In most games, everyone starts off with the potential to either win or lose. At the end, they've all either won or lost.

normal game

Some games have a player who's like a referee -- they can neither win nor lose, they're just the referee, and they're in that state from the start of the game.

game with referee

Has a game ever been made where everyone starts in the same state, then at the end, some win, some lose, and some neither win nor lose?

game with three end states

  • 3
    Wouldn't most players consider not winning to be losing? Or possibly coming second while the player who "lost" comes third. How would this be different from an ordering of the players? Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 11:32
  • 1
    Role Playing Games are like this. There is perhaps a goal to achieve but unless that goal matters to the role you are playing, have you really won or lost if you do or do not achieve the goal? therefore there is not always a clear 'winner' or 'loser' in an RPG and there are certainly players (the GM) who have neither won or lost. PS you may enjoy this book
    – Pow-Ian
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 14:33
  • 1
    @tsuma534, I'm not asking how winning and losing ought to be defined (a question for philosophy), I'm asking if this specific definition is in use by any games.
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 21:10
  • 2
    I disagree with the premise. Any points based game could be considered a win if you come a close second.
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 21:40
  • 2
    The referee can't win or lose because he isn't playing the game.
    – tsuma534
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 9:15

13 Answers 13


Yes. Though it's rare, some games mix up what it means to win and to lose, because why not? Games typically treat everyone as either 100% winner or 100% loser, but it doesn't have to be that way.

In real life, there are many situations where you don't just win or lose, and a lot of people are satisfied if they're able to maintain their situation. Some games mimic this.

For example, in Galaxy Trucker, rules are set out based on the story of the game. Since you're a simple trucker trying to make a living, you're a winner if you've made any money at all that game (though, as in real life, some people win more than others). If you're in debt then you've made a loss from the venture, so you're a loser. If you're on exactly 0 then you've managed to keep flying without winning or losing!

A friend of mine has a game they're making with several different endings:

  • If the players can't keep the game's from reaching a lose condition, everyone loses.
  • If the players do too well then the problem goes away without the higher ups noticing, so nobody loses but nobody wins.
  • If the players hold off the lose condition for long enough, the higher ups notice and reward the best player. This player wins, but nobody loses!

While some people may play with the main goal of simple victory, it can be quite refreshing when your victory, loss or otherwise is more interesting than just numerical competitiveness.

  • Tell me now about this game ...in Board & Card Games Chat? Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 21:12
  • Wait, what, it's possible to actually survive to the end of a game of galaxy trucker?!?! ;)
    – Affe
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 0:47
  • @Affe Not if you use enough Rough Road cards!
    – Samthere
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 21:25

To truly meet with your criteria, there would have to be a ruleset that determines winning conditions as well as a ruleset that determines losing conditions, and some situation that does not fit either of those rulesets.

The best example I can think of that comes close to what you're looking for is Saboteur (+expansion). A round of Saboteur can end in a winning team, a losing team, and a neutral party. During a round, character roles can be swapped so you never know where you'll end up.

If you look at a round in this game, you could say that:

  • everyone has a chance of ending up in the winning team
  • everyone has a chance of ending up in the losing team
  • everyone has a chance of ending up as a neutral party, not concerned with winning or losing

One of these rounds, were it a standalone game, would fit your criteria; but only if you ignore the gold that is awarded (which would very likely affect the metagame). The winning team is awarded gold for winning the round, while neutral parties are awarded gold for secondary conditions. The game, made up of 3 rounds, is judged by the total gold collected by each player. Only one player wins (or several tie for first place), the rest loses. In its current form, I don't think Saboteur could be used as an answer to your question.

I'm certain that a game could be made that works as you describe, so eventually the answer to your question will be Yes. But without rules that explicitly isolate a group of players as "neither won nor lost" I'm certain these players will be identified as "haven't won, therefore lost". So for now, my answer is No, such a game doesn't exist.

Unless you'd count Calvinball.

  • 2
    Oh Calvinball. Best. Game. Ever.
    – Becuzz
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 16:11
  • So are you saying that such games do or do not exist? If you're not saying one way or another, I don't think you're answering the question.
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 23:41
  • @Joe I'm saying it doesn't, at least not to my knowledge. The Calvinball thing is a joke.
    – freekvd
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 5:54
  • @Joe your comment got me thinking though, so I elaborated some more on the Saboteur thing. Hopefully you'll think of it as more of an answer.
    – freekvd
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 8:39

Magic: the Gathering has 3 end states for a player: win, lose, and draw. With certain optional rules, a game can end with some players winning, some players losing, and some players drawing. In particular, the Limited Range of Influence Option has a clause that says

If the effect of a spell or ability states that the game is a draw, the game is a draw for that spell or ability’s controller and all players within his or her range of influence. They leave the game. All remaining players continue to play the game.

So, if a Magic game with at least 5 people is playing with a range of influence of 1, and a player plays Divine Intervention, when its last ability triggers, the game will end in a draw for that player and the player to either side. The other players will continue to play until (in most cases) one wins and the rest lose.


President, a card game (also known by many other names). The game has many variants and it can be played continuously. Each round has one winner (the president) and one loser (the scum).

  • I had a peek at the rules and it looks like those roles are used within the game for the next round, but that there are also ranked roles for 2nd and 3rd place in a 4 player game. Is it explicit that, at the end of the game, only the last place is actually the loser?
    – Samthere
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 9:29
  • @Samthere That's only one variant. I've always played the variant where there was only one winner and one loser. Even if you have a vice-president and vice-scum, the players in between those (if playing with more than 4 players) are neutral.
    – Dennis_E
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 9:37
  • Fair enough, then!
    – Samthere
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 9:40

I believe I know a game that matches your query. One Night Ultimate Werwolf has possibility of such scenario in one particular case when Tanner character is used in the game. An excerpt from the rules:


After just one night and one day... The village team wins:

  1. If at least one Werewolf dies. Even if one or more players who are not Werewolves die in addition to a Werewolf dying, everyone on the village team wins.
  2. If no one is a Werewolf and no one dies. It is possible for no one to be a Werewolf if all Werewolf cards are in the center.

The werewolf team only wins if at least one player is a Werewolf and no Werewolves are killed.

If you are playing with the Tanner, there are special rules regarding who wins; see the Tanner’s role description for details.


The Tanner hates his job so much that he wants to die. The Tanner only wins if he dies.

If the Tanner dies and no Werewolves die, the Werewolves do not win.

If the Tanner dies and a Werewolf also dies, the village team wins too. The Tanner is considered a member of the village (but is not on their team), so if the Tanner dies when all werewolves are in the center, the village team loses. The Tanner is not on the werewolf or the villager team.

So, if Tanner dies and no Werewolf is killed, Tanner wins, Villagers lose and Werewolfs neither win nor lose.

  • That is definitely the first example I thought of as well. Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 21:04

I haven't found any and here is why I think that is.

A situation such as in Nexus Ops where the game ends as soon as 1 player is eliminated could be re-imagined that the victor is the player who defeated an other and they are the loser, everyone else was just there.

To me it does not sound like an enjoyable mechanic to be the actual result of a game, but could be used as a possible scoring mechanic to add and remove some bonus points to those players involved in ending the game.


Actually there is a game wich has that kind of ending. It is called Shadow Hunter. In the beginning people get a random card (hidden for the other players) with a character on it and a win condition associated. There are three factions :

  • Shadows : They have to "kill" all the Hunters
  • Hunters : They have to "kill" all the Shadows
  • Neutral : Each one has a particular goal.

If there are enough players in the game, there are characters from the three factions in play. And if a Neutral makes it to the end of the game but has not fulfilled it's win condition, then it's a non-winning player.

This is not really what you described as not all the players begin with the same win/loose conditions. But because it is random everybody begins with the same odds of having a win/loose character (shadow or hunter) or having a win/loose/nothing character.

I hope my answer is useful to you.

  • So at the end, you could have a winner, a loser, and a neither-winner-nor-loser?
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 11:11
  • 3
    I'm pretty sure most people consider the Neutral character to have lost in that situation.
    – bwarner
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 14:37

Winning and losing seems like a binary question. And at the core of this argument, you have to define what a win and a loss is. Usually, you're defining the win condition and not the lose condition (though, this isn't always the case, such as NetRunner, which has you lose the game if you take too much Grip damage or if you run out of a deck as the Corp). The lose condition simply comes about if you don't win. At that point, you are clearly in the lose category. Else, if you were able to obtain the win condition at the end of the game, you'd be able to be a winner.

When people play board or card games, they are looking to win. And in the psychology of humans: if you didn't win, you've lost. There really is no way to be in the situation that you're describing without redefining what the game is to you. One way to do this is looking at how well you've done in the game instead of how badly you beat someone. Agricola is a perfect example for this. While you are competing with people in the game for actions on the board, you are essentially playing the game by yourself. And, at the end of the game, instead of counting your points against everyone else, you count your points and see if you did well. At that point, you can consider that you simply played a game and got a score...much like many old arcade games that never had an ending.

Another pathway you have to consider are coop board games. Things like Eldritch Horror, Arkham Horror, X-Com, Pandemic, and a few variants of Legendary. These are games where the group of people playing are actually playing against the board, which is simply an AI ruled by RNG. At this point, all players are clearly in the win or lose category. They either beat the board and win or they don't.

Sometimes, winning and losing isn't so cut and dry, but one needs to define what a win and a loss means to them. At that point, you have your answer.


Clue (or Cluedo) is close to your question, especially as we play it at my house. At the end of the game there are three categories of players.

  • at most 1 winner (the person who solves the puzzle)
  • possibly everyone can lose (people who declare they've solved the puzzle, but have an incorrect solution.)
  • people who haven't attempted to guess the solution.

Most people would consider the "haven't guessed a solution" to be a loss. But not in our house.


There's also a subset of cooperative/competitive games, where a team of players will be pitted against another "team", generally a single player. Fantasy Flight does a lot of these games: in Middle Earth Quest, for instance, a team of several players (the "good guys"; think The Fellowship in LotR, except the game takes place prior to the main trilogy) unites against one single player, who controls Sauron. At the end, either the players or Sauron will win; additionally, I believe (though I will have to check myself on this when I can dig up the rule book) each player also has an individual quest, so while most players have a common cause, they also have unique subplots as well, which can guarantee various degrees of "winning" based on whether or not they are completed.

Similarly, in Betrayal at the House on the Hill, all players start out allied with one another, but part-way through the game, a second phase, the Haunt, begins, and based on semi-random conditions one player is determined to be the traitor, and is pitted against the rest of the team. Either the traitor or the "heroes" will win, and the other(s) will lose.

Additionally, it is possible, in certain cooperative games (Arkham Horror/Eldritch Horror, Forbidden Island/Forbidden Desert, etc.) where the players are generally wholly cooperative and playing against the board, rather than each other, for the team to win, but for one or more PCs to have died during the game. So if, for instance, in a game of Arkham Horror, you have five Investigators and you defeat the Ancient One (or win before it awakens), but two Investigators die over the course of the game, the argument could be made that the three players who survived "won", while the other two either didn't win, or "lost"; since total player death is considered a lose condition, it makes sense that if some, but not all, players die, not all players have "won" the game.

Of course, this all depends strongly on how you are defining winning, losing, and the grey area in between, if indeed there is any (I would argue there is, but I can certainly see the argument for the binary win/lose system) but my ultimate answer is yes, with some caveats.


My game, "Win, Don't Lose" is like that. In fact games with player elimination are often like that, such as King of Tokyo. Some players are eliminated, and then someone wins. The game ends and the other players are in limbo.

  • This doesn't answer the question. You say your game is win don't lose but you fail to explain what you are talking about. Also you mention King of Tokyo and in that game there is no difference between the players who are eliminated and the players who did not win.
    – Joe W
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 19:34
  • Maybe in your mind. The KoT rule book doesn't say that when someone becomes King of Tokyo the other players lose. There is a difference. Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 1:15
  • In Win, Don't Lose there is player elimination (referred to as "losing"). A player can win by eliminating everyone else, but there are other avenues to winning. And when you win by one of those avenues, the other players don't win or lose. It says so in the rule book! :P Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 1:16
  • A game does not have to specifically say you have to lose in order for you to lose. In fact other then saying a player is eliminated the only reference it says to losing is if all remaining players are eliminated at once. If all Monsters are eliminated at the same time… everyone loses!
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 1:21
  • If there are ways in "Win, Don't Lose" you should explain what you are talking about so that other people can get some use out of your question. just saying that some players don't win or lose doesn't do anything to answer the question
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 1:25

Sure, we used to play Texas Hold'em that way. Winner takes the pot, runner-up gets his stake back. So, one winner, one 'not loser', n-2 losers.


Short answer: no.

Games are designed to make someone win and the rest lose. That's why they are called games. There are games where all players can lose and in the same way that they all can win, Coöp games are like that.

I've played a lot of games and have only found games where one can draw (eg chess, checkers, etc) but than nobody loses, not a situation where one wins, one loses and the rest doesn't lose. I've searched on the internet for a good half hour and I couldn't find any game which at the end have the state you asked about.

From wikipedia about games:
"When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation." Concluding, a game has a goal, don't achieve that goal and you lose.

As in how I see board games:
When you play a game, you win or you lose.

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