Under the Hood of Majorities p3: Cognitive Load

“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. Today I’m talking about choices which affect the cognitive load of the mechanism:

Can it be secured? In Acquire, there are 25 shares of each color: at most, I need 13 to secure a majority. Sometimes it’s not a maximum amount to be spread out, but a maximum value a player can have: the Cult tracks in Terra Mystica, and the UN track in Energy Empire, both have a final spot only one player can reach.

Securing it allows you to focus on something else, but it’s also resources and/or actions you could have used to do other stuff: mitigating that risk becomes part of the strategy. It also allows you to file it away in your brain and keep on focusing on something else. It allows you to better evaluate an action’s value: if I need to invest 3 actions in this to gain 10 points, it’s worthwhile, but it isn’t if it takes me 8. And two players who keep one-upping each other is funny to watch for a bit, but it’s slowly taking them out of the running.

If it can’t be secured, that means the tension will never relent. If it’s a secondary scoring aspect, or if you want a more tense, more chaotic, more tactical game, it’s probably not worth adding that math element and making players count those items, because if they can, they will. If their focus is better served elsewhere, don’t give them that information.

How many actions are we supposed to invest in this? It’s a related question. In With a Smile and a Gun, both players compete over Business tokens, which score points for whoever has the most of each type, and Reputation tokens, which are just worth straight points. I tried multiple things for Business tokens, specifically in how many of each type I put out there. In a version, I had 8, 10, and 12 tokens of a type. This diluted their value so much that no one ever cared about them, no matter how many points the majorities were worth. Even when they were brokenly overpowered, players still preferred the sure thing. “Who cares about this one, I can get the next one instead” is a line I heard times and times again. It also often led to majorities being clinched very early in the process, making them worthless for the second half of the game. In the end, I brought them down to 4, 5, and 6, and

I think it’s partly risk aversion, partly optimism, but also related to the fact that, without the majority, those tokens were worthless. In Clans of Caledonia, your main way of scoring points is completing Contracts. In addition to their standard bonuses, the player who completes the most gains an extra 8 points. In games like this, it doesn’t matter if the majority will be won with 4, 8, or 14: you’ve already gotten stuff from your investment, that majority is just icing on the cake.

These are the aspects that go through my mind when I add a majority aspect to my games. Like most great mechanisms, majorities can be customized to do exactly what you want them to do. Are there other twists on the mechanism I have forgotten?

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