Uncertain death – end game triggers (Topic Discussion)

It’s always interesting to see how different games decide when they end. There are so many different ways of ending a game. Some games are played over a fixed number of rounds and others end when a certain goal or goals are achieved. There are also games that have a slightly more random timer. What happens when a game ends is also not always the same. In some games, all players get one more turn or the current round is played out. Other games end immediately and nobody gets another chance. In this article, I want to look at how all of these different endings create different player experiences.

Uncertain death – end game triggers (Topic Discussion) (Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash)(Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash)

Fixed Number of Rounds

Let’s look at games where the end of the game is triggered after a fixed number of rounds. In these games, everyone will get the same number of turns. Just think of games such as Sagrada or Aquamarine. Nobody can complain that they didn’t see the end coming, especially not if there is a clear round tracker. Everyone should be able to map out how many actions they have and roughly plan what they’ll be able to do from start to finish. I know, most games don’t allow you to plan everything in detail, but at least you do get a sense of what might be possible.

That’s especially useful when you know how many points you’re likely to get from which parts of the game. It also helps if you have a sense of the number of points you’ll have at game end. Dividing the potential points total by the number of rounds or actions gives you a useful average to aim for. It also allows you to track your progress during the game. You will roughly know if you’re ahead or falling behind.

Sagrada's translucent, colourful dice on the player board (photo courtesy of Floodgate Games)
Sagrada’s translucent dice look amazing (photo courtesy of Floodgate Games)

So games that end after a fixed number of rounds are pretty predictable and predictability creates a sense of comfort. It’s the unknown people don’t tend to like. As a player, you will know how much longer you have to endure this game, if you don’t get on with it, or how little time you have left to win. On the whole, games with a fixed number of rounds allow you to plan better. They therefore tend to feel more enjoyable.

Goals and Objectives

Games that don’t have a fixed number of rounds, but that end when one or more objectives are met, either by a single player or several of them, are a lot less predictable. Games with these sorts of end game triggers include Undaunted: Normandy and Adventure Games: The Dungeon.

However, there is still usually a way of working out how close you are to the end of the game. Often you will be able to tell how close to completing a goal players are. So you still get a sense of how much time there is likely left.

There is still more of a sense of surprise when a player, whose goal seemed to be way off completing, pulls off an amazing combo and suddenly finishes the game. Your hope of getting two or three more turns to finish your own goal is dashed. All you can do is try to get as many points as possible to pull into second place.

That level of uncertainty creates excitement and tension. When the tension is suddenly released, it usually creates strong emotions. When everyone is on the edge of their seat and itching to take their turn to finish the game, but someone else gets there first, it’s just glorious. Usually, it creates feelings of joy and happiness, but of course, it can also turn into disappointment. I hope as adults we’ve learned to deal with it, especially in the context of board games.

Random Timers

Some games don’t have a fixed number of rounds, but also no specific objectives. Instead, there is some sort of timer. It might be a deck of cards, where the bottom so many cards contain an end-game trigger at a randomly shuffled position, like in Dominant Species: Marine. Timed games give you a rough idea of when the game is likely to end, but you can never be sure.

When these games end, there will be a similar sense of happiness or disappointment, as there is in objective games. The main difference is that nobody will ever get a sense of how close they are to finishing the game. Instead, everyone will hope that the game continues just one more round. Everyone just wants to complete their plans and score a few more points that might clinch victory.

Finishing the Round

Irrespective of how end game triggers are decided, there is then still the question of whether the game ends immediately or if the round is finished – or if every player gets one more turn.

If you finish the round or everyone gets more turn, you tend to feel like you at least have another chance at getting a few more points to get to second place. The game sort of gives you a second chance. Some games even have the option of you winning, if you get the most point. You don’t necessarily win just because you’re the first to finish.

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All of these things give you a sense of control. You don’t feel cheated out of victory. You don’t feel like you were unable to see through your plan.

That’s opposed to games that end immediately, like Scythe. Most people think that this sort of ending is unfair. You want to be able to at least have one more turn, just so that you can carry out the actions you had planned for so long and get the points you think you deserve.

Scythe

Games that end immediately create a sense of resentment and I’ve heard quite often how games groups houserule them to allow everyone on more turn. I think games that end immediately are absolutely fine. As long as you know that’s what happens from the start, you can plan for them.

What About You?

As you can see, there are many different ways a game can end. End game triggers vary quite a bit and create quite different gameplay experiences. What do you think about the way games end? How do you feel about different end game triggers? Do you hate it when a game ends suddenly and unexpectedly? Maybe you feel you deserve one more turn? Do you like games that have a fixed number of rounds? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Silent Alpha by MusicParadise
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/5067-silent-alpha
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: http://www.music-paradise.de

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