Recommend
1 
 Thumb up
 Hide
22 Posts

BoardGameGeek» Forums » Gaming Related » Recommendations

Subject: "Positive-Sum" Game, perhaps economic? rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Andre
United States
Oakland
California
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Planet Money, an NPR podcast I listen to that does interesting stories about economics, recently had a show all about Monopoly. They focused on what it teaches people, correctly and incorrectly, about money and the economy. One of the contributors complains about the randomness in a way that I'm sure will endear him to BGGers everywhere. :)

But the most interesting comment to my mind was that Monopoly is zero sum, while the real economy is very much positive sum. It got me to thinking, is their a game that does capture that aspect of real life? Some trading games have this (in Settlers, you'll do better with my two sheep and I'll simultaneously do better with your one wood), but there are clearly much stronger effects with multiple economic actors, and more complex and interesting interactions.

Anyone know of a game that creates these sort of things, where multiple players all benefit from some agreement among them, but is still very competitive?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mike Thompson
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Valar Morghulis
badge
Valar Dohaeris
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Genoa
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Tommy Occhipinti
United States
Decorah
Iowa
flag msg tools
Magic Fanboy
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
In some sense this is impossible, depending on your view of what exactly the payoff matrix for a game looks like. I think most peoples view is that the payoff for winning a game is 1, and losing is 0. In that sense, I can never improve my payoff without hurting someone else's. I might make more money or build a better engine as a result (like in Settlers) but this will not ultimately effect the zero-sum nature that games inherently have.

That wasn't at all what you were looking for, so I'll try to also give something more useful. In games like Key Harvest and Container (and others I'm sure) you run a shop where you sell things to your opponents. Since in both games you set the prices and since your opponents will only purchase your goods if they agree to your price, each purchase represents an improvement in the position of the two players involved. This is a lot like trading in Settlers, but without the diplomatic aspect.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls

Lacombe
Louisiana
msg tools
badge
Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Monopoly is zero-sum with regard to the player-to-player interaction, but not with regard to the player-to-game interaction. Money frequently enters and leaves the game without swapping hands.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls

Lacombe
Louisiana
msg tools
badge
Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
delirimouse wrote:
In some sense this is impossible, depending on your view of what exactly the payoff matrix for a game looks like. I think most peoples view is that the payoff for winning a game is 1, and losing is 0.


Not in games that have ties or shared wins.

Cosmic Encounter comes to mind, for instance.

It isn't economically themed or economic in nature, but it's totally possible for you to advance your own cause while simultaneously advancing someone else's.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ron Parker
United States
Fort Wayne
Indiana
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Is Monopoly really zero-sum? If everyone agrees ahead of time to buy any property they land on, then immediately mortgage it so no rent is collected, the game will eventually settle into a steady state that goes on forever with each player collecting $200 or so on each trip around the board. Even if you include the bank as a participant, you can't say it's zero-sum, because the rules explicitly state that the bank never goes broke and may "print" more money as needed. It'd be history's most boring game of Monopoly, which is really saying something, but on average the game economy would increase over time.

Heck, even in a "normal" game of Monopoly, the final sum of everyone's holdings is usually more than the $1500 per player you start with. Sure, it's not a realistic economic model, but it doesn't seem to me that it's strictly zero-sum.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ron Parker
United States
Fort Wayne
Indiana
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
delirimouse wrote:
I might make more money or build a better engine as a result (like in Settlers) but this will not ultimately effect the zero-sum nature that games inherently have.


Strictly cooperative games and Solitaire games are not inherently zero-sum.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
marc lecours
Canada
ottawa
ontario
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
Most two player non cooperative games are zero sum. There is one loser and one winner. No matter what you do it is zero sum. In other words all strategies will be zero sum strategies.

A reasonable player will always choose to gain 5 game dollars instead of 10 game dollars if the gain of 10 game dollars is accompanied by a larger gain for the opponent (or even an equal gain). In the real world this would not happen since the real world does not have just 2 players competing.

Multiplayer games like monopoly are not quite zero sum. There is a net loss. In a 4 player monopoly game there are one winner and 3 losers. So at the end of the game the average player has lost and is worse off than if he/she had not played. (There is of course more to a game than winning and losing. For example there is "fun" ).

To make a two player game non zero sum you have to include a metagame. There has to be a level outside the game that is involved. For example winning money or participating in a tournament. But if there is a net inflow of real money in a game then it is not really a 2 player game anymore. The "game" itself is now representing a third player who provides real money to our two players in the real game.

In the game "republic of Rome" there is an attempt to do this. If Rome has two many unresolved wars then all players lose. But in practice this does not make the players cooperate a whole lot. It might if the game was being played within a tournament with lots of players and having Rome fall would result in all the players being eliminated from the tournament. But without a metagame like real money or a tournament it is hard to avoid zero sum.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ron Parker
United States
Fort Wayne
Indiana
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
rubberchicken wrote:
In a 4 player monopoly game there are one winner and 3 losers.


There are no winners in Monopoly. There are only varying degrees of loss.
whistle
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cameron McKenzie
United States
Atlanta
Georgia
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Zero-sum refers to the payoff matrix of the game's outcome, and has nothing to do with the in-game resources.

In Monopoly, the only goal is to make everyone else go bankrupt while avoiding bankruptcy yourself.

In real life, the goal (economically) is to have more money. You don't really care if your neighbor goes bankrupt or not, unless he's actually affecting your profits in some way.

It's hard to design a game that isn't zero-sum because the typical attitude is that there is one winner (or one winning team) and if you didn't win then you losed. It doesn't matter how close you came to winning. Losing is still losing.

One easy way to get away from this is to think of payoffs in probabilities rather than in absolutes. In Settlers, even though only one of us can win, two players trading among each other can mutually increase their probabilities of winning (at the expense of the others). This is still constant sum (the only real difference between zero sum and constant sum is how we notate the payouts).

Another interesting game is Killer Bunnies. Since each carrot gives you a chance of winning at the end, you simply want to collect as many carrots as possible. Having the most isn't important. There's no incentive to gang up on the leader. You simply do what will earn you the most carrots, without worrying about how many carrots your opponent's have. This is much more like real life economics.

So what's the next step? A game with variable payouts instead of simply winners and losers. Designing a traditional game like this wouldn't be too interesting. Most players are interested in playing a game where there is a clear winner and loser. The best way to make a game like this is to have rewards with real value that are distributed based on the results.

Gambling games are like this. While Poker is still zero-sum, the payouts vary. Whether you win or lose during a hand is not the important thing to look at, but rather how much you win or lose. Without involving real world money, we could enforce a payout scheme with varying levels by giving players some kind of rating. This works best for a game in some electronic media.

As long as players care about improving their rating, their in-game actions should match the payout scheme modeled by the rating changes. It's important that these changes are understood by the players.

In Defenders of the Realm, everyone wins or loses together, but one person is the King's Champion and somehow wins "more" than everyone else. But the payout difference isn't really defined. If we gave player ratings for this game, and gave -5 for a loss, +5 for a win, and an additional +1 for King's Champion, players would significantly jeapordize the team win to go for the Champion, but they may slightly adjust their play to go for it.

On the other hand, if we say -1 for a loss, +1 for a win, and an additional +1 for King's Champion, players are much more likely to go after the Champion title.

The point I'm making is that the payout scheme modifies the behavior of players, so it is something that has to be given much consideration. That being said, one can design in-game mechanics that encourage behaviors which suggest certain payout schemes, even if that scheme isn't actually being used. At some point, it won't be followed, but we can do a pretty good job of capturing the experience.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mark McEvoy
Canada
Mountain
Ontario
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmb
Nonnormalizable wrote:
But the most interesting comment to my mind was that Monopoly is zero sum, while the real economy is very much positive sum.


I don't get this at all. Monopoly constantly adds and subtracts money from its economy in an asymmetric fashion. Every time you pass go $200 is added to the game economy; every time you land on Luxury Tax a fixed amount of money is taken from you. Likewise, selling a house gives you back less money than you paid to buy it - that's money removed from the economy.

A game with a zero-sum economy would be a game where some amount of money is distributed among the players at the start of the game and all transactions move this money between players, but none is ever added or removed. Like a Texas Hold Em tournament (without a rake).
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ryan Powers
United States
Marble
Minnesota
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
thatmarkguy wrote:
Nonnormalizable wrote:
But the most interesting comment to my mind was that Monopoly is zero sum, while the real economy is very much positive sum.


I don't get this at all. Monopoly constantly adds and subtracts money from its economy in an asymmetric fashion. Every time you pass go $200 is added to the game economy; every time you land on Luxury Tax a fixed amount of money is taken from you. Likewise, selling a house gives you back less money than you paid to buy it - that's money removed from the economy.

A game with a zero-sum economy would be a game where some amount of money is distributed among the players at the start of the game and all transactions move this money between players, but none is ever added or removed. Like a Texas Hold Em tournament (without a rake).


This has already been addressed, but a zero sum game can still have various resources that are not zero sum internal to the game. Simplistically, For me to win you have to lose = zero sum regardless of the mechanics of the game.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Sebastian Sohn
United States
culver city
CA
flag msg tools
Check out my class: https://www.canvas.net/courses/game-design-concepts
badge
How are you today?
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
MasterDinadan wrote:
Zero-sum refers to the payoff matrix of the game's outcome, and has nothing to do with the in-game resources.

In Monopoly, the only goal is to make everyone else go bankrupt while avoiding bankruptcy yourself.

...


Excellent analysis.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ron Parker
United States
Fort Wayne
Indiana
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
MasterDinadan wrote:
Zero-sum refers to the payoff matrix of the game's outcome, and has nothing to do with the in-game resources.


That's true if you take the game as a whole, but it seems to me, given his Settlers example, that the OP was referring to the nature of individual transactions within the game economy, not to the nature of the game itself.

But even taken as a whole, Monopoly isn't quite so cut-and-dried. It seems to me that one could construct a Monopoly game that, even with every player playing perfectly, would never end. It's obvious that there exist pathological games of Monopoly that never end. If some paths never end, is it even possible to sum all of the outcomes?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Sebastian Sohn
United States
culver city
CA
flag msg tools
Check out my class: https://www.canvas.net/courses/game-design-concepts
badge
How are you today?
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Nonnormalizable wrote:
Planet Money, an NPR podcast I listen to that does interesting stories about economics, recently had a show all about Monopoly. They focused on what it teaches people, correctly and incorrectly, about money and the economy. One of the contributors complains about the randomness in a way that I'm sure will endear him to BGGers everywhere.
...


I actually spent lots of time researching this and came up with this list: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/36199
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ron Parker
United States
Fort Wayne
Indiana
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
NateStraight wrote:
Monopoly is zero-sum with regard to the player-to-player interaction, but not with regard to the player-to-game interaction.


In a more-than-two-player game, I have Indiana, Kentucky, and Ventnor. You have Illinois, Marvin Gardens, and Atlantic. I'll trade you Ventnor for Illinois.

Granted, my present net worth doesn't increase as a result of that transaction, but my expected net worth at the end of the game certainly does, so the trade still has positive value to each of us. I suppose that is balanced by some negative value to the other players in the game, though.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ron D
United States
Davis
California
flag msg tools
Mercury is my dog's name.
badge
I like hats.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I've seen games in a league setting that might be described as not being zero sum. It is possible that Player A enters an individual game with his optimal outcome being to win, where Player B enters the same game with his optimal outcome being to do as much harm to Player C's standing within the league as is possible. When Players A, B, C, and D sit down to play the game, A and B can both get what they want, perhaps by cooperating to trash Player C and prop up Player A. They can both come out of the game better off than when they went in.

Of course, the overall league results are still zero sum.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cameron McKenzie
United States
Atlanta
Georgia
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
parkrrrr wrote:
NateStraight wrote:
Monopoly is zero-sum with regard to the player-to-player interaction, but not with regard to the player-to-game interaction.


In a more-than-two-player game, I have Indiana, Kentucky, and Ventnor. You have Illinois, Marvin Gardens, and Atlantic. I'll trade you Ventnor for Illinois.

Granted, my present net worth doesn't increase as a result of that transaction, but my expected net worth at the end of the game certainly does, so the trade still has positive value to each of us. I suppose that is balanced by some negative value to the other players in the game, though.


Exactly, that's kind of the point I was trying to make earlier.
Every transaction in Monopoly or Settlers of Catan is zero-sum. If you consider every player in the game, someone is being hurt by the transaction, or the transaction had no effect whatsoever.

In a three player game, if Players A and B both have a better chance of winning as a result of a transaction, player C MUST have a worse chance of winning, because there can be only one winner.

If the goal is merely to create a game which allows for transactions that benefit at least two players at the expense of one or more others, countless games qualify, and Monopoly is one of them.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Richard Milner
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
Avatar
NateStraight wrote:
delirimouse wrote:
In some sense this is impossible, depending on your view of what exactly the payoff matrix for a game looks like. I think most peoples view is that the payoff for winning a game is 1, and losing is 0.


Not in games that have ties or shared wins.

Cosmic Encounter comes to mind, for instance.

It isn't economically themed or economic in nature, but it's totally possible for you to advance your own cause while simultaneously advancing someone else's.


If you play a game with two players, and count a tie as value 0.5, then it is still zero sum.

OTOH if you count the tie as value 1 -- a non-zero-sum game -- you would expect the players to behave differently. However some people still see the value of a game as winning, rather than maximising their payoff. Such people playing a game with a payoff of 0.75 to the winner, 1.0 each for a tie and 0.25 to the loser, will play for a win.

 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Sicaria Occaeco
United States
Salt Lake City
Utah
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Brass: Lancashire
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Matt Davis
United States
New Concord
Ohio
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Indonesia
Santiago
Chinatown
Container
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Tony Chen
Taiwan
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmb
All of these games are zero sum. There is only one winner (or draws, whatever). The utility is the one win, 100 dollars in Monopoly is useless (other than help you win). As opposed to real life, where 100 dollars is 100 dollars.

I've been thinking about an economic game where the victory conditions are independent (rules-wise). There would still be competition over resources to help each player reach his condition, but they can also make mutually beneficial deals, and the purpose wouldn't be to net against other players, but to get the most themselves.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.