Question of the Week: Punishing games or not?

In the upcoming episode (107b), Brandon and I talk about “punishment” in games, specifically there being mechanics in games that will penalize you in some way unless you can avoid them. In almost every game, the point is to win, be it through killing the bad guys, scoring lots of points, capturing a spawn point, or rescuing the hostages. In many of these, that’s all you do; in competition with the other players, you simply try to “win better.” But games that feature punishment ask you to split your time and resources on another task: don’t take this penalty.

I kind of enjoy games that do this, possibly more than games without it. There is a challenge in always just trying to get a higher score than everyone else, being efficient in actions or movement, knowing every map forwards and backwards, whatever it may be. I recently have talked about The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game, which is exactly that: you get the same actions and same access to cards as the other players, and you must use your turns to grab the best stuff and block your opponents from doing the same. It’s fun…

But the addition of a penalty for not covering certain bases, for failing to run away in the face of being overwhelmed, of not splitting your resources right and falling short of a payment you must make, that really provides a visceral enjoyment that I don’t get from just trying to score lots of points, or finish levels, or whatever else it might be.

I have talked to a lot of people about this topic, and often I find they are surprised when I say avoiding a punishment in a game can be as much a part of the fun as trying to succeed. So, the question of the week is this:

In addition to the goal of succeeding in a game, would you rather have a punishment to avoid or not? And, more importantly, why?

For me, it’s about the depth of a challenge. Agricola and Through the Ages are both games where you expand your population to achieve more throughout the game, but as your resources expand, you must make sure that some portion of them are dedicated to producing food. There is an economic maintenance that forms the basis for both of the games; you can’t just improve, because every improvement requires additional costs! You have to expand your economic prowess as well as your point-production. This tension, along with many ways to approach relieving it, opens these games up far beyond what they would be without it.

But avoiding punishment in games not for everybody, and it certainly doesn’t always work for me… the Dark Souls games come to mind. But I don’t want to repeat too much from the podcast!

Think about our question of the week, and send your thoughts to We would love to discuss what our listeners think on air.

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