Kris Rhodes
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I get the impression from reading comments here and there at BGG that some people don't like a game where players are encouraged to directly do bad (in-game) things to whoever is leading. I'm posting this to ask whether this is a generally acknowledged game design flaw, or whether it's generally thought of as a matter of taste, or whether it is generally thought that it can be done either well or poorly?

I ask, of course, because I'm sketching out a game which, it is turning out, has a strong element of "punish the leader." Well, the game is themed around academia, getting tenure, and trying to avoid having to teach classes, so backstabbing seems a natural fit...

But should I abandon this approach out of hand? Or are there _good_ games where getting too far out in the lead is likely to get you punished by other players?

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Speusippus wrote:
I get the impression from reading comments here and there at BGG that some people don't like a game where players are encouraged to directly do bad (in-game) things to whoever is leading. I'm posting this to ask whether this is a generally acknowledged game design flaw, or whether it's generally thought of as a matter of taste, or whether it is generally thought that it can be done either well or poorly?

I ask, of course, because I'm sketching out a game which, it is turning out, has a strong element of "punish the leader." Well, the game is themed around academia, getting tenure, and trying to avoid having to teach classes, so backstabbing seems a natural fit...

But should I abandon this approach out of hand? Or are there _good_ games where getting too far out in the lead is likely to get you punished by other players?


The closer you get to Munchkin, the more you will be compared to Munchkin.

"Take That" games, especially if the game has a limited number of "Take That"s devolve into the 3rd or 4th person to try to win being the eventual victor.
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Kris Rhodes
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byronczimmer wrote:
Speusippus wrote:
I get the impression from reading comments here and there at BGG that some people don't like a game where players are encouraged to directly do bad (in-game) things to whoever is leading. I'm posting this to ask whether this is a generally acknowledged game design flaw, or whether it's generally thought of as a matter of taste, or whether it is generally thought that it can be done either well or poorly?

I ask, of course, because I'm sketching out a game which, it is turning out, has a strong element of "punish the leader." Well, the game is themed around academia, getting tenure, and trying to avoid having to teach classes, so backstabbing seems a natural fit...

But should I abandon this approach out of hand? Or are there _good_ games where getting too far out in the lead is likely to get you punished by other players?


The closer you get to Munchkin, the more you will be compared to Munchkin.

"Take That" games, especially if the game has a limited number of "Take That"s devolve into the 3rd or 4th person to try to win being the eventual victor.

Hm... In my game, as it's currently e(or de)volving, it appears likely that "take that" moves will be available to every player fairly regularly, though not necessarily on every turn. Such that even if someone was ahead but was batted back by someone else, he is almost sure to have a chance to do some "take that"ing of his own in fairly short order. Is that the opposite of what you mean by "limited number of 'take that's'?"

 
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Aaron Morgan
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byronczimmer wrote:
"Take That" games, especially if the game has a limited number of "Take That"s devolve into the 3rd or 4th person to try to win being the eventual victor.

Kill Doctor Lucky, I so wanted to love you.

If there is a good back-and-forth struggle between the player in the lead and the others, and it fits the theme of the game, it can be a good thing.

But if gameplay boils down to the losing players throwing out every attack they have to drag the leader back to their level, and it's not an interesting conflict, you're headed down the wrong path, IMO.
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Speusippus wrote:
byronczimmer wrote:
Speusippus wrote:
I get the impression from reading comments here and there at BGG that some people don't like a game where players are encouraged to directly do bad (in-game) things to whoever is leading. I'm posting this to ask whether this is a generally acknowledged game design flaw, or whether it's generally thought of as a matter of taste, or whether it is generally thought that it can be done either well or poorly?

I ask, of course, because I'm sketching out a game which, it is turning out, has a strong element of "punish the leader." Well, the game is themed around academia, getting tenure, and trying to avoid having to teach classes, so backstabbing seems a natural fit...

But should I abandon this approach out of hand? Or are there _good_ games where getting too far out in the lead is likely to get you punished by other players?


The closer you get to Munchkin, the more you will be compared to Munchkin.

"Take That" games, especially if the game has a limited number of "Take That"s devolve into the 3rd or 4th person to try to win being the eventual victor.

Hm... In my game, as it's currently e(or de)volving, it appears likely that "take that" moves will be available to every player fairly regularly, though not necessarily on every turn. Such that even if someone was ahead but was batted back by someone else, he is almost sure to have a chance to do some "take that"ing of his own in fairly short order. Is that the opposite of what you mean by "limited number of 'take that's'?"


It's really hard to say without the rules/components in front of me.

I just know people prefer building to being knocked down, and prefer winning on their own then due to a king maker play because someone pulled a punch or 'let' someone else win because they grew weary of the slugfest.

Look at Lunch Money, The Great Brain Robbery (or most later Cheapass games) and the aforementioned Munchkin for similar mechanics.

They wear out their welcome very quickly.
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Jim Hansen
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I think a little "punishing the leader" can be OK. The first example that comes to mind is Catan where everyone can refuse to trade with the leader or rob the leader, but these obstacles are possible to overcome if you have a big enough lead or if you're skilled/lucky enough.

But like the PP said, I would avoid getting anywhere near Munchkin territory where there are a finite number of cards that prevent the leader from winning and the actual winner is determined by whose turn it is when the cards run out.

On the contrary, nobody want to play a game where you can't catch the leader and the winner is determined half an hour before the game ends.
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Andreas Krüger
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Risk Legacy is pretty much built around the concept of bashing the leader.
It works, but you must make sure that there is always something to do, that the leader has a chance to pull off a surprise victory and that there is always an incentive to break or create an alliance.
 
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Eric Brosius
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Kris, if your game is highly thematic, so that beating up on the leader is an obvious and compelling mechanism, many people will accept it on that basis, just as they accept blindly drawing tiles out of a bag in Thebes since it's an archaeology game. It sounds like this may be the case.

But in any game where the ability of the other players to beat up on the leader is so strong that no one can win while being perceived to be the leader, then all the other parts of the game become effectively irrelevant and the game comes down to "fool people into thinking you aren't a threat to win when you actually are." All games of this type are effectively identical, so you would be creating another game that is effectively the same as Munchkin or Kill Doctor Lucky. Since the people who like this sort of game already own one or both of these, and the people (like me) who dislike this genre hate it with a passion, you might find your design doesn't get the enthusiastic reception you are hoping for.

I don't mind games with a "stop the leader" mechanism, but it can't be so strong as to overpower the rest of the game or I won't play it.
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Clem Fandango
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The game I've seen with the most effective and brutal evening-up of players is Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York

There I've had a huge lead reduced to coming third. I wasn't sure it wasn't too weighted toward evening-up as even if the winner is only 1 point ahead they can be punished by the game.
 
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Kris Rhodes
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Thanks for the replies everyone, I think I'm getting a good picture of the logical landscape of the issue. Determining whether this game makes it impossible for the leader to win will probably have to come through during some playtesting, but at least now I know exactly what to be watching for.

I actually have one mechanic right now--Department Chair Nominations--which requires the explicit cooperation of more than one person to cause something bad to happen to a player (bad but fairly minor--basically they lose an action per turn while Chair, but on the other hand have a certain requirement automatically fulfilled each turn). I'm nervous about this one, but I have an idea now what exactly to watch for.
 
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Drew Hicks
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The difference between the "punish the leader" mechanics in Munchkin versus in something like "Power Grid" (where the game does a lot of the screwing-over) or "Settlers of Catan" (where the screwage is all political -- not trading with them, placing in order to hamper them) is two-fold

A: Power
B: Predictability

In Munchkin, the "take-that" effects are both powerful (losing to a monster nullifies your turn and kills you) and unpredictable (did players draw attack cards? the power varies from +2 to Double Power, and any number of players can have them)

Because of the combination of power and unpredictability, (as well as the game mechanics themselves) it's impossible to try to take other players into account when winning; Instead, you end up saving up cards, and the other players do so as well, and at some point you think "Maybe it's enough..." and just cut loose, hoping nobody else drew into power.

In Power Grid, being in the lead is bad for you, but its always bad for you the same way. Other players can place in order to hamper you, but that's also possible to account for. The "take-that" elements are powerful, but predictable in their power level.

In Settlers, players can block you, not trade with you, and put the robber on you. The robber is unpredictable (coming from Soldier cards and 7's, two different sources of randomness) but his power level is generally lower since you have counter-measures such as spreading out, and not holding too many cards in hand.

Games where the amount of "take-that" you're likely to receive is consistent in both power level and availability are the most likely to avoid being Munchkin-like slugfests. Either one of those can slowly slip away, adding variability on when the powers appear or how strong they are, but the more variable that becomes, the more likely it is that the game will devolve into an stockpiling arms-race.
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Terren C
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I personally think your idea centering around the politics of academia is quite fresh and interesting. You should pursue it now and ask questions later.
 
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DoctorMike Reddy
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Speaking as an academic and a game designer, and not brilliant at either, I'd say it would be better to "rubber band" it than "blue shell" the leader. Terms refer to Mario Kart. Your homework is to research these and discuss.
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DoctorMike Reddy
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While walking the dog I pondered the punish leader negative approach often taken by those trailing, especially problematic where player elimination is prohibited. So, I wondered if there was a mechanism that would allow meaningful strategic play for those left behind, which was more positive.

Here's a suggestion:

Players are collecting a limited resource, but only the player with the most wins. However, they only win what losig players have collected. Therefore, if you know you've no chance you can divest yourself, effectively limiting another's gain. And racing against someone else for first place risks giving them a bigger victory, which requires balancing risk/reward.

Imagine collecting suits of playing cards (13 of each). If I get 7 I've guaranteed ownership, but limited myself to 6 max VPs. If I just tip the balance in a neck-and-neck battle, say 4 player, with 4 v 3 lots of 3 then I get 9 VPs! However, if I'm too obviously in the lead, other players may well feed me cards (self delusion) or dump my stock. Sounds a bit like the stock market!

In your context, I was thinking that this could fit grant proposals; an academic nightmare, as getting them is often a curse because you have to do a lot of stuff to please the grant providers thst is nothing to do with the research!
 
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Greg
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I agree with pretty much everything said about, but I think there's something important that's been touched on but not said outright:

You don't want to create a dominant strategy which relys on someone else getting ahead. A game can stall and be no fun at all if no player is willing to try to get close to winning because they know that the punishment they'll get will outstrip the rewards of trying.
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Jeff Warrender
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The key factor that I don't think has come up in the discussion yet is opportunity cost. (As it happens, I'm probably going to post a blog post about this sometime this week at The Bell Foundry.) "Take that!" mechanisms often have a disproportionately low opportunity cost, which means that you give up relatively little to whack the other player, or it's hard to win without whacking the other player, so you just go ahead and whack the player. "First across the finish line" games are prone to this as well, and because many games that include one also include the other, the problem compounds. Games like Illuminati (Second Edition) are a good example of this: there are power cards which you receive randomly, some of which make it very easy to disrupt a player's victory attempt, and there's no reason not to play it and no cost to play it, so if a player is going for the win, you play it. And as BT said, typically by the 3rd or 4th player everyone's whammy cards are spent and that player coasts to the win.

If I were to suss out a mechanism given the theme you indicated that has "take that" without too low an opportunity cost, it would work something like this: Perhaps the goal of the game is to be elected Department Chair, and there are six NPC voters who will vote for the chair. When your attempt to be elected department chair comes up, you roll a die for each, and if you roll a 6, that voter gives you his/her support. BUT, different stuff in your dossier influences the voters differently; one voter may look at papers, so every paper you've written reduces his "hit" roll by 1; another may look at teaching, so every course you've taught reduces his "hit" roll by 1. And so on. But perhaps other players can play a "whammy" card on you or perhaps on a voter, that adds to the difficulty of that voter voting for you; e.g. one of your papers is discredited, or you have a low student approval rating from one of your classes, or whatever. But playing a whammy card on you costs an action, which the player could instead be using to lobby the voter to his own cause (e.g. taking the voter out to dinner) or by working to improve his own dossier. The key to the idea is that it works in the context of the die roll -- you aren't flat-out blocking the other player, but simply reducing his chance of success.

Obviously this needs much more thought, but the basic point is simply that there is probably a way to make it work, as long as there's an appropriate opportunity cost to the negative actions.
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Matthew Roskam
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It seems to me that punish the leader is a core mechanic to King of Tokyo. The tension of many of the decisions in the game is to advance yourself or attack the monster in Tokyo before they can runaway with the victory, and it works really well there.

I think when it doesn't work in a game is when it isn't really designed into the game, but the game design unintentionally creates the runaway situations that result in kingmaking and attack the leader strategies because there is not a good catch up mechanism or the game is inherently unbalanced.
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Some will disagree, but I love how Alien Frontiers handles this. You can attack the leader, but there is always an opportunity cost.

Raiding - Those three dice may get you a modest boost while hurting the other player, but what could you have done with them at other orbital stations?
Discarding Tech - If you attack the leader, you lose using the ability on this card, one you invested dice in acquiring earlier during the game.
Colony Placement - If you attack the leader by placing a colony to offset their colony, you are probably costing yourself a territory benefit somewhere else. Is this better? ... can be hard to judge!

A common argument I hear is: "That means I need to look weaker than I am, to avoid being a target, which means playing sub-optimally."

No, one does not want to play sub-optimally, but one might want to play defensively. Choosing an action because it offers some other benefit than victory points should not always be equated with sub-optimal play.

The main difference between AF, and let's say Munchkin since it is used so much above, is that in Munchkin you just always play the "mean" card. You got that card "for free" and you can play it "for free." There is no reason to NOT play the "mean" card.
 
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Rob Harper
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Vanish wrote:
A common argument I hear is: "That means I need to look weaker than I am, to avoid being a target, which means playing sub-optimally."

No, one does not want to play sub-optimally, but one might want to play defensively. Choosing an action because it offers some other benefit than victory points should not always be equated with sub-optimal play.

Yup... And making a play that is strong but doesn't look that way could easily be optimal. And hard to do. I think it's a great challenge to look weaker than you are.
 
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Kirk Monsen
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Small World is a very unbalanced game due to powerful/weak combinations that comes up. The balancing is handled by other players attacking players who choose the powerful combinations.

-Munch "here balance is handled by players, and it works well" Wolf
 
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Ken K
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Smarter brains have already weighed in, but here I go.

"Attacking the Leader" is not a design flaw if it's easy to tell who the leader is. Many racing games do this well.

It can be frustrating when you are the perceived leader and someone keeps doinking you. I think this happens in Small World occasionally.

Personally I don't like most "take that" games unless the theme or short game-length makes it worth it.

Your theme sounds like it could work.
 
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Kris Rhodes
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Thanks again for everyone's comments. I've playtested the thing a bit now in its current embryonic form, and it does look like the mechanics serve to prevent runaway leaderism, but do not act like giant whammy hammers. (Basically, most ways you can make a lot of progress at once require you to help someone else make progress, and every way you have of preventing someone else's progress costs you.)

The effect is that there's rarely a clear runaway leader, though of course usually someone is at least a bit ahead. But everyone kind of stays in a clump in scores, and they're vying to be at the front of that clump when the game ends. I think this is alright. I'm sure I've enjoyed games like this though memory is failing me.

I'm going to post the rules up in the design forum soon when I've rewritten them after initial self-playtesting, and for readability, but for a teaser here's animage of the board with labels.

 
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