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A common thing I've noticed in strategy games (of all types, 4X, RTS, MOBA, etc.) is that most games eventually get to a point where it is fairly clear who is going to win, and the rest of the game just becomes playing out the motions, and if the winning player/team doesn't make a major misstep, they will win.

This is just kind of the nature of strategy games. They inherently have a "snowball" effect. The gameplay is all about setting yourself up for success over your opponents in the future, and whoever does this better in the earlier stages of the game should win in the later stages. This happens in every strategy game to some extent, even the most classic. In Chess, it becomes increasingly harder to win if your opponent takes more and more of your pieces and forces your remaining pieces into tough situations.

As I said, this is just a fundamental part of the genre, so I'd hesitate to call it a problem. However, on occasion, in these types of games, you have matches where no player/team gains a significant advantage early, and the game comes down to the last turn. In my opinion, these are the most exciting and interesting matches you can have. Furthermore, when this doesn't happen, the late stages of the game can feel very boring for everyone involved, where the winning player is just awaiting their inevitable victory, and the losing player their inevitable demise (this can be especially unfun for the losing player, as they probably have very few options, and it is just really unlikely that they are having a good time).

So it would be cool if we could design a strategy game that avoids consistently falling into this state, right? Well, I have seen a handful of games like this, where a losing player consistently has avenues to victory, no matter how far behind they are. The issue with this is that if an upset happens (say one player was dominating the whole game, and then a losing player makes one good play at the end of the game to win), that victory can feel very unsatisfying for the winning player, as they may feel they didn't deserve it. Similar, the player who was winning most of the game may be very unhappy, as they may feel like victory was robbed from them, and they didn't deserve to lose. So essentially, no one is happy with the result. This approach may also make the early game less fun, as players may feel like it just doesn't matter.

So is it possible to design a strategy game that avoids both of these issues? A game where we don't consistently fall into a boring lategame with a forgone conclusion, and yet also keep victories feeling satisfying and deserved? Or are these issues far too fundamental to strategy gameplay to overcome?

If this question is too vague on its own, then we can focus on 4X strategy games, as those are the games I have experience with, and that I am interested in designing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to GDSE. As written, your question currently has a lot of overlap with this other question. If your intent is to cover different territory, it would help if you could edit your question in a way that clarifies the differentiation. \$\endgroup\$ – Pikalek Nov 1 at 20:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pikalek Thanks for linking that question; I hadn't found it. It is very similar, admittedly. The main difference is that I more specifically talk about the tradeoff in avoiding the boring late games, e.g. unsatisfying victories. That question doesn't talk about that much, so the answers don't really address it. Not sure if that is enough to justify my question as a non-duplicate though. \$\endgroup\$ – RothX Nov 1 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of How can the lategame in a 4X game be made more exciting? \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Nov 1 at 22:30
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Make an additional win state that would end the game after it's rather obvious who the winner is.

It might be best to make the victory condition optional in the game menu before starting the game.

E.g. for a turn based 4x game: If one player controls 80% of the map's territory game is over and the other players lost. If I remember correctly this is being done by several turn based strategy games I've played.

Another possibly unique example is the Close Combat series. The game ends when the enemy morale drops too low, thus preventing long and tedious "search and destroy" of every single enemy unit that would anyway end up surrendering if engaged due to an already broken morale.

A victory by "crushed morale" can be both "satisfying" (as per your question) to the player and avoid tedious gameplay at the same time.

Another option would be to simply enable overpowering the other player at any moment - e.g. one player sends his superior fleet of starships to the other player's home-world and destroys it due to the other player not being able to defend it thus resulting in game over. As simple as it gets.

There is also a possibility to give an incentive for other player to surrender - e.g. retreating from battle gives the other player an option of reusing the units in another battle.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Additionally, while Spore was not very good and its RTS phase was doubly so, they avoided this with the megapowers that instantly converted every remaining city on the map, once you'd reached a certain threshold. You didn't have to use it, but it was a way to skip the boring slog. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Nov 2 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is the key. I was thinking about it, and I came up with something similar. Also, having many victory conditions makes it harder for one player to be so clearly and obviously ahead, because while they might be very far in the lead towards one victory type, they might not be for another. And yes, you're right. If the game reaches a state where a player has basically won, then they should actually win. \$\endgroup\$ – RothX Nov 2 at 23:12

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