There are a variety of ways to win the artiste game, as each card has its own win condition. While there is always a manager who wins by catching the artiste and an artiste who wins by escaping, the other players could be up to anything. They could be trying to get a specific other player to win or to lose. They might be trying to make their suggestion influential or to make incorrect suggestions but have the artiste caught despite them. In today’s post I’d like to discuss different approaches to adding a variety of victory conditions to games.
Firstly, this post isn’t about setting a victory condition in general. There are pros and cons to different types of victory conditions. There’s a lot to discuss there: Times that it’s best to cut a game short after so many turns and count scores versus times that it’s better to eliminate players one at a time until one remains versus times that it’s more suitable to award victory to the first player to pass some particular milestone. However those are discussions for another time.
This post is about games in which there are several different possible ways to win and how these disparate goals can be crafted into a unified whole. Let’s get specific:
In Ankh Morpork each player takes the role of a different Discworld personality and tries to manipulate the city into some particular state that leads to their victory. The most common objective is to have your agents hold a majority in a certain portion of the spaces, but other objectives include spreading agents to many spaces, collecting money, causing chaos or simply ensuring that nobody else wins until the end of the game.
There are several related features that make these victory conditions form a coherent whole, the first is that players are motivated to hide their objectives (as they must claim victory after their opponents turns so they can be thwarted) and given the opportunity to do so (as there are often actions that pursue several different objectives allowing them to follow one objective under the guise of following another). That adds a whole layer to the game, but it relies on the victory conditions being crafted with one very specific concept in mind.
The conditions all need to be connected. The most common victory condition is to have more pieces in a location than any other player, the fundamental move to achieve this is to place an agent. All of the other victory conditions need to be defined in terms of that fundamental move, to create the duality of purpose that makes the hidden objectives core of the game function.
Getting an agent into a wide variety of places is achieved by placing an agent.
Causing chaos is achieved by placing an agent into a space with an opposing agent.
Stopping other players wining is achieved by placing agents to break their majority.
Making money is achieved by placing agents into sites for money making buildings.
Chrysoprase (The character with the money objective) has always felt like the weakest link in the design of this game. In high player count games he doesn’t get enough turns to generate the money he needs, in low count games he often does, it’s relatively hard for players who’ve worked out his identity to block him unless it’s noticed very early on. I think this is because his is the weakest link to the core objective and its core mechanic. You do need to place agents to create the money making buildings in the first place, but once they’re up you can lose the agents to no effect and it’s very difficult for opponents to adversely affect money making opportunities by placing agents. There are cards that allow you to attack an opponents money, but these feel like they fall outside of the focus of the gameplay.
The lesson is that when working with a variety of objectives, the collection of objectives available will sink or swim based upon how strongly they relate to each other and the core interactions of the game.
This is a card from the previous playtest of the lovers expansion for the orchestra game. This expansion focuses on instrumentalists who are not paying attention to the music because they’re suddenly more interested in each other and the core mechanic of the expansion is the addition of a couple of lover cards. The players holding these cards are in love and the cards themselves dictate the nature of the relationship: One ignores their own victory condition and wins if the other wins, while the other cannot target their lover with any sort of power.
This card has a win condition that ties in well to the core of the expansion (It depends on getting the lover cards into a particular position) but in playtests it had a negative impact on the game. Further testing found a commonality between the cards that weren’t working well: They did nothing to tie into the core mechanic of the main game.
The core mechanic of the game is persuading the manager to eject the person that you need them to. The manager is trying to make an accurate choice in order to win, the artiste is trying to mislead them. Having one player who is trying to suss out what their lover is trying to do and pushing the game in that direction enhances this mechanic and contributes to the game as a whole. However having one player who cares where the lover cards are, but switches off when it gets to the “discussion and decision” because the lover cards won’t move again and they’ve either won or lost detracts from it.
The discussion of who’s guilty, followed by the manager’s final decision and the revelation of its results should be the climax of the game, not something that one of the players has no interest in at all. A rewrite of the objectives to make sure that no matter what external situation has been achieved, each and every player cares about the outcome of that final decision, dramatically improved the playability of the expansion.
While a not particularly subtle implementation of the idea, having a character who wants their love reciprocated but can still win by destroying that person if they don’t, makes some degree of thematic sense. Even if they get the lover cards placed as they wish they still need to make sure that their partner is not ejected, but the effort to get into that position is rewarded with an easier victory. The artiste would have the “win if you win” card and as such if they’re in danger of being revealed can be defended with “most players win if the artiste is caught so since they win if I win I’m sure that they would reveal themselves if they really were the artiste.” or similar approaches. Winking at the other player is optional.
My favourite implementation of an alternate victory condition does something that sounds very simple but has a interesting implications that go beyond the explicit rule. I first came across it in Dune, but I heard that it’s been faithfully replicated in Rex. One faction can win by fulfilling a prophecy, at the start of the game they record a player and a turn number. If that player wins on that turn, then they win instead.
At first glance this is very different to the typical win condition for the game, which is achieved by holding a particular number of territories. It’s not explicitly linked to the behaviour that underpins that: Moving troops into territories and fighting. However the knowledge that the condition exists will influence the behaviour of other players. This enables moves such as almost completely evacuating one of the vital scoring spaces, trusting your opponents hesitation to seize victory in the face of prophecy to defend yourself more effectively than brute force. It offers an interesting alternative to a regular victory, but doesn’t detract from the central game, instead offering an extra point of consideration to already interestingly complex risk-reward functions that the players were considering.
I really enjoy this sort of effect, in which something that’s superficially outside of the scope of a game is used in a way that enhances the core experience. There’s a danger that things of this nature (not just victory conditions) can be lost in the pursuit of simplicity and in particular in pursuit of game balance. Considering a wide range of possible victory conditions, still in the context of how they interact with the core mechanics of the game, can help to ensure that your game will have one or two these gems.