Should games have catch-up mechanics?

So this is less of an opinion piece and more of a geniune question. Many of the games I play don't have explicit catch-up mechanics I wonder if the community at large would like to see more of these and in what form?

Here are a few of my thoughts:

I find games with engine building (as a mechanic or not depending on your perspective) are often games where snowballing (an effect where once you get ahead in a game you tend to then just keep gettign further and further ahead) is most obvious. If someone's engine kicks in a round earlier (either through luck or skill) suddenly they can have a huge resoure boom which allows them to capitilise on that. Thinking of games of #Dominion: Second Edition I have played, where either I or someone else has managed to get a good balance early, and then just storms ahead turn after turn. I think this can make the game uninteresting to other players as they watch the other player raking it all in while they do comparitively little on their turns. I think a good solution which a lot of games employ is not so much a catch-up mechanic but that they design it in such a way that engines can't peak until near the end of a game giving only one or two crazy powerful turns. This means it isn't obvious half-way through who will win and keeps the game interesting.

When i played #Dinosaur Island I liked that turn order was decided by current VP, I thought this was a really interesting catch-up mechanic and became a tactical consideration. I think it allowed individuals who were sturggling to get first pick of the better resources and cards and so jump them back into the game a little. I actually swept that game by purposefully depressing my VP's while building a big VP potential into my park and claiming a whole bunch of objectives in one turn (this could well have back-fired though if I had mis-timed it so isn't a game-breaking strategy). 

I think in any more confrontational game it is important to have a mechanic that de-incentivises players to all hit the weakest player. I remember when I played #World of Tanks Rush where you score points for destroying enemy tanks and bases that once one player had been attacked it made sense for everyone else who could to also attack that player as they were less able to defend themselves or attack back next turn. As such I think games need a way to either prevent that pile-on or not have it be disasterous for the victim (i.e. their capacity isn't deminished even if other players do get points from it). I like how in a lot of area control games a kind of 'cold war' effect often prevents this, as if one of the leaders attacks a weaker player then they ususally leave themselves open to attack from another strong player and so they end up fighting each other more to keep each other in check.

I loved in #War on Terror how once you got to a point where you knew you couldn't win through your empire you could instead dissolve you empire and join the terrorist faction giving you plenty of agency in the game and giving a different path to victory. Giving players another chance to be impactful on a game is a really cool idea that I am would love to see in more games. As it will keep everyone engaged.

What do you all think about catch up mechanics? Do you have any good or bad exmaples from games you have played?

 



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Supporter3 months ago

What  said pretty much sums up my feelings. And plenty of games I own have some form of hidden scoring such as #Concordia and #Clans of Caledonia. My main gaming partner is my wife and since we like games that are medium weight (and typically take longer than an hour to play), it's not fun to play out a game for 30 min fully knowing that you'll never make a comeback. For example, Concordia has a pretty complex scoring system that depends on so many different things (different card types you purchase from the market, the number of each card type you purchased, the location of your houses on the map, etc.) that it's just way too difficult to predict who'll win. And Concordia makes players feel so smart throughout the game too whenever you pull off just the right move at the right time.

An example of a game that doesn't have much of a catch-up mechanism is #Root. Similar what you said about the "cold war" effect in area control games, Root is highly dependent on players to keep others in check. So it can be really tough if an inexperienced player (especially if that player has the faction that has a big map presence) has no idea what to do and the leader just keeps snowballing.

3 months ago

Yeah, I can see that being the case in something like #Root , where you kind of need everyone to be on the same level in order for the game to be balanced, although I guess the other players can warn the less experienced player that someone is about to become unstoppable. I kind of like in #Cry Havoc how your ability to take actions isn't too linked to your board state more the cards in your hand. So even if you get wrekced in a few combats, you can relatively quickly build back up and have an impact on the game, whoever controls the most territory will obviously be getting points for that but there are no special powers or resouces linked to them. Likewise as generally you troops have to start back at HQ when you recruit, if you spread too much you leave yourself very open to counter attacks.

3 months ago

I think I prefer "euro-y" games perhaps for this reason.  I don't enjoy games much if I'm way in the lead or way behind the other players.  I like games where it's hard to tell and in many cases it seems like plays can catch-up through various means.  Some games a player ran away with the win but because of game design it was hard to tell and these are still fun. Wingspan and Paladins stike me as being somewhat that way but Heaven & Ale is the most notable. 

3 months ago

Yeah, even though there is often a bunch of admin, I do like games where most of the scoring happens towards the end so for most of the game it's hard to be sure who is in the lead. 

That said, more confrontational games kind of have catch-up by way of everyone generally going after the leader at any given point to balance the game.

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