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Checking Your Endgame

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By Kevan

A checklist of questions that you might want to ask yourself before a dynasty has reached its endgame, rather than during or after it.

What happens if there's a tiebreak?

If you've got a rule that says something like "the game ends at 12:00am on Monday the Xth, at which point the player with the highest score wins" - what happens if it's a tie? (Even if you're dealing with big numbers, it's still possible - after a lot of random-number combat the Boss Fight dynasty nearly ended with two players being tied on 2352 points.) If the goal is "get over 100 points", what happens if someone does that, but another player unexpectedly manages to do it as well, before the first player posts their DoV?

Always add a tiebreaker, however arbitrary. And add tiebreakers to your tiebreakers to make absolutely sure that even if there's a huge chain of coincidences, it will still be possible to pick a winner without calling a vote. If the goal is a finish-line situation, you can clarify that only the first player to reach it wins (although that may open up timing problems, described in the next section).

If you don't notice the potential for a tie until too late, you might find it hard to agree a tiebreaker that the likely-to-tie players will all be happy with. (If it's a game about collecting gold, sheep and lumber and most gold wins, the obvious tiebreakers of "most sheep", "most lumber" or even "most other stuff" will be a hard sell to the player who - at this late point in the game - has fewest of those because they didn't think it would matter.)

Could the endgame be all about timing?

If you've got a victory condition like "the first player to cross the finish line wins the game" and something happens to change the game to a situation where multiple players suddenly become able to cross that line (maybe a predictable rule that tops up every player's stamina on Monday morning such that multiple players would become able to sprint from there, or a proposal that's suggesting opening a shortcut route that several players could immediately use to reach the line) then the game simply comes down to whoever can react quickest to that change. Which could be down to luck, to being online more frequently, or just being the enacting admin.

Similarly, you could have a Mexican standoff where two players might each be able to win, but only if they can perform all the necessary actions quickly enough: if one notices the other initiating a chain of actions, they can interrupt to either prevent or (in the lack of a tiebreak) share the win.

In both cases, somebody winning because they reacted more quickly might not be a satisfying endgame. Consider reframing the victory condition to require the winner to sustain their victorious position for a few hours or days - giving a chance for another player to knock them off the perch, or achieve a higher-scoring victory that supersedes the previous one.

How much power would a coordinated team have?

As a player, consider the possibility that a number of your opponents are secretly working together. Are the rules generous enough that a coordinated team would be able to perform a rapid sequence of actions to let one of their number get greatly ahead, or even win the game?

If you're not planning to join a team yourself, consider proposing rules to break up the rewards of teamwork; limit how much players can trade resources, and minimise the rate or scope of actions which can be used to help or hinder specific players.

If you're running your own team, look at it through the prism of timing issues - if a rival team openly initiated the first step of a plan after planning it in secret, would they be able to complete that plan and win before anyone could realistically react to it? Even a complex chain of actions could be done and dusted in a couple of minutes in the middle of the night, if a team was sufficiently well-coordinated. Writing rules that force teamwork to play out at a slower speed means that players will have time to react with counter-strategies, and the game will reward the more skilful team, rather than the quickest or luckiest one.

How much effect would a last-minute arrival have?

This is an obvious one but is sometimes forgotten. What would happen if a new player joined the game ten minutes before the end?

If the game has a "last player standing" victory condition, that obviously breaks it. To a lesser degree, the starting resources and available actions of a new player may unbalance the late-game economy if the rules weren't anticipating it, particularly if the new player has already privately agreed to become part of a coordinated team, as per the previous section.