The goal indicator is a videogame staple: an arrow or reticle or otherwise attention-snatching icon that points you in the right direction. The majority of games prescribe goals and set you on the path of accomplishing them. Bioshock's "Would you kindly" already meant nothing to me because I'd long accepted my fate; in a game, especially a game with nice production quality, my job as player was to get from point A to a brightly telegraphed point B.
I've spent the last couple years trying to crack this design problem. I wanted to make genuinely open-ended games without that authoritative arrow telling players what to do, even indirectly in the way that direct competition or a high score table leads people to judge their approaches on objective merits. I wanted to design games to be played. So I tried.
I designed a couple games both on the sort of premise of players sharing a game-space without relying on another's loss for their own win. In both games, in their own ways, one player's elimination or victory doesn't end the game/story for the other players. I can help you win, and still win myself. Or we can be petty and hurt each other and both lose. (These players tended to know each other the best.)
But the feeling nagged at me that these weren't really doing what I wanted. Games with clear endstates still had all these interesting complex motivations and social dynamics at every stage of the game, and were much easier to wrap your head around. I just wanted a game that didn't decree its players devolve into such bald-faced backstabbing and scheming.
Then I watched this talk, King Me, by Cole Wehrle, whose name I recognized because I already loved a game he designed: Root. The talk stuck in my head for many reasons, but it really warmed me up to the idea that this act of knocking down the winner ("kingmaking") was itself a complex and valuable social dynamic.
And then, in a roundabout way, I really fell for Oath, another board game designed by Wehrle.
My initial exposure: he had earlier fired shots at legacy games, claiming Oath was a pseudo-legacy game but free of "production gimmicks" like envelopes and stickers and drawing on cards and stuff like that. I was mildly indignant and dismissive, mostly because I'd just designed a little legacy-like game with stickers and drawing on cards! (The aforementioned Dead Last Delivery which sold out of our first little run, which is, you know, good. I'm still happy to think about that.)
Anyway. I got over it pretty fast.
I haven't played Oath myself yet, but it shone a very pretty light on this problem I'd sort of given up on. In a single game of oath, only one player will win. So far, so status quo. But between games, things change; the game-world is altered, and most of the things that change are a consequence of everyone's actions. The winner doesn't simply choose what happens. In some ways, in Oath, kingmaking is no longer an act of pettiness, but transformed into an act of expression, of a creative influence upon the game-world. Perhaps you can't win, but you can decide who you'd like to win, because you understand and care about the consequences of their victory.
I'm really, really interested in and inspired by this thought. I've been thinking about this for a very long time and I'm just very excited that someone is doing work that scratches this itch that's gone un-scratched for so very, very long.
thx for reading my just-after-midnight-on-a-sunday rambles.