The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Is everything a race? Types of Victory Conditions

I was thinking about World of Warcraft. Like Runebound, it’s really just a race against the other players to beat the badguy, but with a sudden death timer. (One variant removes that). Talisman is similar, but it’s a race to grab the sudden death timer, which kills the others. Are all fantasy games like that? Then I started thinking about the various victory conditions … and it seems like most of them are just a variation on a race. First across the line. First to do X. First to do X a certain number of times. First to connect the sides of the board.

I’m sure this has been done before, but I’m going to try and catalogue various victory conditions. Let me know what I’ve forgotten.

  • Most Stuff (Victory Points, Money, Land)
  • Race (First to cross the finish line, do X, do something X number of times)
  • Last Man Standing (Player Elimination, maybe eliminate a single piece, or have any piece)
  • Capture the Flag (subset of race?)
  • Deduction
  • “Divest” (Get rid of all your cards, race?)
  • Set Collection (subset of race?)

It could be argued that “Most stuff” is just a “farthest past the post” type of race (instead of the more typical “First to the post.”) That requires serious linguistic wrangling, but it’s only a mild stretch.

My initial wonder that almost all Fantasy RPG-esque boardgames are races doesn’t seem surprising anymore. Most games are races or “most stuff.” Perhaps the detailed taxonomy of victory conditions is just a taxonomy of races? To be sure, there’s lots of variety in the details (and quite a few games that mix in a few types).

This is the point where everyone points out the obvious categories of games I’ve forgotten. Is it really races vs most stuff, with a few logic games?

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Written by taogaming

November 3, 2007 at 10:11 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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8 Responses

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  1. The English language makes it easy to add the words “first to …” which seemingly (but falsely) transforms almost any set of victory conditions to a race. For example, you yourself noted “First to connect the sides of the board”. Assuming that you were referring to Twixt or Hex, this is misleading. In either game, it is only possible for one player to connect opposing sides. The important bit is not being the first to do this — it’s being able to do it at all.

    I think trying to reduce all games to races is a fool’s errand.

    Greg Aleknevicus

    November 4, 2007 at 3:32 am

  2. Mm. I distinguish ‘most’ from ‘first.’ Go, for instance, you’re trying to have the most territory, not ‘be the first to have a majority of the territory.’

    You can argue that all games are optimization exercises: I have these limited resources and I have to make better use of them than anyone else. This is obvious in some games (Antiquity, Princes of Florence) and less obvious in others, but once you start treating turns (time) as a resource that needs managing it fits most places.

    And there are games like Bluff or other ‘last man standing’ games. Not sure how that fits into the paradigm.

    Tucker

    November 4, 2007 at 7:14 am

  3. Mm. I distinguish ‘most’ from ‘first.’ Go, for instance, you’re trying to have the most territory, not ‘be the first to have a majority of the territory.’

    You can argue that all games are optimization exercises: I have these limited resources and I have to make better use of them than anyone else. This is obvious in some games (Antiquity, Princes of Florence) and less obvious in others, but once you start treating turns (time) as a resource that needs managing it fits most places.

    And there are games like Bluff or other ‘last man standing’ games. Not sure how that fits into the paradigm.

    Tucker

    November 4, 2007 at 7:14 am

  4. I think race games are games where the victory condition is also the ending condition. There are many games where it ends after a certain number of turns or once a deck runs or some other arbitrary condition is reached. To me those aren’t races, unless a player’s victory condition is to end the game. So I wouldn’t categorize Race for the Galaxy as a race. I would categorize Attika as a race, since the act of someone winning is how the game ends.

    I can see Greg’s argument about terminology as well, and perhaps there’s a better term for victory condition = ending condition. That’s where I would put the taxonomic split though. Perhaps races are the subset of victory = end where there is only one way to win, there’s always a winner and there is only one winner. That would eliminate many abstracts (Chess, Gipf series, etc.) while not removing any games that I would classically think of as a race.

    frunk

    November 4, 2007 at 7:38 am

  5. “First” and “most” are basiccly the only victory conditions. In deduction games you have to be the “first to solve the puzzle”.
    “Last man standing” is the opposite of being first, so its bassicly another race-game, just that the first people will loose 😉

    Peer Sylvester

    November 4, 2007 at 8:05 am

  6. Answered this a year and a half ago:

    Winning Using Mechanics

    Yehuda

    Yehuda Berlinger

    November 4, 2007 at 8:06 am

  7. Do you call Elfenland set collecting? It’s definitely not a race, since everyone has exactly the same time and very similar resources. The winner has the most pegs, but that’s not how the game works—the winner has missed the fewest pegs. It’s really an optimization game. (It’s possible that a race victory condition can occur, but I’ve never seen it.)

    If you call “Capture the Flag” the same thing as “meet some objective,” wargames are often like that. One side has an objective or set of objectives; the other side has to prevent their accomplishment. Time is sometimes involved, but by no means is this a race. In the live game Capture the Flag, each side has a flag to defend. That’s not always true in objective acomplishment games. Cooperative games are often of this ilk—achieve some goal before something else happens. Usually that’s not directly time’s running out, though it is sometimes.

    Card games don’t typically fit into those molds. In Oh Hell, one is not trying to get the most of anything, just the right number of tricks. It doesn’t matter which tricks, just the number for which you bid. Bridge is similar; it’s not important who takes the most tricks, but rather who combines bidding and collection goals best. I suppose that’s tallied by conversion into victory points. Does that make it a “get the most of something” game? It doesn’t seem so to me. Otherwise, any game with a numerical score is a “get the most of something” game. Hearts isn’t a divest game—it’s avoidance.
    Avoidance is not the other side of the coin from collection; such games play very differently. In particular, in an avoidance game, a trailing player can play perfectly and avoid all penalties and yet not have any chance to catch up at all or enough. In “collect the most” games, this is very rarely true; in “divest” games, this dynamic does not occur. Transamerica is another avoidance game.

    Gambling games are neither race nor collection. Collection is important, but it’s not the most that matters, it’s how much. Just because Joe won $40 at the p-oker (have to work around the blocker code!) game doesn’t mean you aren’t a winner for winning $39.

    Of course role playing games don’t fit into any of these groups, because there are no victory conditions. I used to play RPG tournaments where the victory conditions were simply “who did the best?” No concrete criteria…the game masters would just get together and argue for a while to find the winner.

    JeffG

    November 4, 2007 at 11:07 am

  8. I think you’ve narrowed the scope too much – obviously all games can be grouped into one large category. All games ask that their participants try to win the game. Silly? Yes, but that is the definition of the game, yes? And you have to measure the level of success to define what winning is – it’s going to have to fall along the lines of “first to…” or “player with the most …”, or else it’s not measurable.

    SeanP

    November 5, 2007 at 11:04 am


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