25 March 2014

There can be only one winner

No, this is not pre-game smack-talk as the next games day for my chaos warband draws closer, but rather the distressed cry (with proper hot tears) of my tired four year old at the end of our first ever game of "Key to the Kingdom" this evening.

There's a slightly bizarre bit of text in the "quick game" rules that seems to say that the finder of the Key needed to seal the Demon Prince away for ever (in this game, my six year old) takes another player of their choice out of the magical kingdom as well, implying a joint victory. It was well past bedtime by this point so I played up that aspect so that there would be cheerfulness at the end of the game and the day.

No. Such. Luck.

Now, I know that overtired 4 year-olds aren't the most rational of creatures on the face of God's green Earth, but it set me thinking. Even if I was fudging the rules slightly to wrap things up, this might be the only kid's game I've played with them where it's possible to have more than one "winner". Why is this? And why do we expect it as the norm for games of any type? In sport it's fairly obvious - one person/team scores more points, goes further, get there first - but one of the things I like about the general Oldhammer mentality is that simply by participating fully, each participant "wins". Now, I don't mean this in some sickeningly over-saccharine, wet-liberal, "prizes for everyone" sense that leads to the attempted banning of any competitive undertaking in schools (bleeurgh!). More that I have a gut-feeling that a combination of "I got to do something really cool/characterful/heroic/humorously unsuccessful in that game" and the interest supplied by asymmetric victory conditions makes it a better game. A win-win situation, in fact!

I wonder if that (partly) explains the success of Heroquest and the RPGs it draws its heritage from (all the players against the villain - group victory as the goal). There's also Reiner Knizia's "Lord of the Rings" game which is all the players against the game mechanics themselves, and others of that ilk. Then there's scenario-led gaming which seems integral to the spirit that oldhammer subscribes to (not restricted to RT and WFB3, by any means, of course). Could more than one player in a game fulfil their victory conditions? Would that make for a more enjoyable experience for all involved? Now, without risk of failure, there's no satisfaction in success and I love the occasional stomp-the-other-army game as much as anyone, but it's not enough.

Team games ("coalitions" as opposed to "individuals" in game-theory language) allow a sort of joint victory and are more popular (unscientific, personal experience-led claim) than individual games. Even individual games when your results add up with the rest of your team (I'm thinking of the Blood Bowl world cup, here) give part of that sense of shared endeavour.

I'm possibly over-thinking all this, but I was so struck by the absolute insistence that there could only ever be one winner of a game and my instinctive feeling that he was wrong or at least not always right, that I thought I'd blabber it out here.

What do you think?



  1. Only ever one winner? I would cite the Tour de France as a game where there are different victory conditions and it is impossible (nigh on) for any one competitor to win them all.

    1. GC (Yellow jersey): Lowest Tour time.
    2. King of the Mountains (Polka Dot): Best climber
    3. Best sprinter: (Green jersey)
    4. Best young rider: (white jersey)

    I followed Richard Virenque almost exclusively when he was riding (pre-doping) because his climbing was a joy to behold. The GC is the big one, but each jersey carries almost equal merit.

    Agree or disagree?

    1. I agree entirely. Maybe that's one reason why the Tour has such a big following - all those possible different "winners", each with their own victory conditions?

      Personally I always rated the polka dot the highest because it's the one I could least imagine myself being successful at!

  2. All sounds very sensible to me - there has to be some form of competition to make it worth while investing in, although having differing victory conditions and asymmetric scenarios means that both players can take pleasure from the game no matter which way it goes.

    Heroquest was definitely good fun because of the team aspect although I do remember some fall outs between me and my brother and friends when someone wouldn't give up their last potion of healing to help out a comrade in need!

    I had an interesting game of Ghostcastle (couldn't find an English speaking advert!) with my two kids a while back - my son seemed to think there was some inherent skill in my unusually high dice rolls which led to me winning. After suggesting (tongue firmly in cheek) that he go off and practice, he did just that because he was so determined to be the winner next time. Cue a little talk about how to win and lose graciously and how the luck of the die can not be counted on!

    Speaking of old TV adverts - I thought Key to the Kingdom rang a bell somewhere - I'm sure it must have made it onto a Christmas list at some point after seeing this!

    1. Ghostcastle! I remember my cousins having that and us playing it solidly for a whole weekend once when I went to stay with them! That dropping axe thing seemed the most amazingly high-tech thing ever to me at the time. I wonder how old I was?

      I'm also glad I'm not the only one who thinks you can teach your kids about living well through game playing!

  3. Playing with a four year old is like dancing in a minefield even when they aren't tired! You're a brave, brave man. My kids make up their own games all the time... typically the rules are very fluid allowing whichever is louder at the moment to win. There is nothing like watching a three and a four year old playing 'duck, duck, goose'... just the two of them. It's more exciting than you may think, my 3 year old picked a chair as goose the other day and they both ran away from it for a good two minutes. I'm pretty sure the chair lost that round.

    Your discussion on the number of winners of a game got me to thinking on the game I've been working on... it never occurred to me that I really hadn't defined who won, or how? One player might get more loot, but lose more team members... did he win financially and lose combative-ly? I do enjoy blog posts that get my brain working!

    1. Hahaha - a minefield is right sometimes! And you certainly have to watch out for those shape-shifting chairs....

      Glad to have set off some thought in someone else, particularly game-related :)

  4. Virenque was a polka-dotter...we agree on the hardest part of le tour!