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Catch up mechanics

10 replies [Last post]
Grall Ritnos
Joined: 02/07/2011

Hey gang. I'm in the play testing stage of my current project, and I have run into the issue that once one or two players begin to get ahead, it seems to be very difficult for others to catch up.

I'd love to have input on possible mechanics for economic games which can help players come from behind, or mechanics which can slow down the leader.

Some of my past posts on this project have far too long, so I'm going to split the details of my game into a second post in this thread. If you don't feel like reading my novel, skip the next post. However, if you still have theoretical ideas about the topic, I would love to hear them. Thanks in advance for your input!

Grall Ritnos
Joined: 02/07/2011
Galactic Forge Details

For anyone who is interested, here is an in-depth description of the game: For others, here's a brief primer: Each player controls a starship manufacturing company competing to complete contracts. Players start with am initial amount of cash, but after that, the main way to get more cash is to complete contracts. When players completes a contract, they earn a lump sum of cash, as well as victory points and "Favor" cards (think Catan development cards). This makes completing a contract feel like a huge accomplishment, but it is also inherently very swingy.

Since the growth in this game is somewhat exponential, once a player has completed two or more contracts, he or she has a huge advantage over players who have yet to complete one. I'm trying to determine a way to help players who start slow to be able to catch up, either by speeding them along or slowing the front runners down. Here are some early thoughts:

- Some favor cards provide ways for players to attack each other. These could enable players to gang up on the leadesr to slow them down. However, right now the only way to get favor cards is to complete contracts. Perhaps another way needs to be added to get these cards?

- In my latest draft, each contract card has a tie breaker printed on it to determine who wins the contract if two players try to complete it on the same turn. These tiebreakers are currently benefit a mix of strong and weak players. One option would be to make the universal tiebreaker fall to the player furthest behind.

What other options are out there? Some kind of luxury tax on the leaders? Is a more accessible form of player interaction necessary to allow trailing players to pull the leader back to the pack? Thanks for your input!

bonsaigames's picture
Joined: 12/20/2010
Multiple Win Conditions

One of the easiest ways to remedy this problem in general is to have multiple win conditions.
After reading your details, it looks like the Favors might be the easiest way to do this.
Hope that helps,

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Different angle

Grall Ritnos wrote:
What other options are out there? Some kind of luxury tax on the leaders? Is a more accessible form of player interaction necessary to allow trailing players to pull the leader back to the pack?

This is not a form of tax or anything like that. I'd maybe look at the problem from another angle. You stated that the problem was when a player completed two or more contracts, he would have an advantage over the other players. And so I thought about this...

MY conclusion was, what if players were given ENOUGH TIME to complete their contracts before NEW contracts were made available. Sort of "It takes 5 turns before you can take on a NEW contract". So if Player 1 finishes his contract in 1 turn, he would have to wait 4 turns before being able to perform ANOTHER contract. This might give Player 2 the chance to finish his contract by the end of turn 3 and Player 3 the chance to finish his contract by the end of turn 5.

So basically you sorta "stall" or "slow" the pace of the game to give all players the chance to stay "in the game"... This is approaching the problem from a different angle.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Not really a penalty

questccg wrote:
So basically you sorta "stall" or "slow" the pace of the game to give all players the chance to stay "in the game"...

That does not mean that the other player (in our example Player 1) is penalized... He can do "other" things during his four (4) other turns. Can a player "buy" things with the money he earns? If so maybe he can buy a ship on one turn and then "configure" it on the next turn, etc.

Kalmari Krapula
Joined: 11/19/2010
Keeping it real

Because I've done lately so many history-based/-themed games, I've learned to do much research. It takes time a bit, but usually it is worth it, giving you some new angles to look at the game. For example, creating new goals, mechanics or units and other..

So maybe you should take a look for some ship- or car-manufacturing companies, big and small and compare them to each other. This way I bet you'll find some info how they can compete in same markets, even being so different.

I think specialaising in small or big spaceships will be one solution to your problem. Bigger spaceships will take more time and the pay is good, but poorer players can manufacture smaller ships for smaller prices. Also unstability mechanism for prices of starships would help, because smaller shops can react changes better than bigger ones.

I hope you understood even a little bit, because this is not my native language and my thoughts are usually not strictly in order. :)

- Kalmari

Cogentesque's picture
Joined: 08/17/2011
Hey Grall, First of all,

Hey Grall,

First of all, don't apologise for long posts: we are all board game enthusiasts and in my experience that means that we all enjoy getting our teeth into problems and solving them and if we were upset at your post's length then we should really be screaming at other kids on Xbox forums more than helping eachother develop boardgames. So first of all that.

Secondly: your boardgame sounds really cool - love the idea, the theme is terribley cool and I got quite excited when I read your brief description and after reading your in depth explanation it sounded very promising. The artowrk examples you gave - I am unsure of, but of course that is another matter entirely.

On track: The "multiple ways to win" option sounds great, it is always good to have different choices for players to win with anyway: it makes the game less single-minded and gives it a broader reach.

I think that a simple "hack" (I suppose) way to fix people lagging behind other than developing more mechanics would be some kind of intergalactic-governement that would subsidise the smaller companies (eg: the players who are lagging behind) could be something like a continuously in-play card that a player is given if they are 1 contract behind the leader: "Subsidised Stocks" and it could be something like a "-1 cost to any material bought on the stock market" and likewise, two contracts behind "-2 cost to any material" and of course this would be self limiting meaning that as soon as the player caught up, they would no longer have the bonus.

I don't think any "tax" on the rich is a good idea, at least not in name as any mention of "tax" always saddens me. I would hate to be winning in your game only to have to have it taken away: what would be the point in winning? So a better idea is to have positive rather than negative enforcement: "Growth Stimulation" or "Stock market windfall" or "government funding" or something like that.

An alternate (but similar) idea is have the lagging players simply steal a random face down card from the leaders instead of discounted market rates - perhaps even both - the more powerful one if you were really lagging, and a less sever one if you were only mildly lagging.

Joined: 12/01/2010
I think there's something

I think there's something inherently bad about catch-up mechanics. It can feel artificial, and make a winning player feel cheated if its easy for another player to stay too close in "winningness." I would guess that if players can't catch up from being too far behind, some identification of the reasons for it (skill, random luck, exploitable game mechanics, imbalance in game mechanics) would be a place to start before adding in a band aid. Or it could be possible to just end the game at an earlier state when it's obvious who will eventually win the game.

If you really like the game ending where it is, you can create a set of mechanics that are better earlier in the game, but become less effective as people progress, that then free up space for people behind to take more advantage of them.

As an example loosely based on the skimming of your game: As you build parts, there could be a neutral market that buys parts for ships. There could be a limited number (or diminishing returns) on the quantity of parts that could be sold making this a tight market to get into in the beginning when everyone is competing for it. As the players in the lead develop their economy, they benefit more from expending built parts into building ships, but possibly at a longer term strategy as opposed to short term gains. But the players who are behind might be able to invest into the greater availability of this market to expand their economy at a faster rate than would normally be possible when more people are utilizing it.

I think that's a better way to approach it, as opposed to giving some inherent benefit to being behind. Please don't take this as a negative criticism, I mean it to be very constructive.

Grall Ritnos
Joined: 02/07/2011
Thanks for the feedback

Thanks for the feedback everyone, this thread has provided a lot of great ideas. Thanks especially to Cogentesque for the positive feedback. Real life has delivered me several swift kicks to the groin in the past two weeks, and encouragement like this reminds me why I took up game design.

Regarding Yamahako's comment, I'm definitely not in favor of mechanics solely designed to give advantages to lagging players, since this encourages sand bagging, which is just generally no fun. I think I was envisioning something more along the lines of what I observe at the end of most of my games of Catan. Once players reach a certain threshold (generally 1-3 vp from winning, depending on that player's reputation and skill), a complete trade embargo goes into effect and the robber tends to set up camp on that player's key production hexes. The heart of this environment is that the pack has the ability to self regulate the leaders, without any kind of explicit mechanic to slow them down. However, my game has far less interactivity than Catan, so I've been struggling to make this work.

I really like the idea of multiple development paths, if not outright win conditions. Right now my game feels extremely linear, which I think helps make it more accessible, given the number of small decisions which must be made. However, I've often wondered precisely what skills my game tests, and I don't know if I have a good answer. Adding one or more alternate routes could help players who start slow while adding strategic depth, as long as it doesn't bring too much complexity with it. I'll spend some time thinking about a side parts market (which does actually exist right now, but the prices are static for simplicity), as well as possibly bringing in an R&D component, an idea which I abandoned months ago for lack of a good implementation.

Thanks again for the feedback. I'll be sure to post once I have a solution or two to try out.

Joined: 05/15/2011
I think you could slow down

I think you could slow down the exponential growth using some super-linear growing costs and/or limits. For example each player could be limited to one or maybe two product types and the the price for their products could be dependent on the production. Or you could need expensive upgrades in order to increase your production (diminishing returns). It's quite possible that somebody has already mentioned it in this long thread.

Maybe you could give some bonus to all players (as opposed to only those fallen behind) at some time. This would keep the absolute advantage of the leading players the same, but their relative advantage would decrease. In a complex strategic game it could open new possibilities for the previously hopeless players and lead to surprising games.

Kalmari Krapula
Joined: 11/19/2010
Bonus for everyone

The bonus for everyone could work, if it would differ according to the players situation.

For example, when slower player uses the bonus, he receive some extra resources, builds faster or something.
When advanced player use the bonus, he will gain some victory points and little bit new resources, or any other smaller advantage.

In more complicated game these slow/advanced player bonuses are easier to make than in simple games, because there are usually more options for possible bonuses.

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