Just this once Everybody Lives
For a game called Killer Croquet, there’s a deliberate omission of any actual murder. I am not super opposed to violence, though I do prefer Tom and Jerry mischief to the alternative.
Rather, murder is absent from my game because I wanted to remove player elimination from my game. For those who don’t know, player elimination is when a player is completely removed from play. As a close friend would say, including player elimination is the 3rd Deadly Gaming Sin. It’s (often) lazy design to just tell a player they’re completely out of the game. A board game ought to keep every player entertained for the entire duration of the game.
Some games get away with player elimination for a variety of reasons, but none of those excuses happened to work with my game.
Killer Croquet started out with player elimination, based on theme alone. That was the joke, it’s “Croquet with Murder”. However, when I decided I wanted to seriously pursue Killer Croquet, I knew that it had to be replaced with something better.
Marianna Maltrov has Fainted
So in true Pokemon style, when you ran out of hit points, you fell over, and had to spend an action to stand up on your next turn. It turned devastation into a minor inconvenience. It also removed a lot of the violence from the game , because it would often take more than an action to fell a player, which would cost them an action. Violence became a net negative option for players because they’d spend more on the strategy than they would take from the opponent.
A New Way to Win
This also elongated the game, since it now became very difficult to win by being the “last man standing”, and the only major way of winning was through the longer Croquet Gambit.
My major goal was to create a game that fairly balanced two major strategies: play or attack. In fact, my hope was that for any given position a player would be able to weigh the pros and cons of either strategy and freely move from one to the other as they saw fit.
The old system didn’t provide that at all.
A Whole New World
When in doubt, add points. It seemed like such an obvious solution at the time to add a point tracker. I was playing a ton of Euro Point Salad Games where many different actions result in a variety of points.
It took some fiddling, but I was ultimately satisfied with the result.
1 Point for Knocking a player down.
2 Points for getting halfway through the course
5 Points for finishing the course.
There’s also a mechanic where once you get halfway through the course you can knock out other player’s balls for points. This is easier to do and more inconveniencing than knocking another player down.
First player to 7 points wins.
It takes a bit to knock a player down, and only the player who lands the last hit gets the points.
The way this translates into gameplay is that it encourages players to play fairly at first, as the midway bonus (Poison) is a huge incentive.
Once players begin to reach the midway point, there is equal incentive for either strategy.
As the game rounds the final lap , players are split. Players closer to finishing the course are incentivized to finish, while players at the back of the pack are incentivized to attempt to win by points. This becomes an inherent catchup mechanic as the losing players path to victory hinges on knocking other players down. Not only does knocking players down at that point score them points, it also slows the progress of the leader.
To give you an example, the player distribution in an average game tends towards the following groups in the end game.
Player A: The back of the pack for wickets, deliberately off path to attempt to knock down other players, has a handful of points.
Player B: No points from kills , but furthest towards completing the course and winning the game.
Player C: No points, and not far along in the wickets, but not at the back of the pack either.
This hierarchy sets up the same basic scenario each time: Player A tries to kill Player B and score enough points before Player C sneaks a victory by either finishing the course or scoring points.
The Sound of Inevitability
The new paradigm seemed to work quite well, an implicit catchup mechanic that also puts the different paths to victory on a ratcheting path of checkpoints. If player elimination was removed, it became integral that players have a way to be engaged throughout the course of the entire game.