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Scoring systems -- what do they reward?

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jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008

I can't remember if this has come up at all, so apologies if it's been discussed already, but I'm interested in generating a discussion to consider the issue of scoring systems in games. I'm thinking primarily of "victory-point" based games like Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, New England, El Grande, etc, and less so about "race games" like Settlers of Catan.

In each of these games, a player gains "victory points" through various mechanisms. Sometimes, this is incremental and immediate, as in the case of Puerto Rico -- ship 3 Corn, get 3 VPs. Sometimes, it's configurational, such as Carcassonne or El Grande. Within these, there are the "semi-immediate" payout schedules of Carcassonne -- every time a feature is "completed", players with meeples on it get points -- vs. the periodic payout schedule of El Grande or Web of Power, where VPs are collected at fixed points during the game.

What all of these share is that your actions are supposed to translate into rewards either during or at the end of the game. But, do they actually do so in a measurable way?

I believe that the following factors, in any game, will have some sort of impact on a player's outcome in the game:

Active control A player's score is directly influenced by an action he has taken.
Example: In Puerto Rico, a player buys a Hospice, giving him 2 VPs at the game end, plus whatever benefits he'll derive from the Hospice during the game.

Passive control A player's score is indirectly influenced by an action he has taken.
Example: I think that very few games have this in a big way. In fact, the only great example that's coming to mind is my own "Disciples", with an example being that a player moves Jesus into the town that he's in, and then in the next turn another player has Jesus perform a Deed, thus netting the original player a Gospel token -- by moving Jesus, he set himself up for scoring opportunities. (Any other examples?)

Luck Something random occurs, which gives the player scoring opportunities
Example In Carcassonne, you get exactly the tile you need to complete a valuable city late in the game.

Interaction The actions of other players contribute to your score; typically related to common scarcity of resources or positions.
Example In Puerto Rico, another player takes the last available Hacienda; In Carcassonne, a player places a tile in a way that helps or hinders you.

Note that these categories aren't really meant to be fully distinct -- indeed, some blend into each other. What I'm trying to move beyond is the common simplification of a game being composed of X% "strategy" and (100-X)% "luck". I think that "luck" is more appropriately understood as a combination of events that are truly "lucky" (a good die roll or card pull) and events that are independent of the individual player's control, but have occured because of the actions of other players.

Furthermore, there may be more categories, or better ways to express the categories I've listed; anyone care to take a stab?

What I'm interested in is in how you measure player performance. I think it starts with identifying that these different influences exist, and quantifying (roughly) how much each has on one's score. That is not the same as quantifying the contribution that each influence has to one's point total. But looking at a couple of popular games, I might go with the following ratings...

Carcassonne:

Active Control: 45%
Passive Control: 5% (placing a Meeple reduces the number I hold and may affect my ability to place future meeples)
Luck: 25%
Interaction: 35%

Puerto Rico:

Active Control: 55%
Passive control: 5%
Luck: 10%
Interaction: 30%

+/- 10% on any of these values...

Obviously, the broader question I'm getting at is, how do you know whether someone played well? Given in PR the 60% of the influence that they directly or indirectly had on their own scoring, how do you identify whether player X played a "better" game than player Y? What makes the scoring system an accurate measurement of this?

I think the way people may commonly do this is to watch over a lot of games, with the idea being that the "better" players will win more. Of course, this sort of becomes circular since you're assuming that the game rewards "good" play such that a "good" player will win more, but we can set that aside for simplicity right now.

How do you know whether players are playing the game or whether the game is playing them? Are there concrete ways?

-Jeff

Dralius
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Joined: 07/26/2008
Scoring systems -- what do they reward?

This is a good subject to bring up.

I guess that randomness or the lack of it that plays the greatest factor here. A game that has no random elements and a scoring system that is applied equally to all players is a good way to judge who the better player is. We should also consider that in most games play order gives one or more players an advantage/disadvantage even if a very small one.

There is also the issue of player interaction in most games that could obscure the true skill of a player. In many multiplayer games there is the opportunity to gang up on someone, whether it is in malice or just because keeping that person from winning might be your only shot.

Due to these factors most games need to be played repeatedly to have a real idea how good a player is.

zaiga
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Scoring systems -- what do they reward?

Jeff,

Interesting subject and one I have been thinking about a lot as well. I think that what you desribe as "passive control" is really a blend of the other three types of control. I would summarize it as follows:

- Active control. The actions you take that directly or indirectly influence your score. Examples: you take the "Captain" in "Puerto Rico", which lets you ship Corn for 5 VP. You take the "King" card in "El Grande", you drop 5 cubes in a region and move the King there. In "Carcassone" you place a city tile and put a meeple on it.

- Interaction. The actions your opponents take that directly or indirectly influence your score. Examples: someone else takes the "Captain" in Puerto Rico, forcing you to dump your Corn into the ocean. Someone else takes the "King" card in "El Grande" and drops cubes in a region, thereby overtaking your majority. Someone else places a tile in a game of "Carcassone" sneaking a meeple into your farm, thereby overtaking your majority.

- Luck. Whatever random actions the game takes that directly or indirectly influence your score. Examples: you draw a cloister tile in a game of "Carcassone", giving you easy points. In a game of "Lost Cities" you never draw another green card, after the "hand", "5" and "8" in your initial hand.

As for determining who did best at a game you have to look at all three types of the way your score can be influenced.

If a large percentage of your score determined by interaction you have to set yourself up so that you avoid fights (Taj Mahal) or cannot easily be hurt by whatever actions your opponents take (El Grande). Or you have to setup yourself so that you also benefit from other players actions the most (Puerto Rico). Maybe it's a game of diplomacy and you want to be friends with everyone as long as possible, until of course, the time is right to backstab them (Diplomacy). Perhaps you are very good at making deals and trades (Chinatown, Settlers). The point is that the player who is best in "playing the other players" will have an advantage in games with a lot of interaction.

The same thing basically goes for "luck". In this case you have to play the odds. Do you play that green hand in Lost Cities when all you have in green is a "6"? What if you also have a "3"? Do you take that juicy row of tiles in "Ra", or can you afford to wait for something better? Should you lay out your stock cards in "Union Pacific" or do you think there will be another round?

To rate a few games this way:

Lost Cities
Active control: 30%
Interaction: 5%
Luck: 65%

Puerto Rico
Active control: 55%
Interaction: 45%
Luck: 5%

El Grande
Active control: 40%
Interaction: 45%
Luck: 15%

Intrige
Active control: 20%
Interaction: 75%
Luck: 5%

- René Wiersma

jwarrend
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Scoring systems -- what do they reward?

zaiga wrote:
Jeff,

Interesting subject and one I have been thinking about a lot as well. I think that what you desribe as "passive control" is really a blend of the other three types of control. I would summarize it as follows:

Fair enough; I think there's a subtle difference that makes "passive control" slightly distinct, but it's not a point of major importance.

Quote:

If a large percentage of your score determined by interaction you have to set yourself up so that you avoid fights (Taj Mahal) or cannot easily be hurt by whatever actions your opponents take (El Grande). Or you have to setup yourself so that you also benefit from other players actions the most (Puerto Rico). Maybe it's a game of diplomacy and you want to be friends with everyone as long as possible, until of course, the time is right to backstab them (Diplomacy). Perhaps you are very good at making deals and trades (Chinatown, Settlers). The point is that the player who is best in "playing the other players" will have an advantage in games with a lot of interaction.

This tells me that if a game's scoring system rewards interaction, then I will do well by playing interactively. That's great for the game player, but I'm speaking from the perspective of the designer -- how do you design a system that does reward interaction, or active control, or luck? Or, more pertinently, how do you identify whether the scoring system you've created actually rewards what you want it to reward? How do you make the connection between "this is worth X points" and "the player who made the best decisions will amass the most points"?

What I'm trying to figure out is whether there's a way of taking a game and figuring out in what proportion the above influences exist in the game. How do you say, for example, with a game like New England or Puerto Rico, which feature myriad scoring opportunities throughout the game, whether the scores at the end of the game are reflective of "good play", other than to assume that "good play will result in a high score"? What does "good play" look like?

Not sure if I've actually succeeded in making my question less vague, or more...

-Jeff

zaiga
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Scoring systems -- what do they reward?

Jeff,

I think this question is closely related to what I tried to explain with my diagrams in the "Settlers vs. Ra" thread. Basically, a player has resources which he tries to convert into as much VP's as possible, within the given timeframe. Opponents and the game (luck) can sometimes have influence on the resources available to a player and/or on a players VP's. How big this influence is, is a subjective thing and hard to quantify.

But let's take an example, "El Grande". The luck in this game comes from the random draw of action cards each round and the seating order. This luck is mitigated somewhat by the bidding on the order in which players may pick those action cards. In a sense, the bidding lessens the influence of "luck" on the game and increases the influence of "interaction".

"El Grande" has a large "interaction" component. If a player bids a certain number, he makes that number unavailable for that round to other players. By bidding high you may pick action cards earlier than other players. By picking a certain action card, you make it unavailable to other players. Some action cards let you mess with other players' cubes, moving them around. Some action cards let you score certain provinces, messing with other players' scoring. Some action cards send all the cubes in other players' courts back to their province. Or you can take the "King" action card and move the King to a province, making it unavailable for other players. The secret allocation of cubes from the Castillo is also a huge interactive component, introducing the psychological "I think, that he thinks, that I think..." kind of dillema.

Finally, you can simply overtake someone's majority of cubes in a province and thereby messing with a player's scoring potential. Actually, majorities are a great way of introducing interaction into a game. A good example is "Amun-Re". You can go for a "set" of pyramids, a safe, non-interactive way of scoring VP's. Or you can go for a majority of pyramids which is more lucrative, but also more dangerous, because an opponent can fight you for that majority, making it more expensive and potentially leaving with you nothing at all. In "El Grande" there are no safe ways of scoring points, as everything is based on majorities.

As I said, there is no easy way of quantifying these things. Some will say that "El Grande" has a small luck factor, others will say it is quite big. What you can do is look at all the available resources in a game and try and find out if and how much influence the game (luck) has and opponents have on the availability and/or usefulness of this resource to a player at each decision point in the game.

- René Wiersma

Torrent
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Scoring systems -- what do they reward?

One thing that struck me reading this thread is that the amount of Interaction Based Victory is highly affected by the number of people.

Take Carcasonne. At two players, the interaction effects are less, as I can easily work on my own features without affecting yours and trying to get in on big features is more about denying points than a personal gain. At 5 players the number of plays you personally get is less and the board is more 'crowded', so the interaction effects are much greater.

Sometimes a game doesn't really 'feel' right or certainly feels different at different number of players. This seems to be a hallmark of something that intends to have a high interaction victory condition. On the other hand, things without that interaction are usually dubbed Multi-Player Solitare. I'm not sure i entirely agree with some of that, but certainly something without any interaction would be more like that. My disagreement comes from the idea that nothing is totally devoid of interaction, if only because most games use a common card deck and players affect the probablitiies of others.

I guess where I'm going with this is that those percentages can change as a game is played differently, notably with differing numbers of players. I'm not sure if this means that a game that feels the same at all numbers of players has a low Interaction, or if it just has a scabable type of interaction.

To get back to the original question a bit... The idea of rewarding good play is an interesting one. For the game 'good' play almost needs its own decision. Basically you reward the actoins that you want players to take, or situations you want them to get into. Luck based VP rewards, well, Luck, which as far as I know is not a controllable element by players. Rewarding Active involvement means making sure the players know the 'right' decisions, perhaps indicating some sort of learning curve as players learn what 'right' is for the game, but could also imply an ability to 'master' the game always knowing the best choice. Interaction rewards both the ability to play with and against others, and the ability to react well to them.

I guess decent games need all three pieces, but different types of games will have them in differing proportions. A 'light' game will probably have more luck than a deep game. Heavy Interaction seems to require a certain type and number of players to be the most fun. Active seems to reward experience more than anything else.

I guess I haven't helped the "How" question, so much as the "What" question. I like this thread and will get back if anything else gells in my mind.

Andy

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