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Room for Error

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sedjtroll's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008

From what I can tell, it is the opinion of most people on this group that a tactical game, or probably any game we're trying to make, should make every decision matter. There was a comment in another thread that Mammoth Hunters is a game that has 4 rounds, but generally people think the first rounds are unimportant and that the whole game can be decided by the last two rounds. If that's the case, why play the first two rounds?

To me this very question brings up a whole nother discussion which we've been through on these baords that has to do with a game helping the loser get back into the running, but that's a story for another topic.

What I'm about to ask is more directly related to the decisions in games. Should EVERY decision matter, such that the player that "makes the least mistakes" will be the winner? Maybe so, maybe not. I'd like to hear people's opinin on that.

The alternativeto that would be a game where some mistakes can be made, but can be overcome. I imagine there would be some blunders so bad that noone could come back from them, but some less important decisions- if not made optimally- should not necessarily mean you lose (unless your opponents make similar mistakes, thereby letting you back into the game). Sure, making mistakes makes the road more difficult, but through good play perhaps some mistakes should be overcome-able.

Let's hear your thoughts on that.

- Seth

Room for Error

My thinking about your question is that it's totally up to the specific goals of the design. If you have two Grandmasters playing chess, one player wins upon to conditions: 1. Out maneuvering the other player, or 2. A mistake is made. Chess, among good players is a "strict" and "stiff" game.
Among less experienced players, mistakes can be overcome more easily.

Then again, chess is a strategic game. In accordance to the way strategic and tactical has been defined in regards to gameplay, chess may not be a good example. However, it does illustrate my point about the game design itself and what goals are in mind when structuring its mechanics.

I would say that its really fun to have room for error in some games, as the triumpant come back makes for a great war story. :) In a design that makes every move count or not -- completely design specific. It becomes a matter of what is sought out of the game.

Now of course, if a player makes big, or too many blunders, they should lose. :)

Have Fun!


Room for Error

I think this directly relates to player experience. Going to the Chess example, you get two grandmasters, and it's going to be either way with the outcome. And by the same standard, you get two novices and the outcome is as much a toss up as the grandmasters. However, put a grandmaster against the novice, and they're going to get creamed. (Of course there's always that highly improbably chance that the novice will somehow win, but that's just mathematics...)

I think that it's mostly relative experience between the players. The amount of mistakes will tend to even the game play out. If one is likely to make a catastrophically bad move, then the other will be just as likely. So this about evens out any mistakes. The big problem is the mismatch. The more experienced player can capitalize on the mistakes of the less experienced one.

I think it's hard, if not impossible, to build a system where mistakes can't be made. Mistakes come from the player, not the game. You know make something idiot proof, and they'll make a better idiot. Lessening the effects of a mistake is like dulling the points of a set of scissors so that no one gets hurt. It just dulls the game down and takes out the reality that people are just gonna screw up every now and then. The most important battle can be lost by the simplest of errors.

I agree that there shouldn't be any mistakes that can ruin the entire game, but if a player makes enough successive mistakes, then there's going to be very little room for them to pull back. They played poorly, and for that they lose the game...

Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008
Room for Error

Puerto Rico is a great example of a game in which you can often point to the mistake that cost you the game even though it didn't look like a mistake at the time.
It's also a game in which a grandmaster will cream a novice, although the statistical probability of the novice winning is somewhat higher than it is in Chess!

My feeling is that odd mistakes will indeed balance themselves out over the course of a game but that a good design should punish those players who make consistent mistakes, whether it's a light tactical or deep strategic game.

Of course, that's always assuming that it is possible to identify a "mistake" as such: a choice (or gamble!) that turns out horribly isn't necessarily a "mistake" but can simply be bad luck (I've lost games of PR because the draw of the plantations has been very strange, although not as many as those I've lost through mistakes.) If the game is short, it's going to be hard to recover from an early one of those; but then again if the game is long it may compound the problem.

And sometimes a game can be broken from the outset. Take Settlers of Catan. A novice can lose the game because their opening settlements are put in the wrong place. An experienced player can lose because their settlements were placed to take a gamble, but that's the experienced player's fault! But which of those can be considered a "mistake"? I don't think either of them can be, and yet they may both be punished for their choices.

Joined: 12/31/1969
Room for Error

In general the player who makes the least mistakes should win a game. However, if a player makes a mistake early in a game, he should not be eliminated immediately. He needs a motivation to play on, after all, what fun is it to play a game that you know you cannot win anymore (especially if it takes a long time to finish).

One of the classic mistakes is the runaway leader problem. If you have a game that features this problem (such as Settlers) and you make an early mistake (as Scurra pointed out: placing your initial settlements on wrong spots) you can be out of the game very early, which is not a lot of fun. So, make sure your design doesn't feature the runaway leader problem (at least not too much).

Having a little bit of luck in the game can be a good idea, because then players who are behind have the idea that they might still win if they get lucky. Of course, how much luck is tolerable in a design depends on the length of the game and the amount of mental energy that is needed to calculate a good move or make a tough decision.

Also, it might be a good idea to let the endgame be a bit more "swingy". I think Puerto Rico is a good example of this. You might be a few points behind the leader the whole game, due to a small, early mistake, but you can make up for that in the end, if you play well and/or get a bit lucky. This is also a motivation to keep playing.

Another motivation to keep playing is simply a beautiful game, with a great theme and interesting mechanics. This way playing the game is fun in itself, whether you are winning or losing.

Joined: 08/03/2008
Room for Error

I think that "mistake" is unfortunately a highly subjective and situation dependent term; there are some games where you legitimately have two choices that seem equally good, and the one you choose doesn't pan out; was it a "mistake"? It's hard to say.

I think that what you might be talking about are things that are more clearly identified as being definitely counterproductive. For example, I build a coffee roaster, but in the "Mayor" phase I forget to shuffle my colonists around and thus can't produce on it that turn.

What's cool about Puerto Rico is the level to which you get punished for a mistake is also dependent on the other players. Maybe in the above example, no one chooses the Craftsman before the next mayor comes up, and so you make out ok; or maybe someone chooses Craftsman, then Trader, and you're out $4. In both cases it was a mistake, but it was up to the other players to notice and/or take advantage of your "blunder".

My personal feeling is that you don't want the game decided in the very first turn; you don't want the results of the game tracable to one blunder by one player. Yet, when you get highly experienced and highly skilled players involved in a game, there is always a possibility that the room for error will get tighter and tighter. If it doesn't, then there's certainly the possibility that the game isn't robust enough to be played at a high level. One hears the maxim that "in general, a better player will win game X", but I'm only concerned with the present game of X; if I play better, will I win, or not?

What I think makes this difficult to analyze is that multiplayer games necessarily involve very complex interactions between the players, and add to that mix a modest amount of complexity inherent to most of the game systems, and you end up with a pretty wide variety of outcomes for any given actions. To the extent that a game rests solely on any one decision, I think it's less satisfying, yet I think it's also important that a game shouldn't make it easy for you to consistently make bad plays and still snag the win. It should be theoretically possible, but never trivially simple.

How does one achieve this in practice? I think there are several ways. One is just the cumulative VP approach; in PR, for example, it's always possible to catch up until the game formally ends, but you must out-ship the shippers and out-build the builders, and this can be tough, but not impossible. In games that rely on negotiation, you can try to parley your "little guy" status into peace, encouraging other players to attack each other rather than you. A scoring system I like to use involves player rank as a means of determining VP. So this might mean you'll need to seriously increase your rank to net "1st place points" in the next scoring round, yet the ability of other players to leave you in the dust in scoring is more limited, giving you more of a theoretical chance of pulling off a comeback (although it works both ways, because you can't count on a major scoring coup to get back into it, either).

So, I think that games I like are ones where if you make a mistake, other players must notice it and take advantage of it for it to hurt you. But one also needs to consider how one's design will hold up when played by experts who are always going to see a mistake; how much will the system allow them to exploit it? To me, personally, it's tough to design with those considerations in mind. I find that when I playtest my games, I'm just as much a novice as everyone else with respect to strategy; I can usually understand how the whole game fits together, and identify what some important decision points will be, but beyond that, I find that I don't win my own games more often than other people do. What has others' experience been? If you can't easily win your own games, is that a bad sign? (a separate discussion, perhaps...)


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