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Sacrificing for the group – Is it fun?

6 replies [Last post]
Joined: 07/10/2011

Consider the following situation:

4 people are playing a game in which only 1 person can eventually win.

It's late in the game, and on Player 1's turn, she gains an advantage that poises her to win–– She will win on her next turn unless another player takes action to stop her. But whoever does so will be unable to take any other action that turn (i.e. to advance their own position).

Now comes Player 2's turn. Player 2 will lose (just like 3 and 4) unless one of them expends their turn to stop Player 1.

From an abstract perspective, I think this is a very interesting dynamic. Players 2 and 3 can afford to be selfish (and further their own positions) because Player 4 would have to be insane to not make the choice to stop Player 1. In practice, however, I'm doubtful about how fun it really is.

One position might be that putting your opponents into situations where their only choices are "do X" or "lose" is simply good playing in a multipolar setting. On the other hand, feeling like you're left with the job of holding the game together while your opponents all act selfishly seems like a bad situation – like you've lost control of the game and are now just holding to the bumper as it drives away.

Certainly it's more 'fun' to feel that you have a choice in a situation. On the other hand, in virtually any game, a player can make enough consecutive bad choices that they eventually put themselves into a situation of 'do this or lose'. Given that this is true of almost any game, it seems dubious to attribute it to bad design.

There are some circumstances that can alleviate the feeling of being unfairly bound.

In a cooperative game (Player 1 is an evil Cylon, and that 2, 3 and 4 are a united team of Humans) my impression is that people feel a lot better about taking the action to avoid loss, because, there is a lot more of a feeing of 'this is my job'.

Another situation is when one of the players is expends less comparative effort in the thwarting.
For example, let's say that the players also have Money, and in order to thwart Player 1, one of the others need not only expend her turn, but also spend a Money. Player 2 has 2 Money, Player 3 has 5 Money, and Player 4 has 10 Money. In this situation, I feel that (as Player 2) I would be more justified in being selfish, and (as Player 4) I would expect this, and feel less bad about being put in the binding situation. After all, Player 2 would have to spend halfher money, whereas Player 4 would have to spend a tenth.

Now, let's replace the Money with cards – either red, or green – and in order to thwart Player 1, the others need not only expend their turn, but also play a green card from their hand. Player 2 holds 2 cards, Player 3 holds 5 cards, and Player 4 holds 10 cards. In this situation, my instincts tell me that it's totally fine for Player 2 to be selfish, because it's plausible (from her opponents' perspectives) that she might not even have a green card anyway. And from her perspective, it's a shrewd move, because she can be reasonably certain that Player 4 will be holding a green card. It also creates a more exciting psychological dynamic, because all parties have an interest in denying that they have any green cards, but they're each risking everything if they count on the next player to have one when there's a chance she doesn't.

The reason these last two situations are interesting to me is that they strike me as less un-fun for Player 4 – but only due to personal perspective and the plausible deniability of her cohorts: She's still in a bind, and it's still the result of the selfishness of the others. Another way to look at it is that (it seems to me) having opponents that are unable is preferable to having opponents that are unwilling, even though the results are the same. And that's especially weird, because normally you should expect your opponents to be selfish (they are your opponents, after all), but in this situation it seems pretty sucky when they are.

Agree/disagree? Any thoughts?
What exactly is going on here?
How do you feel about being made 'slave to the obvious correct move' ?

Joined: 11/15/2014
I had a slightly similar

I had a slightly similar situation happen to me during a tournament. I was on the edge of getting into the top 8 finals I needed to win and a couple key games had to go my way. My opponent had to win to be in as well. A couple of other players had figured out that if I won they could draw their match and I and my opponent would be out and they would be in. If I lost they would have to play it out. As soon as they announced this I turned to my opponent and conceded.

I'm not sure how much this plays into your topic but I felt like my choice was my only response to the scheming of the other players.

In your first example player 4 might be content with doing nothing (and letting 2&3 lose with them) or taking satisfaction that they caused player1 to not win.

Joined: 03/02/2014
It depends

My reaction to such a situation depends on how permanent the situation is. For instance, if me throwing myself on the sword means that the player who was about to win is set back a couple of turns, and if I get lucky I'll still have a chance to win, then I'm ok with it. On the other hand, if the best I can do by wasting my turn is delay the leader by one turn, which means that if no one else chips in I'll just have to do it again the following turn, etc. then I'll be pretty unhappy with the situation. If no one else steps up, then on the next turn I'll just let the person win.

Joined: 01/17/2011
Reverse kingmaker

Personally I dislike games which create the dynamic described in the OP. When applied during the course of the game (Player 1 will gain an advantage unless prevented) it is fine, but in the end-game case (Player 1 will win instantly unless prevented) I would call it a design flaw.

In in Kingmaker game, you get to choose who wins. I call this a Reverse Kingmaker game, where you get to choose who doesn't win. Personally I don't like either version.

This situation relies on a specific set of preconditions:
1 - The ending condition is "first past the post"
2 - It is possible to be pulled back from the post
3 - The scores are public
4 - The turn order is fixed
5 - The action to prevent Player 1 winning is deterministic

The reason I would consider this to be a design flaw is because it can be avoided by changing one or more of the preconditions above.

1. The ending condition could be a fixed number of turns, or the progress of some meter. Another way is for the first past the post to trigger a "final round" rather than ending the game immediately.

2. I prefer ending conditions which cannot go backwards. If it is possible to go backwards, then the game has the potential to drag on indefinitely because nobody will let anyone else win. I prefer games which are guaranteed to reach a conclusion by their very design, and rather than relying on kingmaking or exhaustion to end it.

3. In a score-based game, some component of the score could be public (and tracked throughout) while another component of the score is secret and/or is dependent on the final game state. That way the other players do not know for sure whether or not Player 1 will win, only that Player 1 is in a strong position. Many eurogames use this mechanism.

4. Variable turn order can reduce the resentment of Player 4, if she can arrange for somebody else to be last in the turn order next turn. Or Player 1 could try to manipulate the turn order so that she goes last, thus the other players have no opportunity to steal her win.

5. If the outcome is not completely predictable then the situation is mitigated. The hand of red and green cards is an example of how to make the outcome unpredictable. (This is preferable, btw, to using simple randomization to introduce the unpredicability.)

In general, I dislike playing games where Player 1 can almost win only to have it blocked, followed by Player 2 who almost wins only to have it blocked, followed by Player 3... This is precisely the situation that occurs in Munchkin. I enjoy the first three quarters of a Munchkin game, but the last quarter is just annoying (for me, anyway). Then again Munchkin is a popular game, so I'm not saying that this dislike is universal.


Joined: 10/28/2014
I've no time right now to

I've no time right now to read the entire post but I will soon because I like the idea.
It sounds a lot like classic card games like Mau Mau, in which players take turns sequentially, and you have to react to your neighbours. If you think that is unfair, you could implement another kind of system to decide turn-taking:
- Random turns (e.g. decided every round) also decide which player is last and thus has to act to prevent Player 1 from winning.
- Turn sequence based on in-game values such as amount of points or money. Still the second and third player can decide not to react to Player 1's moves but the fourth player has to do so. The turn sequence can of course change every round.

Joined: 03/02/2014
Some good points

Kos makes some good points -- especially that there could be a hidden aspect to the scoring so that you can't be certain someone is about to win. If the hidden aspect only accounts for, say, 10% of the overall score, that could be enough to eliminate or at least mitigate this problem.

OTOH, I don't agree that such a situation is necessarily the sign of a bad game. Mascarade (, for instance, has this situation in spades, and it is a great game. In this game, the win condition is having some number of coins (13, I think), though there is a special character that wins with only 10 coins (the important hidden element).

However, it avoids the problem kos mentions (that the game will never end) because coins steadily are added to those collective ownership and never removed. Eventually SOMEBODY has to have enough. Part of the point of the game is to stay on top of who is about to win and keep them from winning long enough that you manage to. Also, to use deception to keep it from being obvious that you are about to win.

That game has the one very interesting mechanic that you don't necessarily know what role you are, so you might even have that role that wins with only 10 coins, and not realize it. (You can spend a turn to find out what your role is, but then someone else will likely change it on you.)

Joined: 11/19/2013

Yes, I think hiding information is the key to this.

Either simultaneous actions so players have to stop player 4 or risk another player not stopping him.

Hidden information about who is winning.

Hidden information about who can actually stop player 4.

It is really lame to have to no choice in what you do on your turn. It is like playing a game on autopilot. But, as long as the situation is rare it is not a game breaker for me.

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