Polyathlons are games or tournaments consisting of several different challenges where each challenge requires a different skill set.
One way to vary gameplay in both individual games and tournaments is to make them consist of several different events with different gameplay in each, and doing so typically blurs the distinction between a game and a tournament. Polyathlons is a generalized name for these gameplay structures although specific cases are often known by how many events they contain, e.g. Decathlon being competitions consisting of ten different events.
As the events in Polyathlons have different skill requirements, playing these requires competence in more skill areas than other forms of tournaments as well as making it more likely that players have different specialties. The latter allows more players to have experiences of winnings, as they can have partial victories within the tournament by winning individual games.
Several Sport competitions are structured as Polyathlons consisting of several different types of individual sports. Decathlon is the oldest established such competition but another example is Triathlons consisting of swimming, biking, and running components (with Ironman Triathlons as an extreme version). Biathlons typically mean combinations of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting but Chess Boxing is also a Biathlon. Olympic Decathlon, Summer Games, and Winter Games are examples of computer-based versions of the sport Polyathlons.
The WarioWare series consists of many minigames, which are played sequentially to progress in the main game, and can be considered Polyathlons since they each require different gameplay.
Using the pattern
Polyathlons are games consisting of several different games or events. This means that designing Polyathlons consist of creating Tournaments of different types of games (e.g. Decathlon or Chess Boxing) or having Minigames or Quick Games in ordinary games (these can also be used in Tournaments since they are games in themselves).
The games in a Polyathlon either can be chosen to require skill within one single category of expertise, or be chosen to spread the requirements between categories, e.g. spreading events between requiring Dexterity-Based Actions, Memorizing, and Negotiation.
The exact games used in Polyathlons do not need to be set in advance. Instead, players can be given a choice of which games or events should be included in a form of Selectable Set of Goals.
The primary use of Polyathlons is to provide Varied Gameplay for players and force them to either prioritize some Competence Areas or be a generalist. If players can affect which games are to be played through having a Selectable Set of Goals, Polyathlons lets players use Extra-Game Information knowledge about other players' skills at playing specific games, especially if choosing one game means excluding another.
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An updated version of the pattern Polyathlons that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design.
- Wikipedia entry for hybrid sports.
- Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.