Player Elimination - When is it good/bad?
Player elimination is fairly uncommon in most games I have played, I thought I would share a few thoughts with you all to see what you think:
Most games that I have played with player elimination mechanics tend to be on the shorter end of things: #Coup or #Love Letter being a prime examples, they can be over in 10 minutes so no one is ever out for long and usually gives players the chance to go grab a drink as it is generally a filler game. This makes a lot of sense as sitting around a table with nothing to do for the last 30 minutes of a game is no fun at all. This is a real problem in a game like #Werewolf especially at higher player counts, as someone is usually killed in the first round, possibly before they even get to do anything and then has to sit and spectate for the remainder of the game, unable to even comment on the proceedings.
This is why I think most medium-heavy games don't include it. However, I do think there is something deeply tense in knowing that if you make too many misteps in a game that you might end up 'dying' in some way that is hard to capture otherwise: it gives pretty real consequences to what is generally pretty consequence-free hobby. In games with combat especially, going up against a monster or opponent and knowing that if you mess-up youll be reduced to stain on the floor gives so much more excitement to the proceedings, especially for the other players around the table as they cheer and groan along with you.
Likewise I think a lot of games have something that could be seen as almost equally problematic is that a player can effectively be 'out' of a game fairly early on, but be required to continue playing without a hope of having a meaningful impact on the game or certainly being in contention for victory. This is often the case in euro-games, where an early miscalculation or another player throwing a spanner in the works can put you behind on the curve of the game with no opportunity to catch up. While I personally don't mind this too much I have seen players become increasingly unhappy around a table as the game drags on for another hour.
So what is the potential solution? Well, I think there are potentially a couple:
- Give the eliminated player something else to do that feels meaningful - #War on Terror does this in a wonderful way: at any point, even well before you are wiped out by a superior nation, you can give up that dream and instead take over control of the terrorist side of the game. Not only can you win as the terrorists, meaning that player (or players as multiple players can join as the terrorists and win together, ironically) still has sometihng to strive for, it makes the game more interesting for the other players. This is similar in #Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game where there is a variant where a dead player becomes an alien and then tries to kill the players they were previously helping.
- Make it happen later in the game and feel 'earned' - By this I mean make it almost impossible for a player to die in the first half/two thirds of a game but instead have players who consistently play recklessly or follow a very attritional play-style (which might give great rewards) run the risk of dying later in the game. It would be important to make sure players felt like they had options as they got closer to dying to back away from that (again, at the cost to their score/success at particular objectives) so that if they chose to keep taking that risk and died it felt like it was their own doing.
- In co-op games making player elimination a lose condition - this is often the case in cooperative games for good reason, it encourages players to protect each other and work as a team. This means that a single player being eliminated ends the game so no one has to sit around. While this is maybe not true 'player elimination' it does keep some of that tensions and encourages players to look after their characters.
So what do you think? Are their games that you like with player elimination (especially longer games)? How do you think it can be best implemented into a game?