I had a light bulb come on in my head today, quite by accident, with regard to playing games to win. I’ve talked a little here and there about game objectives, but due to the scatterbrained nature of my blog, it’s more than likely they’ve been lost in among the other entries. So here, I’m talking about game objectives and designing toward them. I’ll start with Magic: the Gathering.

Magic has a basic goal of reducing the opponent’s life points to zero, but this isn’t the simplest way of winning. Actually, in order to reduce an opponent’s life points to zero, you first have to play lands until you have enough mana to cast the spells you need to reduce your opponent’s life total (at all). Good spells for lowering your opponent’s life total are summons because they can potentially deal damage every turn.

But how many rules do you have to go through just to be able to do something as straightforward as that? Can you put a creature directly into play? Usually not, you have to have enough mana (of the correct type) first. Can you attack with the creature as soon as you have it in play? Usually not, because it has “summoning sickness.” Can you kill defeat your opponent as soon as you attack? Usually not, because your opponent starts with 20 life, and creatures tend to do less damage than that.

No, the simplest method of winning the game is having cards left in your deck when your opponent runs out. It doesn’t actually require you to play cards, or even to draw cards. The Star Wars Collectible Card Game by Decipher had this as your primary method of winning the game. In fact, your main venue of attack was to directly deplete your opponent’s deck by causing attrition.

Of course, in the Star Wars CCG, in order to generate attrition, you first had to have characters (or starships) occupying a location which was strong in your opponent’s side of the FORCE. The more power they drew from the location, the more of their deck you could hit them for when you initiated a “FORCE Drain.” Actual combat had you comparing the relative power of opposing characters, with the loser discarding cards to “satisfy attrition.”

Still, to get to the point where you could even FORCE Drain, which was the most straightforward method of depleting your opponent’s deck, you first had to receive enough FORCE at the beginning of your turn to deploy a character with an Ability score (of at least one) to create a “presence” to “control” a location. If the location granted FORCE to your opponent, you could initiate a Drain, and cause them to lose cards equal to the amount of FORCE granted by the location.

Quite a headache, there. So complicated.