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10MTF: Alpha Gamers in Cooperative Games - 8/11/16

posted Aug 10, 2016, 10:01 PM by Andrew Smith   [ updated Aug 11, 2016, 5:31 AM ]
Sometimes when you sit down with a group to play a game, there is an individual who is louder, has strong opinions, and generally likes to think of themselves as being in charge. While confidence and social chutzpah aren't bad traits, a lot of people who have played a cooperative game with a so-called "alpha gamer" tend to avoid doing so again.

Others have no issues with the idea of being led through their turn by someone, deriving the same, if not more, joy from the social experience than if they had made all of their own decisions free of help or advice. Personally, I know when I'm new to a co-op game, I'm all about asking people what I should do. I don't want to be the guy that makes us lose, do I?

As a designer I have to take the conservative approach and attempt to eliminate any chance of an alpha gamer. When designing 10 Minute Task Force, I wanted to make sure that it was very difficult for someone to "quarterback" (QB) the game, so I asked myself:

How can I avoid a single player simply directing the others?

Luckily, 10MTF is so incredibly frantic, that it is very difficult to worry about if what others are doing is the optimal decision. Having to not only roll dice, but flip tiles, move meeples, and manage their own personal timer makes for quite the busy player. As with other real-time games, this greatly diminishes the QB problem.

If you feel like that's the easy answer to the issue, you're right. Here are some other concepts I considered to mitigate QB opportunities:

  1. A single action from a player should not have a drastic effect on the end game. The "quarterback" will sometimes claim to know the optimal move, or decision to make. Rather than a person's turn being truly their own, it becomes a matter of "do I listen to their advice, and lose autonomy, or go against what they said and probably upset them?" If the consequence of each action is minimal, then it is much easier for a person to "do their own thing."

  2. The path to victory should not be incredibly obscured or difficult to derive. This makes it into almost a complex puzzle that inevitably leads to one player "solving" it before everyone else and then having to bite their tongue so as not to spoil the fun of figuring it out for the others.

  3. Players having access to different information, that they can share only in a limited fashion (see: Hanabi or Bomb Squad).

  4. Players can have a hidden agenda, like in Dead of Winter, making the game more semi-cooperative.

  5. Introducing random elements that change the state of the game with no chance to react or prevent it. This could be a card drawn from a deck that makes characters move to other squares, or discard a particular number of cards from their hand, or any other multitude of effects. The Big Book of Madness does this when each new monster is released from the Grimoire. These sort of random effects tend to spoil even the best plans.

Next up is multiplayer solitaire vs actual cooperative play.