Sunday, May 27, 2012

The journey or the destination?

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the problem of what sort of game people want to play.  I want to have a game in which people can play in very different styles.  Well and good, but can how then do you compare their successes?

In an ordinary, symmetric,  uniform-interface game each player faces the same challenge.  Everything is probably zero-sum, and you can tally up units lots, provinces taken, and general nastiness suffered by some formula to arrive at victors and vanquished.  Perhaps winning will not really look like victory - in a game representing the campaigns in Europe in 1945, Berlin holding out until July can be considered a considerable success for example.  But it can still be measured, generally in some sort of point or victory conditions.

But if Aaron is playing the King of France and Bill is a minor Prussian General, how do you compare their relative performance?  This is not a question to which I have an answer, but it is one that has to be answered.

Or does it? 

Does a game need to have a defined form of victory in order to be played for fun?  Role Playing Games seem to rely on the personal objectives of the players.  The objectives do not have to be provided by the GM, or even shared with the GM by a player.  While play often proceeds within the context of a "mission" or a "quest" or the GM's latest splatbook, the whole thing (in my experience, at least) is intended to be as freeform and open as possible.

Can a large multi-player wargame be just as free-form?  It's been my experience that if you provide a large enough group of gamers with an environment where war is a possibility, and an eventual war is inevitable.  On the other hand, societies come with a concept of success that I think may have to be expressed to get players to approach the situation with the mindset you want as the referee.  This is especially important in an historical game.  While it may make sense in a fantasy game for the King of Erewhon to spend half the budget on trying to develop flying machines, suspension of disbelief may fray at the edges if the King of France does the same.  Or perhaps that just shows that fantasy games are, at some level, more fun than history.  After all, they can work even if some of the players have not done the research.

So, do we need victory conditions, or is the play the thing?


  1. Interesting point. Back during the 80's myself and my regular gaming partner set no 'victory points' as such, we simply played our games until either one of us decided that the game was 'lost' and simply conceded. We spent many happy hours talking through our games afterwards, discussing points in the battle which we believed had turned it in our favour (or against us!)
    I'm not fond of games which award 'points' for smashing enemy units or taking objectives etc. To me it's much more realistic (and fun!) for either one side or the other to simply concede defeat.I prefer to leave scoring systems to the points gatherers ...or tournament players as they're better known!

  2. My answer to the poll is C: "It depends"

    One possibility in a game where an overall objective is not obvious, is to assign personal victory conditions which may not relate to what other players are working towards. This is similar to the FRP approach except guided by the GM towards HIS goals.

    So The King of France may be tasked with not losing New France, his General may be tasked with holding New France if possible or gaining glory if possible. The Intendent's goal might be to make money regardless of the outcome. A subordinate King;s office may be out to earn prestige.

    The English Prime Minister & General's victory conditions may well exactly mirror those of their opponents. Other players such as an Admiral may be different again and not mirror anyone.

    Or, in such a limited situation, all players may be working towards a shared goal - capture/defend Quebec and any other goals are for minor advantage.

  3. I think, picking up on the first comment from Steve, that if a player enjoys the game, the the primary victory condition is satisfied, which is to say that any game that is playable and enjoyable is a success and meets its objectives.

    Beyond that, it depends on what the objective of the game is. Is it a simulation of a moment, say, in the history of France, in which case, as Ross says, holding New France might be a sufficient goal for the French players.

    To continue with your question, if player A is the King of France and player B is a minor Prussian general, player B's victory conditions should be linked to whatever his tasking is, as determined by whomever is playing the senior Prussian command. If that player has bad or unclear orders, your decision as GM is to either reward him for slavishly follow his flawed orders (which may be what a general in that army might do) or, to reward him for showing initiative and going beyond the letter of his orders to satisfy the commander's intent. In your first example, you might have multiple Red Army players whose goal is to be the first to plant a flag on the Reichstag, casualties be damned, which would largely reflect the Russian approach to the Battle of Berlin.

    I have tried assigning player character personalities to
    players and rewarding them for their ability to successfully role play that character, but I find it seldom works. Players will be themselves, and some players will be stolid, plodding commanders, some will be incompetent, and some will be creative and successful. How they play the game will be largely reflections of themselves. Finding a way to let people be themselves, have a good time, and meet certain goals is the trick to a successful game.

    Very general ramblings, please take them for what it's worth.