What is a ‘Point-Salad’ Game?


Hi guys, as I strolling around the geek site (we all could come clean and said it’s Boardgamegeek.com) and find a specific jargon called ‘point-salad’ games which sounds very alien (for me at least). Once I look deeper on the subject matter, it happens that ‘point-salad’ games is one of the categories that define game’s scoring mechanism.
So what is a ‘point-salad’ games? I found no exact description for this (yet) but based on browsing efforts on the net these are what I found…

If you don’t know what “point salad” is it refers to the relatively recent school of design in which there are such a wide variety of ways to get points that it actually becomes difficult to take actions without getting some amount of points as compensation. These games are often derided as being “unfocused” but I like to see them as “open-ended” and would like to get more of them.

A game where nearly every possible action you take nets you points, if not immediately then through some intermediate with easily calculated value, typically for no apparent thematic reason. Dominant Species is not a point salad – there are clear goals, and you play many small moves toward those goals prior to their being scored.

Or you can get the idea of the scoring mechanism right from a designer’s mind like Jeffrey D. Allers in his article below
He, while believe how game designers should stay away with this kind of scoring mechanism and stick to the ‘meat-and-potatoes’ games, managed to provide brief and short description of it.

So ‘point-salad’ games is a scoring mechanism in game designs that offers players to get points with most of the actions available in the game (so this kinda makes it easier to gain points in a game). Though the points rewarded by each actions are varies, it’s still generate points. This scoring mechanism was becoming quite popular recently thanks to Stefan Feld’s games (as some people might assume), most notoriously was Castles of Burgundy.
In Castles of Burgundy, getting points are not difficult, players only need collecting tiles and place them on their estate. You gain points from animal tiles, a specific building tile, selling goods, complete regions, complete bonus tiles and also end game points from workers and silverlings and other knowledge tiles. That sounds a million ways to gain points, wait til you know about Trajan. In case of Trajan, players gain points from completing Trajan tiles, constructing buildings, advancing on the senate tracks, shipping goods, scoring regions and of course bonus points.

I guess by this two examples one can have a good understanding of a ‘point-salad’ game. But in designing a game does not simply boiled down by the scoring mechanism. Designers tends to work around various aspects and other complicated elements of game designing, and a scoring mechanism is one small part of that sacred process (we all can agree on this, can’t we?). So a designer cannot just say “I want to make a ‘point-salad’ game!” (on the contrary of my remark, of course they can!) but a whole lot of things are in considerations. But what if, Stefan Feld did want to make ‘point-salad’ games in the beginning. It’s his real intention, so it gave births to few of his prolific games like Castles of Burgundy, Trajan and Bora-Bora. It still a valid argument though.

Many ways to score points from player's estate
Many ways to score points from player’s estate

Putting games into a specific category is not easy, because there are games that have no tangible value on the subject or perhaps the subject itself does not have a specific range of values to restraint an object to falls into that category. So I can still say Drum Roll is a ‘worker-placement’ game as well as Troyes. Castles of Burgundy was released onto the market on 2011 (around 3 years ago) but then again, there are so many games before it that in my opinion have this ‘point-salad’ scoring mechanism. One of them is Agricola. Of course it’s not that all the actions in Agricola give points, but looking at the end game scoring, almost all the aspects of the game are scored, which led players to apply a specific mindset that you need to cover all things in Agricola to do fine (considering the penalty for not doing so). So players need to get all the aspects and through these, score points. This kind of scoring really led me to think that Agricola is also a ‘point-salad’ game. Looking back at this, there are also 2 different definitions about a ‘point-salad’ game, is it about all or most of the actions provide points or maybe each turn players generate points? What do you mean by “generate points each turn”? Let’s look at Russian Railroad for instance, though it probably falls into engine building category, but RR is not like the usual engine building games, but it really points generator. In RR, scoring happens each round, not triggered by the player (through actions) though players can gain points also from their actions. The main issue is the round scoring, in which if players already build an engine (no matter how small), they’ll earn points each round. It’s their job to make it bigger and better. Sounds like snowball economy right? (now I remember about Scepter of Zavandor). Does this kind of scoring mechanism is also falls into a ‘point-salad’ category?

Points generator
Points generator

So what about it compared with ‘multiple paths to victory’ games?  ‘Multiple paths to victory’ is as the name suggests, has more than 1 path to gain victory. While at first, it’s not fair placing reward and game play into the same field. ‘Multiple paths to victory’ offers players several ways to gain victory, unlike the single path. Games with single path to victory are usually far simpler than multiple paths. Their objective usually straight forward / direct (collect points from X or maybe reach a specific condition). Okay collecting the most points is a bit ambiguous, but what I meant was the way to collect point is simple and only from one way. I don’t know, but I think Power Grid is not a multiple path to victory game. The only way to win is to supply electricity to houses that provides the most lucrative profit while maintain the least expense for purchasing power plant, resources and networks. Unlike, for instance, civilization games (Sid Meier’s Civilization) that have more than 1 way to achieve victory. In civ games, players can achieve victory by expanding their territory (through war or peace), by developing technologies or even cultures and wealth. Another example is Wiraqocha (though the game is not common, but I found it as good example for a ‘multiple paths to victory’ game. In Wiraqocha, to win the game players can complete one of the three conditions, through collecting resources, collecting relics and build Leviathan (giant flying machine). So there are 3 ways to achieve victory and each one of these conditions are very different by nature. These ‘paths’ change the nature of one’s play, how they plan and act during the game. I think it’s the core principles of the game with ‘multiple paths to victory’. Though a ‘point-salad’ game has this kind of feeling with many ways to score points, but I think they are also different in some way. I believe Trajan is a ‘point-salad’ game but also a ‘multiple paths to victory’ game. It has different strategies to offer, players can either choose to rely heavily in shipping or construction or military or politic or forum. But the actions on these ‘paths’ are not always provide players with points (maybe yes, in the end, but it’s not fixed), aside some actions provide points down into the smallest element such as completing a Trajan tile (even the points is not the main purpose of the action) which looks more like a small reward.

Actions in Trajan
Actions in Trajan

Another example is Tokaido. in Tokaido the bridge between a ‘point-salad’ game and ‘multiple paths to victory’ is a bit short, supported by the simple game mechanic of ‘point-to-point movement’ provides clearer perception towards ‘point-salad’ scoring mechanism. Players move their marker from one point to another point, do the actions and mostly get points (almost everything provide points). But as it’s actions are different, players can maximizing their actions to what actions provided them the most points (this looking back at each character’s ability that give them benefit in what factor). Of course it still leaning on a ‘point-salad’ game rather than a ‘multiple paths to victory’ game because of the game complexity level. In Tokaido, a player who focuses on scenery and ‘onsen’ might not get the best by taking a ‘souvenir’ action but nevertheless that action gives him points, unlike Trajan for example, a Trajan player that focuses on shipping and politic might not get the best of his military or construction action. In Trajan, focus is the core principles, entering the shallow water might not be so profitable after all.

Leaning towards to a 'point-salad' game
Leaning towards to a ‘point-salad’ game

Though there’s still no definitive answer and meaning of ‘point-salad’ games, but after my efforts to give it definition by examples and comparison of different games, should give you a better (if not good) understanding about what it is. In the end, there are still much more to learn, much more to conceal and reveal through the eyes of professionals and gaming experiences throughout the community. I hope this article is good enough to amuse it’s reader and also great if attracts people to board gaming hobby.

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