Something I’ve been thinking a bit about lately is how games handle pacing. What I mean by pacing is: does the game–whether naturally or artifically–speed up the game when someone starts winning, or slow down the game when someone starts winning?
(Now, this applies to co-operative games as well, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll only focus on competitive games for this blog post.)
So, why would games want to do this?
Well, there’s a couple reasons: 1) Speeding up a victory is a way to control the game from getting too long and drawn out; and 2) slowing down a victory is a way to make the game more fun and exciting for the players who don’t immediately take the lead.
An example of the first is Risk. This is a game many people are probably familiar with–even “non gamers” and it was the first example that popped into my head. Now, Risk is notorious for taking a very, very, very long time to play. But it does in fact apply an acceleration effect to the person who’s in the lead–in an attempt to speed up the game a bit. At the start of each player’s turn, they get a certain number of armies to place. The number of armies is largely dependent on how many territories you control. So, the player who’s winning (controls the most territories) gets more armies than the players who are losing (control fewer territories). This imposed benefit to being in the lead does speed up the gameplay a bit — otherwise, say if every player always received the same amount of armies regardless of the number of territories they control, then the game could take forever… being a constant back-and-forth for area control.
An example of the second type of pacing (slowing down the game) is Suburbia. This may be a less familiar game, but if you want you can check out my mini review of it on The Robot Plays. Essentially, players take turns building their city by placing a hexagonal tile. Better tile placement means your city has a higher population, and the player with the highest population at the end of the game wins. Now, what Suburbia does is it imposes a penalty to your city’s income and reputation (buying power and growth potential) whenever you reach a certain population threshold. So basically, if a player pulls into the lead, they become slightly crippled, giving the other players a chance to steal the lead. This ensures the game doesn’t snowball out of control as soon as one player starts winning. It makes for a more fun game because players always feel like they still have a shot at winning – even if they aren’t currently in the lead.
When it comes to pacing in game design, there is a third option, of course, and that’s to let the game’s choices and mechanics work for themselves. Essentially, you design the game so it don’t impose any benefits or penalties to the person who’s winning. You let the game run its course.
I’ve taken this ‘do-nothing’ approach for Osprey Adrift because it makes sense. It’s an elimination style game, so the mechanical and phsychological effect of seeing people get the chop already creates a sense of acceleration as the game progresses. What makes the game exciting is that players don’t always know who is winning or losing, even though they’re the ones deciding on who gets eliminated. This is why the deduction aspect of the game is so key – there’s always a sense that the game is accelerating to its ultimate conclusion, but it’s up to the players to individually figure out just who is winning, and who is losing.
What about you guys – what games have you played lately that play with pacing to speed up or slow down the gameplay? Pop in with a comment. I’d love to hear about what you’re playing!
Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky,