Uncertain death – end game triggers (Topic Discussion)

It’s always interesting to see how different games decide when they end. There are so many different ways of ending a game. Some games are played over a fixed number of rounds and others end when a certain goal or goals are achieved. There are also games that have a slightly more random timer. What happens when a game ends is also not always the same. In some games, all players get one more turn or the current round is played out. Other games end immediately and nobody gets another chance. In this article, I want to look at how all of these different endings create different player experiences.

Fixed Number of Rounds

Let’s look at games where the end of the game is triggered after a fixed number of rounds. In these games, everyone will get the same number of turns. Just think of games such as Sagrada or Aquamarine. Nobody can complain that they didn’t see the end coming, especially not if there is a clear round tracker. Everyone should be able to map out how many actions they have and roughly plan what they’ll be able to do from start to finish. I know, most games don’t allow you to plan everything in detail, but at least you do get a sense of what might be possible.

That’s especially useful when you know how many points you’re likely to get from which parts of the game. It also helps if you have a sense of the number of points you’ll have at game end. Dividing the potential points total by the number of rounds or actions gives you a useful average to aim for. It also allows you to track your progress during the game. You will roughly know if you’re ahead or falling behind.

Sagrada's translucent, colourful dice on the player board (photo courtesy of Floodgate Games)
Sagrada’s translucent dice look amazing (photo courtesy of Floodgate Games)

So games that end after a fixed number of rounds are pretty predictable and predictability creates a sense of comfort. It’s the unknown people don’t tend to like. As a player, you will know how much longer you have to endure this game, if you don’t get on with it, or how little time you have left to win. On the whole, games with a fixed number of rounds allow you to plan better. They therefore tend to feel more enjoyable.

Goals and Objectives

Games that don’t have a fixed number of rounds, but that end when one or more objectives are met, either by a single player or several of them, are a lot less predictable. Games with these sorts of end game triggers include Undaunted: Normandy and Adventure Games: The Dungeon.

However, there is still usually a way of working out how close you are to the end of the game. Often you will be able to tell how close to completing a goal players are. So you still get a sense of how much time there is likely left.

There is still more of a sense of surprise when a player, whose goal seemed to be way off completing, pulls off an amazing combo and suddenly finishes the game. Your hope of getting two or three more turns to finish your own goal is dashed. All you can do is try to get as many points as possible to pull into second place.

That level of uncertainty creates excitement and tension. When the tension is suddenly released, it usually creates strong emotions. When everyone is on the edge of their seat and itching to take their turn to finish the game, but someone else gets there first, it’s just glorious. Usually, it creates feelings of joy and happiness, but of course, it can also turn into disappointment. I hope as adults we’ve learned to deal with it, especially in the context of board games.

Random Timers

Some games don’t have a fixed number of rounds, but also no specific objectives. Instead, there is some sort of timer. It might be a deck of cards, where the bottom so many cards contain an end-game trigger at a randomly shuffled position, like in Dominant Species: Marine. Timed games give you a rough idea of when the game is likely to end, but you can never be sure.

When these games end, there will be a similar sense of happiness or disappointment, as there is in objective games. The main difference is that nobody will ever get a sense of how close they are to finishing the game. Instead, everyone will hope that the game continues just one more round. Everyone just wants to complete their plans and score a few more points that might clinch victory.

Finishing the Round

Irrespective of how end game triggers are decided, there is then still the question of whether the game ends immediately or if the round is finished – or if every player gets one more turn.

If you finish the round or everyone gets more turn, you tend to feel like you at least have another chance at getting a few more points to get to second place. The game sort of gives you a second chance. Some games even have the option of you winning, if you get the most point. You don’t necessarily win just because you’re the first to finish.

All of these things give you a sense of control. You don’t feel cheated out of victory. You don’t feel like you were unable to see through your plan.

That’s opposed to games that end immediately, like Scythe. Most people think that this sort of ending is unfair. You want to be able to at least have one more turn, just so that you can carry out the actions you had planned for so long and get the points you think you deserve.


Games that end immediately create a sense of resentment and I’ve heard quite often how games groups houserule them to allow everyone on more turn. I think games that end immediately are absolutely fine. As long as you know that’s what happens from the start, you can plan for them.

What About You?

As you can see, there are many different ways a game can end. End game triggers vary quite a bit and create quite different gameplay experiences. What do you think about the way games end? How do you feel about different end game triggers? Do you hate it when a game ends suddenly and unexpectedly? Maybe you feel you deserve one more turn? Do you like games that have a fixed number of rounds? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Silent Alpha by MusicParadise
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/5067-silent-alpha
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: http://www.music-paradise.de

3 Minutes to Freedom (or Death) (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2020Players: 3-8
Designer: Samuel Edmondson, Daniel Somerville RobertsLength: 15-45 minutes
Artist: n/aAge: 8+
Publisher: Icarus GamesComplexity: 1.0 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: <1%Air to Components: 0%

A game about dancing sheep, rockets, lasers, cabbages and sometimes fun. I would like to add “death” to this list, but other than that, it’s pretty much a good description of 3 Minutes to Freedom (or Death) by Samuel Edmondson and Daniel Somerville Roberts from Icarus Games.

I know, the introduction sounds a bit weird, but then, that’s what this game is all about. Have a bit of fun with your friends or family and be the last person standing. 3 Minutes to Freedom (or Death) is in the vein of many other player-elimination games. It’s really quick to play, so that those people around the table who have been killed, don’t have to wait too long for the game to finish. I wouldn’t say a game only takes three minutes to play, like the title tries to suggest, but again, that’s not unusual for player-elimination games. Sometimes it takes only five minutes for everyone to have been killed, other times two or three players are still battling it out after 30 minutes.

Exploding Fluxx

3 Minutes to Freedom (or Death) is a card game where every card represents a certain action – or maybe a counter-action – or maybe no action at all. As you would expect, on your turn you draw a card and play a card from your hand. Sometimes you have to play the card you just drew, sometimes you can combine two cards and other times you can play a card even when it’s not your turn. Basically, just read what it says on the card and then decide if you have to do it straight away or otherwise, when it would be best to play this card.

There are plenty of cards that kill other players. That’s the aim of the game. Kill everyone else and be the last person alive. It doesn’t matter how many cards you’ve got left or what not. Just be alive as the last person around the table and you win.

To stop you from dying, there are plenty of cards that protect you. There are also plenty of cards that allow you to interfere with other players in other ways, allowing you to swap hands with them, forcing them to show you their hand or discard cards. You can even make other players speak in a silly voice or sing for the rest of the game. There are also plenty of useless cards and super powerful cards. It’s a really wonderful mix of different ways to affect the game and hopefully help you win.

It’s very much the sort of card game in the vein of Exploding Kittens or Fluxx, probably more like the former.

two decks of cards of 3 Minutes to Freedom (or Death)
Sometimes you play two cards together in 3 Minutes to Freedom (or Death).

Quick and Fun

The game is really easy to explain and plays pretty quickly. If you play it for the first time, you will spend a bit of time reading each card, but it’s usually only a sentence or two. You will want to think about which cards to play when, but usually, you don’t have a lot of cards in hand, so it never takes long to make a decision. There should be no analysis paralysis in this game, except maybe when all of your cards are amazing, but none of them is right for the current situation.

The whole game is in black and white, probably to reduce the cost of production, but the art style is really clear and very imaginative. The little cartoony pictures really pop. It works and draws you into the game and will certainly be attractive to younger players.

There is one minor niggle for me, which is to do with product design. There is no thumb cut on the box and the lid is on very tight. So opening it is very, very difficult. You really have to prise it open. However, the game is basically just a deck of cards, so you can easily put it in another deck box if it’s an issue.

On the plus side, the box is just the right size for the game. There is basically no air, which is so great to see. There is also no plastic, except maybe the varnish on the cards, but it’s minimal. So here is another plus.

Overall though, if you want a quick, fun game of silliness then 3 Minutes to Freedom (or Death) is for you.

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I was sent a free review copy of this game by the publisher.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sirius by Sascha Ende
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/3233-sirius
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://www.sascha-ende.de

Slow death – player elimination in board games (Topic Discussion)

In many modern board games, all players participate until the very end. Everyone continues to take their turns until the game has finished and it’s time to decide the winner or winners. That’s true for co-operative as well as competitive games. Player elimination games are very different in that respect. In these games, some people around the table could be out of the game early on and end up sitting it out until it’s all over. If done well, player elimination can be a very interesting mechanism in modern board games. In this article, I want to look at different ways this mechanism is implemented and discuss how well these work.

There are thousands of games on Board Game Geek which are tagged to contain player elimination. I own eight myself and have played four more that I don’t own. That compares to around 150 different games I’ve played in total so far. So I don’t often play games with player elimination and there is a reason for that: too many games implement player elimination badly. You end up feeling bored and sit there twiddling your thumbs.

Generally speaking, I think getting knocked out of a game creates a much stronger emotion than losing in other games. Being no longer part of a game can be a harsh experience. There is literally no chance of you making a comeback. You have lost – it’s over!

In the same way that being eliminated from a game can feel harsh, if you are the last person standing at the end of the game, it’s often much more satisfying than winning a game with the most points, for example.

When done well, player elimination can really elevate a game.

Still Waiting…

One of the most obvious potential issues with player elimination is the time eliminated players have to wait for the game to end. You want it to be as short as possible, so people don’t lose interest and get bored. One way of achieving this is overall game length. Love Letter, for example, only takes around 15 minutes to play. So you don’t mind being knocked out early. Waiting for the game to end isn’t an issue.

When a game takes longer to play, it gets more tricky though. In those games, you want to make sure that it is unlikely that players are forced out early. King of New York is a good example of this. The game itself can last around 45 minutes. Yet, players don’t usually get knocked out until maybe 15 minutes before the end. If you leave the game at that point, you’re usually invested in the game. You want the underdog to beat the player in the lead. The game often becomes rather exciting near the end.

Taking this to the extreme, in some games eliminated players have to wait no time at all for the game to end, because player elimination is the end-game trigger. One example is Jaws. It’s a one-against-many game where one player takes on the role of the shark while one or more play the other characters. When the shark is knocked out, the game ends. It’s a bit different when one of the crew dies. Then it’s more like a traditional player elimination game. You continue to play until all crew members have been killed, but all of this happens near the end of the game. So players don’t have to wait too long.

Still In It…

Another way of dealing with player elimination is to allow players to continue playing by giving them a new role. Nemesis is one example of this. If you die, which is possible quite early in the game, you can choose to take on the role of the intruders. You basically switch sides and become an active part of the game. Now you’re not trying to win as such, but you’ll do your best to make sure nobody else wins either. I think that’s a really clever way of ensuring an eliminated player is still very much invested in the game. It’s something that games without player elimination should consider including.

Slow Death or Instant Player Elimination

There are plenty of non-player elimination games where you basically have no chance of winning and are basically just going through the motions, because the rules don’t allow for a player to exit the game. Splotter‘s games are renowned for that. If you make the wrong decisions early on, there is no way for you to catch up and win, not even theoretically speaking. So you just continue to play for the sake of it. The game would be better off allowing you to just leave the game. In fact, some game groups have house-ruled Splotter‘s Food Chain Magnate to allow players who have no chance of winning to basically shut their shop and leave.

So even though a badly implemented player elimination mechanism can create a boring experience for those who got knocked out early, having to endure a game until the end when you have no chance of winning feels probably worse. All you might be able to do is influence who ultimately wins the game. The slow death of games without player elimination can be much more excruciating than the quick and sudden end in a game with player elimination.

How About You?

So how do you feel about player elimination in games? Do you like it or not? Have you seen games that implement it well? Are there games you’ve played where people basically go home once they’ve been knocked out, because the game takes very long to finish? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Dreams Become Real by Kevin MacLeod
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/3678-dreams-become-real
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://incompetech.com