Rethinking Winning in Games

Why I Design
It’s a glorious thing to design games. I’m not talking about publishing, making money, or even finishing games. I’m talking about the pure act of designing – creating systems, parameters, diagrams, and sketches; pondering the look and feel; and imagining the laughter and triumph of players. Designing tabletop games is an intellectual pursuit that brings together so many different aspects of being. When I’m designing, I feel the firing of synapses in every corner of my brain – mathematical, spacial, artistic, even social-emotional.

I get to use my mind to create inventions with the uncommon purpose of bringing more fun into the world.

Who Wins a Game?
When we think about the fun of games, we often think about winning. Who wins a game? Often, the answer is one player. How is that determined? Various means: the most victory points, first to accomplish a set of goals, etc. In a traditional game, there is only one winner.


Is the winner always the player who played “the best?” Often, the answer is yes, but we’ve all played plenty of games where the winner was determined by some kind of minor technicality, or even the roll of a die.

We all know winning feels good. Sometimes it feels great! We also also know that games are fun even when we don’t win.

But do we really need to create losers in order to have winners?

Cooperative games

(such as Pandemic and Forbidden Island) have have become very popular in recent years. In these games, everyone at the table wins together, or loses together. The primary conflict in the game is against the challenges created by the game itself. The popularity of these games has shown that people do enjoy games where there can be more than one winner, and they can enjoy a victory, even if no one loses!


Traitor games

(such as Battlestar Galactica and Shadows Over Camelot) add a twist. Everyone seems to be working together on the surface, but one or more players are secretly working against everyone else. Generally, in these games, either the traitor(s) win, or everyone else does, together, as a team.


A Game Where Everyone Can Win, and Everyone Can Lose

I’m a fan of all types of games, but I wanted to approach the concept of winning a little differently for my game Replicant. Replicant is a traitor game where everyone is a traitor. Every player has a unique set of secret objectives. No one is pursuing exactly the same combination of results. The game allows players to choose freely when to cooperate and when to oppose other players, in order to achieve their objectives. This game is still in development as of the time of this writing.

Replicant Board, v6

Current Replicant Board, v8 in Beta

When I started designing Replicant, I wanted to build a game that would support a large group of players, with the feel of a traitor game, but one in which there were no teams and no elimination. I decided early on that one of the core principles of the game would be that any number of players could win, and each player’s win would not depend on another player losing. That said, I also wanted a system that puts players in conflict with one another while they work to accomplish their objectives.

To achieve these goals, I developed a system in which players have multiple, unique objectives, and they win the game by achieving a threshold of success. They do not need to achieve perfection. In Replicant beta 6, players need 3 victory points to win, out of 4 possible victory points. These victory points are earned as a result of various conditions at the end of the game (such as how injured players are, what items they have, whether or not their identity has been revealed, which players are dead, etc.). I call this system the Polylaurus System. In Latin, Laurus signifies triumph because of the Laurel crown placed upon a winner.

Polylaurus flow

In the diagram above, the arrows represent the series of actions players take to pursue their goals. Crossing lines represent actions that may conflict or interfere with one another. Converging arrows represent shared goals. As you can see, players may be in conflict with one player to achieve one desired outcome, but may be in conflict with a different player over another outcome. Likewise, two given players may be aligned in one objective, and opposed in another.

The Polylaurus System in Replicant works because of two key factors: secrecy, and a voting system which allows all players to influence the outcome of actions. The limited knowledge players have about each other’s goals prevents simple paths to victory and optimized game decisions. The net result is a game where players are always plotting, occasionally collaborating, and at other times turning against one another. In the end, depending on the agendas of the players and the actions they take, it is possible for any number of the players at the table to win. One, two, three, or even eight players can win a single game of Replicant.

I look forward to completing Replicant and getting the published version out there. I also look forward to seeing more games that allow any number of players to win.

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Luke Laurie

Game Designer at Luke Laurie Games

Designer of Stones of Fate and The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
Game designer by night, and middle school science and pre-engineering teacher by day. He lives in Santa Maria California with his amazing wife and two unrealistically well-behaved children.

14 Readers Commented

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  1. Brad on January 21, 2014

    Replicant sounds very cool Luke. Is there some mechanism that ensures an equal number of conflicting (or shared) goals for each player?

    • Luke Laurie on January 30, 2014

      Thanks Brad! In each version of Replicant – creating “balance” from various combinations of randomized objectives has been one of the hardest parts. I’ve continued to tinker with the nature of the objectives to find ways to promote fairness of opportunity without creating entirely predictable conflicts. More soon on Replicant. I’m deep in a redesign right now!

  2. Steve DeBaun on January 24, 2014

    A fellow LoGger with a nitpick:

    Your third diagram, I believe, simply describes a team game; it’s not specific to traitor games.

    I think the key elements of a Traitor game include:
    – one team working towards a goal
    – another team working towards a conflicting goal
    – hidden team assignment

    Not sure how you’d represent that in such a diagram. Sorry, just couldn’t resist the urge to nitpick. 🙂

    – Stevo aka “Professor What!?!?”

  3. Luke Laurie Author on January 24, 2014

    True enough, Stevo. Hopefully the message is still comes through.

  4. Timo Burnham on April 4, 2014

    Wow, Im looking forward to more info on Replicant. Sounds very interesting.

  5. Luke Laurie Author on April 19, 2014

    Thank you Timo! I’m pretty excited about Replicant. It’s been far tougher to refine than I thought it would be, but I’m getting closer all the time.

  6. Gamer Dave on October 2, 2014

    Cosmic Encounter is similar in that multiple gamers can win, but this sounds absurdly fun to have large numbers win. I really think it is a solid idea. I really like the multiple conflicts to achieve a goal. That is probably the best part of Discworld, where people are secretly working toward a goal and sometimes you help someone, but sometimes you slow them down. Pretty intrigued by your concept and look forward to seeing the result.

    • Luke Laurie on October 2, 2014

      Thanks Gamer Dave! Replicant has been on hold for a while, but I’m getting ready to dig back into it. I’d like to see more games that take this kind of approach.

  7. Dan Smith on November 12, 2014

    Replicant looks freaking awesome, I am in when you KS it!

  8. Derek Shields on April 14, 2015

    I have been toying with hidden motives and some kind of separate victory condition for a while, but I haven’t been satisfied with my own results. It seems like a good way to make this gameplay is to slightly obfuscate the intentions of the players. The more public the action, the easier it is to tell what side each player is on, but giving too little information can make the game appear too random. On the scale of secrecy, I can think of:
    Most Public
    -Public action that is good for only one side
    -Public action that is better for creating future secrecy.
    -Public action that is good for oneself, but doesn’t support the goal explicitly
    -Action that is mostly good for one side, but the alternative is kept secret.
    -Eliminate one possibility publicly, but keep the alternative secret.
    -Maneuver a team towards a situation where less of the options are good for one side
    -Vote for which player takes the action
    -Look at a player’s hand which may contain different cards depending on their side.
    -Separating yourself from one or more players on a board.
    -One player must show another player some/all of what side that player is on.
    -One player is allowed to look at cards when other players have closed eyes
    -Contribute one card, etc. to a pile that is pulled from randomly
    -Contribute one card, etc. to a pile that is shuffled and revealed.
    -Player can take some sort of action when other players’ eyes are closed.
    Most Secret

  9. Pingback: SIMAGES 2016.1 – Goals Beyond Competition and Collaboration – NASAGA 19 Sep, 2016

    […] My foray into the space between collaboration and competition is just one example. In addition to myself, I know of a few other designers who have been exploring these themes. I recommend you look into AFTERSHOCK: A humanitarian crisis game, and the up and coming game Replicant, from Luke Laurie who has independently been working on similar ideas […]

  10. Nikolas Rex on May 31, 2018

    This sounds like a very fun game! I’m sure as I read more blog posts I should see more updates on whether or not this game got finished, hopefully.

  11. Phil on October 16, 2018

    Thank you for sharing these ideas. Immediate lightbulb effect for me!

  12. Tj on April 23, 2019

    I am very interested in this idea but I don’t understand the concept of having tho goals interfere with each other and how it works. Can someone please explain it to me?

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