Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Victory Point Architecture: Oversimplified Point Salad vs Point Journey



There are stereotypes of what experiences take place within a Point Salad and a Point Journey.  Neither of these victory point architectures have to meet their stereotypes, but certain design decisions within either framework increases the likelihood the games will match their stereotypes.


Point Salads and Point Journeys have natural flavors that alter players experience.   A stereotypical Point Salad, say Agricola, gives players freedom to build in their sandbox a series of decisions to maximize your points.  The interesting part of that statement is not point maximization, but sandbox.  I am building my own world in the way I want to view it. That means I am making my own special brew in VivaJava, neutering my bird sanctuary in Wingspan, and running my brewery my way in Brew Crafters.  


Points award me for what I build, but at the end of the day, what I construct drives my enjoyment of the game.  In any building point salad, say Suburbia, Chinatown, or Tiny Towns, joy is found in whatever you are able to construct.


Point Salads lend themselves well to games where you really want players to feel like they created something.


Having an open ended point salad with many ways to score points lends to the feeling of building something.  That experience is magnified by the popularity of building themes within Point Salads.  


Point Journey lends well to narrative experiences where there is a start and an end.

Chess is all about the struggle players undertake to capture each other's Kings.  Formula D is a journey where you race to be first.


What Design Choices Contributes to Stereotype


Point Salad: More Freedom, More Options, More Custom Sandbox. 


The more legitimate options provided for players in a Point Salad, the more players will have the opportunity to create their own custom world.  Imagine playing New Bedford without the town building element.  New Bedford is a town building and whaling game, where players can invest in expanding the town or in their whaling expeditions.  When players expand the town, they receive ownership for their particular part of town.  To expand the town, players must collect the resources required to build a particular building.  Each building added is unique, and will add a different character to the overall town.  Removing the ability to legitimately win by adding on to the town, dampens players ability to create a custom world where the player feels they are contributing to the development of New Bedford. 


The creative space in Point Salads can be enriched with game expansions.  More legitimate paths an expansion creates, the more a player can customize their own custom world.  Terraforming Mars base game begins with 208 cards representing a project the player’s company can undertake. The projects the players choose to undertake, and the timing of their projects enables them to create their own custom version of Mars.  The Terraforming Mars expansions broaden the possible ways for players to create their own custom world.  Now, players can not only choose to Terraform Mars, but also affect the colonization of other planets, interplanetary shipping, and the outcome of solar system’s politics.


Ironically, Point Salades can also create different flavors each game by limiting your ingredients. Beginning each game with a different subset of options allows players to experiment with combinations that may be lost if all everything was available.  The Quacks of Quedlinburg limits the types of ingredients available each game to all players, quak doctors, to make their custom brew.  Working around this limitation results in players exploring custom combinations that would not exist if all ingredients were available every game.  Similarly, Dominion creates a different flavor each time you play by varying which card types are being used each game.  The limitation encourages players to explore different card combinations since the relative effectiveness of card combinations is alter, a different flavor I will say, because of what other cards are or not available.


Point Journey: Detail Narratives or Clear Overarching Narratives


Providing players with Detail Narratives or a Clear Overarching Narrative enhances player connections to the Narrative experience in a Point Journey.  Each location in Arkham Horror draws a location encounter that weaves a narrative to that moment, at that location, in the overall story of the game.  Players do not need to create the narrative when a detailed Narrative is provided, they just have to embrace the story they are experiencing from the game as the game tells them the story.


Point Journeys that rely on Clear Overarching Narratives use the clear objective of the Journey to propel players to create their own narratives as they seek to fulfill their predestined purpose.  Pandemic makes it clear, you are on a mission to save the world from a series of deadly diseases.  When players see an outbreak spread across North America, the players create a story about the gravity of the situation and how they will respond.


When a Clear Overarching Narrative is missing, it becomes harder for players to create narratives as they play.  Compare Checkers with Chess.  Both are Point Journeys where a player wins under very specific conditions.  Yet in Chess, I have the goal of capturing a King, with pieces based on positions that existed in real life.  That means my pieces can have personality, a story.  In checkers, there is no Clear Overarching Narrative.  I win if I take all of your pieces.  The pieces are not mystical bears fighting wise but overconfident unicorns.  There is no accomplishment of destroying my opponent’s Kingdom at the end of the game.  Just a piece on the board, and then a piece off the board. No story to help lean players into the natural tendency to develop a narrative as they undertake a Point Journey.