Rules for how to make distinctions in what would else be tied results.
Games often need to evaluate players or their actions (or aspects of the game state) so that distinctions can be made between them, e.g. who one the game, who gets to move first. Whenever the main rule for doing so can end in tied results but another rule lets this be resolved, that other rule is a Tiebreaker.
Board Games where players can win over each other typically have Tiebreakers, e.g. Agricola, Amun-Re, Caylus, and Race for the Galaxy. Victory points can be Tiebreakers but this is not so common since typically they are the main way of determining winners to begin with, but other measures commonly used are most resources or most money.
In the team vs. team versions of Left 4 Dead series, Tiebreakers are which team quickest gets to the end of the level (or gets the furthest) in some levels while in others it can be which gets the gas cans the quickest.
Chess can end in draws.
Using the pattern
Tiebreakers are applied to situations where Tied Results are possible and for some reason this is not wanted in the design, or the likelihood of it is wanted to be significantly lower (as for Tied Results, Tiebreakers typically only make sense in [PvP]] or TvT gameplay). While Tiebreakers can be applied to any situation where Tied Results can occur, they are often applied in situations where Competition or Overcome goals want to be put in focus, e.g. in Tournaments. More specifically, Tiebreakers are often applied to High Score Lists, Races or Scores. The actual Tiebreakers tend to be Resources, and while Scores can work this is typically already the value used that can have Tied Results; an example of when Scores can be Tiebreakers is games with Winning by Ending Gameplay but where several players can end at the same time. The use of Score Tracks can both be the basis for how to handle Tiebreakers (e.g. by using who comes first to a certain place on them as Tiebreakers) and something that is heavily affected by the presence of Tiebreakers.
The two main design solutions to actually create Tiebreakers are to either enforce Perceivable Margins or to use Tournaments to play new game instances or new sub parts of a game until the Tied Results are broken. Somewhat paradoxical, Tiebreakers can result in Tied Results... when this can occur designers can add additional Tiebreakers or accept than in rare circumstances Tied Results are acceptable.
By not allowing Tied Results, Tiebreakers make goals into Excluding and Incompatible Goals and thereby increase or create Conflict and Tension. The use of "sudden death" extensions to gameplay as Tiebreakers can be seen as a use of Varying Rule Sets because the length of game instances can be extended in some of them. Tiebreakers can cause Social Dilemmas in that it is not possible to shared Rewards or Penalties with other players even when one wishes to.
When Tiebreakers prevent Tied Results, they also prevent Shared Penalties and Shared Rewards. This in turn removes a possibility for player to engage in Negotiation to form Uncommitted Alliances aimed at sharing these Rewards (and less commonly Penalties).
Can Be Instantiated By
Can Be Modulated By
Possible Closure Effects
Potentially Conflicting With
An updated version of the pattern Tiebreakers that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design.
- Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.