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)”

Brett Lowey’s Game Design Commandments

Grab Minos Strategos when you can.

Today, in Episode 36* of the Clockwork Game Design Podcast, I had a great conversation with BrainGoodGamesBrett Lowey. If you don’t already know BrainGoodGames, they make some of the best single-player strategy games out there. All four of Brett’s games—Militia, Axes & Acres, Skyboats, as well as his latest, Minos Strategos—are available on Steam.

But making great games isn’t necessarily enough for me to want to have a conversation with someone. What made me interested was “BrainGoodGames’ Design Commandments” which he posted on his site recently.

The conversation was great and went to a bunch of interesting places. We covered his commandments, of course, but discussed his origins and what he considers to be the successes and failures of his games.

I should mention also that Brett is one of the editors over at, the new site I recently launched that highlights current game design bloggers and media producers.

Enjoy the episode!

*PS I think I said it’s 35 in the episode itself – ignore me!


Solvability In Games

What does it mean to say that one game is “more solvable” than another? Is there a relationship between solvability (of any sort) and the point at which players get bored of games?


I should start out by making it clear that in game design, we are not usually concerned with true or mathematical solvability. We are not really concerned with the same kind of solvability that AI researchers are concerned with while trying to solve larger and larger Go boards. Continue reading “Solvability In Games”

Clockwork Criteria: 6 Guidelines for Ideal Strategy Game Design

What are the criteria that make something a good “Clockwork Game”?

The Clockwork Game Design model is something I have been working on for the last five years or so. It is specifically an effort to figure out how to make the most elegant and effective strategy games possible. There are certainly practical reasons why you might not want a specific game to be a Clockwork game. But to the extent that you want your strategy game to be elegant, you should adopt as many of these principles as possible.

Above: my book

Below is a list of criteria that strategy games should strive for. I am sorting them by how controversial they are. In other words, I am putting the stuff people pretty much agree upon towards the bottom.

These are not ordered by priority. I am making no statements about which of these is more or less important; just that they are all something to strive for. Continue reading “Clockwork Criteria: 6 Guidelines for Ideal Strategy Game Design”

CGD Podcast Episode 24 – Execution and Single-Player Games, with Frank Lantz

cgdplogo_superwideToday we have another episode with Frank Lantz, game designer, writer, and Director of the NYU Game Center. Today’s show involved two major topics: execution, and my seemingly crazy idea about how single-player should probably be the “default” number of players for a strategy game (something I’m going to be writing an article about soon). Also, Frank gives some of his own game design faux-pas thoughts near the end of the episode.

There were some technical issues during the recording, so please forgive the somewhat strange format for this episode. Hopefully it’s clear enough what we were both trying to say.


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Contests Explained

I have described the four essential “forms” of interactive entertainment, based on four distinct values that these four types of play produce. You can get a more in-depth introduction on these forms by reading this, but I’ll quickly break it down here.

First, you start off with a “bare interactive system” – this is an interactive system that has no goal. I call this the toy. Add a goal, and you have a puzzle. Allow for measurement, and you have a contest. Obfuscate the gamestate (allowing for decision-making) and you have a game.

I would say that the vast majority of people roughly agree with me on the first two forms, toy and puzzle. This makes sense – it makes sense that we would understand these forms first, because they are the simplest. Continue reading “Contests Explained”