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Elimination Mechanic

Elimination (Square)

Elimination is an interesting mechanic to include in tabletop games. Many people don’t like to eliminate others, while even more don’t like to be eliminated themselves. However, there is something fun about playing a game and knowing that some real consequences are at stake—even if those consequences are only a 30 minute or hour wait while other players finish the game.

Many types of elimination games exist, and most of them can be an enjoyable experience to play; however, many elimination games can be improved, and in today’s article we dive into a number of ways that designers can improve on the downsides of elimination and highlight the upsides. Please share your thoughts on elimination in tabletop games below!

Elimination Mechanic

Overview of Elimination

Elimination in board and card games usually refers to aspects of a game that make it possible, and often even required, for players to eliminate—or remove—other players during the game in order to win. Some of the most classic examples of this include Monopoly, a game in which players work to drive other players bankrupt, and Risk, a game where players embark on a campaign to conquer the world, replacing other players’ armies with their own.

Elimination games usually do not include 2-player games, where neither player is eliminated until the end of the game, when doing so immediately finishes the game. Chess is an example of this; two players compete until one can checkmate the other, which ends the game, making it so that player elimination is never a part of the game (even though pieces are eliminated, as is common in combat or conflict games). Other games may be evaluated in similar ways, and as shown below, under some conditions even 2-player games can include elimination as a core mechanic.

Important Considerations with Elimination

Elimination games can come in several different forms, each of which offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages. See below for a few that stand out to me. What are your favorite examples of elimination in games?

  • Standard Elimination: This is probably what most of us think of when we hear about a game with elimination. Standard elimination refers to a game where players eliminate other players one by one until only a single player is left standing. This has the advantage of a clear and absolute victory and easy to understand winning conditions. Chess 4, unlike traditional 2-player Chess  features battling between four individual players, each of which needs to be eliminated until only one player is left. This multiplayer aspect makes enables standard in-game elimination, which makes Chess 4 an elimination game.
  • Accelerated Elimination: This type of elimination allows players to be eliminated, but quickly accelerates the rate of elimination or the end of the game to minimize player disengagement. This has the unique advantage of creating a game that can feel slow and strategic, then with the first elimination (or another event) quickly turn into a fast-paced race for the finish (and to survive). Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure is one game that does quite a good job of incorporating accelerated elimination as the first player escaping or sometimes an elimination or another event sets a timer that ends the game after only a few more rounds.
  • Simulated Elimination: This mechanic simulates standard elimination as players are eliminated and removed from the game, but enables players to rejoin the game immediately after, often with reduced ability or a disadvantaged condition, though if players are forced to completely restart, they should probably be given some advantages that allow for potentially catching up. Bang! The Gold Rush expands the standard elimination Bang! game to offer eliminated players a simulated way to rejoin the game and seek revenge on other players, though they cannot then proceed to win the game. I would like to someday design a game that includes this by allowing player elimination, but permitting eliminated players to rejoin the game (as ambassadors or friends) and continue earning points for the eliminated character. This would eliminate them from some aspects of the game, but open up new aspects that might even give them an advantage over the other players.
  • Selective Elimination: This variation features elimination from only certain aspects of the game, while still enabling eliminated players to play in other parts of the game. This is one that I don’t have any examples of yet, but I would be interested to hear of some. I have considered creating games with several areas that players may be eliminated from, but with new options that open up as each one closes down. Do you know of any examples of this type of mechanism?
    • Edit: One comment below mentioned The Quacks of Quedlinburg as using Selective Elimination in an even more limited manner, round by round. I really like the idea of temporary Selective Elimination that makes being eliminated, while still real and impactful, even less devastating for eliminated players and keeps them in the running. This is an additional way to include elimination while avoiding many of the downsides. Thanks for sharing!

Cautions and Tips for Using Elimination

Some cautions and ways to mitigate potential challenges with each type of elimination include the following:

  • Standard Elimination: This type of elimination is well known and easy to implement, but often leaves eliminated players bored or disengaged as they wait for the game to end. All other types of elimination seek to solve this problem through various means.
  • Accelerated Elimination: This partially solves the disengagement problem by decreasing the time that eliminated players need to wait for the game to end, but doesn’t do it perfectly in some cases, and could be supplemented by other types of elimination.
  • Simulated Elimination: This can help solve the problem of eliminated players disengaging from the game, but as players rejoin they should still be offered a chance at winning, or else their continued play might feel hollow. However, the mechanic should be well balanced so that the players that do the eliminating still feel a sense of accomplishment and impact the game in a meaningful way.
  • Selective Elimination: This may be a good balance between giving the eliminating players a sense of accomplishment while not ruining the game for the eliminated players. However, implementing this type of elimination will likely take much more planning and testing to balance the mechanic across the game.

What are some interesting ways you have seen elimination be used as a part of a game? How have you used it in new and engaging ways? Please comment below with your thoughts!

Elimination in board and card games usually refers to aspects of a game that make it possible, and often even required, for players to eliminate—or remove—other players during the game in order to win. Elimination games usually do not include 2-player games, where neither player is eliminated until the end of the game, when doing…

Elimination (Square)

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Other Tabletop Game Mechanics to Explore

Are there other game mechanics or topics that you would like to see explored further? Please comment below with any requests!