Under the Hood of Majorities pt 1 – When?

“Gain X points if you have the most Y” is a phrase that sounds familiar to every board gamer. Majorities are a great way to add indirect interaction and tension to a game, and is often used as either a central mechanism, or a secondary way to score points where it serves to obfuscate an item’s scoring value. I have used many majority aspects in my games, and have learned a few lessons along the way. This series of posts is meant to highlight those axes on which you can play with your system and offer different experiences for the player.

When is it evaluated? The entire concept of majorities is that you want the best return on the smallest investment possible. Therefore, the more information you have, the better it is: playing last on a majority is a great advantage. Which begs two questions: (1) why would I invest on it early?, and (2) how aware of the timing of scoring am I?

Unless the majority is secondary (like the Contracts in Clans of Caledonia I mentioned earlier), players will tend to delay their first play on a majority as much as they can, unless (1) you give a bonus to whoever goes there first; or (2) you limit how much a player can invest in a single action. An early adopter bonus can be a straight up bribe (like in Lancaster), or a better investment rate for the majority (like in Terra Mystica, where the first Priest sent to a Cult pushes you up three spaces instead of 2, or even in Power Struggle, where ties are broken by whoever went first).

The timing of the scoring also adds an important question: since I want to place my pawns right before the evaluation, predictability is a strong factor. Some games tell you exactly when that happens, either at the end of the game, or after a pre-set number of turns; others have it happen at random times. However, many games deal with the predictability in interesting ways:

  • Cybertopia has the players place Viruses on the Corps, which are 5×5 grids, and must place them adjacent to their last placed one. Evaluations are triggered after 2 rows/columns have been completed;
  • Ethnos triggers the evaluation after the 3rd Dragon card has been played. You have a first “hey start planning for the scoring”, then a second “are you really still pushing your luck?”, and finally a “too late!”;
  • Power Struggle has one player who determines how many turns happen between two evaluations, but only they know: can you guess from their actions?;
  • Acquire has majorities matter when two companies are connected on the game board, which means holding a potential connector tile gives you absolute control over when it does… unless somebody else holds one;
  • Smash Up has scoring happen when the total strength around a base reaches a certain threshold: given that a card’s strength varies between 2 and 6 (mostly), you have an idea of how close you are, but an imperfect one;
  • The Expanse has scoring triggered by using an action to select a scoring card, when they come up. Whoever uses an action to do so chooses a zone which scores more.

Of course, I have not played every game in the world: are there other timing variants you can think of? Any other twists which offer different experiences?

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