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Moving the Goalposts - Thoughts on Recalibrating when Things Go Wrong

Gaming-wise, I think a great deal about winning and losing. I also enact my fair share of winning and losing on the tabletop [but that's a slightly different story!].

Damn - there goes the big-hitter. Time for a change of plan.

As a general rule, I rather enjoy losing. Every loss on the tabletop is a chance to learn more and - at least if I'm playing as the 'baddies' - a chance to persuade myself that it's fine because the 'goodies' won this time! My losses sometimes give our Editor, Guy, a rare chance to savour tabletop victory, too.

I was struck recently, however, by a discussion online about a different idea; one that I'm sure isn't new, but is - in part - new to me: when a game is clearly going only one way, why not alter the scenario? - If your opponent's force is taking an unreasonable punishment, why not change the mission parameters or the victory conditions?

Yup - things are definitely starting to get a bit hairy here.

As an example, let's say your opponent's Napolenic troops whilst attacking an outlying village are suddenly and fatally outmanoeuvred by that your cavalry sweeping round the flank. Rather than them grumpily conceding the game early or having to watch their force being inexorably ground down, why not make an organic change to the game (it is just a game after all, right?) and simply make it into a new mission? Maybe now your opponent's task is to make a fighting withdrawal with minimal casualties or (if you're so inclined) to make a valiant last stand. That way the game can still be fun for both players and no-one has to go home disappointed!


If the Viking raid goes pear-shaped when they're dashed against the defenders' shield wall, maybe it's time for their commander to focus instead on snatching the highest value captive he can; when the last of the mechant vessels is lost to enemy action, maybe the escorts' mission becomes one of focussed vengeance instead...

Being sneaky in a game of 'Black Ops' is just fine...

...until the locals get the drop on you!

...either way, whatever is decided, it has to be agreed upon. If both players can agree amicably to move the goalposts for the sake of telling a better story, well then maybe both players can change their stories for the sake of salvaging a great game from a one-sided trouncing!

8 thoughts on “Moving the Goalposts - Thoughts on Recalibrating when Things Go Wrong”

  • Nigel Howorth

    Must disagree. Scenarios should be set with both sides knowing the win and lose criteria. As you say, its a learning experience if you lose. The main emphasis should be that the game is played on friendly and open terms. Sometimes players set their own goals, for instance "Well I knocked out that Tiger Tank!"....

    • Chris King

      Excellent points, Nigel, and well made: thank you for swinging by.

      I endeavoured to present my case as a possible option in particular circumstances in the spirit of - as you say - friendly and open terms...but of course, it's not always the thing to do!

  • Daniel Newton

    I do agree that idea has merit. Our bolt action scene in Perth Aus, achieve something similar by having secondary or even tertiary objectives. If your main objective is turning out to be a really difficult proposition, you are provided with alternate ways to gain points, and therefore the win. Perhaps this falls more into the case of a morale victory, rather than a "true" overall winner but in narrative campaign games those secondary and tertiary objectives will often have attached consequences. We experience significantly less player 'drop off' than if we kept only primary win conditions.

    • Chris King

      Thank you, Daniel,

      - and that's a great way of doing things (oh, and I'm a great believer in "moral victories" too!).

  • Jon Yuengling

    It is an idea worth trying out at your club or even a convention game. If the game is going to easy then it is not fun for both sides. It can be a simple as new orders from HQ.

  • Peter Gaut

    We do this all the time! Sometimes the "loosing" side will get a Platoon of reinforcements or maybe one more Fokker Triplane shows up at 5 thousand fee or a Confederate Ironclad appears around the next river bend!! Sometimes we do play a "Set" scenario and then things go wrong in so many ways and you just have to alter it if you want everyone to have fun. Which as you said, it's a game and games are supposed to be fun! But one thing we all do is, IF the "looser" actually comes back to win, through the generosity and sportsmanship of his "enemy" he is not allowed to toot his own horn without hearing a crescendo of calls like"We kicked your butt in the "actual" game!" After all we are all, first, Friends!

    • Chris King

      Fantastic, Peter - thank you for sharing the no-gloating idea too!

      Of course, in my head now is the germ of an intriguing game which involves the simultaneous convergence of an infantry platoon, a Fokker Triplane and a Confederate ironclad...!

      Thanks for swinging by.

  • Peter Gaut

    Well, that would be quite a strange game, huh?! What I mean is no matter what period we are playing, be it a WW1 Air game, a ACW Ironclad game or any number of conflicts involving Infantry, we will use the reinforcement ideas that you wrote about! :)
    Again, we are all friend & even in a crushing defeat, fun can be had!

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