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The Ultimate Tiebreaker

Moshe Klass

September, 2003

How many of us have had to deal with some sort of tiebreaker in our lives? Whether it be in a real life situations, such as deciding which worker to hire, or more importantly, who will be the winner of a board game? In order to come to terms with the great problem of tiebreakers, we must look towards the great ones of our time. When there is a tie for which team advances to the National Football League playoffs there are many tiebreaking methods used, starting with record against each other, going on to record against division and so on. However, when all else fails, they ultimately resort to the most primitive of methods - the coin toss.

With regards to board games, the question often comes up in theory, but less so in actual practice. An example of this is seen in The Settlers of Catan which avoids the problem by allowing a player to win only on his/her turn. Unfortunately, many other games don't have an ultimate solution which often results in the need for a tiebreaking rule.

To better explain this problem we must look at the common ways that games end. Most fall into the following four categories:

Last Man Standing

With this technique the game continues until only one player is left. The problem with this method is that the duration of the game can last for a rather long time. What generally happens is that, as the game progresses, the players drop like flies. Examples include many older games such as Monopoly and Risk.

Victory Conditions

With these games it's simply a race, and one can only win on their turn. Settlers of Catan would be a prime example of this, others include Mississippi Queen, Robo Rally and Trumpet. (Note that although Robo Rally uses this method, it incorporates a slightly different technique.)

Triggered Ending

This method requires specific criteria to be met in order for the game to end. Some examples of this are; drawing the last card/tile, running out of game pieces, or drawing a specific card/tile. Some of the more popular games that utilize this method include; Puerto Rico, Freight Train, Entdecker, Citadels, Clans, Aladdin's Dragon, Mammoth Hunters, Domaine and Carcassonne.

Fixed Length

With this type of game conclusion, there is a pre-determined number of rounds. When the final round is played, the game ends and the winner is determined by other criteria. Games in this category include; Princes of Florence, Traders of Genoa, Torres and Guillotine.

These two last categories can result in a tie and so they are the problem. Most of these games end with all the players adding up their points and determining the winner. The problem arises when two or more players end up with the same number of points. To remedy this problem some games come with built in rules with specific tiebreaker guidelines, such as favoring the person with the most money. However, even with these methods there is nothing for that (unlikely) ultimate tie. I would like to suggest a few ideas for specific games, to help with this problem.

Princes of Florence - This game has 21 works to complete, conveniently numbered from 1 to 21. A great tiebreaker would be to see which of the people involved in the tie has the greater work, that is, the one with the highest number. (This would have to include a stipulation that the actual work card is still in front of him. If it was taken via a recruiting card, it is no longer considered for the tiebreaker.)

Citadels & Aladdin's Dragon - Both these games use player manipulated methods to determine the start player for each round. The ultimate tiebreaker would be whoever is closest to the start player which would also increase the competition for turn order.

Odin's Ravens - The tiebreaker here would include the amount of races played. In the case of a tie, whoever won the most races wins the game. If this number of races won is tied as well, one more round is played to separate the winner from the loser.

Puerto Rico - Although this is not such a strong solution, I will present it anyway. Each role should be given a predetermined number (e.g. Prospector #1, Trader #2, etc.) and the winner would be the player with the highest number on the final round. Please note that one would have to make a distinguishing symbol between the 2 prospectors.

Traders of Genoa priviledge card Traders of Genoa - The answer to the tiebreaker problem lies in the Privilege cards. It must be predetermined that ownership of a specific Privilege card and going clockwise prevails (e.g. Villa Monetti, then the Harbor, then the Palace…). Can two players both end the game without a single Privilege card? I suspect not. However you can go by the highest rated Privilege card owned, and go clockwise from that player.

Mammoth Hunters - The answer to this problem lies in going clockwise from whoever picked the last Dark Card, or whoever went last from the tied players.

Freight Train card Freight Train - The tiebreaker here would be whoever has the longest train, using the alphabetic ordering of trains. So, whoever has the longest Auto Rack wins. If this is still a tie then whoever has the longest Box wins, then Coil Steel, etc.

Domaine - With this tiebreaker issue, ownership of Royal City seems to be the obvious solution, however, the Royal City can be un-owned at the end of the game. That would leave us in the same situation as same as above - whichever player last played a card (which is a little weak).

I haven't been able to come up with answers for games like Carcassonne or Guillotine and therefore will still have to rely on the old tried and true method of a coin toss and/or arm wrestle. To be honest, out of all the years that I have played these games, I don't remember a tie ever happening, except once in Puerto Rico. When this tie happened, it didn't really present a problem as no one was really depressed about it. However, this event got me thinking about it ever since. I know there are other solutions out there and it just takes some thinking, feel free to email me with any others.

-Moshe Klass

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