Feedback loops (for those who aren't aware)

(A Negative Feedback Loop is the technical term for "comeback mechanics", akin to what you experience in Mario Kart. This is when the game makes it easier for the underdog to come back, punishes those who are winning, and causes games to always feel tense despite differences in experience.

In contrast, a Positive Feedback Loop is when winning encourages more winning. For example, taking one of your pieces in Chess isn't just tallying another point, but it actually makes the rest of my game easier and your game harder.)

I'm a sucker for negative feedback loops...

However, most of the popular PvP board/card games I've played were the opposite (Star Realms, Netrunner, MTG, Pokemon, BANG, Chess, etc), as these games encouraged uphill battles due to persistent board states.

I know that some games have implemented some N.F.L. mechanics, but I haven't come across a game that uses N.F.L.s as a trend. For instance:

  • Monopoly has a Community Chest effect that makes players pay based on the properties that they own (a N.F.L. mechanic), yet is mostly defined by your early success and provides few options for catching up. The winner is generally the winner by a huge margin.
  • Magic The Gathering has a few mechanics that reward a player for having fewer lands or creatures, but most mechanics become stronger based on synergies and landing a "win more" solution that your opponent can't respond to/interact with. Having a strong board state makes you more resistant to loss, rewarding winners with more winning.
  • Munchkin has several cards/monsters that change how they interact with higher/lower level players, but since gear can assist with earning more gear, and your level contributes to your overall ability to kill monsters, and several low-level monsters have some severe penalties (which will only impact those who are doing poorly), Munchkin feels mostly as a P.F.L. game (although this can be heavily mitigated based on how cutthroat your table is, as agreements/relationships can be a major factor for success at later levels).

The only popular game I can think of that relies on a N.F.L. is Uno, as you start running out of options as your hand gets smaller (which can mean you end up drawing lots of cards and losing your lead). But I'm looking for something with a little more complexity and skill.

The Question:

Are there critically acclaimed strategic games that regularly use Negative Feedback Loops?

  • 2
    I think that "identify this game" isn't quite appropriate, since there isn't a specific game that you have in mind. Nov 28, 2019 at 0:35
  • 5
    This looks like a game recommendation question which is off topic.
    – Joe W
    Nov 28, 2019 at 1:03
  • 1
    @Joe-W I tried to look all the way through the board rules, but I didn't see anything that mentioned that recommendation requests were off-topic. It said to narrow it down to a concise problem, don't ask a question that can have a book-full of answers, and don't ask a question that is too open-ended. I think I did that adequately. I'm not asking if people have preferences, but instead I'm asking if something fits a specific criteria. Is there something I'm missing? Nov 28, 2019 at 1:52
  • 2
    Help/On-topic: "We're not the right place to ask questions about: ... Game Recommendation/Shopping questions, this includes all questions that could be phrased like: Best game for ... ? Which game is like ... ?" Nov 28, 2019 at 3:00
  • By PvP you mean 2 players game? I think that most games with more than 2 players implement some N.F.L.
    – Cohensius
    Nov 28, 2019 at 7:32

3 Answers 3


The great granddaddy of deck-building actually does have a negative feedback loop in it:

In Dominion, victory points come in the form of green cards which you add to your deck[1]. In every game of Dominion you will have access to three basic Victory cards - Estate, Duchy and Province - and there are others that get added as part of choosing the kingdom for a given game. The basic Victory cards, and many of the others, have no playable effect, meaning that a player who jumps straight into buying them gets an initial boost in their score, but will soon find that their hands are full of junk cards that they can't use to progress the game. By comparison, a player who focuses on building up a strong engine in their deck may not have any meaningful score until the 10th turn, at which point they can buy multiple Provinces to end the game and win.

Another game which has a kind of negative feedback loop is Power Grid. In Power Grid, the turn order is determined based on increasing number of cities. If you have more cities (and can power them), you get more money, but you also get last pick when buying resources and building new cities. This can mean you get screwed out of both, putting you at a severe disadvantage. This effect is actually so strong that positioning yourself correctly in turn order is an important part of the strategy of the game, and some people dislike it because it becomes such a major component of the game.

[1] In a couple of the expansions, namely Prosperity and Empires, there are ways of acquiring victory point tokens which do not clog up your deck. And in many of the expansions, there are Victory cards that can also be played as Actions or Treasures, so they're not completely useless during the game.


Codenames has a NFL effect in that if you've guessed a lot of your team's words, and the other team hasn't guessed many of theirs, then it's easier to guess your opponent's words (because more of the unguessed words are your opponents').

Robo Rally has the explicit NFL of the lasers, but the biggest feedback loop is that if there's a clump of players, then anyone far ahead or far behind it has a large advantage.

In Parade, if you have the most of a particular color, then each of your cards of that color are worth only one point, rather than their face value (the winner is whoever has the lowest number of points).

Century: Spice Road doesn't have NFL, but at least it has very little PFL. The resources in the game are trader cards, spices, and victory points. And they're almost entirely in that order: trader cards get you spices, and spices get you victory points. Victory points don't get you trader cards or spices, a while technically spices can get you trader cards, for the most part if someone is using spices to get trader cards to get spices to get trader cards, they're doing it wrong. There is someone PFL within the spices (you may, for instance, need to first get to cinnamon to get your engine going), but not much.



Viral is an area control game where the area that you are controlling is a human body - each player is playing as a viral infection trying to infect the person.

Tiebreaking in zone control is decided by current victory point totals, with the losing player winning all ties. Since zones usually only have 2 or 3 pieces per player, being able to win ties can be very powerful.

Additionally, while controlling zones earns victory points, it also increases the research being done on you. When that gets too high, medical treatment washes all of your tokens from the body, and you have to start over.

These two features give the game a fairly tight rubber band.

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