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.
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.