I want to have a game night where I host a Mario Kart tournament. It can be either round robin or bracketed. The problem is that people are of very different levels so I was trying to think of a way to handicap the tournament to make things fun for all players. But it has to be easy to do and understand. Any ideas?
First of all, keep in mind that Mario Kart already has a bit of built-in handicapping. The worse you are doing in the standings, the higher quality of items the game will give you. Doing well means you will only get weak items, and being in first place also makes you vulnerable to the blue shell.
As for further handicapping, at the end of a race, the only thing that determines how well you did is the amount of time it took you to finish. This means that any sort of reasonable handicapping will involve modifying players' finishing times. Just for the sake of explanation, I'm going to assume that you choose to improve weaker players' times, though adding time onto stronger players would have the same effect.
Now, because tracks are different lengths, you can't give a "flat" handicap in terms of a set number of seconds. A 30-second handicap improvement is much more significant on a course that only takes 5 minutes to finish than it is on one that takes 10 minutes to finish (this is moot if you're planning to have every race on the same course).
Due to that, it's probably better to do something proportional. You could give a percentage improvement, such as taking off 10% of their finishing time. Or perhaps another good alternative would be to allow the weaker players to replace their worst lap time with their best one (this is assuming that Mario Kart Wii shows all lap times).
Now, that being said, I actually suggest not doing handicapping at all. You stated that you'd like to make things "fair", but it's very important to realize that handicaps don't make things fair, they attempt to make things close. The only thing that's ever truly fair in a skill-based competition is that a better player will always beat a weaker player, and handicaps get in the way of that.
Handicaps may seem to make tournaments more enjoyable for weaker players because it gives them a chance, but it comes at the cost of making things less enjoyable for the stronger players. It's very frustrating to lose to someone that is clearly a worse player than you, solely because they have a large enough handicap to overpower the difference in skill.
Related to that is the difficulty in determining how much of a handicap to give each player in the first place. It's very difficult to accurately determine a handicap, and giving players too much or too little compensation can make things even more unfair.
So then how do you make a tournament that everyone can enjoy, even with wildly differing skill levels? Unfortunately, I don't know. You could try doing things like splitting the players into categories based on their skill levels, or just running the tournament in such a way that winning isn't the single most important factor. It's a very difficult problem, but the fact is that the only way something can ever be "fair" is if everyone has to play under the same rules.
Another way you could do this is to not worry about an overall tournament, but to race in groups instead. This works best when less than half the group are experts.
Divide the players into two groups, Hi and Lo. The best players should be in the Hi group and the most inexperienced in Lo; it doesn't have to be exact yet.
Have the Hi group race twice on random tracks, then have the Lo group race twice on random tracks. In each race, first place gets 10 points, second place 6, third place 3, fourth place 1. After both groups have raced twice, the person with the lowest score in the Hi group drops to the Lo group, and the person with the highest score in the Lo group moves up to the Hi group. (Yep, relegation and promotion.) If there is a tie, flip a coin or something.
Now repeat the process (two races for Hi, two races for Lo, relegate and promote). As long as there is a decent balance of skill, several people should end up moving from one group to the other. The experts may win more often than not in the Hi group, but that'll happen with just about any combination ... and if they're all in the Hi group, then other people will be winning the Lo group.
You could do this with more than 8 people, but there might be too much of a break between groups ... with 12-16, you could break them into 4 groups and run races on 2 Wiis at once, with relegation and promotion between Hi, M-Hi, M-Lo, and Lo ... of course you might need someone to keep track of everything!
I think after the suggestions above I have decided to do this:
Have a 2 step tournament:
Step 1: Single Race Pick a board that is short and have everyone run a single time trial. Award a prize to the fastest time.
Step 2: Round Robbin Given the results of the Single Rance create teams of 2 by pairing the fastest racer with the slowest and so on.
Then have each team face another team once. Board chosen randomly. Points awarded for the top three head-to-head places. 1st pace 5 points. Second place 3 points Third place 1 point.
We are of age so drinking will be happening, no need to make it required :) What do you guys think?
None of these suggestions are really optimal for a tournament - as Chad mentioned, a tournament is really designed to allow the best player to win. That being said, the following suggestions might help take a little of the focus off coming in 1st place.
will level the playing field real fast.
A few options that spring to mind:
Another good idea is to turn on the team mode, mixing up better players with newbies. They can then get guidance from the pros as they play.