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The Value of Endgame

January 27, 2010

Ben and Jono have been talking a bit recently about endgame issues in boardgames – the issues of design where you end up with Kingmaker positions, or the possibility of never-ending play because everyone teams up on the lead.

For gamist design, being able to reach win conditions is crucial – at the point when the issue of winning or losing is already decided, there’s no point in playing anymore. At the same point, if winning is nearly impossible because everyone can successfully sabotage win conditions too easily, then it’s like playing an indefinitely long game of tied tic-tac-toe.

For other types of games, where winning is not a priority, there’s still a strong value in endgame mechanics. A good story has a satisfying ending – which can also mean satisfying ambiguous endings or unresolved ones, but endings nonetheless. In terms of rpgs, it lets a group unify on pacing and puts creative pressure on the players to influence the story under a time limit.

Sometimes, this is very mechanical, like a countdown clock, usually disguised under a stat or score which changes under certain conditions or die rolls. But it can equally be, “…and this player decides it ends, now.” ala Drifter’s Escape or Dogs in the Vineyard.

Most roleplaying games have avoided this stuff completely, mostly having been built on the assumption of indefinite length play – even still, “Endgame” doesn’t have to be an end to a campaign- it can be a “level”, a “zone”, a “Chapter” or a reasonable section of play to accomplish in a night.

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