Early in the design process for Cartographia, we were brainstorming action ideas for the multi-use cards. Our first idea for Knowledge didn’t really work. We were looking for something else -Ships allowed you to explore, Diplomacy to gain extra actions, and Gold to gain extra resources-, and decided to make it a way to gain points! A different path to victory, isn’t that what everyone wants in Victory Point games?
However, just giving you points for playing a card was… boring. Not only did players feel rewarded for no reason, but there was no way to feel clever for playing it. There was no “right” time to play it, and since everything else did have a timing element, the Knowledge action became the option for when there was no smarter move, which always fell flat. In the end, after trying a few things, we ended up adding a Tech tree, with Knowledge being the main way to gain those techs.
This is only an anecdote, but it’s something I’ve often run into, whether with co-designers, or when testing another designer’s prototype: giving someone straight up points is boring. You can never feel clever for doing it, you never feel like you’ve achieved anything. It is, to me, the difference between a Point Salad and a Euro game, and a question of preference more than one of quality.
Some people will call all or some of these Set Collection: yup. Many of these are ways to score set collection. A reviewer would describe all of those as “Set collection stuff”. I have my own opinion on what is and isn’t set collection, but I find discussions of terminology tedious and of little interest.
Regardless, this was already a long enough intro: here are ways to give players VPs which are more interesting than a simple “here’s 5 VPs!” I’ll use the word “asset” as a catch-all terms to include Tokens, Cards, Resources, or any other piece you obtain in the game that is worth points.
Description: Every board gamer has seen the triangular sequence: 1/3/6/10. The more of a thing you have, the better.
Examples: Masks in Teotihuacan (1/3/6/10/15/21 for different types); Science in 7 Wonders (for each type, score X2); Holding cards in Greed (each type you build a holding, it is worth 10k for every other icon of that type you have)
Pros: It makes the assets worth different amounts to each player. It gives you a sense of growth through the game: what is worth 1 or 2 points early on might be worth 20 at the end of the game. You can decide to rewards specialization (which is easy for players to recognize) or diversity (which ensures that players do a bit of everything).
Cons: It’s the most common because there really aren’t many. Rewarding specialization can mean players each choose their own thing and never compete with one another, and diversity can be harder to visualize (“which one am I missing again?”). It often requires a chart to count points.
Description: The opposite of Increasing Payoff. You get a lot for doing a little of something, but every extra step you do is a smaller bump; Games with negative points for not having done something.
Examples: Income in Power Grid (10-22-33-44-54-65-73-…); Income in Brass (which increases every step early, then every other step, then every third step…).
Pros: Pushes players in doing a bit of everything (because specializing gets less interesting); acts as a catchup mechanism.
Cons: Often lacks excitement, especially late in the game (unless you haven’t done it yet!) Some players will criticize it for being a catchup mechanism. It often requires a chart to count points.
Description: There are multiple ways to present thresholds to players, but the idea is always the same: if you get points for having X, there are some numbers which pay off a lot more than others; Games with “Score your lowest X” (aka Knizia Scoring).
Examples: Sashimi cards in Sushi Go (10 points for every group of 3); the Military track in 7 Wonders Duel (which scores for the differential: 2 points for 1-2, 5 for 3-5, 10 for 6-9, and an instant victory for 10); the Scoring tile in Isle of Skye which gives you 3 points for every column with at least 3 contiguous tiles; any game with contracts to fill.
Pros: It adds tension right before you reach that threshold. If you have two Sashimi cards and need that third, people will try to keep it from you, and you’ll try to figure out a way to get it. It’s quite similar to Increasing Payoff, except that that increase comes at specific points, making those REALLY important.
Cons: You can be screwed out of that final asset (whether by luck or other players), which is not always fun. If that threshold is important enough, the last turn can become ALL ABOUT IT, with nothing else mattering.
Description: If you have the most of asset X, score points. I’ve written 3 posts about various twists on Majorities in games, so I won’t fill up this section, but I have a lot to say about them…
Examples: So many… Contracts in Clans of Caledonia; Empire scoring in Terra Mystica; Engineer scoring in Russian Railroads; Round scoring in Wingspan
Pros: Easy to understand, interactive, dynamic. Can be played on multiple levels of involvement (a casual “Let’s have the most!”, or a more strategic “is it worth having the most, or should I settle for second place?”)
Cons: Can lead to large investments that are worth very little. Hard to evaluate the value of stuff, because it’s unclear which position you’ll reach.
Description: First to have asset X gets a reward, or first to have asset X gains a lot of points, then second gains a few points, and third gets even less (or nothing!), or first to have asset X gets points.
Examples: Nobles in Splendor; Museum spaces in Mykerinos; Speed bonuses in Meeple Circus; Family bonuses in Elysium.
Pros: Interactive. Gives you a direction early in the game, and most likely puts players in competition early, which means TENSION! At some point, it’s in the bag, so you avoid that constant one-upping that majorities sometimes lead to.
Cons: If it’s settled early, it becomes a non-factor later on. That’s fine if it’s meant as an early objective just meant to give players directions, but if not, it can lead to the game outlasting its welcome once players know who will win.
Description: Score 3 points for every asset of type Y you have, or for every asset of type Y around the table (in addition to what those would score normally).
Examples: The scoring board in Nippon (assigning multipliers to each category on income turns); Scrolls in Isle of Skye (which are doubled if the zone they’re in is closed off); Round objectives in Clans of Caledonia (which are evaluated at specific times and not at the end of the game).
Pros: Give each player a different specialty. Is useful to get early (to give you direction) as well as late (when you know exactly which multiplier is best). If it varies from game to game, increases replayability.
Cons: If scored after the end of the game, can lead to lots of anti-climactic accounting. If each player scores for different things, it can mean players don’t interact.
Description: The value of those scoring changes over time. When to score it is what matters.
Examples: Shares in 18xx games (the value of which changes as they are sold and bought, or as they pay dividends); Production in Navegador (when you produce, you will push the value of those goods on tracks, making them vary in value); Palm trees in Silver & Gold (which score 1pt per Palm Tree on cards in the drawing display at that time); Building the Pyramid in Teotihuacan (which is worth 1pt per level of the piece, +1 pt per icon you cover with an identical one).
Pros:Rewards flexibility. Since it’s a question of optimal timing, you can’t make perfect plans, as stuff will happen which you need to react to. Not being able to plan perfectly can help limit Analysis Paralysis.
Cons: Hard to plan ahead, which can push AP -yeah, this is often a mixed bag on that front. Also, makes it hard to compare options, since their values are so fluid.
Whenever I think of scoring elements, I try to limit straight-up points and use one of these options when necessary. You can even combine two of them for a single asset: the tracks in Railroad Revolution increase your scoring multiplier when you reach certain thresholds; the Science cards in 7 Wonders score by Thresholds for variety, and by increasing payoff for specialization; the Museum spaces in Mykerinos are multipliers you’re racing to get.
I usually would advise new designers to keep it simple, and only add a rule if the game is much worse without it. In this case, I would advise the opposite: unless you have a specific reason to, I think you should avoid straight-up points.
Did I miss any category, or particularly good examples in one? What is your favorite scoring mechanism?