Topic of the Week: Hidden Scoring

What is hidden scoring? A tool or a crutch? Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or does it depend?

Let me throw some ingredients in the pot:

A lot of games use hidden scoring. Recently, BGA forced me to play Tigris and Euphrates with open scoring and, after an initial revolt, it was fine. It worked just fine.

I played Samurai two player, where score is “hidden” but trivial to calculate and the game became twice as interesting.

I played a lot of New Frontiers, where score is open and calculable, and then switched back to Puerto Rico and also enforced open scoring. I liked the game a lot better. For one, I was able to see what other players were doing and understand their strategies, and so accelerate my own learning. Two, I was able to tailor my own actions to limit the leader and I thought I gained a lot of control over the game, as did my opponents. PR was better for it.

So what is hidden scoring?

  • Is it just a “beginner mode” so people don’t get too stressed about losing and how they are doing while learning the game, and best scrapped once everyone has ahold of the game? (PR, Samurai?)
  • Corollary, is it a tool to soften skill discrepancies in games where beginners get pounded, but have a better time if they can’t see it while it is happening?
  • Is it a crutch for bad game design, where a game has a runaway leader / snowball problem and you sweep it under the rug by making it invisible until the end of the game?
  • Is it a necessary artifact where scores are not so much hidden as hard-to-calculate and so reduces friction and fiddliness by limited the math to a final one-shot? (see: Concordia?)
  • Is it a feature, where you get a dramatic and surprising turn at the end of the game?
  • What about split scoring (Hansa Teut, DuneImp, Waterdeep) where part of the score is open and just an unknown or not-yet-calculated modifier gets dropped on at the end? Is this best of both worlds or more of the same?

Or is it any/all of these and it just depends?

Assuming it’s not universally good or bad, where is it best and worst implemented, and how would you wield it if you were king/queen?


If the game has hidden goal cards you end up with hidden scoring. To make the scoring open, you’d have to make the goals open and I don’t know how much that changes the feel of the game.

Trying to do open scoring with a game like Concordia would not only take a lot of time (having to be updated constantly with each new province and card) but would also be prone to errors. it works for Alien Frontiers because the numbers are smaller and the math is easy.

I don’t like hidden scoring is when it leads to megagame arguments about who’s winning and whom should be targeted/blocked. I don’t want Diplomacy to enter into my other games.


If it’s hidden but calculable, I’m fine playing either way. I think online I prefer open though as there’s time between moves.

I quite like a mix of hidden goals and open scoring. Gives you someone to target if you’re deciding between moves but still surprises at the end game.


Open scoring usually. Even with newbies. My argument is that youre making newbies make bad decisions because they cant memorise the info while learning and playing the game. This has been the case with our hidden shares rule of Acquire

If youre getting AP’d, then I dont want to play with you.


As I’m mulling, I’m forming the hypothesis that hidden scoring is acceptable / beneficial in inverse proportion to the amount of player interaction.

In low interaction games like Concordia or Great Western Trail, delaying score calculation may not be a gameplay benefit, the streamlined bookkeeping and absence of midgame depression help out. It can still be hard to really grasp why you lost, though.

Do any games really rely on hidden scoring for quality of play?


I do not consider Concordia a low-interaction game. It’s all indirect blocking and timing, but it’s a far cry from multi-player solitaire.


If everyone can see the points as you get them during the game, I don’t want the total to be some kind of secret, because I’m rubbish at keeping a running score of how someone else is doing.

If other players can’t see what you’re getting (e.g. you have a secret goal card you’re trying for, or we know you got a red objective but there’s a range of values it might have) that’s just fine with me.

I think having a scoring phase at the end of the game gives many people classic-Euro nostalgic feels, which is fine, but I’m wary of making that too long or too complex.


Thats fair. I dont see any reason why you want to know someone’s score in a low interaction game. Because the game doesnt give you agency to change that state other than being more efficient.

The real reason why modern Euros have this obtuse scoring is to make everyone feel that they are still in the game, but in reality, only 1 or 2 are in contention and half of the table are out of the game. This is Concordia with open scoring in Yucata. The decision space of this type of games exponentially decreases as you play. Thats why your last rounds are always about tying loose ends and trying to squeeze pts. (And inverse, the winner is decided on the first few rounds, in an engine-building Euro game)

There are cases where I am still fine with closed scoring. Zoo Vadis is one of them where my players dont feel burnt on not knowing everyone’s score.


I like closed scoring, I prefer it to open. Or at least prefer not calculated on a track scoring. the alternative seems to be one player runs away with it and it all feels a bit pointless or everyone gangs up on the winner and the goal is to be coming second (especially on games with both types, and the open scoring player usually loses to someone who had loads of endgame points), which I’m not a fan of. Much prefer it at the end when there’s the drumroll before everything’s announced.

Also couldn’t imagine it in Tigris and Euphrates. I like having the sense I’m ahead, but never being sure.


I really like the scoring at the end of Concordia, it’s fun.
I’m struggling to imagine how the game would be without it; everyone’s points being tracked during the game wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable.

(Also of course it would be unwieldy and unmanageable to the point of impossibility)

I suspect the overall answer to the question is it very much depends on the game. But I’m glad that different games have different ways of doing it - spice of life and all that.


I think it can work contextually but generally I’m not a fan I think. What is probably okay is if one person is getting creamed and the other looks like they’re doing great and the end score reflect that that is fine. The problem for me is when people are surprised by the outcome - person x thinking they’re doing well but secretly not is rarely a good feeling I think (I think the whiplash is the worst part compared to always doing badly -you can brace yourself for bad news if you can feel the increasing cranking up of ruin).

Im playing ticket to ride legacy and this one also keeps a lot of scoring secret across the campaign which i think might favour a legacy game because you want people to stay the course and being disheartened must be a bad encouragement for a long haul game. Having said that I think legacy games are tricky because when scoring is open (in say My City) I think you get these wild and wacky catch up scores just showing up that give everyone a chance to increase their score. Perhaps in these cases the nakedness of the leg up is also a bit lame. (I think my city does it quite well - as it creates dichotomous goals which means both players get points because unless you are really really lucky you can’t be fast and neat).


We don’t play Catan anymore, one reason is “surprise, game over I have 5 hidden VP”
Sondersiegpunkt is a curse over here.

Ticket To Ride kind of gives you an idea which routes players are trying to complete but not exactly and that has always worked fine for me. You could of course reveal which ones you have completed but… I think the game would be less if the tickets were out in the open either before or after completion.

My hot take would be it’s both game and group dependent. I am sure lots of people are fine with hidden VP in Catan. But our one friend who always ended the game with a bunch of them destroyed the game. (also because he always and inevitably won)


I think this is a great topic.

My knee-jerk reaction is that I don’t like genuinely hidden scoring (e.g. numbers no one else has ever seen on tokens which are secreted behind a screen), because I generally want to assess the state of the game as I play.


I’m inclined to see that in the opposite light – spending 90 minutes knowing you’re doing terribly (and ultimately confirmed) might be 90 minutes of “not having fun”; whereas I think 90 minutes of enjoyment followed by a brief period of “oh, damn! how were you so far ahead?! ohh… I see… next time I’m going to try…” seems so much better.

It surely depends on how one copes with losing.

Does that change my initial opinion? I don’t think so; but it does clarify in my mind that hidden scoring games could simply be more enjoyable for some people, depending on one’s mindset.


Fair point. Any game, ANY game becomes higher interaction the more you play it. Even Dominion is high interaction at this point for me, as everyone is monitoring the endgame trigger and trying to manage game length and “slope” of their personal scoring curve.

Concordia certainly has those touch points - occupying a route between the combination of resources that someone else needs (or first, if you both need it), driving up costs of key cities based on Minerva cards, managing role availability via the diplomat, etc. I’m nowhere near that level for Concordia but if I played it enough it would become more interactive as you say. And as it becomes more interactive, the value of having open score (for Concordia, this does require a digital platform) becomes more valuable.

To Verde’s point, the other value of open scoring is learning. A game like Concordia or Puerto Rico (or Beyond the Sun, though that scoring is open, tee hee) is that at the end of the game I won or lost and I don’t know why, what I did well or poorly, and what I should do the next game. Watching scores, seeing where those inflection points came in, seeing who is ahead and what they are doing or who caught up and when it happened - really valuable even if you can’t (or can’t yet at your skill level) meaningfully change someone else’s score.


Concordia is an interesting one because, to some extent, scoring is hidden from every player until the end. You’re building a certain direction by the scoring on the bottom of your cards, revealing them as you select your actions, but you never know exactly until the end. I’ve no idea why there’s a scoretrack when it’s more efficient to calculate it on paper.

I’m nowhere near good enough to pay any attention to that beyond ‘oh crap, I’ve got the 3 points for a wheat city card, better build in them’.


This is of course the logical conclusion and a bit of the lede buried in the prompt. However, I think it’s the starting point rather than the closure of the topic.

Not to put closure on the interesting stuff already said here but rather to launch in parallel: concretely, what examples of games
a) Really benefit from hidden scoring?
b) Do split scoring really well, with a score track and end game bonuses? Poorly?
c) Use hidden scoring but really shouldn’t (unless only as a beginner variant)?


Hidden trackable scores are fine in realtime games that are reasonably short - Tigris & Euphrates being about the upper limit - and terrible in asynchronous games.


I may be wrong, but your play style suggests that you are particularly good at tracking hidden trackable information in short or realtime games. Any truth to that?


No, actually, and I think without some really unusual exceptions, you’ll never meet someone who can. There’s always* something more significant to occupy your mind, beyond maybe something simple like “that guy has a lot of red” or “that guy is winning”.


A friend’s spouse who is a math PhD is insane on this front. We were playing Cabo and I was watching her eye movements and where and when she paused and I’m 95% sure she was literally counting cards and recalculating odds on drawing matches, etc. For Cabo.

She also destroyed us.

But it was among friends, just fun to see someone in their element.