Against score systems (and for success and failure)

Strategy game designers should start thinking about alternatives to “score systems” for their games. In this article I will talk about how and why we use score systems right now, what their weaknesses are, and how we can (as well as why we should) move beyond them. Much of this article is written with respect to designing single player strategy games, but the theory absolutely applies to multiplayer strategy games equally.

Score Systems in Videogames

Score systems have been relied on by all kinds of interactive systems designers since the beginning. Early videogames such as Pac-Man and Galaga had high score boards that players would compete for places on, whereas Super Mario Bros. had a score feature as a sort of extra added feature that really serious players could try to maximize if they got tired of beating the game.

It goes back further than that, of course. Pinball, which laid many of the foundations for videogame design tropes, also used a score system, not to mention some ancient games such as Go. Today, there are strategy games that use score systems, such as games like Civilization, Rogue-likes, or my own Auro: A Monster-Bumping Adventure. They’re appealing to designers because they’re so simple to implement and design; you can pretty easily take just about any simple toy/sandbox activity and slap a score on it, and then it almost instantly feels a little bit more competitive, a little bit more replayable, a little bit more “strategy-game-like”. Continue reading “Against score systems (and for success and failure)”

Arcs in Strategy Games

It is common to hear players talk about “tactics” and “strategy” in games. In this case, the colloquial understanding of these terms happens to be pretty useful, in that it maps well to something that actually goes on in playing strategy games. With that said, it’s worth taking a moment to clarify these terms:

Tactics” usually refers to “short-term decision-making”. Questions like “should I move this character two steps forward, or three steps forward” are questions of tactics. Tactics are micro-level decisions in strategy game play.

Strategy” usually refers to “longer-term decision-making”. Questions like “should I be aggressive early, or be defensive now and attack later on” are longer-scale choices about a game that players make. Strategies are macro-level decisions in strategy game play.

In both cases, we are talking about a grouping of gamestate information over time and how it changes. I refer to this grouping as an “arc”. Continue reading “Arcs in Strategy Games”

CGD Episode 26: Auro, and my change in philosophy


This episode is undoubtedly my most vulnerable episode, wherein I talk about the failure of Auro, a game that I believe in strongly and which I worked on for six years. I talk about the process and the struggle of dealing with that and how it has re-shaped my way of looking at art. It’s a short episode, but I had to talk about this before I talked about anything else.

The above Venn diagram, which kind of expresses my recent dramatic change in philosophy, was based on an off-handed remark from a recent David Sirlin article.

Thanks for listening, and as always, you can support my work on

The Default Number of Players is One

I did a Twitter poll recently:

Most people (almost half!) voted that there “is no default/ideal”. That probably sounds like a safe, reasonable choice, but it’s really a pretty bold claim to say that there is no default or ideal – certainly at least as bold as any of the other options.

In second place was “2 player”, which did not surprise me. What did surprise me was how close the margin was between “2 player” and “3+ player”, though. I would have expected the breakdown to be more like 40% “unanswerable”, 40% “2-players”, 20% “3+ players” and basically no one voting for 1 player. Actually, I still kind of think that if more people took the poll, it would probably head more in that direction. Continue reading “The Default Number of Players is One”

CGD Podcast Episode 20: Options in Games

cgdplogo_superwideIn this episode – our 20th! –  I talk about the idea of “optional game rules” and why they are to be avoided. I also go into detail on some experiences designing abilities for Auro. Enjoy!


CGD Podcast Episode 17: Rogue-likes and Other “Bar Games”


I don’t mean “bar” as in “pub”, I mean it as in like a resource bar. In this episode, I talk about Rogue-like games in detail, why it isn’t really a genre, and what the future of these games are.

What can we do with single-player strategy games? Must they all be “managing highly random resources”? I think we should question our reliance on output randomness and heavily variant input randomness (such as map generation in Civilization) to make single-player strategy games work.

It turns out that my two articles I wrote on score in the past were really outdated and they’re in the shop to be worked on. In the meantime, I recommend reading these for more thoughts on why the traditional high score system is a problem (which I claim in the episode but don’t really back up).

“Why I Hate The Term Permadeath”

Episode 12 of this podcast, which talks about good goals

Auro’s Single Player Elo System

A Roguelike Radio episode that I’m featured on that discusses score

A reddit “Weekly Game Design” that touches on it

Thanks for listening!


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