- Design Discussion #3 -
Previous The Labyrinth of Crete Posts:
Design Discussion #1 - From Idea to Thematic Design
Design Discussion #2 - Making Prototype Components
No there aren't any spoilers in this post... This week, I'm talking about a different type of endgame than the one we've all been hearing so much about lately.
Hello my wonderful readers! With my own college finals (unfortunately) about to take place as I write this and with hundreds of millions around the world reacting to the Endgame of the absolutely epic Avengers Infinity Saga, I thought it only appropriate this week to talk about that all so important mechanism that can make or break a tabletop game... The Endgame.
Disclaimer: I don't own this game. I haven't played this game. I won't be talking
about this game... But come on! It looks so awesome and it is totally fitting!!!
What's the Endgame?
Really quickly, before I go into my thoughts on endgames and how I'm approaching the endgame of The Labyrinth of Crete, I think it's a good idea to first define what I am talking about. What do I mean by "endgame"?
Quite simply, in this post I'm going to be discussing a tabletop game's end trigger. What causes a game to reach it's conclusion? For example, is the game length variable: whoever reaches the (or their) objective first wins? Or is it more fixed: after a set number of rounds whoever is leading wins? This is what I'm talking about when I discuss the "endgame". I'm looking at what causes a game to ultimately finish.
Now to the topic at hand...
What Makes a "Good" Tabletop Endgame?
This is a question that can have many, many different and fitting answers. In part, this is because there is more than just one aspect that contributes to making a game's endgame "good". There are hundreds of drastically different end-game triggers in the games that we love.
Games like Splendor, Catan and Lewis & Clark end like many of the games that we are used to: the first player to score X amount of points or reach X progress wins. A game of Scythe, Ticket to Ride or Power Grid, however, ends differently: immediately after a player reaches some sort of goal (places their final star, train or building) the game ends and player scores are then calculated. Some games like Between Two Castles, Sagrada and 7 Wonders end somewhat similarly, but scores are instead calculated after a previously specified number of rounds. Still others like Villainous and Betrayal at the House on the Hill don't even deal with points but instead end with completely different endgame triggers.
How can I make any claims about what makes a "good" endgame when there are so many different types of endgames to look at? Well, as you might expect, even though endgame triggers can vary A LOT, there are some obvious similarities between games with good endgames that aren't at all similar mechanics-wise. After thinking a lot about designing my own game's endgame triggers and aspects and in considering the endgames of many many other games, I've come up with what I think are the two most important aspects that contribute to a "good" endgame:
Game Theme & Game Length
As I talked about a few weeks ago, thematic design is where it's at. The way a game ends is no exception. A good endgame trigger is one that makes sense for what you're trying to accomplish. This seems pretty intuitive. For a game about explorers trying to reach Fort Clatsop, being the first to progress your explorer there and set up camp makes sense (Lewis & Clark). For a game about building a stained glass window, playing until your windows are full and then "scoring" how well you each did makes sense (Sagrada). For a game about different Disney villain's that have totally different motives, being the first to reach your totally unique player goal makes sense (Disney Villainous).
How a game ends needs to, first and foremost, match up with and make sense with your game's mechanics. If during the game the actions you take don't feel like they are lining up with your ultimate objective, then the game tends to fall flat. And as I've mentioned before, designing your endgame trigger with reference to your mechanics inevitably leads to your endgame trigger also making sense thematically. Often times, in games with little or poorly implemented theme, an endgame of "be the first to gain X points" can lead to a very dull and uninspired experience for players.
For my game, The Labyrinth of Crete, my entire premise and storyline of the game revolves around the players' struggle to survive in a death trap and somehow manage to escape something that has been designed to be almost inescapable. So, when I'm thinking about my theme and how it translates to my board game and its mechanics, what makes sense for how players would win? First and foremost, they have to survive. That seems obvious. Next, they have to escape. And to do so, they must explore this maze, find favor with the greek gods, utilize the items they can find as best they can, etc... Ultimately, they would have to learn and grow enough from their experiences in the maze to be able to escape it.
How does this translate? Seemingly, not to points. Instead, I'm currently toying with the idea of "experience" stars. You place an experience star on a track for accomplishing major objectives: killing an enemy, using items to construct a blueprint, finding favor with gods, and learning a new skill. The first player to have placed 4 stars (or 3, or 5, etc...) would be considered to be experienced enough to be able to escape. Then, they would have to physically escape the maze by leaving through the exit.
This endgame has a good potential to be very thematically appropriate for The Labyrinth of Crete. The player's have a very clear objective that makes both thematic and mechanical sense. You have to build up your overall experience by accomplishing some combination of different major objectives in order to then escape from the maze.
Game design is a delicate balance, particularly when it comes to designing the timing of the endgame. This is a balance that most people don't really think about when a game has a well-designed endgame. But it's most certainly something people mention when it's not been designed very well. I can't even count the many games that I have played where I've heard someone complain in one of the following two ways:
"I feel like it just started to get fun... and then it ended."
"It was a good game, but it dragged on for far too long."
This is something that no designer should want to hear and it's certainly something that I am trying to make sure that I avoid with The Labyrinth of Crete. It is critically important for a game to last the right amount of time and it can't be overstated that this balance is a double-edged sword.
Games almost always have a sense of progression. You start out slow, the game picks up in pace and excitement, and then it ends after you've been able to experience and enjoy this "peak" of the game for a good amount of time. It's for this reason that timing of the endgame is important. A game can't end prematurely. If the game ends right when gameplay hits its peak, players will often feel like they were cheated out of enough time to really enjoy it. The game was just getting to its most enjoyable part when, all of the sudden, it ended. Likewise, a game can't take too long. A game with a very light amount of strategy to it that hits it's peak enjoyment and playability after 15 minutes shouldn't then take another 45 minutes to finish. Regardless of how fun a game's peak is, there is always a limit to the amount of time players can spend playing it before it starts to feel stagnant and boring.
You have to find the balance of the right amount of time between when the game reaches its peak and its end. If your game is too short... players will feel cheated. If your game is too long... players will get tired of it. This is true for all games, regardless of how you play or win. Timing of the endgame trigger is important.
I mentioned in a previous post that my early focus for The Labyrinth of Crete was more about the main mechanics, and for that reason my endgame hasn't been well-defined or even figured out yet. This has lead to game taking upward of two or three hours. Obviously, this is an issue. But, it's a fixable issue so long as a begin to gradually shift my focus towards careful balancing of my endgame. In theory, my idea to place "experience" stars should help check off the boxes I've mentioned.
Over the course of my game, players are going to be building up their dice pool and abilities (their engine), placing stars as they do so. Through testing and balancing, I should be able to make sure that when they place their final star is when their gameplay and engine has really reached its peak performance and enjoyability. Players will then have time to utilize and enjoy that peak phase of enjoyment while they then try to escape.
Again, through proper playtesting and balancing, I'm hoping that this system will help me ensure ideal endgame timing. It won't last too long after the game hits it's peak (players are no longer progressing towards the end and get bored) and it won't end to quickly after it hits its peak (players don't have enough time to enjoy the best part of the game).
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Is there another aspect you think is important to endgame design?
What game has your favorite endgame trigger?
Let's discuss in the comments below and on Instagram!