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Opinions on tiebreakers

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simons's picture
Joined: 12/28/2008

I'm curious what you think: It feels like there are very few games which like the idea of draws. Most games, it seems, provide several steps to stopping a draw from occurring. Take Puerto Rico for example: You win if you have the most points, but if there is a tie, you win by having the most money. In Small World, if two players share a number of victory points, they go off of whoever has the most creatures on the table (unless I am mis-remembering that). I feel like there are games where I have even seen three levels of points, but none come to mind.

So here's my question: Are draw's really that bad? Would Puerto Rico be less good of a game if money didn't break ties? And if so, why? Are people just less satisfied if they get to the end of a game and there is a draw?


metzgerism's picture
Joined: 06/19/2009
Settlers of Catan uses a

Settlers of Catan uses a "first-past-the-post" system, and always determines a winner. Even though this doesn't always seem to be a fair setup, it ensures an intriguing endgame in most contests, and allows any player to matematically come back and win. While it is very basic, many games where the goal is simply to hit a certain set point limit, on your turn, have some of the most intense and intriguing endgames on a consistent basis. However, I playtested a game like this tonight that appeared to suffer greatly from the kingmaker issue (I don't call it a problem because this time I was the king!), so there's the rub.

I'm a "weird american" I guess, in that I see faults in tiebreakers and overtimes in our sports systems that apparently others do not. This translates (albeit sometimes vaguely) to boardgaming, where time limit/round limit/end-game triggers are beginning to rule the day, and drawn games are dwindled down to almost inconsequential, arbitrary tiebreaking conditions.

My preference is a game that finds an outright winner every time (like Catan), and that player winning is what ends the game.
Failing that, I'd prefer to see drawn matches stay drawn.

ReneWiersma's picture
Joined: 08/08/2008
Well, I think I disagree

Well, I think I disagree somewhat with metzgerism on this. I agree that "race-games" like Settlers ("race" as in where the first player to achieve a certain goal wins the game, not just racing as a theme) can have an intense end game sometimes, but at the same time these type of games can have a lot of issues regarding to its end game, such as runaway-leader problems, kingmaker problems, leader-bashing, etc. Often it is hard to balance the end game in such a way that you do not introduce a new problem when solving another problem. That doesn't mean such a end game mechanic cannot work, just that certain games and mechanics lend themselves better for it than others.

If you do not have a racing game, but instead evaluate the winner based on victory points or some other scoring mechanism then you have to think about how you are going to deal with draws. One option is to simply let a draw be a draw. I think this is fine for games where the difference in points is usually fairly large and a draw doesn't happen that often.

In games where the difference in points is usually fairly small, a draw is bound to happen more often. Most players play a game "to win" and if a game ends in a draw fairly often it may feel somewhat unsatisfactory to players, especially a longer, strategic game, as the player has invested more in the game. In that case you may come up with a tiebreaker. Typically you'll want to evaluate the resources that a player has left at the end of the game, because a player who has more resources left has played slightly "better" than the other player. I think it is important that a tiebreaker doesn't come across as too arbitrary, but should be a result of playing a better game than other players. If there isn't really a good tiebreaker available, then I would prefer no tiebreaker rather than an arbitrary one.

InvisibleJon's picture
Joined: 07/27/2008
Time invested vs. satisfying outcome.

A quick thought before I go to work:

Although I'm okay with tied games, I know several people who feel that having a winner at the end is the "payoff" for the time they invested in the game. For those players, the longer it takes to play the game, the less acceptable it is to have a tied outcome.

Dralius's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008
We Have A Winner

If its in game splitting of points ties are fine but In general people want clear winners so having a tie breaker is important.

That being said I do have a family game, aimed at 8+ where I have instructed tie players to shake hands and congratulate each other. I guess it all comes down to audience you designing for.

Joined: 11/24/2009
Holding back the tied.

Ties don't bother me that much, but I know some people who it simply kills. I guess for me it depends on how much time I have invested in a game. I was a a game night where the other table played Agricola for the first time, they played for almost 3 hours and every single player tied. I kept thinking "Well, that was pointless".

Tie breakers, especially second and third ones always seemed untidy to me. There are definate ways (fun ones at that) to prevent ties from happening at all, that would make for a very unique game. For example, the highest non-tied player wins.

truekid games
truekid games's picture
Joined: 10/29/2008
I agree with most of the

I agree with most of the sentiments above-

the level of dissatisfaction from a fully drawn game is both greater and more common than the level of dissatisfaction from going to tie-breakers... thus it's generally better for most audiences to include adequate tie-breakers.

as Rene noted, it's important for the tiebreaker to also be meaningful (you don't want it to feel like a coin-flip, which would be equally unsatisfactory), and you may want the "game experience" to include ties for specific reasons, as Dralius said.

So usually you want to have a way to break ties- and it's also important to include a note if you intend ties to actually tie, i've played too many games out to a draw, only to find the rulebook doesn't address it one way or another.

Joined: 08/15/2008
Negotiated ties

You do need to watch out for tie conditions in negotiation games. If it's possible for players to purposefully arrange for a tie between themselves, then that can really change the feel of the game.

sedjtroll's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008
Fit to be Tied?

I do not believe in ties. I agree with those who said that you are playing the game to win, and my opinion is that it's the job of the game (and therefore the designer) to select a winner for each play. It's true that in some cases there will simply be 2 players that performed at the same level, and in such cases a draw is acceptable, but in my view those cases should be designed to be vanishingly rare.

Victory Points (whatever they're called in the game) is a measure of how well you played. However, it is a discrete measurement. In Soccer for example, a lot of effort might go into a goal, but it's only worth 1 point. A team could really outplay the other team for 90% of the game, but 1 good block by the goalie and the 'bad' team could win or draw, despite overall worse play. Basketball on the other hand is a high scoring game - point totals of 80-100 are not uncommon, and each goal is only 2 points (2-3% or so). If a team plays worse over the course of the game than the other team, they will lose the game.

In Basketball there are a lot of possible endgame scores that are close together (70, 72, 74, 75, 76...) so 2 teams finishing with "about the same" amount of points aren't too likely to tie. Soccer on the other hand has games that end at about 2 or 3 points, and therefore are much more likely to tie. What can we take from this? My point is that in a game with many smal scoring opportunities that sum to a large final score, it's less likely there will be ties than in a game with fewer, larger scale scoring opportunities. In case I did a bad job explaining it, here's an illustration:

In a game with only 1 scoring opportunity (of 1 point) where each (of two) players has a 50-50 chance of scoring it, then there is be a 50% chance of a tie (0-0 or 1-1) and 50% chance of a winner (1-0 or 0-1). In a game where there are 2 scoring opportunities (1 point each), and at each one each player has a 50-50 chance of scoring, what are the chances of a tie? Well, there are 64 possible combinations of scores, and 20 of them result in a tie, so the chance of a tie is about 30% - much less than 50%!

So more, smaller scoring which adds up to a larger score total can decrease ties. Note though that if everyone is scoring all of those opportunities, it's not really the case that there are "lots of small opportunities" - really what you want are lots of chances for players to gain a little bit on an opponent.

To address something I brought up earlier, the scoring system is a game is a discrete measure of how well you played - but what about the spaces in between point totals? How much "better" do you have to play to score the next VP? What if next time you play better than you did, but not THAT much better? You'd get the same score, even though you played better. So now what if you and your opponent play almost as well as each other, but you play a little bit better - not enough to get to that next VP threshold... often times THAT is what a tiebreaker is meant to capture - to indicate who, according to the designer,
played better" for 2 players who ended up with the same score. Usually this is awarded to the player who has more "stuff" leftover, or is in a better position if the game were to continue.

I do not like ties in games, and I am fond of awarding tiebreaks based on player performance. Players will know ahead of time what a tiebreak condition is, and therefore they can play accordingly. If it's "most money," then they are free to keep money on hand just in case they end up with a tied score. If they decide not to do so, and then end up with a tied score, then they can't really complain that they lost to someone with more money now can they?

In some games it makes sense to have a draw, especially in a more social game, or a shorter or more luck driven game. But it's my preference in a game of any complexity at all to award a clear winner.

Joined: 07/08/2009
I like . . .

. . . it when tiebreakers make sense. Vegas showdown is a good example. Money wins ties. You're casino barons in Vegas. You like money. All good.

I'm fairly certain that when I buy it, the tie-breaker system in Middle Earth Quest will annoy me. At the same time, though, it will give me incentive to really try and smash my opponent(s.) But, it still makes sense.

Another thing I like is when the game is just designed and balanced to make a tie impossible. Go is a good example of this, and I haven't seen another game use the same method. I think there's some interesting design space there. Give players some starting resources, and let them bid for 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5 etc of a victory point. No ties happening there!

My personal sentiments are that ties shouldn't happen in any game that I want to play. It's not the type of simulation I want out of a game. Wanting a game to be an accurate simulation, tie breakers had better not be needed (Axis and Allies, Go) or make good sense (Vegas Showdown.)


Joined: 04/14/2009
Sometimes okay

Most of the time, I HATE tie games (for all the reasons already mentioned..time invested, playing "to win", etc.) Sometimes, the mechanics of the game will dictate that ties are not only possible, but likely. There's a boardgame called Scotland Yard that comes to mind. There's a thief player and all the other players are officers with Scotland Yard. Object is to catch the thief. So. You'll either have one winner (the thief) or many winners (the other players caught the thief). <--I hated this game, though. Is it because of this mechanic? I can't honestly say. I think there were other flaws with this that bugged me. I think it's almost impossible to win if you're the thief (or perhaps it's the other way 'round? Maybe it's too easy to be the thief?) I don't remember, but I believe the flaw here was that one side or the other is unbalanced and THAT's why I didn't like the game...not because ties are possible.

I've mentioned this game before (in a different example), but I'll mention it again. My daughter had a 4th grade family project to do and one of her options was to create a board game. She was studying the Titanic at the time, so we made a game called "Survive The Titanic". The object was to make it to a life boat before the ship sinks. With this mechanic, those that made it to the lifeboat won the game and those that didn't make it, drowned. (and lost). There were cards you could play on people to push them over the side and things like that, so it's not cooperative, but it did allow more than one person to win. I suppose I'm bias in this case because we made the game, but a tie in this situation doesn't bother me at all.

Are there other games out there that use a Players vs Game mechanic? This seems really interesting to me. I'm sure there are games out there like they have a clear cut winner, or do all the players win and "beat the game"? This is intruguing to me because so many games are "me vs all the rest of you guys".

simons's picture
Joined: 12/28/2008
To summarize...

Okay, so to summarize, generally, people don't like ties in competitive games, because it leaves them with a sense of pointlessness. When a tie can be avoided entirely, that is preferable. When they can't, it is better to have a meaningful tie-breaker.

Out of curiosity, what is an example of a game that has a meaningless tie-breaker?

Also, I've been pondering about tie-breakers for a game I'm working on, and am not sure what the most "meaningful" tie-breaker would be. Should I post that here, or make a new topic?

metzgerism's picture
Joined: 06/19/2009
simons wrote:Okay, so to

simons wrote:
Okay, so to summarize, generally, people don't like ties in competitive games, because it leaves them with a sense of pointlessness. When a tie can be avoided entirely, that is preferable. When they can't, it is better to have a meaningful tie-breaker.

Out of curiosity, what is an example of a game that has a meaningless tie-breaker?

For the record, I don't agree that a tied game is a pointless waste of time, like one poster mentioned - a tie can be just as intense and meaningful a play experience as a win or a loss.

I think Dominion's tiebreaker is meaningless. It unties some drawn results and not others.
Furthermore, the "equal-turns" variant is worse in my book - it changes the endgame conditions and makes the tiebreaker worthless. It would have made more sense to me to say that if you are tied, the player who's turn was next is the winner.

Traz's picture
Joined: 04/06/2009
just sayin'....

I'm seeing three distinct types of folks in this discussion:

A - "I don't mind a tie, it's OK."
B - "No tiebreaker? Fageddaboutittt!"
C - "Dude - you can't pay me enough to care."

This has been my general experience and observation over the years as well. Most folks fall into either A & C or B. That means folks either hate ties or they don't care. That seems pretty easy to figure out which way to go when finishing out.

Most games I make, ties aren't an issue - except for GODS ALONG THE NILE. I was quite surprised that ties even came up. Also quite gratified that the system was so finely tuned that it produced this outcome! Nothing bites quite as much as a game that's not even close. If you've got one side or strategy that constantly wins, you've got lots more work to do. Everybody wants a chance to win.

Once you install the tiebreaker - that's what people will watch for when they play - but only AFTER it's happened to them. Nobody takes the tiebreaker seriously until it happens to them. Then your endgame becomes different - because now players are looking for not only the BASIC win conditions, but are paying attention to the TIEBREAK win conditions as well. This increases you strategic / tactical options and, I believe, adds another level to the game.

There are about 5 levels of tiebreaker in GODS. I define the 6th level thus-

"If there is STILL a tie - somebody cheated!"

Joined: 07/08/2009
Meaningless tiebreakers:

I feel like Race for the Galaxy's tiebreaker mechanic (whoever has the most extra cards left over at the end) is fairly meaningless, in that it doesn't signify much. At no point when this comes up has it ever felt like 'oh, wait, that DOES make his interstellar Empire better than mine.' The left over cards sort of represent potential . . . but potential to do what? The abstract game is over.

There's a funny little paragraph in the Axis and Allies Revised rules somewhere about declaring an individual winner within the winning team, which is pretty meaningless in that it doesn't mean anything about who played better. I think it's whoever has the most territory. USA starts with 40 points, and spends the whole game building up an invasion force. Russia starts with 24 and spends the whole game being pounded on. I wonder who invades more points worth of territory . . .


SiddGames's picture
Joined: 08/02/2008
I believe the tiebreaker in

I believe the tiebreaker in RftG is cards in hand + goods in play. Cards are money, goods are goods. This is the identical tiebreaker to Puerto Rico (goods + money) and San Juan. I think it IS meaningful because it does represent the tied player with more resources at the end of the game, although (in RftG's case) it gives a bit of a penalty to a military build strategy -- which is fine, because players know that ahead of time.

Tiebreaker is almost always covered about halfway through any new game my group plays. "Is money good for anything at the end of the game?" is a very common question when we play. Maybe we're just weird. I agree that knowing the tiebreaker ahead of time gives players one more thing to aim for, which is good.

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