Whether we play competitive or cooperative games, we all expect someone to be the winner. Even if it’s “the game” who wins in a cooperative game. In fact, there is usually a single winner or a team in team games. Most games will list one or multiple tie-breakers to decide who is the ultimate winner. So the idea of victory conditions has become second nature to most of us in the board game hobby. Yet, there are games that don’t elect a winner and in this article, I want to talk about what this might feel like.

I was inspired to write about this topic after listening to Amabel Holland talking to Liz Davidson in an episode of the Beyond Solitaire podcast. At some point during the interview, Amabel got to talk about her game Endurance, which doesn’t have a victory condition. The game is about Antarctic survival and is based on Ernest Shackleton‘s 1914 expedition. Back then, it seemed like the whole crew of the ship would be lost, but miraculously, they were all saved.

In the game, it is your job to try and save as many of the team as possible. However, there is no victory to be had. You’re not trying to bring back a certain number of people. You don’t lose if things don’t go your way. It’s all about basic survival. It is for you, the player, to decide whether bringing back the whole crew is the only true victory or saving even just a single deckhand is a win. After all, you are facing an impossible situation, so being able to rescue just one person is a miracle.

Victory, Loss and Game End Conditions

At this stage, I just want to go over a couple of terms.

While Endurance doesn’t have any victory or loss conditions, the game does end at some point. There are, in fact, a number of end conditions. So it’s not like you play Endurance forever. However, the game does force you to carry on, even when things seem hopeless. You can only stop when you have either rescued everyone, when there is a mutiny or when all lifeboats are lost.

That’s quite important to note. Sure, there are games without an end condition and you expect those to have neither a victory nor a loss condition. However, when a game ends, we are all so used to always choosing a winner.

Let me also talk about loss conditions next. To me, victory and loss conditions are almost the same thing. One tells you who won and the other who lost. Many games have a mix of both and sometimes one precludes the other. For example, in The Rich and the Good, whoever has the most cash after selling all of their shares at the end wins. Except, the player who gave the least amount to charity always loses, even if they had the most cash.

Loss conditions are also often favoured in cooperative games. The team loses when a certain thing is true. Cooperative games do also have victory conditions, but explaining when the game ends with a loss makes it easier for players.

At the end of the day though, you can rephrase all victory conditions as loss conditions and vice versa.

a black-and-white photo of the Endurance caught in the ice
(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Hollow Victory

So let’s go back to looking at games with end conditions but without victory or loss conditions.

I think when a game doesn’t decide who wins or who loses, let alone the order in which players are ranked at the end, it leaves that choice open to the players. It’s a clever design choice that can be used to really involve the people around the table.

In a serious setting, it forces everyone to think about what the game is about. Using Endurance again as an example, without the game telling you what is considered a victory, you have to decide how well you did saving people trapped on the ice without hope. You have to think about what these people went through as you sit in your warm home, drinking a warm drink and maybe a snack to hand. You have to choose what victory looks like for yourself.

In a lighter setting, removing loss and victory conditions from a game can elicit discussion. For example, in Bez‘s game A game about drawing creatures, complimenting the drawings, then complimenting the compliments there is intentionally no winner. Everyone just draws a creature and then has to compliment everyone else on their drawings. Finally, everyone has to compliment everyone on the compliments they have received. Nobody is asked to choose their favourite drawing or award scores. The game merely encourages everyone to look at the positives and find something that hopefully leaves another person feeling a little happier and receiving a positive note in return.

No Responsibility

It is so easy for us to let the game decide who has won. Wanting to have an objective adjudicator rank the people around the table is something I can relate to, because I am quite a competitive player at heart. So when the responsibility of choosing a victor is handed over to us, we realize what we’re actually asking for. It allows us to focus on what we were actually simulating when we were playing the game.

It is especially pertinent for what I call “serious” games, such as Endurance. It’s only natural to play a war game and want the “good” side to win. Yet, I wonder what war games would feel like if there was no victor or loser in the end. After all, over a certain number of turns and rounds, we sent people into battle to kill the opposing forces. That killing is justified by the game simply because one of us has to win. Remove the victory condition and maybe you start to see the suffering that wars cause.

Even games with less sensitive settings could benefit from removing loss and victory conditions. Imagine there being no winner in Monopoly. We could all just play property developer and try and get a large, varied portfolio of properties, houses and hotels. There would be no need to compare who had the most money or who was able to hang on the longest without going bankrupt. I feel the game would suddenly become something very different. Maybe there would be a lot less arguing and shouting.

How About You?

Now I wonder what you think about games without loss or victory conditions. Have you played any? Are you interested by the idea? What do you think games feel like where nobody wins or loses? Do you think games without loss or victory conditions are a good idea? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think.

Useful Links

Audio Version

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

Music: “Lonesome” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Solitude” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com


These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:


    1. Hello Earl. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I can understand that most people do expect someone to be the winner of a game and that’s fine, of course. I just think some games do lend themselves to not having a winner and that can make a game more interesting in a specific way.

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