Tracks, tokens & score pads

I like score pads. I like that round at the end of a game where people tell me their scores, and we pay attention to who’s getting more points in each category, to the wild differences in some strategies. Then, we announce the winner and take a moment to look at the pad, which sort of tells a story about the game, about who used what strategy. Scoring pads are also a great reminder to new players of what is worth points at the end of the game.

I even made a Twitter poll to see who else liked Scoring Pads like I did:

Not that many people…

To me, there’s a time to use each of these:

  • Scoring tracks are for when most of the points come during the game, because it’s easy to move your marker during the game, and they make it very clear where everyone is situated compared to one another;
  • Tokens are for when a game either does not have a board, or when scores should remain hidden, and they give you a cool tactile aspect;
  • Pads are for when most of the scoring comes at the end of the game;
  • Memory is just a crappy method.

One game which defies these expectations is Between Two Cities. No points are scored during the game, yet there is no scoring pad; there isn’t a board, yet there aren’t point tokens. Instead, the game comes with a separate scoring track (which, by the way, is a great one to use with your prototypes), double sided with a snaking and a non-snaking side.

Picture from BGG user Sadistiko

I therefore reached out to the publisher, world-renowned awesome guy Jamey Stegmaier, and we had a really interesting discussion about this topic which he’s allowed me to share with you folks. I’ve sprinkled a few comments here and there. Enjoy!

JV: One of the things I think is not discussed enough is the impact of component choices on game design. You’ve been very forward about selling not only a game, but an experience, whether it’s the table presence of Scythe or Tapestry, or the tactile aspect of the dice tower in Wingspan. One thing I’m intrigued about is the choice to go with a score track rather than a score pad for one of my favorite games, Between Two Cities. Was it pitched to you with a track, or did you decide to go that route in development? Can you talk about that process and why you made that choice?

JS: It’s been a while, so I honestly don’t remember if the track was my suggestion or something that Ben and Matthew proposed. I do remember, however, discussions about how we could create a collective experience at the end of the game instead of the more private score pad experience. We found that using the track felt like a race at the end, which was fun, so we stuck with it.

I do agree: one thing that can happen with score pads is that one person catches all the numbers, then adds stuff up while others talk about their weekend, and then shares the result: by then, nobody cares. I don’t think it’s universal: I usually have people caring about the numbers they call out, going “How can you score 48 for your frogs, I only got 18 and I had almost as many as you did!”, or patiently waiting until they can drop their “yes, 8 magicians times 12 runes is 96 points” and everyone’s jaw dropping.

But there also have been times where no one really cares. If I had to guess, it’s either because they already knew the end result (or at least that they weren’t in the running), or because the accountant did it all privately. Or maybe some people just don’t like it, and that’s okay too.

JV: Between Two Cities’ central conceit, the “Score your lowest city”, means that there’s this extra step between scoring the cities, and then determining the winner. Is that part of why you pushed for the track?

JS: I think the visual of the track helps to identify your scoring city, but that mechanism wasn’t a primary motivator for creating the track.

I also want to mention one of my favorite aspects of the track, which is that it’s double sided with snaking scoring on one side and non-snaking scoring on the other. One of my friends and playtesters greatly prefers score tracks where it’s really easy to jump up in increments of 10, hence why we offered that option.

JV: Since you offered both, how many people would you estimate preferred the snaking vs non-snaking track?

JS: I’m guessing more people prefer the non-snaking track.

I personally have a strong opinion about snaking vs non-snaking. I think snaking tracks too often lead to errors while counting, where you go back instead of forward, or up a row to do +10 but actually get +20. I definitely side with the non-snaking.

JV: Between Two Cities has a player aid with the 6 building types and how they score, which suggests scoring them in that order. Why did you go with that order? Did you playtest other options?

JS: As far as I can recall, I think Ben and Matthew selected that order because of how playtesters perceived the value of the different buildings. Mathematically they’re almost perfectly balanced, but player perception is different. Playtesters perceived houses to be more valuable than shops, so shops were the first tile tiebreaker (and houses are the last).

C’mon, we all know Houses are stronger Jamey!

JV: For Between Two Cities’ younger-yet-bigger brother, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, you decided to go with a score pad instead of a track. Why is that?

JS: The scoring of Between Two Castles is much more involved than Between Two Cities. Instead of scoring groups of tiles one at a time, you’re scoring each individual tile. Scoring would have taken a LONG time in Castles if it was done collectively.

JV: Overall, Stonemaier games have used multiple components to track scores: coins/tokens (Scythe, Euphoria), tracks (Tapestry, Viticulture, Between Two Cities, Charterstone), score pads (Between Two Castles, Wingspan). What feature of a game makes it a better fit for each of those?

JS: As you can tell, I generally stay away from score pads, but sometimes—particularly in games where there is no board or scoring resource like the coins in Scythe—it’s simply a good backup to use. I think tokens are nice because they obfuscate the winner—that’s good in games with direct player interaction. A track on the board is nice it’s really important to see scores at any given time or when scores can grow quite high. For Tapestry for example, I knew it was going to be a high-scoring game with scoring throughout the game, so I don’t think I considered anything other than a track.

The amount of points is interesting and something I hadn’t considered. In games with scores in triple digits, you need a LOT of tokens of different denominations to keep track of it all, and it gets into change making, and that’s all quite annoying.

While I had one of the great designers of our era with me, I veered the discussion in a bit of a wider topic:

JV: Did you go through a similar process with the resource tracks in Tapestry, vs using bits/tokens?

JS: On the tracks, I thought the resources would feel more macro—a broad look at your civilization, opposed to games where you’re collecting individual resources by harvesting, cutting down trees, etc.

JV: Oh, I hadn’t considered that at all! I wasn’t a fan of the tracks –I like to be able to plan out my turns by physically grouping the resources I’ll need to pay–, but it does give that macro feeling!

JS: Ah, that’s an interesting point about planning for your next turn. It’s a good thing for designers to consider! You should probably mention that in your article.

Guess I will! Especially in games where you get LOADS of resources in one go, and then have to then plan your use of them in the near future –like Terra Mystica, Underwater Cities, or Tapestry–, I much prefer being able to move them around to make sure I don’t budget the same stone in two places. That being said, this is a great example of Adjective theme.

JV: Did you go through a similar design process with other components in your games? Wearing both the designer and publisher hat, how early in a design do you consider the component types you’ll use?

JS: In terms of components in general, I think about them from the earliest stages of design, as I strongly believe in the power of a component hook (and components that make it easier to play and remember how to play a game). I don’t think that necessarily carries over into the scoring mechanism—that’s often one of those components that the game evolves into (I haven’t ever designed around the scoring mechanism itself).

JV: This was very helpful. Thanks for agreeing to this!

Wasn’t that fun? Subsurface Games’ first guest feature!

2 thoughts on “Tracks, tokens & score pads

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the interview. I enjoyed reading it as I am still deciding what the scoring/points in my game should be.


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