewars - Homeworld", the game is sold in ONE (1) player game sets. A player gets the benefit of having four (4) distinct game scenarios with different end-game objectives.

One scenario is a solitaire, 1 player vs. AI scenario. The three (3) other remaining scenarios are multi-player (2 to 4). In a DUAL (2 players) there isn't much room for DIPLOMACY. However in a VERSUS (4 players) game there is the possibility for 2 vs. 2 or some temporary alliances that may last a pre-determined amount of turns...

But what is interesting is how the game would play out in a VERSUS (4 players) game... as opposed to a DUAL (2 player) game.

Many board games are not DUALs but allow for 4 or even 6 players. So I think you may be generalizing things a little bit. Even games like Monopoly allow for several players. I think you are focusing too much on the Abstract game category. More traditional board games (even things like Snakes & Ladders) are designed for more than 2 players...!

Note: I think MOST games you would consider BOARD GAMES are designed for more than 2 players (usually 4 or more players).

Joined: 07/28/2011
2 player math + people game

There are Eurogames that are 2 player only or can be played with only 2 players. For example Jambo, race for the galaxy... By the way, I play TCGs but want to expand towards Eurogames, especially card games. As for diplomacy, I am not really looking down on that skill, but I prefer games that both play the "board" and play the opponent at the same time. Of course, a two player game would most likely have less "playing the people". And another thing about diplomacy games, it might not interest people who are more quiet and like to think a lot (introverts)

Overall, yes, I am making a generalisation in my first post. I seem to be focus on games where players try to proof who is the best.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Lewis, I read your article.

Lewis, I read your article. Very interesting. I'll post my comments here. I hope it does not bother the original poster because that could hijack his thread.

First I do like games that people can attack each other. In fact, many of my design involves war some how. But I have very little interest for fiddly and historical simulation war game for the reasons I'll list below

Outdated Mechanics: Many war game use for example Combat Resolution Tables which is on my point of view an outdated and unelegant mechanic. Using elegant mechanic is important because it makes them easier to learn and are much more attractive to use. For example, the axis and allies combat mechanic is way much more elegant than a combat resolution table.

I'll rather play it as a video game: Games that are very complex that involve especially many units and movement would be much more interesting to play as a video game. I remember seeing at a convention a war game based on "a bridge too far" where the map took 4 tables and people needed tools to move the 1/2 inch tokens (because fingers were too big). Why in hell there is no video game implementation of that game? Why does people think that in this day and age, it is still a convenient way to play this way?

I am currently playing an obscur turn based war game that I truly like called "Dai Senryaku VII". This game is quite complex but it reaches the limit I can handle. But I would never play this game as a board game, because it is too complex for a board game. So there could be more interest for war games if they were actually implemented as video games. AI would also make it possible to play it solo.

Too focused on Simulation: The problem with war games is that they are too focused on simulation rather than playability. I got "Typhon sur le pacific" which is a pacific give away war game published in a magazine. I read the rules at least 3 times and still have no clue how to play, because there are more exception rules than gameplay rules. Making it impossible to learn and forcing me to read while playing all the time. I would personally put an axe in the rules and cut most of the exception to have an elegant core mechanic system.

In my pacific WW2 game currently in design, the historical elements of the game are actually more like a set of special powers that each faction has rather than exceptions. So each game is more likely to be different and unique increasing the replay value.

Too little replay value: Which brings me to the other point, there is little interest to play the same war game more than 2 or 3 times, because the game is designed to happen a certain way. Why should I play a game that tells me what to do, it's boring? This is why war gamers seem to have a so huge game collection because each game has little replay value.

One thing I liked in the Pacific Theater of Operation I or II video game is that even if based on historical data, you still had the freedom of doing what ever you want. So in the end, the game is different all the time which increases the replay value. Non historical war game would also have an even better replay value, this is why I try to favorise this kind of game over the historical ones.

So in summary, in order for war games to be attractive again would be to focus on playability aspect rather than the simulation aspect of the game.

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009
Niche within a niche

You're describing the worst excesses of the genre, which are in a niche even now in wargaming, the games that are very complex yet force certain outcomes. SPI went out of business a LONG time ago. Yes, there are still some "simulations", and they are still frequently not good games by any measure. But the people who really like simulations aren't really looking for good games.

The odd thing is, even in video such games are not proving to be popular. Matrix and several other companies make such games, but don't sell many.

There is no such thing as "outdated" mechanics. There are mechanics that people don't want to use these days, such as lookup tables (CRT or otherwise). But that could change, as fashion often does. Though I doubt it. So I'd call it unpopular or undesirable, not outdated.

Beware using the word "elegant" with regard to mechanics. At Fortress:AT, for example, you'd be strongly attacked for it, as they regard it as a code-word for people who don't like "Ameritrash" style games. (I tried just to define it in a blog post once, and that's the reaction I got.)

Corsaire's picture
Joined: 06/27/2013
It's an interesting premise

It's an interesting premise that leads too different wrestlings in thoughts. I find myself looking at layers of engagement which I'd chunk in slightly different ways than the math, people, story representation. And king of the mountain mindset competition per se is not exactly what I'm looking for in my experience.

There's a pure yomi of reading a person's momentary stance like you have in poker (how good is their hand.) Then there is a dance of the longer strategic games with momentary reads woven into a larger intent and hidden holdings kind of elements.

Stratego is a favorite because you juggle all sorts of things in micro-I know- you think-I think chains. You are building out a representation of their board and a representation about their beliefs of your board. Chess is a layer less than Stratego because of the lack of hidden information you are living more in the mathematical model but still operating on yomi for the incalculable intents.

For me, this only gets better with more people within the constraints of the design of the game. At a meta-level some games only develop this with deeper experience in the game like Catan a bit; some though collapse into a mathematical model that trumpsyomi in others yomi is still king.

For the competition part, I think it becomes a question of how engaged and at how many layers the competition takes place. Modeling the intents of multiple players with multiple interacting strategies and accounting for diplomatic, game experience motivational aspects (knowing the individual player's likelihood to turtle or kingmake, etc.) is the best competition.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Depending on the game (and

Depending on the game (and game genre)
1 v 1 might be the best.
It also depends on the game mechanics.

War games:
For example, where in Chess, 2 armies slowly die. The better player dies the slowest. So 1 v 1 here is very good. And both players are focused on each other. It is balanced and fair.

In Risk, with only 2 players, one will have the upper hand very quickly and then it is already game over. Entirely the fault of the game mechanics. Since the pieces can increase for a player in contrary to chess. After one battle, the balance can already be wiped out. Not much fun for one of the 2 players.
No, for a game of Risk, I suggest to have 3 players or more. Where the 2 weaker ones can focus on the strongest. It is then self balancing.

Race games:
It doesn't matter how many players are in these games. All numbers are good. Although some games might need to have 3 or more racers to keep the game fun. An example for this is Shark Bay (look up on google under Haaibaai)
Where players need to roll the dice and keep away from the forever hunting shark. With just 2 players, it is easy to keep away for a loooooong time. While with 3 or more, the shark will soon gobble up the players one by one. And the distance between the shark and the last 2 players is very short.

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