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  • Ways to Win

  • Michael Carpenter

    June 3, 2021 at 9:39 am

    Most rulebooks clearly state how to win at the beginning of the rules. These ways of winning provide context for everything else that follows – you learn how to play because you want to win!

    Some examples:

    • Score the most points
    • Reach the finish line first
    • Be the last surviving player/team
    • Be the first to overcome a specific set of challenges
    • Own the most of a resource/area/etc when the endgame trigger is reached
    • Play an entire game without triggering a loss condition

    Of course, there’s many more, and each of them can play out in many ways. For example, “score the most points” might lead to:

    • A “point salad” type game where almost every action scores you something until the endgame is triggered, when you count it all up. Example: Point Salad
    • A “best 2/3” or “best 3/5” game where you score a single point for winning a round, and must simply win a majority of rounds. Example: The Resistance
    • A game that effectively turns the score track into its own form of a race, trying to reach the finish line of e.g. “10 points” first. Example: Settlers of Catan
    • And more


    Some games combine multiple win states, giving players different potential strategies to employ, while some asymmetrical games even assign a different win state to each player. There’s a lot to consider when you first start designing a game, and even in later stages it’s worth asking: Is this Way to Win the most fun goal for players to have while interacting with the mechanisms I’ve put together? Is there another, less obvious goal that would bring the game to life even more?


    So what types of Wins do you gravitate towards as a game designer? What are some of the most unique Ways to Win you’ve seen? Which Ways to Win give the best competitive/cooperative/solo/etc. experiences? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Dan Yarrington

    June 5, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    A good summary. Thanks, Michael! The choice of win conditions should come from the type of experience you want the players to have. For Euro-style gamers who like lots of interplay and systems, the point salad is attractive.

    I personally tend to prefer linear game theory where what you’re trying to do is very obvious and there’s a cumulative effect toward that goal and narrative.

    • Nicholas Bartlett

      June 20, 2021 at 9:41 pm

      Is linear game theory spelled out somewhere or do you have examples of games that do it very well?

  • Rob Harper

    June 8, 2021 at 2:33 am

    It varies from project to project for me, but lately I’ve been becoming more interested in “first to complete an objective” – possibly more than one objective, but it’s about getting something specific done rather than counting up scores. I really like that this means that is is generally pretty clear to players what they need to do to win (do a thing more quickly than other players do a thing), but without a victory point system, it means looking for subtleties in the design in other areas.

  • Marti S

    June 8, 2021 at 3:26 am

    When I start a project I get out one of my A2 whiteboards and scribble loads of things down about the game and it is always the victory conditions that seem hardest for me to decide, I think for me it is becuase I tend to work from a theme to mechanics and so th evictory conditions could be point salad (which I do love) and secret scoring at the end (also a love of mine) but also could be objective based or ‘last person standing’ depending on the theme and which ever I feel matches it the best.

    Having said that, right now I am waiting for a few components to arrive to finish making my latest prototype of a game I’ve been designing and playtesting on tabletop simulator for months, it is a Lovecraftian card game where I first thought that objectives would lead to victory but then changed it to points based as it seemed to play better and be more interesting and fun.

    So I suppose if I were to advise anyone on it it would be go with what you think fits but be prepared to change it up and try out different victory conditions when designing and testing to see which just fits or feels better/right/more fun.

  • Isaac Smith

    June 8, 2021 at 6:29 pm

    Tons of games use points at the end. There are several examples of games that don’t use points, but I like points because they can quantify so many different paths to victory. Sure, the most points win in the end in most cases, but what I mean is that the interesting choices a designer can give a player are nearly limitless. Points are a near-universal system that can be used as a design tool for interesting design choices in nearly any game. In that realm, I like games that keep the tension of who is gonna take the victory right up until the end of the game just because of some psychological benefits it has compared to seeing points at all times, but I understand that points on a visible track could be a perfect design choice to make. Thanks for asking the question!

  • Matt Stow

    June 8, 2021 at 7:27 pm

    On tracking points, the way this current Kickstarter, Fossil Canyon, approaches it is really cool

    Each fossil is worth a different amount of points which is represented by the length of the jigsaw piece. As users find fossils, they connect them to their row of the score tracker, which means that all users can quickly and easily see who’s winning.

  • Roger Meloche

    June 18, 2021 at 2:17 pm

    A similar track is found in campaign manager 2008. It is a VP track with different length bars added to it. It’s a simple race in the end, but the variable size of the bars make it quite strategic.

    • Matt Stow

      June 19, 2021 at 4:58 am


  • Roger Meloche

    June 18, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    I’ve been toying with the idea of a variable win condition. One way to accomplish this is what I call a “Degenerative Co-Op”. This will start out as a cooperative game where all players win by accomplishing a task before a certain event happens in the game. At any time during the game, a player can choose to trigger an alternate, competitive win condition where there can only be one winner. This could be done by a player, simply because they want to dominate the game, or it can be done by mutual agreement, when the players see that they might fail to accomplish the cooperative task. It should take a few turns to change this state so the players need to assess their likelihood of winning and compare it to the likelihood of changing the game state in time.

    One way to spice this up is to require the players to allocate resources to each other to win cooperatively, but these very resources would give the players competitive advantages if the game changed to competitive mode. It would be an interesting dichotomy of trust between winning and preparing for a worst case scenario.

    If that wasn’t spicy enough, ….a player could secretly pretend to cooperate while building up power for a competitive coup. It might be a winning strategy but this player might get banned from future game nights. LOL

    • Grant Kerwood

      June 19, 2021 at 9:21 pm

      I would love to see this idea in action. Ive always wanted to play a game like that.

      if your looking for inspiration “betrayal at house on the hill” might be the closest you can get.

      But a game that has willing teamwork and willing divergence decided by the player and not the game will be hard to make, this is because each player may come in with the expectation of “beat the game” or “beat the other players” each player will come in with different perspectives and may argue on how the game “should be played.”

      this makes that kind of game nearly impossible, but I do believe it is possible, and whoever can figure out how to do it will be big.

      • Nicholas Bartlett

        June 20, 2021 at 9:50 pm

        I did this with a Shadows Over Camelot expansion that I made, (I have no license) but basically as the game progresses players can switch sides if they want to. Once they are found out as being traitors, their options are limited but they now play as a basic Fury of Dracula. Also, one player can be the God that the britts originally worship. I love the game so much I havent tried to make my own, and I cant stop myself from making livemses easter eggs that my friends and I love, but it could be a future probe t for sure.

  • Nicholas Bartlett

    June 20, 2021 at 9:53 pm

    There is also the flip side of ways to lose. I love how in Cockroach Poker it isnt a winner but a loser. Also in coop games we all win or lose. I would love to keep seeing games that are not zero sum but act like Tradig in the elysium quadrant where cooperation speeds up your own engine.

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