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CHALLENGE: Reducing or eliminating 'Quarterback Syndrome' in Co-Op Games

7 replies [Last post]
Joined: 03/07/2012

Co-op games often can suffer from a problem where the more experienced players dictate what other players can do on their turns. There are a few ways of trying to alleviate this, including stuff like adding randomness, obscuring/forbidding certain information to be discussed, or requiring specific actions to be taken immediately without consulting anyone.

What are your favorite ways of solving this problem!

Black Oak Games
Joined: 11/07/2012
Imperfect Information

I think that the only true way of preventing quarterbacking is to prevent perfect information, and I think you've generally listed the ways to do that.

I can tell you that my least favorite ways are seemingly arbitrary rules that say "you can't show anyone else your cards" or "you can't talk about this". This seems to me to go against the very nature of cooperation, and is difficult for some interested in playing cooperative games to accept. My gaming group generally lays card hands out on the table for some cooperative games, rather than making everyone say "do you have enough X cards" ad infinitum.

(The one exception to that would be heavily themed games, where players are supposed to be in different game locations some of the time and so are willing to hide some cards from others, making the lack of information part of the fun.)

This leaves me with randomness, speed, and information that is very difficult to communicate verbally - though again, that works best in a themed game.

Let me tackle the last one first. Say you were playing a cooperative version of The Adventurers, and one player could look at which carved image will fall into the lava pit. They might know where the matching image is, but it would be difficult to communicate that verbally. Of course, they could just point to it. But the idea is still there - a player could draw a card with a certain image on it, and later draw from a second deck of cards, and if the image matched, they would have more information about how to win than the other players. There's nothing stopping them from telling the rest of the team at that point, of course, but it would have been their skill and play that got the team to that point.

But I guess I shot myself in the foot there - what's to stop the player from showing everyone else both of those cards? (Unless it's in the theme.) But maybe there's a possibility there, in allowing certain players with certain real-world skills to take on certain roles in the game. Say one player is a math whiz, one has a great visual memory, etc, etc. I don't quite know how to implement that, especially since you'd never know what combination of players you'd run across in a particular sitting, or that everyone in a particular sitting wouldn't have the same primary skill...

Moving on.

Speed - if there's a timed element to the game, you may not have time to communicate all of the information, and will have to make your own decisions. I haven't played any games that I think did this well (which is not to say there aren't any).

Randomness - this would have to be my favorite, as long as it's not arbitrary randomness, and you still have some information about the future. I think Pandemic does this extremely well with the infection cards and how the active cards are shuffled back onto the top of the deck, letting players know generally where to focus, but not exactly.

My issues with some games' implementation of randomness are:
1. That they are too random to really allow much strategic play, or
2. That once the randomness is resolved, quarterbacking resumes.

Final solution: 1 vs many. Mr X aka Scotland Yard does this very well, with one person deliberately obscuring the information available to other players. And there is no randomness at all. What it does have is a vast number of available options for each player's move - which I think does help limit quarterbacking, and should perhaps be added as a second final solution. Anyone have a third or fourth?

Joined: 11/12/2012
one way to work this is to

one way to work this is to put a hidden traitor mechanic, you can openly share everythng but this makes the traitors job really easy

concerning timing: treasure is a great game but it goes wa to fast for one player to make all the decissions

another way would be a scoring system that either have everyone lose or one player wins say players need to reach a minimun total, but the player who has scored the most points by himself will be the sole winner

Joined: 10/13/2011

I have had some limited success reducing the "quarterback syndrome" by creating an environment in which the players need to plan for possible future events. Although this does not prevent one player from making all of the final decisions, it does encourage more discussion between the players.

For the most part, I just accept the fact that any group of people will eventually establish a leader for themselves; as such, I try to make sure that each player has things to do in the game so that they can follow someone else's direction and still be very active in the game rolling dice, moving pieces, and making smaller decisions.

JustActCasual's picture
Joined: 11/20/2012
On The Bridge

The quarterback problem is essentially that players feel they do not have control of their experience: they feel like slaves to outside forces in a medium that is supposed to empower. This loss of control is much the same as excessive randomness or one-horse races in games, more like the latter in that their control is TAKEN by another player.

Framing the problem in this way, it can be seen that random elements only solve part of the problem: the control is no longer taken by another player, but is still not in the players hands. Hidden information works better but adds elements of distrust and competition which may not be welcome, and robs the quarterbacking player of their enjoyment.

I think the best solution is actually a form of Analysis Paralysis through timed elements or characterization (by ability assignment): in both cases the idea is to have too much information for one player to handle. These AP mechanics allow all players to enjoy themselves: the quarterback doesn't have complete understanding or control, but can still lead by calling on other players. This also allows other players to specialize based on their preferred roles and personal skills (as mentioned above) leading all players to feel in control of their experience.

There's a reason that the archetypal team is not homogeneous: why should it be in board games? The quarterback is not the only player on the team; the captain is not the only member of the crew.

Joined: 11/24/2009
Co-op Not Really

Make a set of conditions where the players all fail the game if they don't cooperate well, but at the same time they can maximize their own points and be "First among equals"; thereby kinda-sorta winning the game on a successful game. In a failed-game, reverse the order of points to determine the winner. So the person who selfishly collected the most points in a failed game is the biggest loser. Hmmm, I may use this in the future.

ender7's picture
Joined: 10/07/2008
"can't talk" mechanics, if

"can't talk" mechanics, if implemented thematically, like in Space Alert, can work. One idea could be imposing a cost on communication. Talking is only permitted if the player who wants to speak has to pay a cost (discard a card, etc.) Players who want to run the show are now actively hurting the team if they need to pay to talk all the time.

Another approach is a "pass the baton" idea like in Family Feud. Every player on the team gets to suggest an answer, but the captain picks which one to go with. Rotate who the captain is and keep everyone involved.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Here's what I got...

AnEvenWeirderMove wrote:
What are your favorite ways of solving this problem!

In our working board game, the game is cooperative from one (1) to six (6) players. Yes the game can be played solitaire also. The thing is although the game is cooperative, collecting treasures/rewards is COMPETITIVE. For an example: A quests rewards players with 4 rewards. Each token found (Red, Green, Yellow, and Blue) represents one reward. The players that find the tokens fastest win a reward.

In other scenarios it has to do with being part of the action (like defeating a boss). And in that case, everyone involved earns one (1) reward.

So even if a player wants to help the other players in assisting them what they are to do next, each player can make his own decisions to earn rewards.

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