Last post I talked about the two most common types of game ending mechanics, "organic" endings and round limit endings. I'm going to wrap up the topic with hybrid endings and some best practices.
Some games try to marry the two. This is great when there are goals to accomplish but you want to put a ticking clock behind them to urge players to be efficient and use every resource they have to succeed.
Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game (Jonathan Gilmour & Isaac Vega, Plaid Hat Games) uses this to create a tense survival situation. It even uses the number of rounds to adjust the difficulty of the scenarios. There are many ways to lose the game, but knowing that you will eventually lose if you don't act fast enough forces you to sacrifice things instead of shoring up every weakness. A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (2nd Edition, Tomasz Jedruszek & Henning Ludvigsen, Fantasy Flight Games) uses this in a competitive environment to force you to act aggressively. If you let the time run out, someone will win just by holding the most castles (or were they called holds or forts?). Taking those territories away from them before that happens is the only option. This is particularly successful at making the last half of the game much more bloody than the first half.
These offer the best of both worlds when done well. The turn limit here is not only useful for stopping the 4-hour game of death (unless that's how long you want it to last!) but for adding a unique tension to everything.
The Game of a Million Endings
I can't discuss game endings without mentioning Betrayal at House on the Hill (Various, Avalon Hill) which manages to use every ending you can imagine. I think they only pull this off through its cult following and word of mouth popularity. I personally can't stand this part of it, I have played only a few endings that are successfully balanced and player count tips the tables drastically in this game.
Knowing When It's Over
I have a bone to pick with games that don't display their end game triggers prominently. And I'm not talking about a turn tracker. I can't think of a single experience where everyone actually knows what turn you're on. Half the time we can't even remember to move the counter. Turn counters are almost always clumsy and forgettable. You need more.
This is why Battlestar sat so well with me: because I always knew how it would end. All the information was there and it was all important and used during the game rounds. Do you have upkeep every turn? Why not attach it to your turn counter? Waterdeep does this so simply and elegantly by having point tokens next to each round marker on the board that have to be distributed to building tiles each round. This means you always notice the round while you move the tokens. Caverna achieves this by adding a new option to use with your workers every round. There literally is no turn counter, you just run out of new cards to lay on the board.
If there's any takeaway it's that however your game ends you have to be sure your players know that information at all times. It's such a huge part of a player's strategy that it can ruin their experience if it surprises them.
At one point this was supposed to be one entry but here we are. I'm sure some other board game I play will cause me to go off on a whole new topic soon. (And I was going to talk about Dogs of War and I didn't even get to it! Ugh it deserves its own article anyway I can't stop playing it.)