There are only three types of games; games where you want to do something first, games where you want to be the last one left, and games where you want to have the most of something.
Being aware of how these different goals can direct your game is important to achieving the feeling you want your game to have.
These games are typically described as a race. The player is trying to achieve a goal before anyone else can. Sometimes it is a literal race and players are trying to cross the finish line first. Or it could be building ten buildings or getting to a certain score. The goals can even be asymmetrical.
This category also includes a lot of cooperative games where the players are trying to complete their goal before the game completes its goal.
This type of game tends to focus players on their singular task. Since the only thing that matters is achieving the goal first, players are more willing to make sacrifices to achieve that goal.
This obviously works well in a race game where a player is incentivized to use up all their resources to push across the finish line first. Having anything extra at the end of the game is probably a sign that you wasted some effort obtaining it.
It would not work well in a game where you want players to build up multiple systems and have a sense of expansion.
These games usually don’t have to worry about ties. Depending on how progress is measured it may not be obvious how players place after the winner.
These games have players trying to be the last one left. They rely on player elimination to achieve the end game. This player elimination could be complete, where a player is out of the game, or partial, where they still get to play some function, but can not win.
The two primary ways we see this type of game are combat games where players try to eliminate each other and survival games where the game tries to eliminate players.
This type of game works well when you want to inspire player interaction. Though, with multiple players there can sometimes be an imbalance in that interaction. If two players are fighting each other, a third player can easily wait it out and only have to deal with the winner of that battle.
When the game is eliminating players, it could be used to inspire teamwork where competing players come together to outlast another player. But if there can be only one winner, it will lead to breaking any temporary alliance.
Because of their reliance on player elimination these games can be problematic if you have a long game that not all the players can enjoy to the end. Modern games that are going for this feeling of conflict tend to add an artificial end point and use one of the other two game types instead.
This type can still work well in 2 player games and short games where being eliminated isn’t as problematic.
These also don’t have to worry about ties in most cases. Player standings can usually be determined by who lasted the longest.
These games are probably the most prevalent. At the end of the game the player with the most of something wins. Usually this is points but any countable game object works. This category also includes games where you are trying to have the least of something. In that case, the things you collect can be seen as negative points.
This category includes a lot of economic games where players try and collect the most money. They have multiple strategies they can employ and mix. They usually have a sense of growth. As players build systems they gain a greater return.
In these games there is often some sort of artificial end condition. This contrasts with the other two types of games which have very definite end points.
In games where you are trying to collect the most of something players could often continue playing indefinitely. Because of this, players can sometimes feel like they didn’t get to “finish”.
Sometimes this causes players to want to play again to continue the enjoyment, but it could also make them feel like the game was a waste of time.
Because they lack the linear progress of the other two game types these games can feel repetitive if their isn’t enough of a change in the systems.
This type works well for building games. Players can often get a lot of enjoyment out of the process of the game, even if they don’t win. Because it works well with multiple systems players can enjoy exploring new strategies and as a result they can have a lot of replayability.
Because this type relies on counting something in the game, there is a lot of flexibility for the feeling of the games scale. Players could end with scores in the tens or in the hundreds.
Using a variety of systems can help obscure the leader and give everyone a feeling that they can win.
End game scoring can be complicated in games that use a variety of systems. But once scored players can have a very clear idea of how close the game was.
These games can also end in ties, especially with a smaller end score. You’ll usually want at least one tie breaker to decide a winner.
Some games can combine aspects of the different types but in the end they only have one goal. For instance in a race you may be able to eliminate players, but it’s still winning the race that is the goal, even if the game is cut short when all the other players are eliminated.
Think about the feeling you want your players to have during your game and especially at the end of your game. If you want an open feeling of growth and efficiency go for a game of collecting the most stuff.
If you want to avoid complicated end game scoring use a First or Last system so the winner is immediately obvious.
If you want to build tension use the Last system to make players worry about their survival at every step.
What are some other benefits you can get from each of these game types?