The Eleven: Player Elimination Games

Player elimination gets  bad rap in our hobby.  And with good reason – it’s no fun to play a game, get eliminated, then wait for others to finish the game so you can play something else.  However, I don’t think it’s always a bad thing.  I think there are a lot of games that work because of the aspect of player elimination.  And here are some of them.

image by BGG user zombiegod
image by BGG user zombiegod

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac is a 2009 game from deigners Guillaume Blossier and Frédéric Henry. It was originally published in the US by AEG but was later picked up by Fantasy Flight. In this game, 2-6 players are adventurers entering a temple to gather as much treasure as possible. The object of the game is to be the one with the most treasure, but a secondary objective is just to get out alive. How much treasure you have determines how much you can do on a turn – the more you have, the more likely it is that you’ll have less actions than other players.

As you go through the tunnel, you could get crushed between sliding walls. Or fall in lava. Or go over the edge of a waterfall. Or break through a rickety bridge. Or get crushed by a boulder. When you die, your character is out. The game allows you to come in again as a secondary character, but it is almost assured that you won’t get out with much, if at all. Once the second character dies, you’re out.

The player elimination in this game serves as an obstacle to keep things tense and close. Without it, the game would be a lot more random as player would grab everything they could get their hands on and it would be luck of the draw that determined the winner. So this is an example where I think player elimination serves the game quite well – it’s not the only condition of victory, it just gives the game a reason to exist.

image by BGG user niledesign
image by BGG user niledesign

Cleopatra and the Society of Architects approaches player elimination differently. Designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, this 2006 Days of Wonder 3-5 player game is all about trying to build Cleopatra’s palace in ancient Egypt. Throughout, you’ll be trying to gather the necessary resources to build a three-dimensional palace on top of the box – gardens, sphinxes, obelisks, and so on. This will be done by collecting cards, some of which will have corruption. These cards are generally more powerful, but gain you corruption when used.

At the end of the game, players will add up their points to determine a winner. However, before this is done, players will add up their corruption that they have amassed during the game. Whoever has the most is fed to the crocodiles and cannot win, no matter how well they did during the game.

I have to say that feeding someone to the crocodiles is a method of player elimination that I would like to see in more games. The stock game Hab & Gut does it, as does the Hunger Games: District 12 Strategy Game. And I know there are others, but not many. It forces you to pay attention to others and keeps you from playing the most powerful cards. It is interesting to come to the end and see who gets eliminated from the final scoring, and I wish it showed up more often.

image by BGG user T Worthington
image by BGG user T Worthington

Coup is a 2012 game from Rikki Tahta that is currently being published by Indie Boards and Cards as part of their Resistance line of games. In this one, players are each assigned secret roles, and can use the special abilities to try and amass wealth to eliminate the others. You can even use a role you don’t have, but if someone calls you out, you’ll lose an influence (you only get two). The last person standing wins.

Coup is a very quick game, and that helps the player elimination to not be such a big deal. In fact, you’ll probably want to play again once a round is done. It’s all about bluffing, and can be heavily influenced by luck, but it’s quick enough that it doesn’t matter.

image by BGG user bongoHerman
image by BGG user bongoHerman

Get Bit! is a 2007 game designed by Dave Chalker.  Its current implementation is published by Mayday Games.  It’s for 2-6 players, and involves swimmers trying to escape from a shark.  The concept is very simple – in each round, players choose a card from their hand (numbered 1-7) and reveal simultaneously.  The lowest card revealed moves to the front of the line, then the second lowest moves to the front, and so on.  Ties do not move at all.  Once all players have resolved, the shark takes a bite out of the last place swimmer (arms and legs come off the swimmers).  Once a swimmer loses all four limbs, they are out.  When there are two swimmers left, the one in front wins.

Get Bit! is a silly, slightly violent game.  If you don’t want to pretend you are ripping human limbs off, you can easily pretend they are robots.  But a big part of the game is the player elimination.  It’s like the saying goes – you don’t have to be faster than the shark, you just have to be faster than the other guy.  Get Bit! plays quckly, and once eliminated, you’re not sitting around for long.  Without player elimination, it becomes a dull exercise in trying to escape a shark that won’t eat you anyway.

image by BGG user kherubim
image by BGG user kherubim

King of Tokyo is one of the most popular games of the last few years, and features player elimination.  It’s for 2-6 players, and was designed by Richard Garfield, published by IELLO.  In the game, players are monsters threatening the city of Tokyo (and really, where else would monsters threaten).  But you’re not just causing destruction – you are fighting each other for dominance.  Game is played with a Yahtzee-style dice-rolling mechanism – roll six dice, save some and roll the rest, then reroll once more to get your final result.  Dice could give you points, cause damage to other monsters, heal yourself, or gain energy cubes that can be spent on power-uos.

A game of King of Tokyo can be won in one of two ways – either one monster gets up to 20 points, or all monsters but one die with the last one standing winning.  And it’s that player elimination that drives the game – you have to be cautious about going into Tokyo, because while you can do damage to all other monsters, all other monsters will be able to attack you.  Of course, you can try to go for the points victory, but where’s the fun in that?

This game is really the reason I made this list.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the review “I really like the game, I just wish it didn’t have player elimination.”  Then what exactly do you like about the game?  Take out the player elimination, and you’ve got nothing.  I tried it once, where we allowed a player who was eliminated to come back in as a new monster.  She ended up killing nearly everyone in one fell swoop.  It was kind of unsatisfying.  Player elimination makes you think twice about what you’re doing, and it amps up the press your luck aspect.  If it was just a points game, it wouldn’t be fun at all.  I think “player elimination” has become a dirty phrase along the lines of “roll and move” and “-opoly”, and some people won’t be caught dead being associated with it, even if they do secretly like King of Tokyo.

Rant over.  King of Tokyo is a great game, player elimination and all.

image by BGG user laiernie
image by BGG user laiernie

Liar’s Dice is a bluffing game that has its roots in South America (known as Dudo or Perudo). Generally, our hobby tends to credit the design to Richard Borg, who won the Spiel des Jahres for the game in 1993. It’s a game that can be played by 2-6 players (though you could probably do more). Each player has a dice cup and five dice. Everyone simultaneously rolls their dice, peeks, then in turn order makes a bid as to how many of a specific number there are under all cups. So, you could say “five 3s.” The next player would then either have to say that there were more of a lower number (six 2s) or the same number of a higher number (five 5s). Before bidding, the next player may contest the previous bid, and all dice are revealed. If the bidding player failed to accurately guess how many there were, he loses a die. If he successfully guessed at least the number (there could be more), the contesting player loses a die. The game continues until only one player has dice left.

Liar’s Dice definitely involves a good amount of guesswork, and bluffing is an important part. However, the goal is to be the last one standing, making this a definite player elimination game. And there’s not much you can do once you’re out, though I still find it very entertaining to watch the game continue. The player elimination serves the game well because the pool of dice is constantly reduced, making it more difficult to get to the higher numbers and thus speeding things up. There are some variants that change the game up once you get down to one die, and I recommend checking them out. All you need is some dice and some cups. Take a look.

image by BGG user henk.rolleman
image by BGG user henk.rolleman

Loopin’ Louie is a 1992 kid’s game designed by Carol Wisely and published by Milton Bradley. It’s for 2-4 players, and takes only about 5 minutes to play (but you WILL play a bunch in a row). Loopin’ Louie is a dexterity game where players are attempting to keep Louie from knocking out all of their chickens, represented by discs. Louie himself is in a motorized plane that bounces around in a circle and must be deflected using paddles. You are trying to bounce him over your own chickens, and at the same time trying to aim him towards others.

When your third chicken is knocked out, you’re done. However, you can keep playing to play kingmaker, trying to take out enemies that have wronged you for something. Or just trying to cause chaos. This is a rare game where being knocked out of contention doesn’t mean the fun has to end, and I like that about it. Besides, it’s so fast that you will want to pay again. I usually play that the first to 3 wins is the victor.

This game is amazing both in the coolness of the device, but also in its ability to make grown-ups very tense. It’s a great game, and I would recommend it whether or not you have kids.

image by BGG user edbolme
image by BGG user edbolme

Love Letter is a 2012 game from designer Seiji Kanai, with AEG publishing it in the US.  It’s famous for being the game that sparked the current microgame trend.  In Love Letter, 2-4 players attempt to gain a preset number of tokens of affection.  On a turn, a player draws a card, then chooses one of the two in their hand to play.  Each card has a specific function – the guard lets you try to guess another player’s hand (eliminating the other if you’re right), the priest lets you look at someone else’s hand, the baron allows you to compare hands with another player (eliminating the lower value), the handmaid protects you, the prince allows you to make someone discard and draw a new hand, the king allows you to trade, the countess must be discarded if you have the prince or king, and the princess is the highest value but causes you to be eliminated if discarded.  A player wins if all others get eliminated, or once the deck runs out, if they have the highest valued card remaining in hand.

Love Letter is insanely popular right now.  It is a very quick game, and has a lot of strategic depth for just having 16 cards.  And yet, it has player elimination.  It is entirely possible that you won’t get a turn in a round.  That can be frustrating, but I think it’s also part of the game’s charm.  Especially when someone keeps getting knocked out – I played a game once where I eliminated someone three rounds in a row because my guard caught his princess.  It was hilarious.

I think Love Letter is a fantastic game, and I think the threat of player elimination keeps it moving.  Without it, there might be less tension in the game.

image by BGG user Livinus
image by BGG user Livinus

RoboRally is a 1994 game from Richard Garfield (second time on the list).  This one was originally published by Wizards of the Coast, and later Avalon Hill.  In the game, 2-8 players control robots racing to be the first to touch a number of flags in sequence.  Players program five moves in advance, then move around hoping to avoid lasers, pits, crushers, and other robots.  If you get shot, you’re going to lose health, giving you fewer options for moving.  You can attempt to power down to recoup your health, but you could still get killed.  You have three lives in the game.  Lose ’em all, and you’re out.

I love Roborally, but this is my one game on the list that I think works IN SPITE of the player elimination.  I don’t particularly care for eliminating players, and I tend to let people continue to play after losing their third life, just having them start with two less health.  Still, the threat of destruction keeps people from destroying themselves to reset without having to power down, so I guess it works.  Some people like it, but I never really liked video games that gave you limited lives either.  It doesn’t happen that often, it’s just a possibility.  If you use the player elimination aspect or not, I definitely recommend it.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Shadow Hunters is a social deduction game from 2005 that was designed by Yasutaka Ikeda and published in the US by Z-Man.  The game is for 4-8 players (don’t play with 4), and splits players into factions.  The Shadows have a goal to eliminate all Hunters, and the Hunters have a goal to eliminate all Shadows.  Neutrals have varying goals that range from survival to early death to bloodlust.  On a turn, a player rolls and moves to the indicated area, and does what it says – draw a card, steal equipment, heal, or damage.  You can then choose to attack anyone in your range.  Players can reveal their roles at any time, but no one knows your total HP or faction until you reveal.  When one player or group of players have met their win condition, they win.  Neutrals can possibly win a solo victory, but there will usually be multiple winners.

Shadow Hunters takes some flak because it is highly dependent on luck, and because players can get eliminated.  However, I think it all works together perfectly.  Elimination drives the Hunters and Shadows (and some of the Neutrals), and you can still win once dead (unless you’re Neutral).  The deduction elements really help you in figuring out who you can trust (though one Shadow can lie).  Shadow Hunters is one of my favorite games, even with the player elimination.

image by BGG user Mr Penguin
image by BGG user Mr Penguin

Finally, Tsuro is a 2004 game by Tom McMurchie.  The current publisher is Calliope Games.  2-8 players take turns placing tiles on a board to create paths that their pieces must follow.  If a piece ever runs into another piece or goes off the board, you lose.  It’s a very simple game, but it’s built on the concept of player elimination – the winner is the last one standing.  My first play of this game was uninspiring, but the more I’ve played, the more I appreciate it.  It’s fast and like solving a puzzle before others do.  I think the elimination helps it along, and it’s quick enough that it doesn’t matter if you go out quickly.

Player elimination!  What do you think?  Let me know…thanks for reading!

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5 comments

  1. We played Temple of Chac for the first time last weekend. I lost both my adventurers and it wasnt a big deal. I do know that the 2nd Adventurers game actually doesnt have player elimination.

  2. I think player elimination works best when it’s a shorter game. For example you mention Tsuro and mention that since it’s so quick a game, if you’re eliminated quickly, it doesn’t really matter.

    I think Monopoly is classic example of a problematic player elimination. That game can last a very long time, so if you get kicked out early, you can spend a long time doing nothing but watching and for a lot of people that’s boring. I personally enjoy watching board games, so that’s not a problem…but I do think it can be a design flaw.

    In the Tabletop episode for the sequel game to Tsuro, they introduced a fun house rule in which after a player was eliminated they still kept rolling for the dragons and I thought that was smart. It kept the eliminated player involved, while also potentially speeding up the game a little. I think if a longer game wants to have player elimination it should look into having features like that, ways players can still participate a little, and also up the stakes for the remaining players each time someone is removed from the game.

    • I can agree with all of that. Shorter games definitely make elimination more tolerable. I’m not arguing that player elimination is always a good thing, just that it shouldn’t be completely dismissed the way some people do. It has its weaknesses as a mechanic, but can also be used very effectively. Thanks for your comments – I haven’t watched that episode of TableTop, I’ll have to check it out.

      • Oh I agree! I don’t think any mechanic should be dismissed out of hand. Not even role and move which I think a lot of people dislike and consider out of date…personally I enjoy some roll and move games. And I think there’s a time and game for just about every mechanic.

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