Don’t Fear the Reaper

The concept of player elimination is a thing of the past. Unless we’re talking about games that are short, random and light – or about “classics” like Monopoly – straight up elimination is gone from most European and American style games these games. Or is it gone in name only?

The truth is that elimination has been a thing in Eurogames as much – if not more – as in Ameritrash (or is it Amerithrash now?), staying very well hidden within the structure of some games. Whether as the harsh and relentless feeding grind of Agricola, or the rather unforgiving optimization requirement of Goa, many of the cornerstones of Eurogaming had what amounted to player elimination, without ever saying anything even close to that in their rules.

To be perfectly honest, we’ve done the thing ourselves. Our own Praetor is quite the heavy and unforgiving game – and a game that even smart players may find themselves painted into a corner, and left in the dust by those with more experience with the game. And it’s not only about knowing the tiles, but also learning to work with the specific rhythm of making your workers more valuable, but also steadily moving them towards the point, when they become a burden, and not an asset.

PraetorA similar learning curve can be observed in others relatively recent and heavier games. Yedo is one of those titles that make you learn its intricacies the hard way, going as far as to make buying an extra worker (something many Eurogamers would naturally do as fast as possible in worker placement games) too early something that can lose you the game. Spyrium is another game that will give you a harsh lesson when you decide not to fight for the right patents in the beginning, or if you do not secure a way to earn more coin. And the list could go on.

While none of these games has a clear elimination point – and no written elimination rule – each of them have a tendency to allow for a newbie player to be effectively knocked out of the race. In fact, a less harsh incarnation of this phenomenon can be found in many lighter games. And that is why so many of them have one or multiple catch-up mechanisms. Praetor, for example, allows the player with the fewest points to go first each turn.

The problem with catch-up mechanisms however, is that when used sparingly, they will require experience and forethought to work properly – which again makes them useful for players of some skill with the game played. And when we use them more generously, we create a situation known to many Power Grid players (an effective race to be the second, again favouring experience), or we make whole stretches of the game experience invalid, by allowing the catch-up to truly decide the final score (Quidditch anyone?).

So, the reality is that some games are just more unforgiving than others – and that we can choose not to play them. Alternatively, we can embrace this as something that will perhaps make us play this heavier game more than once or twice, and see our proficiency grow with every game. But this is clearly choice to be made very consciously – and with much difficulty in this age of new (or even upcoming) being the king.

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