What is it with games and ties? Everyone seems to hate the fact that something might end inconclusively. I just don't get it. I have no problem sharing a win...or a loss.
Two sports teams spend a couple hours in heavy competition. The game "ends" 28-28. You'd think everyone could just say, "Wow! I guess these two teams are just about as even as you could get!" Not so. They must continue to play until someone scores again.
Why? Is it really a further test of skill to have a sudden death? Is it really a test of skill in a board game to have a tie breaker that has nothing to do with the normal goal of the game?
Yes and no.
The obvious answer is that since the rules of the game include rules for breaking ties, then players must account for any and all possible outcomes. This affects their choices during the game. It is a skill to be able to win by rule A, and if not then to win by rule B, etc.
But at some point--in some games--it seems like the rules go to great length to pick an arbitrary winner from the set of those players who tied. This really doesn't interest me. Might as well roll a die to see who wins. Might as well just share it.
So let's examine some games and the ways that they handle ties.
Samurai: This game is more about scoring than it is about tile laying. You collect as many figures as possible, but you can win even if you have the fewest. From the point of view of most games, the scoring rules are crazy, yet they are very logical and simple. Ties are broken by "other" figure counts and "total" figure counts, but ultimately there can still be ties. Very cool.
Carcassonnes: Fight tooth and nail for every point. All scoring meeples on the highest numbered space get to hug.
Around the World in 80 Days: A couple of things going on here. First, the player who reaches London last (not on the same turn as any other player) cannot win. A similar mechanism occurs in other games (eg High Society). Secondly, player order reaching London is saved, which breaks any ties in days. I'm not so fond of this as it is sensitive to player order.
Kahuna: The player who wins the final round of scoring wins in a tie. So if player A scored 1 and 2 points in the first 2 rounds, and player B scores 3 points in the final round, player B wins. I'd prefer to let the tie stand.
China: This is one of several games that breaks ties based on efficiency of play. The more "stuff" you have unplayed, the better.
Hansa: In contrast, some games break ties based on inefficiency. That is, the more "stuff" played, the better. This one always bothers me.
Jambo: Some games allow all the rest of the players to have one more round of play after a player triggers the game end. In Jambo, you win if you can tie or beat that player's score. This is a really nice mechanic. It forces you to evaluate whether ending the game is a good idea, since the advantage goes to the opponent. Of course, this works best in a 2-player game.
Antike: Some games use the "race" mechanism. The first player to reach some condition wins. There can be no tie. This is very nice as long as there are lots and lots of turns--mostly eliminating the start player bias.
I will always play games as written unless the rules are truly broken. However, I do feel in many cases that tie-breakers are thrown in at the last minute. They have no relationship to the flow of the game, have some player order bias, or are simply based on luck.
What games have the best/worst tie-breaking rules?
[Samurai image by Aldie]