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Tragedy of the commons

9 replies [Last post]
Joined: 07/27/2008


I'm investigating the 'Tragedy of the commons' in order to implement it in a future design:

Do you know of any game that wisely uses this?

Thank you!

hoywolf's picture
Joined: 01/27/2009

I did have an idea for a game that involves this, the idea was that several players can play a certain type or combination of class (warmonger, magician, farmer, and courtier) each have to fullfil their own needs, to protect the kingdom, entertain the people, and to feed them. but in order for each to excel you need to build on common ground such as barracks, farm lands, theaters, or magic towers/lab. but when you do this, you encroach on each other, because you have limited land space, if your military prowess takes over you kingdom will be good at fending off raiders but then you might not be able to feed or entertain your people. And all need to make sure that the kingdom is being taken care of. I'm still working on this game, but it has the idea of "tragedy of the commons" that you like.

Joined: 01/21/2009
I'm not

I'm not working on one, but isn't game theory fascinating?

clearclaw's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008
Container heads in this

Container heads in this direction with the communal requirement to keep the emergent economy healthy. Stephenson's Rocket gets faintly close from another direction in its handling of token-types (really just a pattern where something is worth less the more people do it).

InvisibleJon's picture
Joined: 07/27/2008
Monster In The Cabbages

I made a game that focuses on this: Monster In The Cabbages

You're rewarded for abusing the common resource, but if everyone does, it's likely everyone will get eaten by the Monster in the Cabbages.

ReneWiersma's picture
Joined: 08/08/2008
I guess you could say

I guess you could say majority scoring is like the "Tragedy of the Commons" problem.

An example is El Grande: the player with the most cubes in a certain province scores 5 points, the second place scores 3 points.

Player A has one cube, player B has two cubes. Player A would score three points, player B would score five points. Player A's single cube is worth three points, player B's cubes are worth two and a half point per cube.

Then player A adds two cubes to the province to take over the lead. His three cubes are now worth five points (one and two-third points per cube). Player B now has three points, one and a half point per cube.

By adding cubes to the province, player A got a better total score, but by doing so devaluated the average worth of both his cubes and his opponent's cubes, which is what the "Tragedy of the Commons" problem is about.

Joined: 02/17/2009
I'd say that War on Terror:

I'd say that War on Terror: The Board Game has a tragedy-of-the-commons element to its gameplay with its terrorist mechanic.

Each player controls an Empire, but as well as the usual war-waging and land-grabbing, they can also purchase terrorist units and place them on the board, using them to attack other players' empires. Often, using terrorists can significantly help the player, particularly since they can place the terrorists anywhere on the board, striking at the heart of their opponents' empires. (Incidentally, once terrorist units are on the board, all players can control those units during their turns.)

Significantly, however, when a player decides he or she can no longer win with their Empire, he or she can 'turn terrorist' and gain control of the terrorist players. The upshot is that if players deploy terrorists too liberally in their attempts to win as Empires, they may end up giving the terrorist player (or whoever becomes the terrorist player) too much advantage, so that all the Empires end up losing.

Taavet's picture
Joined: 08/15/2008
Similar Predicament

I copied this from my other post:
(prisoner's dilemma)

All players have a choice to pick X or Y
If everyone picks Y they all score 1 point
If one or a few people pick X and one or a few pick Y the X's score 2 points and Y's get 0
If everyone picks X then no one scores anything

So if everyone picks Y they all equally benefit. If people are selfish the loyal Y people get nothing while the selfish benefit. However, if they are all selfish no one gets anything.

Seems like it would make for a good communal resource gathering mechanic. If they all do their part they benefit. A few selfish will benefit at the loss of the loyal unselfish members and if everyone is selfish no one gets anything.
So kind of like the Tragedy of the Commons. There is a limited resource, if everyone over uses it then it's destroyed if everyone uses it in moderation all will prosper.

It was pointed out to me that if everyone benefits equally then it really doesn't do the game any good because everyone is still the same. To fix that it should either be used in a cooperative-ish game or tweaked in such a way that it doesn't produce resources equally.

For instance make the commons produce resources per worker. Then everyone decides how many workers to send to the commons and what they want their workers to do. If everyone selects 'maintain' then they all get 1 resource per worker. If some select 'maintain' and some select 'harvest' then the players maintaining get nothing and the players harvesting each get 2-3 resources per worker. However if everyone selects harvest then the commons is destroyed, or just yeilds nothing for that turn. That's my take on it at least and I do hope to incorporate this into one of my designs.

kungfugeek's picture
Joined: 09/10/2008
If you had a way of keeping

If you had a way of keeping track of who used the most of the resource you could at the end of the game say the person who used the most cannot win, even if they have the most points.

Still might not be what you're going for, though.

Joined: 10/20/2009
Tragedy of the Commons ideas

>> So if everyone picks Y they all equally benefit.

>> if everyone uses it in moderation all will prosper.

These statements demonstrate the problem with Tragedy of the Commons (henceforth TotC) in board game environments. What does it matter if everyone equally benefits? Who cares if everyone prospers? I mean, at least for conventional games, they tend to be a zero-sum affair. That's just to say that what is good for me is bad for you, and vice versa. If everyone gets an extra wood resource, then it probably does very little to propel any particular player toward victory. Having an "everyone loses" condition might be a faithful rendition of TotC, but it's not very useful in a game which also may have an overall winner, since to someone who was already going to come 2nd, 3rd, or last (etc.), "everyone loses" is at least no worse than "someone else wins", and in fact is most likely preferable.

If you want to employ TotC ideas, one way to do it would be to have multiple game boards (eg. 3), upon each of which all players play independent versions of the same game. Resource gathering on each board follows a TotC style rule (if everyone collects a given resource in a given phase, then no one gets that resource (for that board) in that phase, and that resource does not accumulate). Then, to make things interesting, after so many turns, the game board with the least total resources is removed from the game. This continues every few turns until only one game board remains. The winner of the game is the player who wins the game on the last remaining game board. So, in this case, the final game board is the one upon which least players have plundered, and the winner is the player who did the best on this least plunderous board. As soon as any player feels that they are winning any particular board, they are given every incentive to not plunder that board, but anyone who feels they are losing any board should do whatever they can to plunder it.

An alternative TofC game mechanic, also utilizing multiple game boards, would be to have 1 game board per the number of players, and then each player plays an independent game on each game board except for 1. Then, the winner is simply the player with the highest score on any board (with tie breaker being the board with the second highest scoring player etc.) Thus, on the boards where there has been much plundering, the scores are likely to be much lower, and thus the winner is unlikely to come from these boards.

Unfortunately, these mechanics are anything but elegant. If someone could come up with an elegant, compact equivalent, then there could be the start of a game there.... perhaps.

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