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Subject: THERE ARE ONLY THREE GAMES. rss

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Scott Huntington
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(The following thoughts are mine, although I do not claim to be the first to have thought them. I found them interesting, and so decided to post them here. Enjoy.)

Christopher Booker, a British journalist, published a book in the early '90s called "The Seven Basic Plots", which, while controversial, made a somewhat convincing argument that all the stories ever told fit under one of seven archetypes. All movies, books, anything with a narrative could be shoehorned into one of his seven meta-plots. While his work was both praised and criticised heavily, it made an impact regardless.

While I cannot claim to have spent as much time thinking about games as Booker did about narrative (he took three decades to write the book) I have given some thought about archetypes in board games, and have made the following conclusion:

THERE ARE ONLY THREE GAMES.

That is to say, when you boil down a game to its very essence, when you strip away everything to reveal its core, you will find one of three options.

There are many ways to categorise board games. Mechanisms. Theme. Prevalent components used. But if you look beyond all of that, you'll find a group of people that are engaging in a task to determine a winner or winners. There are only three ways of doing this.

1. THE RACE
A goal is set, which each player endeavors to achieve first. This may be scoring a certain number of points, moving to a certain space on the board, or even ridding yourself of cards first.
Examples of this archetype are Snakes and Ladders, Settlers of Catan or Uno.

2. THE TIMER
A time limit is set, and the player who did the best within this time wins. The time limit may be in the form of a number of rounds played, or cards drawn, or even physical time. Examples of this game include Carcassonne, Ticket To Ride, or most sports.

3. THE LAST MAN
An way to be eliminated from the game is set, and players try to be the last remaining one in the game. Examples of this include Risk, Monopoly.

I propose that every single board game (I define game here as an activity where winning parties are distinguished from losing parties at game's end) fits into one of these categories, or is a hybrid; King of Tokyo, for example, is a hybrid Race/Last Man, where players can strive for either goal. Co-operative games usually fall into the Race category: Pandemic is a race game where the game is trying to achieve one of its goals before you achieve yours. Hanabi, on the other hand, is a Timer game; beat certain scores the game sets to 'win' a certain rank. A lot of two player games could be described as both simultaneously a Race and Last Man game, as achieving your goal eliminates your opponent, and it can be a race to do that first.

As prefaced above, these thoughts are mine and were independently come upon, although I do not claim to be the only or first person to have come up with this. Let me know if there is any existing boardgame archetype studies out there!

Any thoughts on this are hugely welcome. Test out my theory and try to find a loophole or interesting games that stretch my theory!
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Nixie Nixie
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So... ¿is chess a "race" game?
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Curtis Mintkawetz
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Wouldn't chess be a last man game?
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Scott Huntington
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Even though it feels intuitively like a Last Man game, it could be counted as either/or in my opinion. You are racing to be the first to checkmate your opponent. But yeah chess could be either. It definitely feels more like Last Man due to the fact you are eliminating other pieces.

Kamisado or Hive, for example, are also Last Man = Race games that maybe feel more like race games.
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I wonder how role playing games fit into these categories. The goal is to create a story no winning condition is set.

I think some semi-coop games don't fit in as well(battlestar galactica, mansions of madness). In these you don't always know your goal from the start or it may change during the game.

Most computer games won't fit. Try to categorize DOOM, PacMan, Minesweeper, Myst, World of Warcraft, Sims etc. (or even some "Art" games eg.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Endless_Forest )
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I'm going to make a counterargument that is going to sound facetious, but I think it's true.

You're making arbitrary distinctions where none exist! All games are the same. You try to win. QED, there is only one kind of game.

My point is that you have found ways of grouping games, but your grouping is so general as to not be particularly useful.
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Scott Huntington
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Quote:
I wonder how role playing games fit into these categories. The goal is to create a story no winning condition is set.


Agreed. Role-playing games and storytelling activities don't really fall into my definition of a game here, which is an activity for multiple humans where an outcome is reached that determines a winner or a winning party.

As for computer games, that's really interesting. I think a lot of games, especially single player games like Myst or Doom, are a series of challenges you try to overcome. Maybe I should change the word "game" to the word "competition" and it would fit better.

As to Battlestar Galactica / Mansions or Madness / Betrayal at House on the Hill or games where your goal may change, I don't think it alters the archetype (which is the Race one), you just shift gears and start racing toward another goal.
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Bryan Thunkd
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You are essentially just stating that games have an end condition and lumping games by how they end. I'm not sure there's any usefulness to that. I can't imagine that I'll ever break down games according to these categories for any purpose.

And of course you're going to have an issue with hybrids, games that play for a set time limit but end sooner if someone hits a certain goal or eliminates the other players. There is probably a game that has all three endgame conditions.
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sechen_rob wrote:
You're making arbitrary distinctions where none exist! All games are the same. You try to win.


In The Mad Magazine Game the objective is to lose, and lose big time.
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Scott Huntington
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Quote:
You're making arbitrary distinctions where none exist! All games are the same. You try to win. QED, there is only one kind of game.

My point is that you have found ways of grouping games, but your grouping is so general as to not be particularly useful.


I am making distinctions in a way that I don't feel have been hugely explored. I'm not saying these thoughts are revolutionary, ground-breaking or important, but I did personally find them interesting, and thought other users may too. Hence my post.

I think archetypes such as this could be useful to game designers when thinking about the framework of a game, or for players when deciding what kind of game they tend to gravitate towards. I'm not saying BGG should rehaul their categories system based on my thoughts in the shower. If you have no use for it, then so be it

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Thunkd wrote:
You are essentially just stating that games have an end condition and lumping games by how they end. I'm not sure there's any usefulness to that. I can't imagine that I'll ever break down games according to these categories for any purpose.


I think it's great he's trying to categorize better. On my cell phone, I have separated ALL apps down to 3 categories (folders). Ponder that one for a while and maybe I'll let you know if you ask nicely, or you can guess. Being only 3 folders I guess I could have put them each on a separate home page, hmmmm.But then I couldn't use minimalistic text for folder icons.
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Scott Hill
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What about Fluxx?
Or Emperor's New Clothes?
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Sam Holden
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Those aren't really archetypes, they are end conditions and unsurprisingly if you make them broad there aren't many.

Go a little broader and you have two:

1. The game when all but one players are eliminated.
2. The game ends with multiple players still playing by meeting some end condition.

Heck go for just one:

* The game ends when the end condition is met.

But that's just a little redundant.

I'd argue you still only have two though, "THE RACE" is really just the "TIME LIMIT" where the time limit is a player reaching the end point and the score is how close to the end point you are.
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Scott Huntington
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Thunkd wrote:
You are essentially just stating that games have an end condition and lumping games by how they end. I'm not sure there's any usefulness to that. I can't imagine that I'll ever break down games according to these categories for any purpose.


Yes, that's what I'm doing Anything wrong with that?

Validity is not hog-tied to usefulness. I mean, sure, I will never categorise my games based on these three end conditions either, but I still find it an interesting thought, and not one I found posted on any forum yet.

I personally find enjoyment in thinking about this kind of stuff.
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The problem here is that this breakdown doesn't inform. Neither having a game in a category nor the process of classifying a game tell us anything of substance, especially with the inclusion of category 2, "games that end". You may as well have said there are three kinds of games: games with two players, games with red and green pieces, and games with more than two players or colors but no red and green.

Also, a number of games use both race and end timers at once. Some war games use all three.
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Hmmm. I don't think there really is a significant difference between the timer or the race. You can have the same game and simply change the end condition and that would make it change categories without it changing the game in any way (you can play to 10 points and see who gets there first or you can play 10 rounds and see who has the most points then).

You also have games like King of Tokyo where you can win by either "racing" to a number of points, or by eliminating all other players, so categorically I'm not sure it works as a dividing line.

Interesting thoughts though. I'll have to mull them over some more.
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Scott Huntington
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Quote:
The problem here is that this breakdown doesn't inform. Neither having a game in a category nor the process of classifying a game tell us anything of substance


When I started writing this post, I didn't feel I owed you or the public telling it anything of substance. I just felt like sharing my thoughts.

Quote:
You may as well have said there are three kinds of games: games with two players, games with red and green pieces, and games with more than two players or colors but no red and green.


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Amuk wrote:

Was beaten to it!
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Scott Huntington
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RidiQles wrote:
Hmmm. I don't think there really is a significant difference between the timer or the race. You can have the same game and simply change the end condition and that would make it change categories without it changing the game in any way (you can play to 10 points and see who gets there first or you can play 10 rounds and see who has the most points then).

You also have games like King of Tokyo where you can win by either "racing" to a number of points, or by eliminating all other players, so categorically I'm not sure it works as a dividing line.

Interesting thoughts though. I'll have to mull them over some more.


Interesting. I agree that you could modify games to make one type become another (as you said, play Settlers for 20 turns / half an hour instead of to 10 points). But is there a way to change or make a game so it fits a fourth category?

Also I mentioned KoT in my OP. I think it's both
 
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Julian Garcia
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But isn't the fact that you can have games switch categories without changing anything in the game except when you choose to end the game mean that perhaps the categories don't provide enough differentiation?

I do concede that having a game be a hybrid doesn't negate that the categories exist, but I'd say you really only have two categories in your OP: games where you are trying to get more points than your opponents (be it to a certain amount or in a given time limit) and games where you try to eliminate your opponent. And I don't think that covers all games though... there are games where you try to achieve a condition or solve a puzzle before your opponents.

Gotta run.
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Scorpion0x17 wrote:


The Ungame only uses a track (RACE) to determine what a person does; the TIMER only sets a limit so you don't go on forever; and no one loses--everyone wins! Even the sour-faced teenager who, for every question, answers "I hate this game, I don't want to play!"
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sdotco wrote:
Christopher Booker, a British journalist, published a book in the early '90s called "The Seven Basic Plots", which, while controversial, made a somewhat convincing argument that all the stories ever told fit under one of seven archetypes. All movies, books, anything with a narrative could be shoehorned into one of his seven meta-plots. While his work was both praised and criticised heavily, it made an impact regardless.


While I would not say your three categories are not informative, they do not really fulfill the same function as Booker's work. Lumping very distinct games into the same group like you do is unfair to the "basic plot" of each. The more standard definitions (e.g. worker placement vs. deck building) are more meaningful since the end goal of playing is not really to win, but to enjoy the game. (Winning just helps most people with that.)
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I would argue for one more category (just to prove Picard right) as I don't see a place for cooperative games in the list.

4. The Objective: An objective is set by the game scenario and play continues until the objective is achieved or failed.

Most cooperative games would fall into this category including Arkham Horror and Pandemic.
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