Under the Hood of Majorities p2 – Who?

“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.

Who gains a bonus? Sometimes, you want to give only first place a bonus: sometimes, everyone who participated should gain one, albeit smaller for those further down the competition. I’m sure you’re smart enough to understand the implications of these things. There is a common question about how that interacts with player count, specifically with 2 players, where often a tiny investment is good enough for a large 2nd place bonus. I’m personally a big fan of the Gaia Project way of adding a pre-set value which competes with the players on those majorities and never changes throughout the game. No upkeep, and it adds much of the strategy of a three-player race.

One thing I think is underused in that aspect is negative majorities, where you just don’t want to have the least. They can be problematic, because of loss aversion, and subject to last minute swings, but in the right game can be very fun. Great examples of this are the Fire and Leather tiles in Mammut, Pharaohs in Ra, and how the winner is determined in Lords of Xidit.

This leads to a second, related question:

How are ties handled? A problem with majorities are ties. Often, games default to either “split the points” or “everyone gets the points”, which is fine when majorities are just points, or a secondary feature. However, that can’t always work. It’s also a wasted opportunity to incentivize your players in a direction or another:

  • With a Smile and a Gun: if there is a tie for first place, the majority is not scored. This is interesting because of the Cop cubes, which players send to each other to mess up their plans: blocking a district from scoring is that mechanism’s main use.
  • Power Struggle, as mentioned above, gives the tie breaker to whoever played there first, pushing you to play early.
  • On the opposite side of the spectrum, Lancaster gives the tie breaker to whoever invested there last. This makes it easier to come from behind. It works because of the bonuses for playing on Wars early: otherwise, no one would start going there;
  • Campy Creatures uses the Clash-o-meter: whoever is on top wins ties, but then goes to the bottom when used
  • Cybertopia gives the advantage to whoever triggers the scoring: this incentivizes making the Corps score. It also can lead to players feeling like no lead is ever safe -which can be a bug or a feature;
  • Dice Town has the Sheriff: whoever holds it breaks ties. This pushes bribery and negotiation, and works wonders… but only with the right group.

Can you think of a game with majorities which offers other interesting ways to scale to the number of players, or to determine tie-breakers?

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