Today, let’s talk about competition within puzzle events and other games. How does it fit in? How does it enhance the game? Can it be frustrating for non-competitive players? First, let’s look at a few different examples of competition in games and events.
Post Hunt - Part one just requires each team to solve all five puzzles within the time limit, no competing with other teams (except maybe when it’s too crowded to see the puzzle). Part two is a race, in every sense of the word, against all the other teams. Whoever finds all the locations, solves all the puzzles, and completes the final action first wins the big prize. No points, just a finish line. Cash prizes presented on stage.
DASH - A point-based game of solving speed where teams get bonus points for solving quickly and forfeit those points for taking hints. A time-management challenge for the rest of us who can barely solve them all within the 7-hour time limit. Incentives are simply personal achievement, bragging rights, and leaderboard status a few weeks later.
Ravenchase - Varies by event, but often point-based with finish time as a tie-breaker, or strictly time-based where all puzzles must be solved to win, and hints cost time. Fabulously tacky prizes.
Black Letter Game – Points for each solve, leaderboard based on points and overall solve time. Bragging rights only.
The Mole - Collaborative games with potential cash prize for show winner. Players sometimes split into teams, competing for exemptions. Players sometimes given incentive to sabotage and misdirect teammates. Coalitions are common.
Liar Game - Complex nature of game brings about wide range of situations including teamwork, coalitions, free-for-all, manipulation, team vs team, and so on. Very high potential risk, devastating potential losses (these losses are primary driving factor in player motivations).
Space Alert - Pure collaboration and teamwork between 3-5 players. Only competition is against the game and the clock.
I’m having a hard time thinking of an event or game where there are multiple teams, but they are not competing. Competition seems to be the natural way to go with team-based events, but what about an event where teams were all working together toward a common goal somehow? Maybe something like the collaboration puzzle in DASH. How about a game where each team has a unique location they must find and then complete a certain action there? What are other ways to design a non-competitive event? While I’ve seen teams be super pumped about competing against their co-workers, I’ve seen others who seem kind of crestfallen when they hear the event will be competitive, and then watched them barely limp across the finish line, frustrated with their performance. Is there a way to design an event that better accommodates people who don’t enjoy competing?
I used to hate doing anything competitive (especially anything where a team would have to rely on me), though I think for me it stemmed from a lack of self-confidence. These days, I tend to enjoy competing and it’s easier for me to get into that competitive mindset because I like to try and do my best. Although I’m interested in how a multiple team collaborative event might work, media like Liar Game and The Mole have me thinking about ways that competition can be made more robust and interesting. Most games and events need some sort of time limit in place for logistical purposes, and I think the competition aspect most events use is just a by-product of the time limit element. If teams are racing against the clock, you may as well see who comes in first. In games like The Amazing Race and Liar Game, however, competition is a core feature of the game. Competitive elements like blocking other teams and winning some kind of advantage are woven into the gameplay itself. And you know I am all about sabotage elements.
Still, I think one has to be careful when deciding to make competition a core feature of a game or event. This changes the nature of the event, maybe to something different from the player’s expectations. If you suddenly added a U-Turn obstacle option (force the team behind you to back-track) to DASH, you would probably get a lot of angry players. DASH is an event about puzzles and one’s ability to solve them quickly, and I can’t imagine that adding in a new layer of competitive strategy which completely disregards that core element would be very welcome.
How do you feel about competing? Do you get really into it? Do you try to just take it easy? Would a game with no competition be boring, or more interesting? Do you think you have what it takes to play in game where competition is a core feature?