Mechanic Monday – Player Elimination (and a challenge)

Some mechanics I love; other mechanics… not so much. Today we are going to look at a mechanic that I, more often than not, wish was not used. There are a few games that use the mechanic well, however, and we will look at how it is done well in those cases in comparison to how it is used poorly in other games. So without further delay lets look at the history of Player Elimination.

The mechanic is an old one; a very old one. According to BoardGameGeek the mechanic can be traced back to an ancient Indian game, Chaturanga, from the year 650. I have never heard of said game, but another common example would be poker. Looking at poker and the history of gambling it is safe to presume that the mechanic is possibly even older than Chaturanga in some ancient undocumented betting game. Regardless we can say this is a mechanic that is old and shows no sign of leaving anytime soon.

What exactly is player elimination? Does any game in which a player is ‘defeated’ count as player elimination? For a game to be considered to be using player elimination it can not be a 2 player game. The fact that my brother gets me in Check Mate ending a game of chess does not mean the game uses player elimination. The same goes for Checkers, Backgammon, Khet, Memoir ‘44. Player Elimination is a mechanic that works by stating when a player is eliminated the game continues on without them. Some argue only 3+ player games can use the mechanic; I disagree. a 2 player game of Castle Ravenloft can continue after one of the 2 players has been eliminated as the game is cooperative. A few players may disagree stating the elimination must be the deciding factor in loss/victory thus making co-op games non-PE. Personal Opinion… they are wrong…

In player elimination games players will often start on relatively equal footing and be playing with a king-of-the-hill mindset in which the last player standing wins; this is seen in games such as Monopoly, Risk, King of Tokyo, etc. Alternatively players can be playing a co-op game in which death is a real threat that can leave a player on the side of the road; this is seen in games such as Eldritch Horror and the D&D Adventure System series. Finally another common version of PE is survival in which players ‘vote each other off the island’ so to speak with the goal of their team being the sole survivors; this is best seen in games such as Ultimate Werewolf and Bang!, though it is seen in a free-for-all form in games such as Ca$h & Gun$.

Some of these games you may recognize from my Favorite Friday series; so how can a mechanic I don’t enjoy be used in some of my favorite games? Let us first look at why I dislike the mechanic 9 times out of ten; only then we may begin to understand how a designer can use it well.

I shall describe the three pitfalls I see in the Player Elimination mechanic; exclusion, asymmetrical enjoyment/balance, and decreased replayability. Before I dive into my explanation on these 3 issues bear in mind each player has their own desires and preferences when it comes to gaming and these are merely the ones I have observed in my playgroups; there are plenty of individuals that love the mechanic and don’t see an issue with the three points I shall be discussing; in my gaming community, however, they would fall in the minority.
1) Exclusion. Arguably everyone would rather be one of the players left in the game than one of the players eliminated. You don’t begin a game of Bang! hoping to be the first person to get killed off, and when you are killed you don’t smile gleefully having accomplished your goal. Rather in games such as this an eliminated player will sit idly by and watch, will leave, or eventually start another game with the other exiled players. They are, once eliminate, no longer part of the game and will experience a decreased amount of enjoyment in comparison to the other players.
2) Asymmetrical enjoyment/balance. When the game is over, were players to give an honest rating of their enjoyment, the players who were in the game longer than the rest would likely have enjoyed the game more than those who were eliminated early on. In Monopoly or Risk the player who won likely had a drastically better experience than the other players who began the game with them. This is especially true of games such as these that have a long playtime. It is not uncommon for a Risk game to continue for hours after the first player has been eliminated. These games often lead to a ‘rich get richer; kingmaker effect as the player with the most money gets the most hotels leading to the most money. It is equally common for a player to spend their last few rounds just waiting for the inescapable doom they know is coming.
3) Decreased replayability. The player who had the most enjoyment often will desire a second round, others player may as well. It is not uncommon, however, to see the early exiled opting out of a second round. Super-competitive players may opt to continue after having been exiled purely with the goal of surviving longer than the game before. When looking at player enjoyment as its own economy, however, the net enjoyment will more often than not be increased by the game being one in which all players may remain competitively involved for the duration with minimal downtime; with exiled players facing nothing but downtime.
While this is just a brief explanation of what I view as the three key problems I have experience and observed with the player elimination mechanic they are not beyond redemption.

Some games use the mechanic of player elimination very well; games such as Bang! Dice and King of Tokyo are both marvelous games and both use Player Elimination. What is it then that makes these games great? Why do they succeed where others fail? Quite simply the answer is pace, minimal downtime, entertaining spectacle, and a moderate player count. These games play quickly enough that once a player is eliminated they don’t have a long wait before the game ends and they can start again or begin another game. There is also a good pace so there is something happening at all times keeping eliminated players engaged in spectating if not in playing, when an eliminated player is forced to spectate there is nothing worse than just watching the remaining players think; these games reduce Analysis Paralysis and have visible actions with real time risk that increase the spectatorship value of the games. Keeping the player count to a lower value aids as well as it only takes a few eliminations for the game to end; when the game plays larger numbers, think mafia, there can be many rounds of players getting knocked off one-by-one extending gameplay as well as downtime.

While there is no hard and fast rule for player elimination; it is a mechanic that I warn to be used sparingly. When used well it can add an amazing element of risk and thus excitement and yet when used poorly and can create a game that will hold little to no replay value and will alienate part of the game’s audience.

It is thus that we at Gamer’s Remorse have issued a challenge. Kill Gamer’s Remorse. You can find more detailed info HERE in short; your mission if you choose to accept it. Design a new game over on The Game Crafter; the game must use the mechanic of player elimination and be fun. From the submitted games we will narrow down the top 5 all of which will be reviewed on our channel. Of those 5 we will nominate a winner as well as runner ups. The winner will receive $100 dollars cold hard cash (via paypall) as well as 100,000 crafter points, $50 shop credit to, hall of fame status, and a chance to judge TCGs next contest. 2nd place will win $50 bux and third place $25.

So do you have what it takes to kill Gamers Remorse?

Tomorrow we will follow up this look at player elimination with the popular war game Risk. Until then you can find us on social media at:
Twitter @Gam3rsR3mors3
Facbook /TheGamersRemorse

Related Posts

Comments are closed.