The Problem of Engine Building Games: Part 3

In Part 1, I discuss growth in games and the definition of an engine building game. In Part 2, I discuss the problem of diverging player odds, odds diagrams, and the first of five solutions.

In Part 3, I discuss the remaining four solutions to the problem of diverging player odds:

  1. Damping Mechanisms (which coerce player standings into similarity)
  2. Variance Reduction Mechanisms (which reduce variation in player’s individual outcomes)
  3. Escalation (which delays the divergence of player odds)
  4. Obfuscation Mechanisms (which obscure logical player elimination).

These latter four solutions are general solutions to the problem of diverging player odds which are not specific to exponential games. However, exponential games may me more likely to feature these solutions due to their pathological diverging player odds.

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The Problem of Engine Building Games: Part 2

In Part 1, I discuss growth in games and the definition of an engine building game. In Part 2, I will discuss player odds and the problem of engine building games, as well as the consequences of specific quantitative properties of engine building games. In Part 3, I will discuss additional solutions to the problem of player odds.

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The Problem of Engine Building Games: Part 1

We generally use the term “Engine-building Game” to refer to games in which players develop some construct which they leverage to gain an advantage. This game structure is ubiquitous, but in this article I will focus on a handful of classic examples, such as Through the Ages, Agricola, Terra Mystica, Catan, Dominion and Race for the Galaxy. In Dominion, the prototypical “deck-building game,” players add more and more powerful cards to their deck, and leverage their deck to gain more useful cards as well as cards which grant victory points. In Race for the Galaxy, players add to a tableau of cards which they leverage to add more powerful cards to their tableau and gain victory points chips. Both of these games are characterized by player states which grow exponentially in value as the game progresses. In this article, I will formally define engine-building games as those which exhibit exponential player state growth. Thereafter I will examine the consequences of exponential growth on the properties of games and how this poses challenges which game designers have either addressed or failed to address in well-known engine-building games. Continue reading “The Problem of Engine Building Games: Part 1”

Player Interaction in Multiplayer Games


In 2009, boardgamegeek user Kerning posted an interview he conducted with game designer Uwe Rosenberg, which has been translated from German. In response to a question about his preferences, Rosenberg responded:

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Reasoning About Strategy

Deductive and Inductive Reasoning

Modern games tend to have a high degree of complexity, in that they would be very difficult to “solve” in the game theoretical sense. For games with a relatively low degree of complexity, we can use game theory, math and logic to derive truly optimal strategies. When we do this, we are using purely deductive reasoning. A deductively derived optimal strategy for a game can be proven to be optimal, and there is no uncertainty about its optimality.

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Luck and Skill in Modern Board Games

Luck is a frequent topic of discussion among gamers. When we lose, we accuse the victors of getting lucky. When discussing our opinions about games, we might claim that “that game is all luck,” or “I like a game with a fair amount of luck.” There are a lot of connotations wound up with the word luck – we tend to associate it with things like dice, which produce outcomes which are outside of our control. We may also view a win attributed to luck as dishonorable or undeserved, as opposed to a well earned win attributed to a clever show of skill. But sometimes these attributions are not so straightforward. In a bluffing game, I might claim that “you’re luckpic861860_mdy I didn’t call,” but you would protest claiming that “it was all skill.” If we are to settle these disagreements, which are of course of the utmost importance, we have to carefully define our terms. I think it’s useful to formalize the way we talk about luck and skill in games, so that it is easier to discuss rather complex topics having to do with games while minimizing discussion of semantics.

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