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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

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zaiga
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This week’s topic is common problem #2: kingmaking.

What is kingmaking? Kingmaking is, when a player, who is clearly not going to win, makes a move that effectively hands the win to another player.

Perhaps it's best to give an example of a case of kingmaking to show why it can be a problem.

One of the worst cases of kingmaking I ever experienced was during a game of “TurfMaster”. It’s a horse racing game where players alternately roll dice or play cards to move the horses. When dice are rolled everyone moves their horses according to that roll. However, the player who rolls the dice may decide if he wants to use both dice or just one die to move the horses. The trick is that the horse in the lead may only move up to 8 spaces, so a horse in the lead doesn’t benefit from a higher roll.*

We played three games of “TurfMaster” and added up our scores. It was near the end of the third round with most players close to the finish and after almost three hours of play, that one player, whose horse was far behind and certainly wasn't going to win, rolled the dice. He rolled two sixes. Now, he could choose to go for either “6” or for “12”. Whatever he chooses, it wouldn’t make any difference for his standing. However, if he chooses the “6” player A wins the game and the match. If he chooses the “12” player B wins the game and the match. This was a classic case of kingmaking. I can tell you that this was a big anti-climax after almost three hours of playing.

Some things we might discuss:

Is kingmaking a design problem, or is it just a player problem? Is it possible to completely avoid the problem of kingmaking in an interactive, multiplayer game? If not, what are ways to design a game so that the problem is at least mitigated?

I'll post my own thoughts on the subject later on.

- René Wiersma

* The actual rule is a bit more complicated than that, but this is enough information to understand the example.

Fos
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

I think kingmaking is solidly a design problem, though it could be exacerbated by a particularly poor player. When players all feel within reach of winning the game, or the winning conditions are hidden, the chance of a kingmaking situation (at least, one recognized) is significantly reduced.

I think this is different than poor players inadvertently helping strong players. Consider poker. If there is one strong player and six weak players, the strong player will win by exploiting the other players' weaknesses. However, if there are 2 good players and 5 weak players, the two good players will be strengthened by taking the chips from the weak players, however, both of the good players should end head-to-head with fairly even chip counts. Poor players helped them get to that point, but they didn't necessarily cause one good player to win over the other.

Personally, I'm a fan of hidden/semi-hidden scoring. Not only does it seem to reduce AP (in Settlers, "let me look at my hand, add up my points, look at the board, add up my points, consider my opponents, consider my options... yes, I have enough resources to get the 12th victory point next turn... unless he rolls a 7"), but it keeps a new player, one still trying to figure out how everything works, in the game. The new player may very well be helping another player win the game, but it's not as obvious as kingmaking, specifically, the player won't feel like, "I can do A, which makes player 1 win, or B, which makes player 2 win, but either way I lose." EDIT: The last game of Settlers I played definitely had a kingmaking situation. Myself and another player's actions for the last round determined which one of the other two players won...

Final note: I consider kingmaking defined by two simultaneous situations. One, a player really feels like he's lost the game, and two, that player decides who actually wins the game. I think both are primarily a design flaw, and both can be fixed by blurring the scoring line until the very end and keeping all players as close as possible to each other in position without destroying all strategy.

Zzzzz
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Off the top of my head, with out really thinking about it, if the core game mechanics/rules of a game produce a combination that forces one specific player to control the outcome of a game, I feel it is a design problem. Forcing a player, that wants to play the game, into a position to choose a winner, does not seem right to me.

Now with that stated, designing a game that handles poor game play on the part of a player I think is difficult, if not impossible to control. So I think in this case of kingsmaking it would be hard for any designer to totally remove the problem.

Take Settlers for instance(finally played it this weekend at GenCON, now I understand what you guys are talking about, love the game!), if I did not care about losing, would it be possible for me to skew the odds in favor of one specific player?

Most likely, lets say we are playing a 3 player game, I could choose to only trade with one player, thus making a move that effectively puts more resources in the hands of the one player. Having not done this, I dont know how much it would impact the game, but from what I learned this weekend, everyone wanting to win, tend to keep trades away from the person in the lead(at some point in the game).

As for Fos idea of "blurring the score", I agree that it would help reduce this problem, not sure if it resolved this problem completely.

I think solving the first part, designing a game that does not force a willing player into deciding a winner, is possible.

Trying to solve the second part, when a player no longer cares about winning and attempts to help another player, not sure what to do there...

GeminiWeb
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Nice intro Zaiga!

Zaiga wrote:

Quote:
Kingmaking is, when a player, who is clearly not going to win, makes a move that effectively hands the win to another player.

Working from this as a base, I tend to find kingmaking and 'bash the leader' definitely have their overlaps. In fact, for me, the idea of hidden victory points is one that primarily targets the 'bash the leader' syndrome rather than the kingmaking syndrome. Why? Well, kingmaking still happens with hidden victory points - it might not be a conscious decision to pick one player to win over another, but the decision they make still has that effect.

I remember reading somewhere (here or BoardGameGeek) about a situation in Peurta Rico where a players choice of action was going to decide the final winner - their action could result in 3 different people winning, not including themselves. They ended up choosing one option (mayor) and one of them won. However, the option they chose wasn't a deliberate choice of winner, but rather they did something they liked doing (mayor - they liked having lots of colonists). As such, while they didn't deliberately chose the winner, they were still the kingmaker.

So where does that leave me?

Well, kingmaking will generally be a design problem, but it can be very tricky if not impossible to fix. Furthermore, some of it can be thrown back at the player in the right circumstances. For example, don't hammer the player coming last into the ground and complain that they make the one move that hands the game to someone else.

One more thing. Two of my favorite games are History of the World and Vinci. Both can be said to have kingmaking problems. Nonetheless, I still enjoy both games a lot and will continue to play them.

Oracle
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

There's a slight variation on this theme in the game Fifth Avenue. Each turn you have to take one of four possible actions, one of which is "place business". Placing the last business is one of the game end mechanisms. There are only 12 business to be placed in the entire game, so it's possible for one player to end the game very quickly and uninterstingly by choosing to place a business and placing it somewhere useless on every turn. Of course, they can also place it somewhere to help another which only amplifies the problem.

Jason

zaiga
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

I think there are verious degrees of "kingmaking". The example I quoted is the worst case of kingmaking:

1) the player must make a move that decides the winner between other players
2) the player does not improve his own standing in the game, regardless of what move he makes
3) the player knows he is making a move that decides the winner between other players

Take away one of these things and the kingmaking effect is less dramatic. 1) seems obvious, but I think that if a player does not have to, but rather chooses to hit a particular player, for whatever reason, than it is not really a design flaw, just the effects of an interactive multiplayer game.

Race games, where a player wins when he reaches goal X, are more suspectible to kingmaker situations, because of the all-or-nothing nature of determining a winner. I feel that in VP based games, especially those with hidden VP's, hidden goals and/or extra VP's awarded at game end help reduce kingmaker effects.

Another trick is to use a more-or-less randomly triggered game end, to lessen the effect of kingmaking during the last round, because you never know exaclty what the last round will be. Interestingly, these things also help lessen the effects of min/maxing during the last round.

- René Wiersma

rkalajian
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

I'm going to play devil's advocate here and bring up a point.

Kingmaking might actually serve a good purpose. Let's say the player had to choose which player his move would help win. Let's say the one player, even though he thwarted the other player a few times, was civil and played good game. Now let's say the other player completely wrecked the other player and did so in an obnoxious manner. The choice for the player that's behind is obvious.

Maybe knowing this, the players of the game would be more civil the next time, making the game more enjoyable for everyone.

I'm not saying that this is always the case...but it is ONE case right :)

Zzzzz
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

rkalajian wrote:

I'm not saying that this is always the case...but it is ONE case right :)

I would agree this is another case, but do you really think that the one person who "wrecked" the game(and as a result lost because of the other player causing kingmaking) would be civil the next time? If people decided to gang up on me during a game, I might not want to be civil/helpful to either of them the next play session. Unless of course I pulled out the victory and did my "you suck" victory song and dance!!!!

I also think we need to keep three things in mind, helping vs choosing, and are the two the same?

Choosing to me is a flaw in the game that forces a player to the point of deciding on who will win the game(not including themselves), not by choice, but by game rules/mechanics of the game which force the player to choose.

Helping to me is a flaw introduced by players that manipulate the games rules/mechanics into the Kingmaking problem. If my system has a resource and trade mechanic and a player chooses to always help one(and only one) other player, in my mind they are helping to cause the kingmaking problem. There is not much that can be done in Settlers to stop two people from trading with each other and no one else. If this happens, its part of the game. Can you avoid it? I still dunno.... part of the fun is player interaction and once you have player interaction, you have choices that could cause kingmaking problem.

Are the two issues the same? To me they both involve rules/mechanics that when used cause the kingmaking problem, but I think solving the two are very different.

Anonymous
[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

GeminiWeb wrote:
...some of it can be thrown back at the player in the right circumstances. For example, don't hammer the player coming last into the ground and complain that they make the one move that hands the game to someone else.

Very interesting theory, kingmaker effect as a direct result of the paupermaker effect. I do agree that games in which players are closer to each others' scores are less likely to be hindered by any kingmaking (since every player can effectively take the lead and win). I tend to enjoy games in which there are multiple paths to victory, so that every player may feel that they have at least a chance of winning right up to the end. Of course, you can't always count on players playing well. Some just play badly or without a full understanding of the victory conditions and will fall behind as a result.

Once a pauper is poised for kingmaking, hidden victory points can help. Hidden victory conditions can also help (a player may not bash another if they're not sure if they're helping or hurting that player), but may be very difficult to design into a game.

Zzzzz wrote:
If people decided to gang up on me during a game, I might not want to be civil/helpful to either of them the next play session.

I agree! I tend to hold grudges from game to game, though only when it's in my best interest (if I need something from them, the grudge tends to fade more quickly).

So what can we do about kingmaking? Once we recognize that our game design could lead to a kingmaking situation, is it worth putting fiddly control mechanics into the system to try and control or eliminate it?

zaiga
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

SiskNY wrote:
So what can we do about kingmaking? Once we recognize that our game design could lead to a kingmaking situation, is it worth putting fiddly control mechanics into the system to try and control or eliminate it?

Of course, the trick is to come up with elegant rules to deal with kingmaker situations, rather than fiddly rules. ;)

I think I would only try to come up with "extra" rules to avoid kingmaking situations where all the three points I outlined above would apply. Otherwise I think I would just let it be, even though that means that sometimes some nasty endgame scenario's could occur. It also depends on how often it happens.

For example, in "Mystery of the Abbey" it is possible to end the game, knowing that you will not win. A player might do this to secure a second place, for example. This means it is not a "real" kingmaking situation, because points 1) and 2) don't apply. The player does not have to end the game, it's a choice and he improves his standing (he gets in second place, rather than fourth, for example). Then again, the guy who would have won the game otherwise might get a bit pissed, so it's not perfect.

Games like "MotA" where players can actively control the ending often suffer from kingmaking effects, so that is something to keep in mind when you design a game with such a mechanic. "Fifth Avenue" (which I haven't played) also seems to suffer from this problem.

It can happen in "Puerto Rico" too. For example, when in the last round player C has to choose between taking Mayor or something else. If he chooses Mayor player A can man a big building and win the game, but if he doesn't player B wins on victory chips. At least in "PR" the problem is a bit mitigated by the hidden scoring and the fact that often a player can choose a move that helps him the most, but sometimes kingmaking rears its ugly head there as well.

- René Wiersma

Anonymous
every circumstance on its own merits.

Which is to say that different players, and even players put in different groups will handle kingmaking and the general mechanics of each game differently.

Another thought on how kingmaking would be a good thing if that was the point of the game, to some how play the game and then have the players decide who wins. (my only example of this is the reality tv series Survivor, but perhaps there is a boardgame that has this mechanism for win condition besides the trivia game based on the tv show?)

This way one person's strategy of backstabbing may be helpful in "getting ahead" but not necessarily in winning the game.

I think that revenge tactics can hinder anygame (as long as X doesn't win I'm happy) and can't be controlled.

The problem with the hidden victory points and such is that there is little positive feedback for the player. If I know I'm ahead and everyone else knows I'm ahead there is the psychology of "at least for this turn I'm winning".

Sebastian
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

The main thing that you can do to avoid kingmaking, or rather the feeling of kingmaking is to ensure that whatever happens, players have something to do to improve either their position, or their relative position. In this case, if a kingmaking situation arises, then the player can simply take the option that maximises their relative position with a clear concience. This is one of the reasons why VPs are good - if kingmaking situations arise, you simply do what's best for your position with regards to VPs.

Some hidden VPs are useful in this regard. If people are unsure as to exactly what the various scores are, then maximising your own position becomes even more important - who knows - the people you think are leading may have nothing in the hidden score, and the person who's apparently behind may have lots. This increases the incentive to improve your own position. Likewise random endings act a bit like hidden scores in this regards, except the 'hidden' VPs are the potential VPs you could get if you 'just had one more turn'. It is less effective, but still useful where you don't want to add mechanisms to give the hidden VPs (which are usually hidden cards of some sort or other).

Another way of avoiding things looking like kingmaking is stopping people knowing what their opponants potential moves are - usually through giving them cards which tell them what they can do. If you don't know what people have got up their sleave, then you don't know whether one action would give them the win or not. Personally, I'm not comfortable with this situation, but the success of games such as Citadels shows that many people ore happy with it.

Anonymous
[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Sebastian wrote:
Some hidden VPs are useful in this regard. If people are unsure as to exactly what the various scores are, then maximising your own position becomes even more important...

I did exactly this in a few of my games. Most of the VPs are public knowledge, but some are awarded at game end based on hidden conditions. Only the players know how well they're doing in this area of VPs. Typically, the winner only wins by the number of VP they got from their hidden conditions or less. That means that the game could go any way at the end based on how well players met their hidden conditions. I also was careful to put in a wide variety of hidden conditions. At most, only half of the conditions will come out in any game, so it becomes harder for other players to try and guess or deduce someone's VP conditions.

It usually works out that the player who brings about the conditions that end the game is not always the winner. Therefore even a player who is closest to fulfilling the game end conditions isn't guarranteed a win (and may be less likely to win if he surges towards the game end conditions with no regard to VP conditions).

In these ways, the kingmaker effect can be minimized without imposing extra rules for special kingmaking stuations.

GeminiWeb
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Mitigating Kingmaking through hidden VPs

One thing to note. This doesn't necessarily stop people trying to influence who the winner will be - it just means they do it based on who they think is winning, rather than who is really winning.

This can lead into all prospective winners trying to convince the active player someone else is winning - "no, attack him, he's obviously winning because ...". Some groups like this situation (I do!), while others prefer that everyone would shut up and let them make their own deicsions ...

Think of it as 'attempted kingmaking based on perceived position of players in the game' ...

Hidden victory conditions can mitigate this to some extent, depending on how easy it is to deduce someones conditions ...

zaiga
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

GeminiWeb wrote:
Think of it as 'attempted kingmaking based on perceived position of players in the game' ...

I don't perceive that as a design flaw per say, rather the effects of a highly interactive game.

If a player does not want to play the kingmaker, but is forced into that role by the game mechanisms, then you have a design problem.

- René Wiersma

Johan
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Hello

Kingmaking is a problem we have to live with.
The problem can also be described as interaction between players. If there was no interactions between the players and nothing a player will do will effects the other players, then this problem will not occurs. Interaction between players can always be used and abused.
This is the price when you have a player that can't win and he has the power to give some of his powers to another player.


Examples:
Diplomacy is the master of kingmaking. A weaker player has to join a strong alliance or be eliminated from the game.

If you not get civ-cards as fast as the other players in Advanced Civilisation, then you can go for two things, support one player (or get a hate object) or try to catch up (nearly impossible). Start a war with a player will also ruin his (and your) possibilities to win the game.

In a final in a tournament of Kremlin, one player supported a friend. He would settle for second place, and there was nothing we could do when we discovered that.

A friend of mine was in a tournament with the game "Republic of Rome". This was the first time he ever played the game. There were 3 opponents that created a pact against one player. My friend supported the single player with everything and the single player did win the game (and my frend come in second). If he hadn't supported the player, he would been in the last place.

Our jobs as game designers is not to eliminate the possibility for kingmaking but to see that we create a interesting game, where everyone can win (and some players are not just "speed bumps" early in the game).

// Johan

jwarrend
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

All, very interesting discussion; I assume that you guys have said it all, but I'll try my hand at the subject anyway!

"Kingmaker" vs. "leader bashing"

The "kingmaker" problem and the "leader bashing" problem are, for the purposes of these discussions, at least, being considered as two separate design problems. I agree that there's a certain amount of overlap between them, in the sense that someone who hits the leader very often "kingmakes" another player, but I think that's where the similarity ends.

For that reason, I think some of the proposed solutions, like "hidden scoring", are really more appropriate to treat the "leader bashing" problem, as they make leader identification difficult. But the "kingmaker" problem, to exist, doesn't presume that the player knows that he's kingmaking. It could be that the hidden scoring just makes things opaque and so a player attacks the "wrong" person, which paves the way for another player to win. This "unwitting" kingmaker may "feel" more satisfying to the players, but it's still a flaw.

It's the players' fault/It's the game's fault

This is obviously game specific. I think that as designers, we tend to assume players will make "optimal" plays, but I have to say that in my limited game experience, gaming with "average" ability gamers (in which category I include myself), one sees a lot of "bad" plays that result in unexpected endings. In one game of Clans, a player completed a village that ended the game, even though he wouldn't win by doing so; in another game of "A Game of Thrones", a player attacked someone else rather than me, allowing me on my turn to acquire my seventh stronghold and win. His explanation: "I didn't see that you had 6 strongholds already". Bummer for him, but because it affected the other players, I had been effectively "kingmade".

In that sense, I agree with Rene that "race"-oriented game endings can exacerbate the kingmaker problem because they permit one player's foolishness to end the game for everyone else.

That said, I think there's a phenomenon over and above this in which a player is forced, willingly or not, and wittingly or not, into the role of choosing who will win.

The motivation of the player as a "philosophical" solution

As a player, when I'm deciding "what move will I make", the answer is always that I'm going to do whatever gives me my best chance of winning the game. (This leads to a lot of last place finishes when I go for the longshot!) In a VP game, this means taking whatever action gives me the most VPs relative to the person I think is, at that moment, the most likely to win the game (NOT necessarily the player with the most VPs, since hidden scoring might be involved, etc).

Now, I recognize that not everyone plays this way; some people play for position, etc., and I really don't want to get into a discussion of that. Let's just say that (a) all players in the game are playing "my" way and that (b) it's possible at any time to form a fairly accurate idea of who is "winning" the game.

Under such assumptions, this makes the choice of the "kingmaker" player more well-defined -- he should take whatever move gives him the biggest gain relative to the player who he thinks will win the game. For example, if A and B are tied at 10 points and C has 6 points, and if C can choose either move X or Y; action X gives 2 VP to A and 4 VP to C; action Y gives 2 VP to B, and 2 VP to C. Using "my" system for choosing, action X would be chosen and A would win.

Now, assuming that C couldn't have won, this sounds very much like "playing for position", and in a sense it is, but the key is that C is basing his decisions on the same factors he's been using the whole game. To say that one should adopt a new basis for decision-making when one can no longer win is question-begging; why should one do so? What basis should one use? As long as one stays consistent throughout, then A could rightfully be called the "fair" winner of the game because he did a better job of preparing himself for the influence of C's turn.

This, however, won't seem terribly satisfying to most people, possibly including myself, and the chances of a scenario like this actually playing out is unlikely because there are so many other factors. For example, does C even see that he has actions X and Y available to him, or is he choosing between X and Z?

Mitigating the kingmaker problem

I think there has to be a happy medium between "cut out all interaction" and "ignore the problem, it's an inevitable reality". Interaction is fun, after all, and on the flip side, if one plays a 2 hour game only to have one's fate rest in the arbitrary decision of another player, that's not going to be very satisfying. Neither, I claim, is blinding the players to their roles as kingmakers very satisfying.

The solution, I think, lies in finding the proper scope for player interaction. Limiting the amount of impact that a player can have on another player can help, and "all or nothing" consequences of decisions should be avoided; this is particularly a problem in "power card"-heavy games. Diplomacy gives a good example for limited consequences: when a player loses a battle, his pieces are not lost, but rather, forced to retreat; his territorial position is weakened, but his army is not necessarily destroyed.

I think auction games also provide a useful model for reducing kingmaker effects, since they allow players to collectively set the price for an item, but also present a risk to each player who participates in the auction (that if you bid just to drive up the price, you may get stuck having to pay for the item!) Since all players participate, it's hard for one player to "choose" between two other players.

Another guideline might be to not have game-altering consequences of late-game decisions. A corrolary of this might be that early-game decisions should be important enough, or many, so that the game can't be reduced to one single late-game decision; the game's outcome should always be seen as the culmination of the actions of all players over the entire span of the game.

A final possibility is to make sure all players are "in it till the end". This is hard to ensure, and can also lead to the problem of the early part of the game being somewhat irrelevant. But I think it's obvious that if a player is at all times capable of winning, then the "kingmaker" scenario is negated. Many older games like "Dune" include "alliance" rules that make it possible to share victory. I don't think this is always a great solution, since it changes the scope of the game.

Dune gives a nice example of having a kingmaker effect on purpose. Each "faction" has a special condition under which they win the game. For the Bene Gesserit, that power is "Prior to the game, select another player and a game turn. If that player wins the game during that turn, you win the game instead", the idea being that you're then supposed to machinate events so as to make sure that player wins at that time. Pretty cute, and it definitely shows that the kingmaker can be harnessed in a positive way!

-Jeff

Anonymous
Random Kingmaker thoughts and a 'solution'

As I was reading the preceding thread about the Kingmaker effect, several things occurred to me.

First, it seems that the Kingmaker situation arises on a fairly regular basis across many different games.

Second, it's an unspoken assumption that the reason a Kingmaker endgame is undesirable is that it is emotionally wrenching to spend a substantial amount of time competing to win directly through skillful choices, only to have the winner 'selected' by someone else. In such a case, even if you are the 'winner', it becomes a hollow victory since your skillful play was arbitrated by a player who could not have won outright through his skillful choices in play. This reminds me of the 2000 U.S. Presidential election.

Let's just think about it for a moment from the perspective of the emotional effect of Kingmaking. It's as if the entire game was a waste of play, a waste of time, since at the very end, the 'rules' seem to change. Although nothing has changed, the 'Kingmaker' suddenly becomes the arbiter of your and everyone else's fate. In effect, no one really 'wins' in this scenario, since either of the other players (in a three player game) or any of the other players (in a game with more than three) could be the winner.
However, the emotional satisfaction for the Kingmaker should be obvious. The player who could not win, decides the winner: it's a rare and unusual kind of satisfaction for that player...the power of choosing the King. For this player, it's a strange and pleasurable kind of victory in itself.

Which leads me to the following proposed 'solution' to the Kingmaker effect: A 'House Rule' for any game that could go something like this:

"If during the endgame the Kingmaker situation arises, either the Kingmaker is declared the official winner by default, since his final choice determines the outcome of the game, or the Kingmaker may disqualify himself from play at the moment his Kingmaker status becomes apparent for the emotional satisfaction of the other players, who may then complete the game according to the rules of that game."

Obviously it's no real solution to the entire dilemma, but it provides a remedy for the real reason we hate Kingmakers: they ruin games by rendering them impotent. It's also a House Rule, so it can be adopted or not according to the consensus of the players. It doesn't reward the Kingmaker, it only acknowledges the philosophical dilemma of a situation which defeats the purpose of an instance of game play: competing for supremacy according to the rules of the game system.

Johan
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

It seams that I am nearly the only one that thinks that this is not a problem. Kingmaking can be used and has been used as one of the "components" in some game ("History of the world" from Avalon Hill was mentioned but there are others).
The problem is not Kingmaking, the problem is the "run away leader/leaders" problem. If a player loosing his position early in the game, cant catches up and has no influence over the outcome, why should he/she continue to play?
In the first example in this thread, I did not see any wrong in the kingmaking situation. Two players are equal, the third player can chose how he should act and his action will have consequences. He is part of the game and he's actions should count as much as any others. Remove that possibility and he is just a "speed bump" (he has to roll/play a card/move a pawn etc. but whatever he's doing will not effect the outcome).

"Bash the leader" was another problem that was mentioned, but I do not think that that is a problem either. "Bash the leader" is a way for other players to take the leading position (or get a better position). "Bash the leader" can and has also been used as a part of games.
I tested a game (will come out some times near in the future), and it was based around a reality show. You had some personalities, and each turn you should vote a person of the show. Naturally the strongest, the leader, the personality that is the most threat to most of the others, would be voted off.

Now "Kingmaking" and "Bash the leader" are component that a designer should consider. These two effects can be used (if there are used the right way) as vital parts of the game, make all the players know that there choice will have effect on the outcome.
To avoid effects that you don’t want:
- Play test. The final game has to be tested at least 10 times (for a less complex game) before it can be consider as moved out of the prototyping phase.
- Have some of the players, to play as another style and test other theory's (example instead of always get the leading position, try to slow the other players down).
- Play test the game with several groups.
- Have one or several friend reading the rules as "the devil reads the bible".

Finally, there is one thing in a Kingmaker situation that we can't avoid, and that is cheating.

Example:
I was in a Diplomacy tournament and there was a group of players that agreed of that they should all make the final and then in the final, remove all opponents before the "real" game started. They manage to do that by playing at least 2 (sometimes more) players in each qualify game, they could control the winner and the score. I think that 5 of the players made the final and the other player was eliminated after two rounds.
I did not play Diplomacy on tournaments for over 10 years after that event.

// Johan

Anonymous
[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

BookGnome wrote:
Which leads me to the following proposed 'solution' to the Kingmaker effect: A 'House Rule' for any game that could go something like this:

"If during the endgame the Kingmaker situation arises, either the Kingmaker is declared the official winner by default, since his final choice determines the outcome of the game

Interesting solution! I love games that ahve multiple paths to victory, this would be a great way to ensure that no one is ever really out of the game, despite how far behind the leader they may be!

jwarrend
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Re: Random Kingmaker thoughts and a 'solution'

BookGnome wrote:

"If during the endgame the Kingmaker situation arises, either the Kingmaker is declared the official winner by default, since his final choice determines the outcome of the game, or the Kingmaker may disqualify himself from play at the moment his Kingmaker status becomes apparent for the emotional satisfaction of the other players, who may then complete the game according to the rules of that game."

Gee, which of those do you think the Kingmaker would choose? It's a cute idea, but I think it adds a meta-mechanic that not all games could accomodate without dramatically altering the play style. Let's say, for example, there's a game called "Naked Aggression" where the point is to capture as many enemy cities as possible. Now, though, you have to add in the consideration that you don't want to leave Player X in the position of being unable to win but also having equal access to the cities of the two leaders, lest he be awarded the victory. I think that in most games, this is just too difficult to machinate.

That said, this "house rule" might be a decent solution for published games that have this problem, but as designers, we have the ability to try to not have this effect in the games at all. So, the question is, how do we do that?

Johan wrote:
The problem is not Kingmaking, the problem is the "run away leader/leaders" problem.

I agree with this, that in many games, the kingmaking problem results from a runaway leader problem, and a good solution would be to find ways to keep all of the players close. Of course, then you run into the possibility of Seth's pet peeve (and a valid, one, I think), "playing for position". A player might say "I have a 25% chance of winning if I do move X, or a 65% chance of coming in 2nd place if I do move Y, I'll pick Y since it gives me a better chance at a higher position", but doing so perhaps throws the game to a different player than X would have. In other words, even when players are all kept close, different motivations among the players can lead to indirect kingmaking, and that's harder to deal with.

Quote:
In the first example in this thread, I did not see any wrong in the kingmaking situation. Two players are equal, the third player can chose how he should act and his action will have consequences.

I couldn't disagree more; to play for three hours and have a third player choose the winner is not significantly different from playing for 3 hours and rolling a die to decide the winner. If that's what it was going to come down to, why not just roll the die from the beginning and get it over with?

That, to me, is the substance of the kingmaker problem; it renders the entire game superfluous (although it does at least select which two players have the ability to be king-made).

Quote:
"Bash the leader" was another problem that was mentioned, but I do not think that that is a problem either. "Bash the leader" is a way for other players to take the leading position (or get a better position). "Bash the leader" can and has also been used as a part of games.

We're going to discuss "leader-bashing" and "runaway leader" issues in two weeks, so stay tuned! I would say you'd be accurate if you said that "leader-bashing" isn't always a bad thing, but I think it's overly simplistic to say it's never a bad thing. I won't delve too deeply now, but suffice it to say, I've played far too many German-style games where the dominant strategy was "don't be in first place at the game's half-way point". But the question this raises, then, is, "what's the point of the first half of the game?" We can debate this out in a couple of weeks!

-Jeff

Johan
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

OK. My point is that Kingmaking is not a problem. Kingmaking is a consequence of something else.
Kingmaking can also be used as a component in the game (it is not always a bad thing).

If you want to remove Kingmaking game the game then you can:
- remove the interactions between the players.
- reduce players that can't win to "speed bumps".
- eliminate players that can't win.

I think that the real problem is "Run away leader" or "Speed bump".

// Johan

P.s. If after 3 hours gaming, the result is so even that the looser can chose who is going to win, then it is a fare, but you may not like it.
If this is the case more then 10% of the times, then it is the something wrong in the design of the game.

Anonymous
amendment

I should have changed the word 'may' to 'must'...

"If during the endgame the Kingmaker situation arises, either the Kingmaker is declared the official winner by default, since his final choice determines the outcome of the game, or the Kingmaker may disqualify himself from play at the moment his Kingmaker status becomes apparent for the emotional satisfaction of the other players, who may then complete the game according to the rules of that game."

What I meant to write (it was late, sorry folks) was...

"If during the endgame the Kingmaker situation arises, then either the Kingmaker is declared the official winner by default, since his final choice determines the outcome of the game, or the Kingmaker must disqualify himself from play at the moment his Kingmaker status becomes apparent for the emotional satisfaction of the other players, who may then complete the game according to the rules of that game."

Hope that clarifies the idea. Also, I realize it's no solution to the design problem. But it may be that you can bog yourself down for years trying to eliminate the Kingmaker effect from an otherwise perfectly fun and well balanced game, and never get it published. It seems there are too many variables in well made games to completely prevent such a situation. That's not to say it isn't a valuable exercise to run through scenarios and try to keep everyone meaningfully 'in' the game until the end, with the winner decided by skillful play.

Anonymous
[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Kingmaking is a major problem, especially when you have nobody on your side. We play a card game called Screw Your Neighbor, in which everyone gets one card (you try to get the lowest one) and may either trade with the next person or keep their card. If you tie with someone you are automatically safe no matter what. If for instance I trade with someone and I end up getting the same card, the choice is theres. They could keep it and keep both of us safe, or, knowing that I would be left as the only person with it, they could pass it to the dealer (the dealer gets to replace their card with another from the deck).

I don't know if that is a great example, but I can see the frustration, especially when you are playing for money like in Screw Your Neighbor.

Anonymous
[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Thanks for this intersting thread!

I find it interesting that some older games didn't have this kingmakerproblem!
Johan is absolutely right: Why not simply eliminate the player from the game, when he falls behind too much?
The designer should just make sure, that the game doesn't last forever when a player quits the game!
This may resolve SOME problems! Surely this strategy can't be adobted to each game, but some games would benefit from it IMO!
Thinking about it I even think this could be an interesting variant for Vinci!
Vinci is one game I really adore, in our games we often had some kingmakerproblem, still I love this game.

larienna
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

The worst thing about this kind of thread is that they are too long to read. (^_^).

Just a few suggestion and comment, I know that a few point has already been pointed out.

First, I would say that winning game by alliance would be a good idea. If player b an c can team up VS winner A, it can force player A to find allies. There is also the possibility of alliance breaking, if player B can win by himself without the aid of C, player B betray C and win by himself.

The looser can also adopt the trouble maker strategy. Knowing that he cannot lose what he does not have, he tries to steal point of others, makes wild moves that destabilise everybody or makes trouble. For example, in "hacker" you could start making crashing evey system or release various virus for the fun of it.

This is where the random elements get handy. For example, again in a "pay day" game, player B who was behind player A decided to make a 4000$ side bet. Player A entered the bet. This mean that who ever win the dice roll wins. So player C borrow 3000$ from the bank and entered the bet. In this way, everybody get suddenly the same odds of winning. We also once get bored of an illuminati game and I said "The player who roll higher on 2 dice, plus the number of group we have, wins the game". Everybody agreed and the dice roll itself was more exciting than the whole game.

I know that you are going to make another thread about "king-bashing" but I am in the mood to say it now. Our biggest problem was in "Illuminati" since the winner is determined by what you have. So a player was defined as being above the threat level when he could possibly finish the game the next turn. So everybody bashed the players below their threat level which made the game last indefinately. My solution, not tested yet, would be to accumulate points for things done during the game which cannot be losed. But we get back to the king making problem.

Finally, I could say that the more there is non-random interaction between players, the more likely kingmaking situation may occur. Bug or Feature? I think the legality of king making definately depends of the game. You know, in "illuminati", it can be legal to cheat.

Boisegamer2001
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Can a kingmaker effect happen in a two-player game or is it exclusive to multi-player games? And if it can out of curiosity, what would the kingmaker effect look like in a two-player game? I have an idea that it would be like an endless loop as I mused in:
http://www.bgdf.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=3171&highli...

But I am not sure if an endless loop like that would be an indication of a two-person kingmaker.
What do you all think?

BG2001

Johan
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Boisegamer2001 wrote:
Can a kingmaker effect happen in a two-player game or is it exclusive to multi-player games? And if it can out of curiosity, what would the kingmaker effect look like in a two-player game? I have an idea that it would be like an endless loop as I mused in:
http://www.bgdf.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=3171&highli...

But I am not sure if an endless loop like that would be an indication of a two-person kingmaker.
What do you all think?

BG2001

The first that popped into my head was; why not. But then I thought about what the definition on kingmaker and that can not apply to a 2 player game.
Kingmaker is a situation where you can not win and with your active actions you give the victory to another player, without gaining anything by your self.

In a two player game if you prevent the other player to win (and you can not win), then you have a draw.
If the game itself can win or you play vs. a old personal records, then you have some fictive third player in the game.

So a two player game can not have kingmaker situations.

// Johan

zaiga
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Boisegamer2001 wrote:
Can a kingmaker effect happen in a two-player game or is it exclusive to multi-player games? And if it can out of curiosity, what would the kingmaker effect look like in a two-player game?

I agree with Johan that you cannot have a kingmaking effect in a 2-player game. A kingmaking situation would occur when player A is forced to choose between making a move that allows player B to win, or a move that allows player C to win. So, you need at least 3 players for a kingmaking situation.

Quote:
I have an idea that it would be like an endless loop as I mused in:
http://www.bgdf.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=3171&highli...

But I am not sure if an endless loop like that would be an indication of a two-person kingmaker. What do you all think?

Interesting, I haven't given this cup dilemma much thought before, and I don't know if there's a name for it already. Maybe we could call it the "Cup Dilemma"? :)

Anyway, it is somewhat similar to a kingmaking situation, but it's a different problem that needs different solutions. In the case of the Cup Dilemma player A has to choose between making a move that allows player B to win, or making a move that doesn't benefit anyone, including himself, effectively stalling the game. This may lead to a deadlock situation if no player is willing to make a move, as making a move would lead to a loss.

In the other thread I've outlined two things that a game needs to prevent such a situation:

1) the player must always make a move that moves the game forward, closer to the end (ie, no "passing")

2) it is always possible for the player to make a move that has a net positive effect on the game for him

Having a VP system makes it easier to implement #2. Having only #1 would still prevent the cup dilemma, but it may lead to a kingmaking situation in a multiplayer game.

Boisegamer2001
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[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

You may be right in saying that a 2-player kingmaker effect does not exist however another situation like the kingmaker effect may happen.

Quote:
The first that popped into my head was; why not. But then I thought about what the definition on kingmaker and that can not apply to a 2 player game.
Kingmaker is a situation where you can not win and with your active actions you give the victory to another player, without gaining anything by your self.
Quote:
A kingmaking situation would occur when player A is forced to choose between making a move that allows player B to win, or a move that allows player C to win. So, you need at least 3 players for a kingmaking situation.

However this situation has come in some of the 2-player games I have played, this may be the reason why chess has the three repetitions of a move is a stalemate rule or other rules that prevent endless loop situations like that. If problems like that arise in a game it seems to be more of the player’s faults (not always) like:

1. The player A forces another player (B) to repeat moves due to A’s inability to end the game by either lack of knowledge on how to finish the other player off or A is toying with B (bad sportsmanship on A’s part and A is not in the spirit of the game, not playing with the intent of play or something like that)

2. Both player’s are unwilling to give up their winning situation so they pass or make a “quiet move” that does not further the game (who’s to blame here the players or the game itself for giving the opportunity to pass or make inconsequential choices? Both?) I think this is essentially the cup dilemma that zaiga was talking about.

Quote:
Interesting, I haven't given this cup dilemma much thought before, and I don't know if there's a name for it already. Maybe we could call it the "Cup Dilemma"? :)

Anyway, it is somewhat similar to a kingmaking situation, but it's a different problem that needs different solutions. In the case of the Cup Dilemma player A has to choose between making a move that allows player B to win, or making a move that doesn't benefit anyone, including himself, effectively stalling the game. This may lead to a deadlock situation if no player is willing to make a move, as making a move would lead to a loss.

3. The game lends itself to a situation where both players are serving their own self-interest and playing the game with zeal and enthusiasm and the game somehow ends up in an endless loop where player A is about to win, B makes the only move to block and is about to win, A makes the only move to block and is about to win, and so on…. So that one player must acquiesce their drive to win so the game may end (very similar to the cup dilemma but more on the design aspect?)

These options seem close to the kingmaker effect where one layer chooses another player to be the winner; the only difference is the so called kingmaker only has one choice. Any ideas on what to call these phenomenons and more importantly how to prevent and fix them?

BG2001

Anonymous
[TIGD] Kingmaking (Common Problem #2)

Maybe you could reduce the effect of kingmaker by using the effect of kingmaker to reduce the distance between players. Something like catching crooks with crooks:). Let's say one player has 2 points another 4 and the third player has 6 points. By using an bidding system (maybe you could also make other applications) and making the player with 4 points the bidding master he could choose between giving the player with 2 point cheap commodities or whatever or let the player with 6 points pay a lot of money for the goods. In order to implant this there must be some mechanism wich says that the second highest player must be the bidding master. i don't know or it would work but maybe.

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