Skip to Content

Runaway vs. Equalizer

11 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/01/2008

Runaway conditions vs. equalizing effects. Taking either to the extreme leads to not very fun games. With strong runaway properties, if you're first to get an advantage, you quickly become untouchable and the game becomes a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, if the equalizing effects are too strong, nothing you do really matters because the playing field is continuously leveled.

So, having the correct blend will be a core element to any game.

In your opinion, where do you prefer games to be, and why?
What do find/think different audiences prefer? Casual/serious gamers, younger/older, mainstream/niche etc.

simons's picture
Joined: 12/28/2008
Personally, I prefer games

Personally, I prefer games that have more equalizing than runaway conditions. I think a good equalizing mechanic is one that is present, but never strong enough that a player would think twice about pulling into the lead (or at most rarely). There was a great statement I read once, about how in the ideal game, it feels like it could be anyone's game until the end, and then once you think you know who's going to win, the game ends very shortly. I think you can have a game without runaway conditions, as long as there is an end that everyone is always moving towards.

I guess in some ways, one of the games I shoot for is pool (even though it's not actually a board game). In this game, every time you hit a ball in, it moves you towards the end. However, it also changes the ratio of your balls to your opponent's balls, making it harder for you. I can think of games where I would get 3 or 4 balls behind, and this would give me the advantage, because suddenly I had balls everywhere to try to shoot, many of which were blocking my opponent's relatively few number of balls.

I think the more casual it is, the more you want to have equalizing mechanisms, because to make a casual game fun, you want there always to be uncertainty in who is going to win.

Joined: 05/01/2010
Agree with Simons

I prefer equalizers to runaway conditions and, as in Simons' excellent pool analogy, I like equalizers that are built into the advantages themselves, i.e., for every advantage you gain, there is a corresponding liability. For example, in the game I am working on now, a player can acquire an asset that generates substantial income (which is needed to win), but other players can steal funds from that player in proportion to the asset's income generating ability, thus enriching themselves and weakening their opponent. In addition, two players may form an alliance that insulates them from certain attacks from other players but leaves them especially vulnerable to those attacks from a treacherous ally.

In my experience, any game with a runaway leader quickly becomes frustrating and uninteresting for everyone else, and is ultimately dissatisfying even for the leader.

Hedge-o-Matic's picture
Joined: 07/30/2008
If the game is trying to be

If the game is trying to be strategic, I think a two-tier design works best. The first phase of the game is equalizer-heavy, meaning careful play and planning are required to build a durable advantage. Once this advantage is achieved, though, the game should transition naturally to a second phase that lessens equalizers and strengthens the runaway effects to bring the game to a close.

The question is mostly a matter of balancing these phases so the game plays as expected. The fine-tuning involved in this sort of thing is really hard to achieve sometimes, as even small adjustments to rules have cascading effects over time, and throw the balance out of whack.

I always try to break my own games to see if either of these effects can be unreasonably heightened by a given strategy. Strangely, when playing other people's games, I tend to play "within the lines", and avoid strategies that might break the game. I'm not a power player, really.

Joined: 08/03/2008
I personally prefer

I personally prefer "catch-the-leader" mechanics to "hit-the-leader" mechanics. It's frustrating to be doing well in a game only to then get whacked by the other players -- this can often result in a strategy of "don't be the leader", or in other words, "make sub-optimal plays", which is not as interesting as trying to do the best that you can. It's better if a game makes the leader's path more challenging or expensive, so that the leader often comes back to the pack because the pack catches him, not because they've beaten him up until he relinquishes his lead.

sedjtroll's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008
jwarrend wrote:I personally

jwarrend wrote:
I personally prefer "catch-the-leader" mechanics to "hit-the-leader" mechanics. It's frustrating to be doing well in a game only to then get whacked by the other players -- this can often result in a strategy of "don't be the leader", or in other words, "make sub-optimal plays", which is not as interesting as trying to do the best that you can. It's better if a game makes the leader's path more challenging or expensive, so that the leader often comes back to the pack because the pack catches him, not because they've beaten him up until he relinquishes his lead.

I'll note that while the game beating up on the leading player is similar to the other players beating up on him, I think it's somehow easier to take. Maybe because being the leader doesn't force other players to aim their actions at you, rather it encourages the other players to do a better job at their game to catch up.

I think the disappointing part about hit-the-leader for the leader is that they feel ganged up on by other players, and I think the disappointing part for the other players is that they have to stop what they're doing and instead attack the leader.

Joined: 04/14/2009
Interesting Subject!

Most of the games I find myself playing nowadays are of the "German" variety. Meaning NOT Monotony-style (my sister's name for Monopoly) games. I don't really like simply rolling a die (or dice) and moving and doing whatever it says on the space I land on.

I prefer the equalizer-style, but I don't really mind the runaway style because I ALWAYS try to prevent the win if I see someone getting close.

It doesn't mean I won't like a game if I don't at least have an option to try to prevent the win, but I do prefer that type of game. (the kind that gives me a choice and more control over what I can do in the game world).

EDIT: GAH! I kinda hate this reply now. I keep thinking of games that I DO enjoy that are more or less a dice roll and move type of game. I LOVED Fast Food Franchise. Sorta like Monopoly, but there are strategic aspects that make it MUCH more enjoyable. Guillotine is also a pretty good game. Very simple, and the cards give you lots of options for changing how the line moves, but the control aspect I mentioned earlier isn't really there. I'm not even sure why I'm posting at all as it seems that I'm contradicting my earlier arguments. Well...I might as well post this anyway.

ReneWiersma's picture
Joined: 08/08/2008
I think both are bad, and as

I think both are bad, and as a game designer you should prevent the game having a runaway leader and also prevent the game having so much equalizing effects that it doesn't matter what you do anyway. But, if I have to choose, I'd rather have a game with too many equalizing effects, as the casual player will have more fun playing such a game than a game with a strong runaway leader effect.

Joined: 02/16/2010
Don't let him run away!

Games having a leader are not bad until that leader in fact runs away. Players who give up on winning a game that will still take an hour to complete will start to resent it. And a leader who has secured victory will not likely enjoy the rest of the ride. A leader can add to the tension, a run-a-way leader destroys that.

As a game designer you should, in my opinion, always make sure the 'fighting chance' element is present in the game, meaning all players should be able to catch up with the current leader over the course of the game.
An easy way for that is a 'big scoring' final. Or a way around it is a secret scoring mechanism.

Equalizing should be viewed as giving all players equal opportunities to do well during play, not always keep them on the same level. If players seize these opportunities better than others, that just means they are better at the game. Players who miss or take less advantage of the opportunities presented to them will most likely lose, but recognize there is still a lot to learn and hopefully ask the winner for a rematch!

Jean Of mArc
Jean Of mArc's picture
Joined: 04/21/2010
Good subject you've got going

Good subject you've got going on here! I guess my answer isn't too different from everyone else's, but yeah, I think that having a balanced game is better than being able to tell who will win within a few rounds. However, I also like it when it is up to the player's to do the work of balancing the game. For example in Settlers, players tend to pick on the leader with the robber. Also, in Cities & Knights, there are cards which can only be used on someone with more VPs than you. These balance the game, but also leave it up to the players to take advantage of them.

There was an argument against this kind of gang-up-on-the-leader gameplay, and I admit that too much of it just makes it frustrating. However in Settlers, the leader probably has more resources coming in, more ports to exchange with, etc, so they can still move ahead faster than other players can. This balances out the advantages and disadvantages in my opinion. I think taking it too far would be if players could play cards to destroy the towns/cities of the winning player. This would be too devastating and frustrating. A road isn't so bad though.

So, there should be a balance between the rewards of being ahead, but also a risk of being picked on by other players while they try to catch up to you.

Joined: 05/01/2010
Ganging up on a leader

I am guessing that I don't share some of the bias against ganging up on a leader, and in fact think that can be part of the fun of the game. I always liked games like Diplomacy where duplicity, treachery and bullying were necessary elements. The person being ganged up on should expect it because it's inherent in the game's dynamics, and the frustration of being ganged up on is matched by the satisfaction of escaping or thwarting an attack.

In my game, I try always to balance any advantage with a disadvantage. So killing another player's asset is neither easy nor risk-free; it costs a lot even to attempt, has a low likelihood of success, and severe penalties attach for failure. It's designed to be a drastic, "Hail Mary" measure for the attacker as well as the attacked. Also, it doesn't preclude the leader from still winning, because he can acquire the needed asset from yet another player. In addition, there are only limited opportunities to attack a player and, once discharged, are not available again, so players must time their attacks wisely -- too early or too late, they won't be effective, and played against the wrong player may simply hand victory over to someone else. Finally, given the somewhat savage theme of the game, the inability to kill an asset would in fact be a noticeable lack.

That being said, I was intrigued by the comment that this punishes the leader and so encourages sub-optimal play. Perhaps I am too wedded to my current design and rule set, but I am wondering if "optimal play" can properly entail knowing when to take the lead, given the risks it might pose. A simple strategy of acquiring the most valuable assets whenever the opportunity presents itself can be less interesting than a strategy of acquiring those assets when you are confident that you have the resources to handle the attendant liabilities.

Anyway, just a thought.

SiddGames's picture
Joined: 08/02/2008

I agree with your remarks about optimal play for the leader. One game's "sub-optimal play" may be another game's "clever positioning" strategy. In Power Grid, for example, don't people frequently manipulate their relative rank have a turn order advantage until they are ready to surge ahead for the win?

I'm not too strongly biased against attack-the-leader, but it may be more palatable in general if it is more of a passive (I guess Euro-feeling) attack. For example, a game where you can't sabotage the leader's factories, but you can choose to buy up the resources those factories need to function each turn, reducing their output.

Syndicate content

forum | by Dr. Radut