The finale of a game can provide stand-up moments of intense excitement, but, and it happens all too often, it can also turn out to be a bit of an anti-climax.
What may excite one group can result in a yawning session for another, and how I view game endings when playing solo can be totally different to how I feel when playing in a group.
So, I thought I’d take a lighthearted look at some of my favourite game endings, and how things can vary from playing solo to playing in a group.
As far as game design goes the ending is a pretty important part to consider, after all, it usually encompasses the entire goal of the game, whether it be defeating the big bad, crossing the finishing line first, or revealing who accumulated the most victory points. But the specific way a game does this can turn it from a good game into a great game, and vice versa.
I’ll apologise in advance for the quality of one or two of the pictures; my flash is no longer with us after it met its destiny whilst flying through the air – in other words, it hit the floor!
The, ‘So, who won that anyway?’
You know the kind of game, the one where you try and grab victory points at every opportunity and even tossing a meeple randomly onto the board will net something to add to the pot. These are the games where you can saunter off to make yourself a cuppa whilst some poor Joe has the unsavoury job of trying to decipher who has actually won the game – this may involve a calculator and possibly a degree in math!
All too often I’m that Joe. Fortunately, I don’t mind, except when everyone is convinced Aunt Martha is the runaway winner only for it to turn out to be me, it looks somewhat suspicious!
The types of game I’m thinking about here are the ones that have a definite ending point, one that all players are working towards whilst earning as many victory points as they can along the way – and as I mentioned, there are usually a trillion ways to earn said points.
There’s a fine line between this type of ending working and it falling flat on its face, and that’s down to timing. If it takes longer than five minutes to tot up 4-player’s scores, then you can bet your bottom dollar that, when you look up to announce the scores, everyone else will have a glass in one hand, a piece of pizza in the other, and be discussing the merits of the latest game – things will have moved on without you.
Of course, everyone should be capable of adding up their own scores, and it’s a joy when everyone does, but it’s amazing how many people actually dislike doing it, and suddenly find the urge to visit the bathroom, or have conveniently forgotten how the scoring works in a game they’ve just spent the last four hours playing!
Games that get this right keep the scoring simple. In my experience it’s the weighty Euro game that often overcomplicates final scoring, and though I don’t particularly mind it, I know many who do, and so I wondered why they played the game in the first place. It’s an obvious answer really; because they enjoy the experience, and many don’t really care if they win or lose!
Played solo I find the ending to be much the same as when played with others; a bit hit or miss.
I don’t mind spending ten minutes or so working out scores at the end, but the satisfaction this gives is very dependent on the game. I find many solo variants for Euro style games quite weak in their gameplay and it comes down to the player just chasing a new high score.
I personally dislike this, I get nothing, or at least very little, from achieving a good score against non-existent competition. If the game is interesting, offers a good range of tactical choices, or produces an evocative story, then I’ll undoubtedly find the game enjoyable to play, but in the end, I won’t gain any satisfaction from beating a push over AI.
On the other hand, when the AI is strong enough to hold its own and beating it takes several attempts, then the ending can be very satisfying, win or lose, as you often have to work certain strategies to beat them. Unfortunately, most AIs are predictable, and once you’ve figured them out then that sense of satisfaction diminishes
“I’m a winner! I’m a winner! Oh… I’ve lost!”
Scythe employs one of my favourite mechanisms for ending a game: when a player places their sixth star.
Sounds simple, but it encompasses such a depth of strategy in the placing of that last star, as you have a lot to consider before taking the plunge – number of territories, number of resources, how popular am I, and how much dosh have I got in my hand!
Just because you were the player who ended the game it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’ll be the winner, and so you don’t want to do it until your fairly sure you’re in the driving seat, or if your forced to as damage limitation, worse still, if you’re not paying attention, someone can even lure you into a move that causes you to place that sixth star before you’re ready.
There are many games that use a similar mechanism for bringing things to a close: In Dominion, when either the province pile or any three or more supply piles are empty, the game ends – it is usually the players choice to do this on their turn, ideally when they think they’ve got it all sewn up.
Not all end instantly like Scythe and Dominion, and allow another round to take place, but for me that waters things down. No, the real excitement comes from the instant stop sign being raised and then moving directly to toting up the scores – which in Scythe does take less than five minutes.
Getting it right takes a certain amount of skill, usually earned by experience – you can spot first time players of this type of game, as they tend to race towards the ending condition rather than build up to it – and there’s nothing worse than ending the game only to find that your calculations (read guess work) have been well wide of the mark and you may as well reach for that all too familiar wooden spoon!
For me, this creates one of the most satisfying gaming moments, as far as competitive games go. It makes me feel in control of my destiny, and as long as I play a decent enough game then I can end it whenever I like – of course, there will be others thinking exactly the same, and so the tension grows…
I love these games, but many don’t feature a dedicated solo variant, fortunately, Scythe does, and it’s great.
I get the same satisfaction from solo Scythe, as I would playing it with others, and that’s because I’m always tinkering with my own strategy. When I pull a win from the jaws of defeat, then I get a big grin on my face (bigger than the one I’m usually sporting) and a big sense of satisfaction.
Games like Dominion, which don’t have a solo variant, I play against myself, just to see what happens if I do this or that. Even this gives me some gratification, as when I stumble on something that really, really works, then I can rub my hands together and know that, next game, someone is going to be on the receiving end… Mwahaha!
“And, as we approach the finish, it’s Blue leading by a neck!”
The race game, definitely one to raise the blood pressure. I say race game, but It may not be such an obvious race to the finish line.
Games like Formula De, Camel Up (or Camel Cup depending upon how you look at the box!), Pitch Car, and Flamme Rouge are all most definitely race games. You start at the start, move along a track towards the finish (in some you may even end up going backwards), first past the post wins, easy right?
But what about a game like Star Wars Outer Rim, is that a race game?
Not in the conventional sense, you don’t move along a set path, but maybe, just maybe, if we squint our eyes and wave the box lid in front of our face, then we could, at a push, say yes, it is a race game too.
All the players start on equal terms (there may be slight differences but, fingers crossed, they are balanced differences) with the first person to acquire 10 fame being the winner, so, is it not just a race to reach 10 fame? (feel free to debate this one!)
Either way, these games can offer a very intense finale, at least when things are tight. The best of these always seem to ensure a dramatically close finish, where everyone thinks they can win right up until someone else does, at least in my experience, and that makes a great game. Flamme Rouge is good at that, Pitch Car is simply good fun and nobody actually cares who wins, and Formula De is the dog in this basket. By that I don’t mean it’s a bad game, in fact I really enjoy playing it, but all too often there’s a runaway winner, and that makes the ending somewhat of a let-down, at least for those who aren’t running away!
These games are great played in group, especially when alcohol has been added, as they lend themselves to open banter and heckling. Just how close everyone is to the finish line is open information, there’s no calculations to be made, and so you know exactly what you need to do to get in front, and so does everyone else, and boy, when you make a pigs ear out of it you just know you’ll never hear the end of it, at least until the next round anyway!
For me, the least satisfying ending when played solo. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy playing them, I just don’t so much care if I win or lose.
Many of these games have a degree of randomness to them, and this reduces the satisfaction, as a win can be purely down to the fall of the cards or roll of a die, and where’s the satisfaction in that?
Take that you foul beast!
Who doesn’t love getting one over on everyone else? Well, to be honest it depends.
For this category, let me run you through something that happened to me.
We were playing Age of Empires: Discovery at what must have been max player count, 6 I think, the game had just finished and final scoring had been worked out – all by Mark, the nice guy who owned the game.
Mark then announced the scores, with the top three coming in at 91, 90, and 89; I was second and Mark first. But I held in my hand a little card I’d picked up unnoticed halfway through the game, it read, ‘War in Europe – after end-game scoring the leader loses 10VPs.’
And so, I won the game, but was it a satisfactory ending?
For me, the feelings were mixed. Yes, I’d won the game fair and square, and I’d like to think it was through good play rather than luck, but after a moments worth of smugness, I began to feel slightly uneasy with my victory. We were all, except for Mark, new to the game, and therefor had no idea that such a card existed within its papery realms; I’m not even sure Mark knew it was in there, and so it felt an unworthy win. I felt extremely sorry for Mark, who really should have been the winner, and we debated the effect of this card for some time later. Even though it didn’t directly affect anyone else other than Mark, everyone was flabbergasted by its effect on the game placings – Mark must have dropped to almost, if not last place.
I had really enjoyed the game up until that point, and so, I believe, had everyone else, but this one event ruined the experience and made everyone focus on a negative point of an otherwise very good game.
I hate games like this, where, after the game has finished, something that is hidden information can drastically alter the result. If that War in Europe card had only lost the leader a couple of points, even though Mark would still have lost, the fact that it was by just a small margin would have resulted in a different experience, one that would have been much more acceptable.
And yet, I have to honestly say, I love games like this too, but the conditions must be right. All players must be experienced with the game and know what cards are knocking around that will knock you out. Then there is an acceptance, everyone has signed the contract and knows what may unfold, and then, it’s everyman for himself!
Playing solo has all the pluses and none of the minuses of playing with others. I don’t get any guilty feelings when I give the AI a kick down below, and when it returns the favour, I won’t hold a grudge.
I find my playing style more fluent when playing the AI, as sometimes I’ll hold back from laying a totally devastating card at a human’s feet, especially if they’re already down on their luck (no qualms if their romping away in front, however), and so I always feel it’s a job well done if I win, and if I lose, well, I can threaten the AI with no fear of recompense!
Me v You – It’s a knockout!
I find that competitive two-player games rarely reach the exciting climatic intensity that other games can provide. When the game is closely fought, then the excitement often turns into a tense battle of wills, followed by a sense of relief for the winner and resignation for the loser.
Though these closely fought battles are extremely satisfying, the ending itself is often an anti-climax, and the game all too often wrapped up before it finishes.
Chess is likely to end in resignation rather than an actual check-mate, at least at the higher levels of play, and in Magic: The Gathering it’s usually possible to recall the point at which losing became inevitable.
It isn’t just restricted to two-player games either, as I find that many competitive games, where the game is won when one player achieves a certain goal, require an amount of concentration that moves the game from being all out excitement to one of quiet contemplation. But this is by no means a terrible thing.
Two-player competitive games offer up the most satisfying endings of all, just not the most exciting, but why do I think that?
Because the victory is all your own work.
But isn’t this the case in other types of game?
Yes, but no!
Let’s consider a few examples:
At the beginning of a game of Chess all things are equal, other than one person goes first, though whether that is considered an advantage or not really depends upon the players themselves. It is one person’s skill against another, and to win, especially against a worthwhile opponent, gives one a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. Here it is a case of defeating someone by out-thinking them, by being better mentally prepared, or simply having a better memory for the game than your opponent, either way, it’s difficult not to enter smug mode!
In Magic things are slightly different. The two players will start with totally different decks, each of their own making, and much of the skill of the game goes into creating those decks. There is a real sense of excitement, tinged with a little trepidation, when the first turns are played out. The joy in Magic is seeing your deck, your baby, come to life and purr like a well fed-cat. But then you realise you’re facing a rather large tabby, and one that hasn’t been fed for some time – then things start to get tasty and things settle into an aura of nervous tension. The winner will inevitably lean back and give a large sigh of a happy, well fed and content puss.
But, rewind a second… your deck begins to purr, but you’re not facing the tabby this time, no, it’s a great big, long tooth, massive mouthed Wolf, and before you know it, you’re pie! If you were that Wolf, you’d be extremely satisfied with your meal, your deck worked to perfection, as for the puss, well, maybe you need to sharpen those claws.
I used these two examples specifically, as the satisfaction in the end game is quite different. For starters, with chess you have to know that you’re playing someone who is at least as good as you are to get a satisfying result. To beat someone who is at a lower level than yourself brings no sense of reward, no satisfaction, it is an expected result.
Now, in Magic, you may well be aware that your opponent is a raw novice, but the deck he’s playing with could be that of a master, there’s only one way to find out – play! It turns out that that the novice is playing with his first ever deck, one made up of lots of different cards with little synergy, but that doesn’t matter, as your deck is up and running and you’ve beaten him within a few turns – satisfying? You betcha!
That’s the difference in games like Magic, where the preparation is done beforehand, you get an immense feeling of satisfaction when your creation works and wins, no matter who the opponent. ‘I made this, and it worked’ – that’s all you really want to know, isn’t it? Okay, if you’re playing someone who is at the top of the game and you win, well, that just makes it even better – ride those endorphins like you’ve never ridden them before!
Star Wars: X-Wing, Warhammer 40K, and any other customisable game falls into this bracket, widely popular and very, very satisfying.
My experience of playing these competitive games against an AI has so far been pretty lacklustre. Predictable in how they play it doesn’t take long to figure out how to best them, and then it becomes a bit of a bore unless you’re into high score chasing.
Those that have multiple level AIs are a better prospect, though, and it’s something I look out for if I’m choosing a game with solo play in mind. But there’s something a little unsatisfactory about beating an AI opponent, even if they do put up a bit of a fight, and it’s strange that, when playing a solo game where you’re up against the game, rather than a stand-in AI opponent, I find things much more rewarding.
I do enjoy playing games like Magic, Star Wars: X-Wing/Legion, and other games that allow me to bring my own deck/squad to the table. I regularly play against myself to see how my deck/squad preforms, and I can then tinker with it until I’m happy, however, when I win (inevitable really) I don’t get any real sense of satisfaction unless I stumble on something different that really kicks butt.
Together, we shall rule the world
I’ve saved the best till last: co-operative games!
If two-player games offer the most satisfying endings, then these are a close second, but the added bonus here is that they’re usually exciting and you get to share the love.
These games usually end when the players reach a specific goal – killed the big bad, wiped out those diseases, or escaped the dungeon etc. They also end, of course, in failure.
Good co-op games will provide an ending that could go either way right up to the very last moment, which should get the players on to the edge of their seat. Many times I’ve played these games and experienced the growing excitement as we think we have it in the bag, only to be defeated at the very last turn of a card or throw of a die, and yet we still celebrate the ending!
Playing together, working towards a common goal, makes the win or loss a shared experience, and together we celebrate the great, and the not so great, things the players did. We discuss where we went wrong, we praise ourselves for things we did right, and, as something every co-op game should include, we dish out the banter and point a finger at the person who lost us the game.
When we win there’s a sense of euphoria – the clenched fist punched into the air, cries of, ‘Yes’, and ‘Get in there’ ring around the room (or is that just me?). The sense of satisfaction each player feels is magnified by the number of people involved: think about your own experiences, is this true?
A game played at a higher player count always seems to give a bigger lift when you win than when played with just a few – you’re bouncing off each other and this raises the intensity of the feeling.
I always think that in these games there are no real losers, you never get that feeling that you’re just not good enough, you never get left behind, and for some reason losing against a game never feels quite as bad as losing to another person!
These are my favourite games to play solo. I usually play with three or four characters (or hands etc… depends on the game) so there can be a lot to keep on top of, but when I down that last monster or save the world from the latest made up threat, then it gives me a buzz.
Playing these games gives me a sense of control, as normally you’d have three or four other people’s input to push and pull against in terms of forming a strategy, but on my own, it’s all my own work. When I win, I can extend my right arm, bend at the elbow, and give myself a well-deserved pat on the back. When I lose, I have to give myself a good talking to, maybe even point a finger at the mirror… ‘lose again, mug, and you’re out!’
Obviously, you lose that camaraderie and banter, but you still get the rising tension as you move towards the goal. Even when it all goes wrong, like in the Arkham Horror card game when your characters become wussies and escape rather than face their fate, you still feel good because you gave it your best shot.
The story driven games such as Arkham and Mansions of Madness are always a pleasure, and Mansions in particular provides a very climatic finish, one where you’re usually on the receiving end. Whilst games like Black Orchestra and Pandemic give a game that is tight and closely contended, and a win is still just as exhilarating, even when you’ve nobody to high-five – you can still do a celebratory lap of the garden if you’re that way inclined… like me!
10 17 favourite game endings
Off the top of my head and in quick time, so I’ve probably missed some awesome games, please feel free to berate me in the comments…
- Scythe – I love the decision making that leads one to end the game with fingers crossed!
- Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition – The app pushes the pace and raises tension, the win brings a sense of relief and feelings of accomplishment; to lose makes you throw your head in your hands, which you’ll probably miss!
- Time of Legends: Joan of Arc – This game keeps finishing with those treasured ‘stand up’ moments!
- Black Orchestra – a tight game that often hovers between success and failure.
- Arkham Horror: The Card Game – The story makes the game, and the ending just leads you on to more…
- Gloomhaven – Scenarios often end with a flurry of excitement, as you crawl to victory because you haven’t the energy to stand – at least if you get the leveling system right!
- Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective – When you crack the case and get close to Sherlock’s target you feel like a God, when you don’t you feel like a dumb ass.
- Twilight Struggle – The tug-of-war scoring system brings a yell of, ‘Victory!’ to the winners lips, but you have to be playing a worthy opponent.
- Magic: The Gathering – Satisfaction reigns supreme, at least when your deck fire on all cylinders!
- King of Tokyo – ‘King of Tokyo!’ What more needs to be said!
- Nemesis – A co-op with a bite, escape is exhilarating… usually!
- Eldritch Horror – So hard to win, but when you do it is sooo satisfying.
- Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the cursed Island – Just like Eldritch, only harder!
- Star Wars: Legion – When my force crushes yours I feel invincible, otherwise I’ll just cower down here, behind the table!
- Pandemic – It’s Pandemic, right!
- Star Trek: Attack Wing/Star Wars: X-Wing – Just like Legion, but I get less satisfaction as the minis are pre-painted!
- The Mind – You may not want to play it over and over, but when you get further than ever before the satisfaction is enormous, if a little exhausting!