Game Mechanic For Hire

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Runaway Leader, 8.20.09

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Runaway leader is typically a problem in a board game.  One player gets a dominant advantage or lead that is impossible for anyone else to overcome.  It may be fun for the leader when it occurs, but everyone else is basically waiting for the game to end.  However, if Runaway Leader is used to end a round (or the game itself) quickly, you have a new dynamic to play with.  Lets have a look at when it may be okay to have a player break away from the pack…

-Threshold.  Once a player has done X, that player gets a large benefit.  This is the most straightforward way to implement this.  Lets take a combat racing game.  If any player were to get 7 spaces ahead of another player, they get a speed boost the following move.  This would do three things:  1)  players would be doing all they could to keep their opponents within seven spaces of themselves;  2)  The moment a player breaks away, that player will have a huge target on their back; 3)  The race will end more quickly so players can move on to the next heat.

-Snowball Effect.  A player’s lead has the potential to grow dramatically.  This kind of feedback loop is most dramatic in a war style game.  Say I attack your doods and kill three of them.  Instead of leaving play, they join my side.  This results in a net swing of six units between us.  Provided the combat system isn’t simply who has more units wins, the advantage is downplayed a bit but is still substantial.  Hammer of the Scots uses this to great effect.  A note of caution, though:  while it can allow for dramatic swings in power, if used improperly this method can undermine itself and remove the dramatic tension you are trying to create.  If the same three to five units keep being traded between players, that’s not dramatic; that’s boring.

-More Power To The Powerful.  Players further back must give players in the lead resources, cards, etc.  More for a game that ‘resets’ to a degree each round, this makes the those on top tend to stay on top short of a completely crazy round.  The Great Dalmuti does this by forcing the lower ranked players to give their best cards to the higher ranked players.  Take a gemcrafter game where every player is a member of the same guild.  As orders are passed out each round, the player who did best last round may request specific orders from lower ranked players in exchange for an order they don’t want.  It also helps if the rounds are somewhat short; it isn’t too bad if you’re on the bottom for a few rounds that are about five minutes each.  It’s quite a different story if you are on bottom for a few rounds that are about 20 minutes each…

See?  Who says runaway leader is a bad thing?

Keep on designing, yo!



Written by krinklechip

August 20, 2009 at 9:41 pm

One Response

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  1. So presumably you’re considering the concept from a perspective of a Reset button occurring afterwards. That is, there is an end of round or end of (a short) game that makes the runaway something of small enough duration that it is not distasteful to the players?

    It’s a pleasure to see someone talking about the concept without falling into the need-some-way-to-punish-the-leader-for-playing-well perspective. A well designed game will provide a suitable reward for playing better than your opponents and no more. Getting a point score for doing that is fine, as long as the commanding lead does not provide a more powerful position to continue the dominance. Some games do this quite well.



    August 21, 2009 at 12:45 am

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