Played a demo of Risk: Factions recently, for my thesis. It summoned memories from a time while back when I… played Risk: Factions at my friends. And like then, I realized that I dislike one property of that game: It does not end.
I read in the book Fundamentals of Game Design that games tend to have two ending properties: Termination Condition and Victory Condition. Termination condition is the moment when the gameplay ends and victory is checked. A Victory Condition is the moment either player wins. A live action role playing game is a game without a Victory Condition but with a Termination Condition: About half to midnight the game ends and people are violently flung back to their own bodies and realities. And Risk is a game with a Victory Condition but without a Termination Condition: The game is played until someone wins, or the heat death of the universe.
I believe every game should have a Termination Condition. A game ticking towards the end forces players. A Warhammer 40k game takes 5-7 turns to complete. Usually the first turn is used for maneuvering, the second to third turns for pounding key targets with ranged weapons, and fourth turn sees the mightiest surviving close combat units close in and eviscerate enemies. On the fifth turn the frantic objective grab and denial starts, and the units abandon optimal positions. The excitement rises towards the end of the game.
The same applies to video games that track time. Space Rangers has the Dominators constantly gaining more ground if you dawdle and fail to research methods to defeat them. Sid Meier’s Pirates! has your character age, becoming slower and weaker as time goes by. These games slowly pile apprehension towards the end; One of the greatest games of Space Rangers was when I was racing against time to develop an universal communicator while the Dominators had conquered about 80% of the galaxy. They cut me off from the other systems just as I had installed it on my craft. I lost and was somewhat upset, but on retrospect it was pretty awesome.
Interstellar Mayhem is another example of a game that does not end. You get a Kill Point for every opponent you kill. And when you are killed, you lose a Kill Point. And when you respawn, you are at full health. The game is a seesaw until one of the players manages to kill the other three times in a row. It can take from twenty minutes to twenty hours. And that’s terrible.
On an unrelated note: I had a more insightful post thought for today, but turns out I was wrong about the premise. Funny how it goes.