The collapse of Spanish Colonialism and an interpretation of Victory Points
Brad Metz
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many Many MANY games use victory points in some fashion. It appears to be the go to mechanic for determining a winner in the absence of a last man standing mechanic that seems so unpopular. Some games will use money (Capitalist pigs) and in most of these cases money makes sense as a measure for success. Obviously there's other games where money doesn't make sense at all - Carcasssone Hunters and Gatherers for instance. But victory points are inherently abstract and often hard to rationalize. Rule books sometimes try to justify their VPs (no no guys, it's a measure of the prestige of the nation -pff), and usually fail miserably.

That's the point of this list. I'm going to go through some of my favorite (VP based) games and try to place the VPs into the real (game) world context. I hope it will be a fun read for you and a fun exercise in distraction. I look forward to your additions.
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1. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:7.98 Overall Rank:26]
Brad Metz
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This one's a toughie. You're a farmer, but you gain points for having a balanced farm instead of overproducing in an area so you can make money. I think these make more sense if you consider yourself a farmer in a homesteading situation - completely self reliant and in the absence of support structures. Under these conditions specialization is unwise since eating only vegetables can lead to the rickets and failing to eat your carrots can make it hard to see at night. Thus a balance is what's going to see you through the winter I guess.
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2. Board Game: Alien Frontiers [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:191]
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In this game you're colonizing a planet ( I think I might be a secret imperialist looking at this list). You gain VPs for controlling regions and for planting colonies. Well possession is 9/10s and two ways you can control a planet is by occupying it and holding resources. Whoever does that more is the de facto if not de jure owner of the planet.
 
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3. Board Game: Android [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:1161]
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Oh man, you get VPs for making your life turn out shiny, pinning the guy you think is guilty, and freeing the guy you think is clean. Also for convincing the media that there's a conspiracy that makes you all important somehow. All I got here is that you're being rewarded for fulfilling the plot of Blade Runner.
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4. Board Game: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:440]
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Okay, this is getting rough. You score points for having meeples in control of fields. You score them for hanging by the river. You score them for building huts to dry (?) fish. You also score them for hanging out in forests (and getting gold and mushrooms helps this somehow). In this case VPs gotta be food. A big hint is how huts are scored (by the number of fish in all the rivers attached, that's a big ass net) and fields (by the number of untigered antelope and aurochs). Food collection does lead to full bellies and lots of breeding, so I can see that as a route to victory.
 
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5. Board Game: Ginkgopolis [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:354]
Brad Metz
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So, I've left this list untouched for awhile, but a recent video by Tom Vasel http://youtu.be/v9l_FkjuU20 made me decide to come back to it. In his otherwise reservedly positive review of Ginkgopolis he makes several strong placements as to the nonexistence of theme in this game. I had a fairly strong visceral rejection of this opinion and was about 50 characters over the comment space on Youtube before I decided to put my analysis (?) here. This is, after all, a list about shoehorning theme in so here we go.

Finding theme in a game really depends on what you view the narrative space of the player is (or their role in the game). The mechanics of this game put you in the hot seat of a futuristic development firm. Your starting characters are your key staff, and the cards in your hand represent plots of land or buildings for sale. When you discard the card, you're selling the plot. When you build on it, you're developing the property. When you develop, you're then leasing the property to a business, with color depending on the kind of business and effecting the kind of income you gain. Farbeit for me to call a designer wrong about how they seat the narrative of the game, but I do it all the time on this list so thereyougo. What the rules say the building tiles and resources represent is not particularly accurate in my mind. 1) Resources, these aren't goods used to build projects, but people and businesses utilizing and maintaining your property (call the workers). 2)Red buildings: Residential/educational/recruitment buildings: these are where you hire new personnel and liaise with other management/real estate firms to subcontract out to. 3)Blue: I look at this a more industrial than commercial where the end product are all of the materials to make the buildings you're developing (the game just black boxes all of that into a completed building tile). 4) Yellow: This is tech/commerce: these are the guys that are collecting rent for you on everything else and since you're in a green city, filing patents on all those new bay window designs you have and for that you get...Money!

If you look at the card bonuses, particularly the end game cards I think the idea of "success points" as an analog for money is fair. When you construct a floor, you get the card resulting in some bonus. See the bonus is intimately linked with the business that you let the property out too. For a lot of those cards, the bonuses are the focussed product of the sector of the economy you're building in (red, yellow, blue) but as you attract larger and larger businesses (re: higher numbered cards) there's increased profit and income in addition to the product you're already paying for. For urbanization, when you expand the city you gain returns in goods and services.

What I think is going on here is that the designer blackboxed the nitty gritty of production and construction to focus more on the managerial/organizational factors involved in running a firm like this. So what he did was consolidate all resources you buy into completed buildings like tiles, all personnel running the businesses into the barrels called resources (human resources, perhaps?) and all the incidental kickbacks in terms of monetary profit, tax breaks from the city, and stock price into a non-transferable currency called success points.

Although I typically don't like nontransferable VPs, I can understand why this was done in this game: You already are conducting manifold transactions that are intimately tied up with the products you're receiving as bonuses on the cards and the leaves you get are excess that are more or less personal profit. The effect is that he's made it so the players are the heads of an incorporated business (LLC I believe is the proper term) and as such their personal assets are held separate from those of the business itself.

Anyway, this is a bit off the cuff, but FWIW is my sense of what VPs are in this game and you can see I had to in this case somewhat restructure what's presented in the rulebook to make a narrative that makes sense to me. That may mean (now that I've put the thought into it) that the theme is a little thin on the ground on this one, but I still rather think that the designer wanted the player to focus on a specific role within the "urban planner" companies as he sees it and therefore put these restraints in order to accomplish that. It's an interesting choice that may or may not be driven more by mechanical desires than those of theme, but in any case I'd love to read your thoughts on this.
 
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6. Board Game: Outpost [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:1792]
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In this one your VPs come from the buildings you build and the factories you operate. I find this one particularly interesting because it links your victory not to your personal economic development, but the development of the nation or planet you're building the outpost for. Think about it this way: the bigger the outpost, the more materials refined, researched, or mined, and the more economic (or robotic) dominance your home government will have over the others. The arbitrary VP cap (70 I think) is a little tougher to rationalize. It's tough to see a bunch of governments just saying, "Okay America, you win -we're all just going to do it your way now." Oops, went all Jingo there for a sec.
 
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7. Board Game: Power Struggle [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:1036]
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Huh, in this one you get VPs for being corrupt, being chairman, being a consultant, having the most employees in your pocket, having the most Board members in your pocket, and having the most shares all while you're preforming actions to actively destroy the company from the inside out. I can only suggest that the player represents a minor demon trying to earn its horns by tempting an entire corporation into oblivion.
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8. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:22]
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This is the titular item and the one I think I have most fleshed out. I usually describe the endgame conditions of Puerto Rico as follows: When the "colonists" run out, that represents the collapse of the slave import. When the VPs run out that represents the inability of the Spanish Crown to pay returns (in land grants, titles, money) on your hard work oppressing the Puerto Ricans. Interestingly in this game, you have money, but the money is not a victory condition. This suggests that players are gaining prowess with the Spanish crown, but their rewards are tied into the success of the colony, suggesting that their all some Governor of the colony or something whistle
 
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9. Board Game: Roma [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:987] [Average Rating:6.78 Unranked]
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In this you're gaining and losing VPs in a push pull mechanism to see who gets to wear the purple. In this one it seems that VPs are analagous to Senate support. The senate installed the emperor right? I forget my Gibbon.
 
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10. Board Game: Small World [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:215] [Average Rating:7.29 Unranked]
Brad Metz
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Holy Cow. I...don't even know anymore. Okay, here goes: Players represent the Hand of God. Their job is to make the most confusing, contradictory archaeological record for the subsequent civilization rise after the end of the game. The more weird species pairings and bizarre structures they can throw all over the world, and then grind them into tar pits for later, the better.
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11. Board Game: Way Out West [Average Rating:6.15 Overall Rank:4033]
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In this one you get VPs for owning buildings, owning cattle, and controlling towns (especially big ones). This is in line with the idea that the player is a mastermind behind a big ranching firm and has to keep a handle on the infrastructure in order to continue to turn a tidy profit. You also get VPs for having the most money (!) and having the most wanted posters (?). The wanted posters: I think this is another indirect measure of business prowess. The player personally isn't wanted, but rather his employees are. The more feared his employees, the less likely some danged farmer is going to try to build a fence across one of his routes.
 
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