2 min read

Win condition? 1

I'd like to understand the term "win condition" better. I've seen this used in fighting game contexts and more recently in the context of Slay the Spire. As in: "What's your deck's win condition?" Or: "Fred is Oleander's win condition."[1] An intuitive definition of a win condition seems to be something like: A condition of the game where you would have to try hard to lose.

The closest analogy to this that I understand is win conditions in Civilization 4. They're not very close. In Civ, fulfilling your formal win condition is how you actually win the game. That could mean controlling x% of world land area and y% of world population (a domination victory), three cities to legendary culture (a cultural victory), or getting other civs to vote for you to win (a diplomatic victory[2]).

To understand better, I'll try to make up some more examples of this term I don't understand:

  1. For a Silent build focusing on defense and poison, your win condition might be getting all your Dexterity cards up.[3]
  2. For an orb-summoning Defect build, your win condition might be getting all of your Defragments out, plus or minus Electrodynamics.
  3. For Tianhuo vs. Oleander, this might be "you've trapped Ollie in the corner with no magic or meter" (good for you!).

Win conditions seem contextual. That is, there is not one win condition for your character or build, but a different one for each opponent. Like the Tianhuo example -- getting Ollie in the corner might be a win condition for Tianhuo, but it's not obviously a win in other matchups. This condition might not be a win condition for a mirror match, however, or for Tianhuo vs. Paprika. For Silent poison/defense decks in Slay the Spire, there are frequently enemies that scale over time or set traps for you, like Gremlin Nob or the cultists. For those Dexterity is still good, but not obviously a win condition.

These don't feel like especially good examples. In particular, it's not obvious to me how this term is useful in a positive sense. In Slay the Spire, it's usually pretty obvious what your win condition is, once (and because?) you create it through your deck.[4]

Maybe it's more useful in a negative sense. That is, maybe it's more useful to think of your win condition as a way of orienting to what you don't need and don't want to be doing right now. It says: Do I really want that card? Will this card make it easier to achieve my win condition? It helps you focus on what matters.

But this doesn't feel like it explains the value very well. Win conditions in practice don't seem so clear that they are a great help, except when you create them, so focusing on your win condition doesn't seem like it should be terribly helpful. If you have one, it's because you created it by focusing on it? In the Slay the Spire context, anyway.

I probably have misunderstood something somewhere in here.

  1. Disclaimer: I made those up from memory, they may not be correct usage. The Fred example may be straight up wrong. ↩︎

  2. Sometimes you get this as a "backdoor domination" victory. It's hard to get "legitimately" because nobody ever wants to vote for you to win. You frequentlyy have to force them to do so by vassalizing them. ↩︎

  3. For most fights anyway. If you're fighting e.g. Gremlin Nob, this might not be a win condition anymore. But what are you doing anyway where you've got Dexterity cards and you're fighting Gremlin Nob? How the heck do you have that much Dexterity in Act 1? ↩︎

  4. In fighting games, it can be less clear, at least to me. ↩︎