Tackling the Free-For-All-Whine-Fests
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I admit that I like to play long empire-type games. But I am not the type who wants to play five hours of a multiplayer wargame only to have some wildcard at the table throw the game by playing kingmaker on the last turn. Where is the fun in that? If I want to play Diplomacy, then I'll play Diplomacy!

How do designers address the issue of allowing each player to manage their units while somehow reining in whining, backstabbing and kingmaking? A few notable games have managed to structure the dealmaking and diplomacy. And I would argue that this tends to improve the games.

I'll start by pointing out a few typical free-for-all wargames. Can anyone add some other submissions of games that address the free-for-all factor?
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1. Board Game: A Game of Thrones (first edition) [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:312]
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The free-for-all favorite of the moment. It features elegant eurogame mechanisms to obscure the fact that it is a whine-fest at heart.
 
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2. Board Game: Twilight Imperium [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:2460]
Thee Insidius Doktor Glaze & His Sidekick Donut Boy with the Amazing Monkeytime Dancers Ooh!
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Free-for-all in space.

* I do note that there is a unique factor here, a well-done diplomacy deck of political issues> These help change alliances turn-to-turn. But at the end of the day it still feels like a free-for-all.
 
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3. Board Game: Age of Mythology: The Boardgame [Average Rating:6.15 Overall Rank:2482]
Thee Insidius Doktor Glaze & His Sidekick Donut Boy with the Amazing Monkeytime Dancers Ooh!
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Whine-fest trying to be Puerto Rico.
 
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4. Board Game: Ikusa [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:690]
Thee Insidius Doktor Glaze & His Sidekick Donut Boy with the Amazing Monkeytime Dancers Ooh!
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Free-for-all with d12's and pretty bits.
 
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5. Board Game: Attack! [Average Rating:5.86 Overall Rank:4458]
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WWII-esque free-for-all.
 
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6. Board Game: Risk [Average Rating:5.58 Overall Rank:14511]
Thee Insidius Doktor Glaze & His Sidekick Donut Boy with the Amazing Monkeytime Dancers Ooh!
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The original free-for-all ...and all of its spin-offs too, I suppose.
 
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7. Board Game: La Révolution française: La patrie en danger 1790-1796 [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:6927]
Alfred Wallace
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Champaign
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I've always liked the negotiation rule in this game. Here, all the players (who each represent a revolutionary faction) sit around the table, from left to right in order of their faction's political leanings. You can talk around the table no problem, but if you want a secret deal you have to whisper it...limiting, of course, the secret deals you can enter into.

A neat twist, anyway...
 
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8. Board Game: Dune [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:215]
Thee Insidius Doktor Glaze & His Sidekick Donut Boy with the Amazing Monkeytime Dancers Ooh!
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This is one of the earliest examples I can think of that addresses the free-for-all problem. Dune has great rules that structure alliances.

Examples:
* Players may only change alliances when a Shai-Halud card is drawn.
* An victory by an alliance requires more cities than a victory by a single player.
* Alliances allow members to give a limited benefit to fellow conspirators.
 
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9. Board Game: Axis & Allies [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1184]
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Axis & Allies avoids the whine-fest problem by cementing the alliances: Germany and Japan are permanent allies vs the other three nations in the game.
 
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10. Board Game: The Napoleonic Wars [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:1802]
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I've never played, but the game I watched had a great diplomatic track which seemed to involve different statuses that could not be changed instantly. Thus, a gradual diplomatic progressions replace instant betrayals.
 
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11. Board Game: Struggle of Empires [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:327]
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The upcoming Struggle of Empires sounds like it forces players to choose allies, but that these alliances are permanent. Another simple solution that eliminates free-for-all factor.
 
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12. Board Game: Vampire: The Eternal Struggle [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:952] [Average Rating:7.10 Unranked]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Astoria
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The classic example limiting Diplomatic effects, courtesy Richard Garfield.
Each player only gets victory points for eliminating the player to his left. This has the natural effect of reducing (but not quite removing) any desire for cross-table attacks, and enables some creative alliance making along the lines of my enemy's enemy is my friend, at least until...
 
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13. Board Game: Air Baron [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:2913]
Nate Sandall
United States
Portland
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Air Baron plays like a wargame with an economic element. The fact that the goal is market share and money as opposed to player elimination makes it short (2 hours). Great fun with 5 or 6 players. Usually not just one leader and the difficult choice of going into fare wars vrs normal operations is difficult as you don't earn money while in fare wars but it's hard to go a conquering when you're not!
 
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14. Board Game: Successors (second edition) [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:2396]
Nate Sandall
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Portland
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Successors takes care of the problem by making the get-the-leader the major mechanic. The player with the most legitimacy points becomes the successor and all the other players may only attack him without penalty! If players choose they may attack another player but suffer a loss of legitimacy for doing so.
 
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15. Board Game: Blood Royale [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:2873]
David Brain
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London, UK
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I would have added "Warrior Knights" to this list, but that does turn into a whine-fest (albeit one which adds a novel democratic element to the proceedings.)
But this design takes the alliances-between-players one stage further by formalising them through marriage contracts between the characters that the players represent.

There are still quite a lot of issues with the game (mainly that it doesn't really work as a one-off experience, but needs time to grow and mature) but probably deserves a place here for its attempts to introduce a different sort of diplomatic structure.
 
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16. Board Game: Shadowfist [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:2526] [Average Rating:7.11 Unranked]
Chris Turner
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Wauwatosa
Wisconsin
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Along with Jyhad, Shadowfist has to be on this list. The structure of the game is that no one loses until one person wins; you want to be that person. There's no free for all because each time someone goes for the win, everyone must try to stop them. Alliances are made for one turn and not only ignored, but are absolutely impractical on the next. In a lot of strategy games the 'gang up on the leader' approach is often not possible (other side of the map, etc) even in Diplomacy. In Fist, as long as you have cards in your hand you can effect the outcome and a lot of times can still pull out a win as the big dogs on the table slug themselves into oblivion.
 
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17. Board Game: Titan [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:792]
Jeff Siadek
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Hawthorne
California
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The masterboard movement system mitigates kingmaking. Players are faced with a continually evolving strategic picture but only the biggest of weenies can throw the game. The leader can be taken out with a well placed stroke so you're never really out of it or never really out of the woods.
 
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