Pop quiz, hot shot! What do you call a tabletop game without victory conditions? (Wait for all the smart alecs in the back of the room to shout, “A LARP!” and “my marriage!”) Those are all very entertaining answers, but the one I’m looking for is… a toy.
Toys are great. But without rules for victory, they aren’t games. They’re just… well, toys. And a finely-crafted victory condition can separate a good game from a great one.
Victory conditions must be clear.
Gain 20 victory points. Destroy your opponent’s 20 health. Empty your hand of cards. Be the first to get all your monkeys out of the flaming wreckage.
Some games require multiple victory conditions. Most don’t. If testing shows that you need to add a rule saying “You lose if you run out of cards” or “You win if your monkeys are the only ones unburned,” that’s fine — but start simple. The same thing goes for overly complicated victory conditions (“You win by have the most coconuts at the end of turn 7, or the largest ape at the beginning of the round, or by catching the Gold Snitch”). Only make it complicated if you have to — and even then, see if there’s something else you can simplify instead.
A path to victory must be obvious.
When I choose the Plumber at the beginning of the round, I get a victory point — and need 20 to win. If I attack with my creature and you can’t block, I inflict its damage — and need to inflict 20 to win. When I roll a die, that’s how many spaces I can move my monkey towards safety.
The trick is to make the path obvious, but easy for players to barricade. I can choose the Carpenter, who kills the Plumber. I can play a creature to block your attacker. I can move my monkey so you have no choice but to move yours into the oil slick back into the flames. A game should look simple to win, but not actually be that simple.
There must be multiple paths to victory.
This is different than having multiple victory conditions. I might have a dozen ways of getting victory points, but the single victory condition remains: get 20 to win. This also goes hand-in-hand with the obvious path to victory; the obvious path is usually not the most efficient one, but it’s the easiest to recognize and understand. It gets you into the game. Once you’re playing, you’ll see the other paths and understand how they might be better — but by that point, you’re actually playing the game, and haven’t been scared off by arcane rules of victory
And so on…
I didn’t think I had so much to say on the tiny little subject of victory conditions. Who knew? But have I said it all? Surely not! Jump into the comments and let me know your favorite victory conditions, or the ones that you hate, or any tips you have for their creation. And remember:
Don’t let your monkey go up in flames!