Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tournament Games

I was reminded recently by a thread over at BGG that I am not a big fan of the concept of multi-player Euros as tournaments. I am not against tournaments per se, I am not against competitions or competitive playing of games (in fact some may say quite the opposite), but I believe that the majority of multiplayer (three or more) Eurogames are not suitable for competition play. There are many games and types of games that are, but just not many Euros.

Role-playing Games
For many years before the arrival of Daughter the Elder I was involved in quite a few role-playing games conventions, as an organizer, player or referee or a combination of the above. Almost all of the games at these conventions were run as tournament modules. Players entered as teams and played, in effect, against the module or game and you compared against other teams. Thus all players would play the same game, or at least depending on the decisions that they made could play the same game and started with the same characters and resources (true in the majority of cases until Living Greyhawk events came along). An important point is that is it the team that wins or loses, it is not the individual player competing against other players in the same team.

There will usually be an element of luck and this will vary depending on the specific module or game system being played. For example a D&D based Dungeon Bash is usually going to involve more dice rolling than a Call of Cthulhu based trip across Antarctica or a systemless based offering where you are playing actors involved in producing radio serials and making sure you keep the sponsors happy.

An issue with role playing game tournaments is how the scoring is allocated. It is usually split between achieving particular objectives (e.g. slay the dragon, deliver the mail, travel to Alpha Centauri, write that new jingle to keep the sponsor happy or whatever) and role playing. The scores for the role playing are, of course, entirely subjective and can be victim to clashes of style or personality or differences of opinion. It is possible that two different referees may give the same players two quite different scores for no apparently good reason. On the whole I don’t think this is a widespread problem, but it does exist.

Another advantage of role playing games for tournament play is that they are played in sessions of a fixed length of time. When then session is over you stop playing, if there is another session you can continue where you left off, if it is the last session then you have finished.

Skill differences between players may affect the overall team performance, but will not directly impact other players that you are competing against.

Chess and other two player abstracts that you care to name.
These games are perfect for tournament play. No luck, scoring is straightforward and it is your skill, experience and concentration versus that of your opponent.

Duplicate Bridge
Duplicate Bridge is another game perfectly suited, to excuse the pun, for tournament play. You are playing as one member of a pair sitting either North-South or East-West. The hands are all pre-dealt and you play a minimum of twenty-four hands and your score is compared against the other pairs sitting in the same direction who have played exactly the same hands. The East-West pairs move after each hand so every hand is against different opponents.

Wargames (two player or two sides)
Two player wargames are good for tournament play too, although the length of time to play can be an issue for some of them.

Generally they have very clearly defined victory conditions to determine the winner. For example in game about the German invasion of France in World War II it is highly unlikely that the French/Allied player will repel the German assault, however the victory conditions will be that the Germans need to capture and hold particular locations by the end of the game (which will be a fixed number of turns) and if those conditions are not met then the French/Allied player has won.

There is an element of luck in most, if not all, wargames with dice rolling and or cards depending on the game, but generally this will not be a deciding factor. At least this is the case where you have the option or choice of moving any of your units. I don’t have enough games of Memoir ’44 under my belt to have a firm opinion of whether the card draw could defeat you (i.e. you rarely or never pick up a card that allows you to move your left flank troops). Then again, I just remembered I am from the school of thought that Memoir ’44 is not a simulation game and should probably be considered a Euro :-)

Eurogames – two player
Two player Euros, which includes multi-player Euros that play well as two player games, would all work well as tournament games. Some could be considered as themed abstracts and others would be similar to wargames in that it would player versus player with the luck aspect due to tile or card draws as opposed to a die roll. I believe CCGs would fit here too, although since I was never bitten by the CCG bug I do not consider myself particularly knowledgeable about them.

Most Euros work on total victory points obtained through the game as opposed to victory conditions (e.g. just building a Harbour in Puerto Rico is not an integral part of a potential victory, it is the points obtained for building it plus those obtained in using it).

Points should be awarded for the win, if points are awarded in each round of the tournament for points made in each game then this opens the opportunity for what could be considered unwelcome events. Take Carcassonne for example. In tournament A points are awarded for a win, draw or loss. To get the maximum points over a number of rounds you must play to win in each and every game. In tournament B points are awarded based on the total number of points obtained during the game. In tournament B a player who plays cooperatively in every game will usually end up with a much higher total score than the player who has been playing a different tables and has played to win, even though the cooperative player may not have actually scored a win at all. It is important, for some games in particular, to look closely at any tournament scoring system and approach it from different angles and viewpoints to see how players may approach it. I believe the person who wins a tournament should be the person the played the game the best, not the person who discovered a loophole in the scoring system.

Multi-player Eruos
With the exception of co-operative games like Shadows Over Camelot (sans traitor) multi-player Euros (MPEs) are each player for themselves trying to win against the other players in the same game. Alliances and friendships may be forged and/or broken along the way, but as a rule there will only be one winner.

The problem with three or more players competing against each other in the same game is that the potential for Kingmaking exists, deliberately or otherwise. For the purposes of this discussion Kingmaking is considered to be improving the position of another player whilst not improving your own position. I would argue that if you can improve your own position in a game and as a result this directly or indirectly improves the position of another player then that is their good fortune not Kingmaking.

There are the times, especially near the end of the game where you have nothing to do to materially benefit yourself, but one particular move would give the game to player A and another move would give the game to player B. What to do?

There is also the point of when an alliance becomes collusion. In some games it is beneficial to ally with another player so the two of you can compete against the others. If it is benefiting both of you, then all power to you. However it is possible that the alliance can cross the line of pushing one of the players forward at the expense of the other player in the alliance just to give of the pair the win. That is where I think it has crossed the line into Kingmaking territory. Maybe this never happens, but the point is that it can happen in many multi-player games.

Inexperienced players may impact the game too, for example if an experience player allows their territory to be gobbled up by one of their neighbours then this will have an indirect negative impact on other players in the game, the same thing is not likely to be happening on other tables of the same game. The likelihood of something like this happening will vary immensely with the particular game being played, but it is worth considering.

I really enjoy playing multi-player Euros, but the thought of entering a tournament to play one is not particularly appealing.

One last thing on tournaments – prizes. I don’t believe there should be cash prizes. The prizes should be in the forms of trophies and certificates as a rule. Maybe the odd game or two, but when cash or large value prizes start appearing then it can give impetus to people looking for loopholes.

Hmmm meeples taste like...


Anonymous said...

Actually, in duplicate bridge, usually the east-west pairs move after two boards (occasionally even three), not just one.

Also there are bridge tournaments where you play as part of a team of four or more; in those the boards are played at just two tables. So if you are North-South on one board, your teammates are East-West playing it at the other table.

Fraser said...

I last played Bridge two days before Daughter the Elder was born (1998), so I will admit to being a little rusty on movements :-)

Teams I just left out to simplify things, although it does show how well Duplicate Bridge is suited for tournament play.

Melissa said...

David, it depends on the club and on local conventions. Here in Australia (possibly I should specify Victoria), it's *way* more usual to run three or even four-board movements (with 7 or 8 table sections, run a 4-board movement playing 28 boards; with 9 or more, play 3 boards).

But Fraser and I played at a club in Christchurch, New Zealand, where they routinely played 1-board rounds so that over the course of an evening all 24 NS pairs played all 24 EW pairs. (I would run a 24 table night as 3 8-table Mitchell movements with a skip; about the only time I'd play a 2-board movement is with 13 tables - even with 12, I'd still run a 3-board movement).

TrimChris said...

Multi-player euros can make for great tournaments when handled properly. The WBC and Prezcon do it every year.

In general the formats provide multiple heats of a game before those with the best records move to the semi-finals. Having multiple heats allows the better players multiple chances to make the semi-finals in case there are fluke games or "novice kingmaking" in a game.

Once you get to the semi-finals, and especially the finals, you are going to mostly see players trying to maximize their own scores. Because there are rewards for multiple positions rather than just first place. Your positional scores generate laurels that are tallied over the course of the entire con for a cumulative score. The cons also track laurel totals per game from year-to-year so that there is a nice record of that.

These cumulative rewards do a lot to mitigate some negative aspects when a single tournament is an entity to itself.

Dr. Matt J. Carlson said...

Of course, any tournament setup will thus encourage metagaming...

In the example timchris gives, it isn't clear what he means. Do players try to maximize thier score or try to maximize their position? The two are very different.

Also, a game played to win can easily be significantly different than a game played for best position. I prefer to try for first when I can, even if it means I risk placing 3rd instead of 2nd. (or scoring less instead of scoring more)

So, no matter what tournament format you choose, it will directly change how the game is played when compared to how players might play it if it was just played as a single stand-alone game.

I think many Euros, being somewhat less confrontational than other styles of games, tend to be poor tournament categories for that reason.