Monday, 14 February 2011

multiple paths to victory

"Multiple paths to victory". This phrase feels very cliche to me. Very often when people praise a game, this phrase is thrown in. It is used so often that I start to feel numb about it and lose grasp of what it means. So I decide to think about it a little and write down my thoughts.

So, what does "multiple paths to victory" actually mean?

That players can pursue very different strategies and every strategy is viable to go for the win? In most Eurogames, to win a game you need to gain the most victory points. So should we consider the different ways of earning victory points different strategies, or are they just variations of the same thing? We are in a race to earn victory points after all. So are the different ways of earning points superficial? To answer my own question, I do consider the different ways of earning victory points different paths to victory. But sometimes I do wonder whether in some games the different paths are meaningful or not. Should a game have very different game end conditions to justify being called a game with multiple paths to victory? E.g. in Liberte, there are two special game-end conditions which ignore victory points earned during the game.

I once created a geeklist at www.boardgamegeek.com to explore games with alternative victory conditions. However I guess the discussion in that list illustrates more "multiple possible game-end conditions that you need to watch out for" rather than "multiple strategies that can be used during the game".

Is "multiple paths to victory" always a good thing?

I guess generally yes, because usually that means you have meaningful choices to make. However in some cases the multiple paths may be an illusion, e.g. when there really is only one best strategy to go for. And sometimes some games with "multiple paths to victory" (let's start abbreviating this to MPTV) just don't click with me. So having MPTV doesn't guarantee a good game, or a game you'll like. Diamonds Club does have MPTV, but somehow it just rubs me the wrong way. To a lesser extent, Macao too. There are meaningful decisions to be made, and there are different strategies to pursue. I think it's the disjoint between game mechanism and theme that turns me off. Somehow the MPTV feels like it's there for the sake of being there, and for making the game technically sound. It didn't translate to "fun" for me. Well, "fun" is very subjective I guess.

Macao

Let's take Hansa Teutonica as another example. Somehow it clicks with me. It definitely has MPTV. Tons of it. But it is pretty much an abstract game, and theme-to-game-mechanism link is worse than Macao and Diamonds Club. I think what works for me is the intense player interaction, the importance of watching and hindering your opponents, and the wide possibilities. So much so that I didn't mind the theme at all.

Hansa Teutonica

So I'd say although MPTV is generally good, it is far from being the deciding factor for whether you'll like a game.

So how important is MPTV compared to other aspects of a game?

As I tried to make a list, I realised it is quite hard to list down the measures for determining a good game. Many aspects and features of games can be good or bad for different people. Very much up to personal preference, e.g.:

  • Tight choices or lots of freedom
  • Unforgiving or otherwise
  • Confrontational or otherwise
  • Has negotiation / manipulating other players or otherwise
  • Amount of luck / randomness

Here are some that I can think of, which I think most people can agree are indicators for a good game. I leave out "fun", because it's too subjective a word.

  • Meaningful decisions / good play shows results
  • High player interaction
  • Minimal downtime / constant involvement
  • Game length appropriate for depth / fun gained
  • Narrative / game arc / the game feels different at different stages
  • Interesting and well represented theme
  • Strong theme-mechanism link
  • Good components / artwork

How would you rank MPTV compared to these qualities?

I thought about this, and find that I rank it in the lower half. Not that it's unimportant (or that any of the qualities above are unimportant), just that there are many other qualities which are of higher priority to me. The list above roughly indicates my priorities, and MPTV sits below "Narrative".

My conclusion

A good game (maybe except for short / simple games) should have some form of MPTV as a minimal requirement. I feel MPTV shouldn't be used as a praise. It should be expected, like expecting a boardgame to come with a box. You should only use MPTV to praise a game when it has an unusually wide and interesting strategy space for the players to explore.

6 comments:

Dave said...

Interesting post. I think a lot of people use the term without having thought about it much.

As I was reading, I was asking myself if certain games had MPTV. Backgammon? Definitely. Hearts? Definitely. Chess? Sure. Go? What exactly would MPTV even mean in the context of a game with such a small set of rules? You can argue that you have to balance local tactics with long-term strategy, but that's not really the same thing.

So...Hearts and Backgammon both have MPTV, but Go doesn't? I've always felt the term was somewhat specious, but now I'm beginning to understand more clearly what I dislike about it....

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Indeed! Only after I spent some time thinking about MPTV, I realised most games already have it, even many mediocre or poor games. When it comes to modern Eurogames, any half-decent game would have it. So I feel praising one game for having MPTV is like praising a university graduate for knowing how to use a computer.

Perhaps a better way to praise a game like Hansa Teutonica is to say that the MPTV's are very diverse and yet are closely linked to each other, and players need to watch and block each other constantly.

Greg Aleknevicus said...

Too often "Multiple Paths To Victory" means that a player receives victory points no matter what actions are taken. Further to this, I often read reviews that praise a game (played for the first time) when the scores are very close despite the players employing wildly different strategies. To my mind, this should be cause for alarm as it indicates that no matter what you do, the game will reward you. In order for a game to reward good play, it must also punish poor play.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Greg,

Good point. This is what's stopping me from going ahead to order Tikal II. I'm going to try before buy. Some describe this problem as "too balanced".

I am a big fan of The Games Journal. I still miss it!

Benny said...

To me, Navegador has this working. You can focus on buildings, plantations, or exploration or a combination. The vp miltipliers reward those who pursue any of the five goals.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I have played Antike once, but not Imperial, Hamburgum, Princes of Machu Picchu or any other of Mac Gerdts' rondel games. It was Shipyard, a game with multiple rondels, which made me interested to look at the rondel games. I think it's a bad thing that rondel games are classified as rondel games. I think doing this puts too much emphasis on the rondel, making the games sound like they are very similar. I think each game has many more differences and uniqueness beyond the rondel. The rondel is just a tool. Hopefully I'll get to try Navegador one day.