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Subject: Solving The Player Elimination Problem rss

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Pete Belli
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Multiple player empire building games are extremely popular and have been part of the board game hobby for decades.

Since the early days when Risk first appeared in the marketplace a common problem has plagued strategy gamers who enjoy multiple player contests: player elimination.

A four or five player empire building game can end quickly for one regime if a couple of the other powers get in position to administer a killing blow. An even more horrible fate awaits the player who is just clinging to a handful of pitiful provinces with no hope of playing the spoiler, much less winning a victory.

Some interesting design techniques have been developed to handle this situation. In the classic Vinci players can choose to place their current empire in decline when the time seems right. In the vintage Barbarian, Kingdom & Empire game of the Roman era a player can allow his or her advanced empire to collapse and enter the game as a new barbarian invader.

I have blended some of these excellent ideas in Protector of the Empire, my game of conquest and diplomacy in Ancient China, Korea, and Japan.




This image shows the orange empire in serious difficulty. The blue empire has massed large armies in the Xianbei and Xiongnu provinces. The orange empire has few soldiers to defend the region between this horde and the orange imperial capital at Qaraqorum. The orange player has one challenging option: the existing empire can go into decline and the orange player can enter the map as an invader... the black arrows point to one possible invasion route in the Tarim Basin.




This image shows the rebirth of the orange empire. The former orange provinces are now under the control of feudal lords. The invading orange forces enter the map in the Tarim Basin, sweeping aside any armies already in that region. The black arrows show some of the adjacent areas which can be attacked by the advancing swarm of orange army units.




The threat of a destabilizing imperial collapse can also be used as a diplomatic weapon. In this image the green empire is under pressure from two nearby powers. The green emperor can seize enough tribute points to create the forces needed to defend against one of these kingdoms but could not hope to survive a one-two punch. The green empire approaches the yellow empire with a treaty. If yellow will not attack the green provinces the green empire will remain intact and turn to deal with the advancing purple menace. However, if yellow refuses this offer the green empire will collapse and the newly arrived green invaders will strike in the Yunnan province (black arrows) near the yellow homeland.

Thank you for taking a few minutes to read this lengthy article.

Any comments would be welcome.


.
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Thomas Taylor
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I generally just like to make the elimination...permanent.

*reloads*
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Wendell
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The BKE mechanic where a player is never out of the game is a good one I think. This game looks cool Pete!
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Brian Pool
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Just serve those big Costco bran muffins to everyone...Presto! No more player 'elimination'!

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Kevin J
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It sounds like a good idea to me. It sounds like the player is giving up what might be a good position for a "second chance". It kind of sucks to have territories on the border though, since you can get attacked by any player at any time. Hopefully it wouldn't get abused so that every player will just attack without abandon since they know that no matter how badly they are beaten down, they can start over again in a new area.
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Russ Williams
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Or it can be seen as a feature, not a problem. To me it simply depends on whether player elimination makes sense for the game design and the goals of the designer. To say that player elimination is a "problem" makes assumptions about the situation in which the game is being played; it seems like wanting to "solve" the "2-player-only" problem of Go or Chess, or wanting to solve the "more than 2-players-required" problem of other games, or "solve" the "it's too short" problem of a filler game, or the "it's too long" problem of a monster wargame.

To name a classic example, Titan would seem worse without player elimination.
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James Hutchings
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A common Risk variant gives each player a 'target' player (which is secret). Each player is the target of exactly one other player. Once any player is eliminated the game ends, and the winner is whichever player has the eliminated player as their target.

This can be applied to virtually any multi=player conflict game.
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Steve Duff
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Frankly, I think player elimination sucks. If a game has it, I'll never even play it, let along purchase it.

I have a hard enough time getting my friends together for a 4 or 6 player night, without having 1 or 2 of them sitting there doing nothing waiting for the rest of us to hurry up and finish.
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Chris Ferejohn
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russ wrote:
Or it can be seen as a feature, not a problem. To me it simply depends on whether player elimination makes sense for the game design and the goals of the designer. To say that player elimination is a "problem" makes assumptions about the situation in which the game is being played; it seems like wanting to "solve" the "2-player-only" problem of Go or Chess, or wanting to solve the "more than 2-players-required" problem of other games, or "solve" the "it's too short" problem of a filler game, or the "it's too long" problem of a monster wargame.

To name a classic example, Titan would seem worse without player elimination.


Yes but...these are games. You usually get people together to play them. Some of them, *especially* these empire building/global war sorts of games, can take a long long time. If one of the people that you ostensibly got together to game with has to spend the last 3 hours of the game watching TV, reading, or playing video games, that strikes me as a problem. Now sure, you could play at a con or game day where the eliminated player could say "thanks for the game" and head off to play something else, but that is not the only situation in which people might want to play these sorts of games.

As for the other "problems," designers are solving those "problems" all the time. There are plenty of games out there where someone wanted to make a good combinatorial game that could play with more than 2, or make a good 2-player variant for a popular multi-player game, or take a light filler with an interesting mechanic and expand it into something longer and deeper, or take a game that seems a bit long and come up with a more streamlined version (Vinci->Small World jumps to mind immediately).

Point being, plenty of people are interested in a multi-player civ building game which doesn't have player elimination. Are you saying that all civ building games are going to have player elimination so get used to it or play something else?
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Russ Williams
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cferejohn wrote:
Yes but...these are games. You usually get people together to play them. Some of them, *especially* these empire building/global war sorts of games, can take a long long time. If one of the people that you ostensibly got together to game with has to spend the last 3 hours of the game watching TV, reading, or playing video games, that strikes me as a problem. Now sure, you could play at a con or game day where the eliminated player could say "thanks for the game" and head off to play something else, but that is not the only situation in which people might want to play these sorts of games.

Agreed. And a single group meeting with nothing else to do if a player is eliminated and forced to sit bored for hours is also not the only situation in which people might want to play these sorts of games.

Quote:
Are you saying that all civ building games are going to have player elimination so get used to it or play something else?

No, I'm saying that there very often seems an automatic assumption that player elimination is bad and is a problem to be solved, so I'm just saying "Hey, it's sometimes good to examine one's assumptions."

And that for many games, player elimination does make sense.

That's all.
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Pete Belli
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Thanks to everyone for the stimulating discussion!

Quote:
A common Risk variant gives each player a 'target' player (which is secret). Each player is the target of exactly one other player. Once any player is eliminated the game ends, and the winner is whichever player has the eliminated player as their target.


Interesting.

Looking at Protector of the Empire from the perspective of "I'll eliminate a player and win!" would be outside the intended play experience that the game was designed to create.

This game (like History of the World and other epic sweep of human events titles) covers hundreds of years which include the rise and decline of great powers. It is inevitable that in the ebb and flow of civilization building that occurs during this lengthy historical period an empire might approach collapse.

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Pete Belli
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Quote:
It kind of sucks to have territories on the border though, since you can get attacked by any player at any time.


The number of "invasion" areas is limited

The invasion area in the northeast corner of the board is Jurchen, where the people known to history as the Manchu dynasty entered the map.

The northwest corner contains the Tarim Basin, a natural invasion route along the Silk Road.

The southwest corner is the area where the Nanchao kingdom began a period of conquest that peaked with the capture of Sichuan.

The southeast section of the map would include the arrival area of the Europeans... if they enter through the play of an event card the game ends immediately!

There are "Revolt" event cards that can affect interior provinces but the armies involved in these revolts are not under the control of any player.

Quote:
Hopefully it wouldn't get abused so that every player will just attack without abandon since they know that no matter how badly they are beaten down, they can start over again in a new area.


A player can win the game by creating an advanced civilization and expanding trade with warfare kept to a minimum... or a player can win by attacking like the Mongol horde. However, knocking another player down does not (as shown in the original post) knock that player out. Getting your Mongol groove on with another empire can be dangerous.

As so often happens in this part of the world, moderation and the middle path can be the way to success.
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Marshall Miller
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What if everyone starts in just a few central provinces. As each province collapses, they are can restart from a new province placed on the edge of the board. When all the additional provinces are gone, the game is over. This would provide a built in clock for the game. Also, since all the provinces would be represented by interlocking tiles, there would be some strategy regarding the best time to go into collapse to get a different province with better resources. If you captured two provinces, you could let one collapse to add another adjacent one and then recapture the first.

[edit] If later provinces are slightly better, that might provide a catch up mechanism as well...
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marc lecours
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Even without player elimination you get almost the same problem when a player falls way behind in victory points and cannot possibly catch up. The player is feeling eliminated yet must continue playing to be a good sport. Some games are just so fun that you enjoy playing even if you have no chance.

Another factor is the length of the game. Players can usually tolerate not having a chance to win for a short time, but not for hours. The same can be said for player elimination. If the game only lasts for 15 minutes (or less) after a player is eliminated then player elimination is fine. I really don't mind being eliminated in werewolf.

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Richard Irving
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The biggest myth of player elimination is that it is always good or always bad. It depends on the social situation you are playing the game in:

- If you are playing at a convention or a large game group and you get eliminated, no big deal. Soon there will be another game to play. Some friends might finish another game so can join them etc. Player elimination is not a problem in this situation.

- If you've invited 4 friends to your house to play a game. When is eliminated, now you have a guest who is not being entertained. It may be a while until someone else gets the axe in the main game and can join other eliminated player in another game. When third player loses, the other eliminees may be involved in a game they can't quit....
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Aaron Brooks
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pete belli wrote:

This image shows the rebirth of the orange empire. The former orange provinces are now under the control of feudal lords. The invading orange forces enter the map in the Tarim Basin, sweeping aside any armies already in that region. The black arrows show some of the adjacent areas which can be attacked by the advancing swarm of orange army units.


Seems good, but now what about the wood colored player, or the yellow player. I know you can't see the whole board, but what if on their turn they wanted to be reborn as well? Would they have to come in on a different spot? Did orange have to fight any of the yellow blocks? What if yellow had had 5-6 blocks in the Tarim Basin? I like the idea, but seems kind of sucky for the yellow guy.
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Bill Eldard
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
Frankly, I think player elimination sucks. If a game has it, I'll never even play it, let along purchase it.

I have a hard enough time getting my friends together for a 4 or 6 player night, without having 1 or 2 of them sitting there doing nothing waiting for the rest of us to hurry up and finish.


The acceptance of player elimination is certainly dependent on the group. If the players don't mind, it's not a problem.

Our group tends to avoid player elimination games. We're more likely to play lite-civ themed games like Vinci and Mare Nostrum, which have no player elmination.

As we've seen in prior BGG discussions on this topic, some folks (not all) prefer player elimination games because crushing opponents is enjoyable. To each, his own.

Personally, at this late stage in my gaming career, the act of playing a good multiplayer game carries a social gratification that player elimination can only harm.
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Ryan Powers
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Eldard wrote:

As we've seen in prior BGG discussions on this topic, some folks (not all) prefer player elimination games because crushing opponents is enjoyable. To each, his own.

Personally, at this late stage in my gaming career, the act of playing a good multiplayer game carries a social gratification that player elimination can only harm.


I always see stuff like this and it really puzzles me.

How does removing them from the game by necessity remove them from being social?

Or to take the flip side, how does keeping someone in a game in a crappy position increase their ability to be social? Unless you count trying to talk the hopeless player into kingmaking as solid social interaction.

Needing to still be in the game to be part of the social experience says far more to me about the players than about the negatives of player elimination.
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Dan Cain
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I think the mechanic for this game works rather well, it makes a lot of sense it terms of the historical theme of the game. Invading armies during the time frame I think the game is set in was a common accurence, and usually they stayed and integrated into the culture that was already present, although I am wondering if the orange player in the above example would have lost anything but positional advantage. It seems to me if you send one of your established provinces in decline, you should lose more than just the position.


I think player elimination is a "problem" in games as well. I am presntly at work on a new game of my own design which is called "The Empire of Hugs". No one ever loses, because everyone always gets hugs.

LA
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Steve
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There is no player elimination problem.
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Eric Jome
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russ wrote:
Or it can be seen as a feature, not a problem.


I dunno... it seems very clear that player elimination is clearly an inferior design. It may not matter much to some players, but that is a matter of taste. It is not a matter of taste, however, to come to the conclusion that player elimination is bad.

When you get together to play games, the point is that everyone play. If one player is eliminated, they aren't playing. The purpose of playing games is ruined for that person, at least until the other players can finish their game and include that person in another round.

In this way, player elimination is definitely bad. It excludes people from the game. We might accept this flaw or even enjoy it, but it is still in general a flaw.
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Ryan Powers
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cosine wrote:
It is not a matter of taste, however, to come to the conclusion that player elimination is bad.


Bullshit. 100% pure, Grade A, unmitigated bullshit. It certainly *is* a matter of taste. As the conflicting opinions here show.

But you apparently can't deal with the fact that your taste isn't some absolute truth and so need to make statements like that.
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Bill Eldard
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keethrax wrote:
Eldard wrote:

As we've seen in prior BGG discussions on this topic, some folks (not all) prefer player elimination games because crushing opponents is enjoyable. To each, his own.

Personally, at this late stage in my gaming career, the act of playing a good multiplayer game carries a social gratification that player elimination can only harm.


I always see stuff like this and it really puzzles me.

How does removing them from the game by necessity remove them from being social?


They're welcome to be social; more likely, they'll be bored. I don't know about you, but my leisure time is too valuable to sit around watching others play a game. If I'm in the game, even in a hopeless position, I'm still interacting with the group and learning how to improve my game.

keethrax wrote:
Or to take the flip side, how does keeping someone in a game in a crappy position increase their ability to be social? Unless you count trying to talk the hopeless player into kingmaking as solid social interaction.

Needing to still be in the game to be part of the social experience says far more to me about the players than about the negatives of player elimination.


Bingo! In our group, it IS about the players. We have some very skilled gamers and we enjoy playing each other. We all play to win, but winning isn't the objective of getting together for gaming. Playing and interacting is the objective.
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Ryan Powers
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Eldard wrote:

Bingo! In our group, it IS about the players. We have some very skilled gamers and we enjoy playing each other. We all play to win, but winning isn't the objective of getting together for gaming. Playing and interacting is the objective.


Which is all fair enough. You'll note I didn't say it said anything bad about the particular group of players, just that it was about them and their preferences. I'm not suggesting you go out and get a player elimination game. I'm just suggesting that some of us have no problems being social and enjoying time with our friends even if we've been knocked out of the game and so don't see it in the same light.
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Eric Jome
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apeloverage wrote:
A common Risk variant gives each player a 'target' player...


True. I think we've seen player elimination fixed in a variety of ways in the past. The Vinci method is very clever, but there is also;

1) Game ends when first player is eliminated.
2) A player's core holdings are very easy for them to take over but very hard for others.
3) Points are scored in rounds and you choose to score points early to build a lead and expect to be knocked back later as others catch up.
4) Players wager on the success or failure of certain factions - if one faction pulls ahead, everyone safely bets on that.

I could probably add a few more off the top of my head...
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