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How to deal with the 'Alpha Gamer'

11 replies [Last post]
Druski's picture
Joined: 11/21/2014

I am still in the brainstorming stage for a co-operative game, but already I am questioning how to deal with the alpha gamer.

The game in mind is a sci fi theme, will have plenty of different cards for events and abilities, etc. and be fully co-operative (no traitor element or anything like that). I want players to feel like a team working together and trading, each fulfilling various roles towards common goals.

However, I cant help but wonder if, with this much open communication and trading, there will be an issue of an alpha gamer basically playing the game for everyone else (and cheapening their experience of the gameplay). What sort of tools might I use to limit this (if its even worth worrying about)?

So far, I am attempting to include plenty of choice-elements with unknown outcomes (either by drawing event cards, rolling dice, or through press-your-luck elements such as getting a short term positive but risking a long term negative - or vice-versa). In short, I am hoping that people will have various opinions about how to proceed, or if the risk is worth the gain, etc, and so more than one player is involved in the decision making process.

As none of this is really a concrete example, its understandable that concrete answers aren't really possible. However, by the sounds of my ideas so far, do you feel this is sufficient for dealing with the alpha-gamers out there, and encouraging group-interaction?

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
For my game...

In the case of "V For Victory!" a semi-cooperative game where players fend off the Nazis while trying to uncover the ultra secret locations of the V Bomb. Player collaborate to keep control of Europe and ensure that the Nazis don't take over.

But at the same time - each player is trying to solve the mystery for themselves. So even the Alpha Gamer needs to keep his secrets - well "secret", if he expects to try to win the game...

It's sort of co-opetition.

That solved my problem of one player controlling the entire game. Which is of course *boring*.

Maybe you could introduce something "secret" to add some tension and make the game less controllable by an "Alpha Gamer"!

If people ask WHY would the Allied forces work together but still are competing against each other? It doesn't make sense. Well my answer to this is all the Allies want to know the secret research developed by the Nazis. And so each allied country is fighting to uncover the secrets so that they could use the technology for their OWN purposes!

Something along those lines...

Good Luck with your game!

DifferentName's picture
Joined: 09/08/2013
Semi co op and stuff

One solution I've had a lot of fun playing lately is the semi co-op in Dead of Winter. There's a group objective like normal co-op, but everyone also has their own secret objective, and just maybe someone is there to betray the whole group. This way, we can alpha game all we want, telling people what we think is the best for the group, but there's always a little mistrust going around so people feel free to ignore the advice.

We both want to achieve the main goal, but you don't know my secret objective, and I don't know yours, so the advice you give me is only considered as a suggestion. If you don't follow the alpha gamers advice, you have your own reasons that they don't know.

There are probably other kinds of hidden information that work as well. Enough information to feel like you're working together and communicating, but some information kept secret.

I think a time limit can also work well sometimes. The alpha gamer may throw out suggestions, but the fast pace of a time limit can make the actions feel more in control of each player, especially if the alpha gamer is busy controlling his own characters.

kevnburg's picture
Joined: 05/02/2014
Hanabi - Hidden Information + Limited Communication

Another way to go about it is to restrict communication and knowledge in some way. Hanabi is a co-operative game where players hold their cards facing away from them and the other players have to pay resources to give players hints about what cards they are holding so that they play the right ones. Technically, any talking that is not precipated by the paying of resources is not allowed. By adding this sort of hidden information and limited communication game structure, you can make a co-op game where players have to work together and rely on their teammates to get an understanding of the game state.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
That mistrust suggestion is a

That mistrust suggestion is a good one. However, hard to implement for some games. If it is possible, get the mistrust aspect.

Another way would be, making sure the alpha is going to give a beta a choice. In other words, the alpha knows of several ways for the beta to walk the path. Perhaps the beta sees this too. But an alpha generally knows and simply helps the beta seeing all of these choices. The beta however chooses.
If the beta gets his/her choices and has some hidden information all for him/herself. Then the beta ultimately makes the choice. This hidden information is like having cards with bonuses of some sort. That he/she can use.

Bottom line question would be: what is there in it for the beta player to play his/her way?

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
There was blog post that gave
The Professor
The Professor's picture
Joined: 10/25/2014
Great read!

That's an excellent post for aspiring (or current) game designers. I've recently purchased and played nearly a dozen games of Shadows Over Camelot, and the Traitor element definitely eliminates the alpha-gamer. Ironically, I'm typically the one that assists with game-play without being an "alpha-gamer" ~ and I ended-up being the Traitor...good times!

Druski's picture
Joined: 11/21/2014
Thank you all for the

Thank you all for the feedback! I will likely try looking into having some sort of hidden information such as objectives. The challenge will be in keeping it simple, as I probably already have too many separate mechanics [edit: including incomplete information in the form of quests/dice/push-your-luck all with unknown outcomes - though not totally random].

In addition, I still want the group to feel like they win or lose as a team, so having individual hidden objects may take away from that: but perhaps its enough that they must all win together first, and it's only after that it is revealed who did better at their objective along the way - to find the [actual] winner.

Joined: 09/11/2014
I'm thinking another way to

I'm thinking another way to handle it might be thematically. This same issue of the "expert" hogging the mic comes up in political activist spaces. One way we deal with it during workshops and planning meetings is to lay out a few ground rules at the start of the meeting to encourage loud voices not to take up too much space, and encourage newcomers to contribute if they haven't before.

Applied to a game, perhaps the introduction story can talk about how the group has a horizontal decision making structure, or that their society frowns on one person dominating the conversation. Another method would be to have the players narrate a post-game evaluation of each others' decisions and actions.

Grixx's picture
Joined: 11/16/2012
I understand your problem.

I understand your problem. It's common in games of Pandemic, where the more experienced players know what to expect from the game and know the powers and limitations of the different roles, so there usually occurs an 'Alpha' element even if no one is that competitive.
So Pandemic uses something that does not have great effect, but is a good advise non the less - every player should keep their cards for themselves and reveal only the card they play, exactly so that the players avoid someone leading the game.

On the note of the secret agendas - Dead of Winter is great example, even though the agendas are mostly competitive. But it's a good start and, while reading through the comments, I could imagine the fully cooperative version.
What I can imagine is exactly like the Dead of Winter agendas, with a little twist.
First - get rid of the treasonous agendas (for obvious reasons, if you have fully competitive game).
Second - make sure (again, like in DoW) that every personal agenda as a general rule includes the win condition - you can not win if all of you don't win.
Third - add incentive (this was in suggested earlier) for following your agenda, as well as the global goal. This is a bit tricky, because it divides your attention and if you have to decide whether to use your turn to forward your personal goal or advance the common one, this is basically a competitive environment. What you can do to negate the competitive part is add bonuses for achieving the personal agenda in part or in full. I.e. - your personal progress is your only and like in a competitive game advises are just advises, but everyone wants you to succeed in perusing your personal goal,because that makes you better in helping the common cause.

P.S. Sorry if the description is not very clear, but I'm very tired and by the end of the post I forgot the examples I had in mind. I hope you can understand the idea.

radioactivemouse's picture
Joined: 07/08/2013
I apologize if this was said

I apologize if this was said before but to be honest, I believe this is a testing issue.

You can't really tell how your game is going to turn out, or how your players will react, until it's being played. Maybe there may not be a need for an anti-alpha player mechanic. Since your game is unique to you, only you can accurately determine its solution.

The only real a advice I'd give is to keep players busy when it's not their turn. The best way to do this is to have people that are known to be alpha players get to know your game well and observe them in an environment where there are a lot of newbies.

That's all I got.

Joined: 12/27/2014

Alpha gamers are something that you work to control a lot in tabletop roleplaying, which is the medium I have battled this particular monster.

Secret information can help, and the ideas mentioned in this thread are good advice. That said, an alpha player isn't going to change. You aren't going to turn an alpha player into a beta player no matter what systems you implement... That's just a property of your game-group combinations. Things to be wary of:

1) Traitor mechanics: Your alpha is going to decide who the traitor is and try to steer gameplay accordingly. If the traitor can be targeted, a player will be targeted directly, with your witch-hunt mob led by your alpha.

2) Hidden objectives: If the game is co-op, the alpha is going to push [i]his[/i] goal as the one the group will be going for. So, this will undermine the co-op slightly and drive towards the "co-opetition" concept described above.

The upside is that player pools with an alpha have learned they have one and if he's still in the group, they've learned to tolerate it.

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