Unwinnable Game States

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Game states from which no actions or events in a game instance can let a player win.

By gaming, people try to affect a game state through gameplay actions to reach some goal. Players have Unwinnable Game States when there exists goals which lets players win a game but there are not combinations of actions or events that make this possible.

TV Tropes has a wiki page for a similar concept, Unwinnable.


Tic-Tac-Toe is famously known for not having Unwinnable Game States for both players when they both play optimally. First to 12 has an Unwinnable Game State for the starting player if the second player plays optimally.

Using the pattern

Unwinnable Game States is typically seen as a Negative Pattern since it may cause players in Multiplayer Games to quit, and generally makes players feel they have no Player Agency or Value of Effort. They can be caused by Dominant Strategies, a Predictable Winner, or through the actions of a Kingmaker. While Unwinnable Games always cause Unwinnable Game States this may not be a problem since these games are typically designed to give players other meaningful goals than winning.

The main ways of avoiding Unwinnable Game States — or at least avoiding players perceiving them — is to have Secret Scoring Mechanisms or designing a game with a Winner determined after Gameplay Ends. Imperfect Information can also help with this.

Interface Aspects

Unwinnable Game States can be countered by Imperfect Information and is more likely to be detected when Perfect Information is available.


Unwinnable Game States, or game states that are perceived to be unwinnable can lead to Surrendering and Early Leaving Players in Multiplayer Games. This may be bad if a game isn't design to support this (e.g. through Possibility of Graceful Surrender) since players leaving are likely to disrupt Team Balance in Multiplayer Games. However, it is not necessarily a cause of Ragequitting (but the actions of another player which puts a player in an Unwinnable Game State is).

Save Files that contain Unwinnable Game States are likely to be seen as pointless at best in games which one tries to win, and Save Points can create these if not explicitly design to avoid them.


Can Instantiate


with Multiplayer Games

Early Leaving Players

Can Modulate

Save Files

Can Be Instantiated By

Dominant Strategies, Kingmaker, Perfect Information, Predictable Winner, Save Points, Unwinnable Games

Can Be Modulated By


Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Imperfect Information, Player Agency, Secret Scoring Mechanisms, Value of Effort, Winner determined after Gameplay Ends


New pattern created in this wiki.