Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Point tracking methods

Robin Lees, host of the podcast
Whose Turn Is It Anyway?
Robin Lees (@RMBLees) posed the following question on Twitter:

I never really thought about all the ways that different games keep track of score - defined as the single game state parameter that determines who wins, whether in comparison to other players or to a threshold.  Looking into the different score tracking mechanisms might illuminate some advantages and disadvantages among them and inform future game designs.

Score track
I think this method was the focus of Robin's original question.  Each player has a pawn that moves along a track to represent his or her score.  The "shape" or "geography" of the track seems to be what Robin meant to investigate.  
  • The classic "game board perimeter" track runs around the outside of the primary gameboard:
    • Trajan
    • Ticket to Ride
    • Lords of Waterdeep
    • Saint Petersburg
    • Concordia is kind of a funny exception.  There is a score track around the perimeter of the board, but players don't keep track of score on it during the game.  
  • A separate board just for scoring has a point track that follows some kind of winding or wrapping path:
    • Alhambra and Carcassonne use a snake pattern. 
    • Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League spirals into the center.
    • Compounded has perhaps the most unorthodox score track - the Periodic Table of the Elements.
    • Belle of the Ball uses three cards that together make up a 60-point scoring track.
    • Great Heartland Hauling Co. has a scoring track card for each player that represents both money and points.
    • My copy of Ingenious uses individual player peg boards for scoring in each of the six colors.  I've seen other versions that use cubes on individual scoring tracks.
    • VivaJava uses the scoring track for determining turn order as well.
  • In a pure race game, the game board is the score track:
    • Parcheesi forms a cruciform loop.  (Its modern derivatives include Trouble and Sorry!, which simply follow the perimeter of the board.)
    • Formula De mimics actual race tracks around the world.
    • Gravwell spirals outward to the perimeter (rather the opposite of Perry Rhodan)
Currency or tokens
  • Some games explicitly use currency as the score tracker - those games in which the player with the most money at the end of the game wins:
    • Chicago Express
    • Acquire
    • Small World
    • Mars Needs Mechanics
  • Others use separately-identified victory point tokens.
    • Puerto Rico 
    • Pergamon
    • Sunrise City
    • Euphoria
    • Jaipur victory points look like money, but since players can't spend the money, it's more appropriate to think of them as (unusable, permanent) victory points.
In many cases, if a game has either victory point tokens or currency but not both, the distinction is moot; money and points are equivalent.  Great Heartland Hauling Co. has this property, although it uses a cube on a scoring card instead of currency or tokens to track money/points.

Score pad
Many games don't track points during the game but have players evaluate the game-end condition and add up points to determine a winner.  
Some have a specific tabular score pad that comes with the game to help players add up points accumulated in a number of different categories at the end of the game:
  • Agricola
  • 7 Wonders
Others don't provide a score pad, but players may find it easiest to add scores on paper to determine a winner because they have multiple sources of points to aggregate:
  • Le Havre
  • Puerto Rico
  • Goa
  • Targi
  • Troyes
Card count
A number of card games track score simply by an accumulation of cards won during play:
  • Trick-taking games are the quintessential example.
  • Traders of Carthage accumulates cards in a score pile.
  • Innovation accumulates certain cards as "achievements" as well as in a separate score pile.
Player count
In player elimination games, a player's "score" is 1 if he is still playing, 0 if he is not.  
  • Monopoly
  • Coup
  • Werewolf
By "Observation," I mean determining score by evaluating the game condition without there being any explicit indication of the actual score.  Examples include
  • Settlers of Catan, which bases the score on number of settlements and cities built plus any bonus point cards held
  • Power Grid, which counts number of "powered cities," which is the smaller of the total fueled power plant capacity or the number of connected cities
  • Splendor, which has certain cards and tiles that are worth points when they are included in a player's tableau
  • Android: Netrunner, which ends with a winner based on the point value of agenda cards collected, damage tokens accumulated, or the exhaustion of a draw deck
  • Citadels, which bases the score on the number of districts built and whether all five types (colors) are represented
  • Council of Verona, whose score is based on which point tokens end the game on nobles that satisfied their scoring criterion
  • Battle Line, whose score is based on the positions of flags won during the game
So as I compiled this taxonomy of game scoring, some thoughts about score tracking methods came to mind.  First, let's look at Robin's original question.  As I think about the different types of score tracks, I realize that I am not fond of those that snake back and forth as in Alhambra and Carcassonne.  I find it too easy to count in the wrong direction (perhaps because I can be a little careless).  So I tend to prefer scoring tracks that go left-to-right, one row at a time.  Also, I'm prone to moving the wrong piece if everybody is on the same scoring track, whereas there's less chance of error if each player has his or her own scoring track.  On the other hand, when everyone is on the same track, it's easier to compare progress among players.

Another observation is the distinction between currency (which is like spendable victory points) and conventional victory points, which are permanent.  I tend to like business/economy games, which force players to spend money in order to make money when money is the measure of victory.  VP tokens are less flexible from a design standpoint.

I also tend to like hidden victory points (as in Puerto Rico) because they obfuscate who is winning the game at any given time, which makes more difficult deciding whom to slow down with a negative action.  "Point salad" games, in which players tabulate points from a number of different sources at the end of the game, also tend to hide the relative progress of players against each other.

Using cards to track points minimizes the components necessary but has the effect of reducing the number of cards in play over the course of the game.  That property works in trick-taking game but can actually be problematic in a four-player game of Traders of Carthage.

So score tracking actually poses some game design trades that can make for some interesting choices.  I appreciate Robin's question for making me look more closely at something I think I'd otherwise taken for granted.


  1. Loved your post! I think Puerto Rico really does an awesome job on obfuscating scoring JUST ENOUGH. Usually you have pretty good feel on who is doing good, and who is doing bad, just by looking at how developed their side is. You are never going to play a game of Puerto Rico and think "that person is not doing so well" and then at the end of the game they are the winner. And scoring (either buildings or shipping) also moves the game along! What a great game. Some great thoughts on scoring!

    1. I completely agree about Puerto Rico. You tend to know who has been shipping more than whom, but you never know for sure who has the lead. That game never gets old.