Bottom-Up Scoring

Len Stemberger is a designer in the North Houston design group. He is currently developing an area control game which features marker manipulation–placing and moving markers.  His core engagement is to keep players constantly jockeying for position in as many areas as possible at all times.  With this core engagement in mind, we began looking for the best scoring mechanism to serve it.

As we bounced various ideas around, we hit upon a mechanism which was entirely new to me and darned interesting–a system that scores both upwards and downwards.  We provisionally named it “bottom-up scoring” and decided to share it with you.  We hope it gives you an interesting tool to work with.


Bottom – Up Scoring

Area majority games generally score downwards. Awards are passed out by looking at first place, then down to second place and so on.  Bottom-up scoring does some of that.

Set collection games generally score upwards. Increasing your set increases your reward.  Bottom-up scoring does some of that too.

The first step to creating a bottom-up scoring scheme is to select a top-down scheme as you might for any other area majority game.  For our example, I’m using an exponential scheme.

First Place

8 points

Second Place

4 points

Third Place

2 points

In most area-control games, the first time a player placed a marker into an area, he is considered to be in first place.  He essentially occupies the top spot.  If scoring occurred with only his marker in the region, he would receive the best possible award for the region.

Example: Danielle has a cube in the green region and it scores.  Since no other cubes are present, Danielle scores first place, 8 points.

In Len’s game, area manipulation and scoring each occur on every turn.  This is important to understanding why how we arrived at our new scheme.

Our concern centered on the massive start-player advantage that occurred when the start player placed a marker into a region on his turn and then immediately scored that region–He would get the first place prize simply for going first!  That sat well with none of us.  We needed a different plan.

In our bottom-up system, the first time markers are placed into an area, they are thought of as beginning construction in that area, only just beginning to improve and expand the area.  The player who placed these markers essentially occupies the bottom spot. When scoring occurred with only her markers in the region, she received the worst possible award for the region.

Example: Danielle has a cube in the green region and it scores.  Since no other cubes are present, Danielle scores third place, 2 points.

Massive holdings in an otherwise empty region are no better than a single cube in that region–like having the best castle in Boise, Idaho.  This is better than no award at all of course, but no longer so massive an award.

Example: Danielle has five cubes in the green region and it scores.  Since there are still no other cubes present, Danielle scores third place, 2 points.

Now in order to reach high awards, the player must work for majority in popular regions.

Example: In addition to Danielle’s five cubes, and Dean has two cubes and John has 1 cube.  When the region scores, John scores third place, 2 points. Dean scores second place, 4 points. Danielle scores first place, 8 points.

Working for majority in popular regions puts players in conflict throughout the game.  Putting players in conflict throughout the game increases player interaction.  Increasing player interaction increases engagement.  Delivering engagement is what games are all about.  We were looking at a winning scheme.


Tie Breaking The Bottom-Up Scheme

Having established the basic structure, we immediately moved on to debate the best tie-breaking scheme for Len’s core engagement.  Our best suggestions fell into three general categories.  Rather than asserting which is best, here are all three.  Each had its merits, depending on the spirit of the game and playtest data.  Len wisely decided to collect more data before making any final decision.

First in wins.  Markers placed later are considered to fall behind those placed earlier.  The only way a later player can get ahead is to exceed the previous count. This is generally best if the game has a start player disadvantage.

Last in wins.  Markers placed later fall ahead of those placed earlier.  A later player can get ahead by tieing the previous count.  This is generally best if the game has a start player advantage.

Friendly ties.  Tied players each get a full share of their position’s award.  This is generally best if there is no discernible advantage associated with the order of play.


Have you designed an area-control game? How did you award points?  How would Bottom-up scoring have changed the dynamics of your game?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.


13 thoughts on “Bottom-Up Scoring

  1. alanleduc says:

    Hmm. It seems my game Boom!Town uses “bottom-up” scoring, although it’s implemented differently. The value of each area is directly tied to what has been built in the area, thus a small town is worth less then a big town, and all towns start being worth nothing. Scoring, incidentally, is only done at the end of the game.

    • Yves Tourigny says:

      Interesting article. I just shared this to your wall, Al, because I also noticed the similarity (in broad strokes) to Boomtown. I didn’t see your comment until just now.

  2. Firewall is arguably area control with dice as action selection. The way I’ve handled ties is that neither of the players get their points for ‘winning’. It’s created an interesting effect where sometimes people will go out of their way to avoid ties, and sometimes go out of their way to tie a player.

    I’m not sure that would work for your game, but what if they instead split points from a lower tier? I.e. if there are 3 players in a region, the 2 who tie split 4 to get 2 points instead of splitting 8 points and getting 4. The incentive for attacking the lead player is that you don’t want him to get how many points he’ll receive in that region otherwise. It encourages aggressive play, and making sacrifices to do so.

  3. Matthew Frederick says:

    Seems like there’s a different issue now: if a player can get a decent number of cubes in place, getting other players into that place could be an issue (and similarly, difficult to get a third player in if there are already two who have a fair number of cubes).

    If your scoring in a region was simply linear — say 6, 4, 2 — then you’d potentially have something interesting where you’re burning the never-made-it-in player(s) by building up cubes. However, each player would have to work hard to ensure that they understood everyone else’s current scoring status, so as to not accidentally bump the leader.

    If it’s non-linear — say 9, 4, 2 — then it’s super unlikely anyone will ever come in after the first player with a fair chunk of cubes, and certainly no one will want to come in third if the first two players have a goodly chunk.

    It’s an interesting idea, certainly, though one with the potential for players to run out of interesting places to put cubes after a little while.

    • I’m not free to comment on the details Matthew but I am free to mention that there is a mechanism in the game which allows players to move cubes belonging to other players.

      This allows players to import cubes into an arwa they’re co trolling and thereby promote their position. 😉

      • Matthew Frederick says:

        Ah, that’s precisely the kind of thing that would reduce or eliminate that problem.

    • alanleduc says:

      I’ve gotten around that problem by giving players their positional score (say 8,4,2) plus a bonus based on how many cubes are in the area. Thus, if one player makes a strong bid to be the leader of the area, anyone coming in with a low bid also gains the bonus from the first player’s strong bid. A highly contested area lifts everyone up, except the guy who didn’t get in.

      I do like that idea of moving cubes around though. It wouldn’t make any thematic sense for my Boom!Town, but it’s an intriguing solution.

  4. Nice post, and this is a great idea. My thoughts went immediately to how scoring like this would affect the area control game I know best, El Grande. There would have to be some consideration of what happens when you have more than three players in a region, but I think that’s easily soluble. Scoring from the bottom would make the actions for moving cubes about very interesting indeed, as you move into an apparently worthless region and then shift in one cube from each of a couple of other players to push you to the top, but then giving them a toehold in the region. Nice choices there. I’m looking forward to seeing a game specifically designed for this mechanic.

  5. kevin Q says:

    In the numerical example, the winner received 8pts, second 4 pts and third or last received 2 pts, I’m not a fan of this, mostly because I fail to see the logic in it, so I ask why not award 4 pts for first place since that’s the difference between first and second and subtract 2 pts from the last place?

    • We may simply have different objectives.

      The main reason for me is that I almost never assign negative points in a game. I prefer to give bigger rewards to the winners than to give penalties to the losers.

      Certainly, there are exceptions. Wolfgang Kramer’s fantastic Forum Romanum gives negative points to the player(s) in last place and I cannot imagine that my positive or zero approach would work in that game because of how it doles out those negatives….

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