Shaun Higgins
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Quarterbacking in coop games exists due to poor game-design. Many coop games are superficial, in reality being nothing more than a single-player game under the management of a group. As a result, there is plenty of space for the dominating player who knows the game best to become that single-player, orchestrating their plan – like a puppet-master – through the rest of the group.

Part of the solution lies in the metagame, in terms of how players choose to responsibly conduct themselves within their group. However, games that work are those that also address this problem mechanically. The most effective solutions are those that do not restrict the freedom or the ability of the players to interact in a way that is both enjoyable and thematically appropriate, as coop games are – by their nature – about joint-interaction.

The solutions that I am most aware of to date are:

1) Table Manners

Players simply and politely agree upon what conduct is permitted between players at the table. Although in its simplest form, this is a way of agreeing that dominant play is not welcome, it can be developed much more positively and widely by agreeing on what makes a game most fun for everyone and what spoils people’s enjoyment. If stronger ruling is required, a further solution is for players to agree that the player taking their turn may ask for the advice of every other person at the table in a go-around in an order of their choosing; or that they may ask for advice only from players nominated by them.

For persistently bossy players, ask them to think about how it is that they play (for more on this, see “Tips for Quarterbacks” below).

2) Imperfect Information

Quarterbackers cannot act if they do not have all the information needed to make an optimal choice. If players therefore hold game information that is only known to them, one player cannot optimally dominate. Hanabi reversed this, where players know only of other players’ resources, but not their own. They can, however, still try and dominate based on their imperfect opinion, which then becomes more an issue of table manners…

3) Hidden Roles and Traitors

Perfect information includes knowing what aim is trying to be achieved by the group with everything available to them. The quarterbacker cannot make an optimal assessment if players have different roles and especially if one of the group is attempting to sabotage the group effort. The quarterback will also risk placing themselves under suspicion from their dominating actions.

In this context, it doesn’t have to be necessary that the players all have to win or lose collectively, as long as cooperation is necessary for them to achieve their goals.

Essentially, this is only applicable to semi-coop games (and is now well-used).

4) Penalties

In-game penalties for quarterbacking are imposed on the player. For example, I’ve heard that quarterbackers playing Zombicide are given a noise token for dominating play, raising their voice or talking to any player not in the same area-zone as them. Or asking for/giving advice costs an action point.

5) Time

Players may have a strict time limit in which to act and so therefore only have enough opportunity to think about their own actions (e.g. Space Alert). There may also be a simultaneous action mechanic, meaning that players all act at the same time.


What other solutions can be implemented????


-------------------------------------------------------------


Tips for Quarterbacks

Here are a few tips for any budding Quarterback to consider when they next play:

- Be aware of how often you speak
- Be aware of how often others speak
- Be aware of how often you actively listen, rather than just waiting to speak or thinking what you want to say next
- Ask questions rather than giving solutions – ask people to explain or expand on their ideas before you judge them
- If you want to pose a solution, suggest it rather than insist on it
- Take a chance – see what happens if you don’t speak at all. Allow yourself to go into other territory in the game
- See everyone as a leader in your group
- If you are often the leader, instead take on the challenge of helping others to develop into leaders

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John "Omega" Williams
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God not this subject again... yuk

Effective solutions?

Attend every session of every game played to ensure the evil quarterback is denied. Otherwise if its going to happen its going to happen. Sometimes the group will force that role on someone even.

Easiest solution if you have leader-phobia, as some designers suffer immensely from, is to state at the start of the rules that players should play their own character and not be bossed around unless they want to be.

Another solution is to not have a defined leader role in the game. Otherwise if you have "Captain of the Ship" then what the hell were you expecting the rest of the crew to do? Of course they may look to that character as the leader or whomever is playing that character might take up the role of leader. Instead have everyone in a more ambiguous or varied role with no clear cut captain.

Another way to deal with this is to have lots of situational encounters that place the most most knowledgeable character for the task to the forefront. You see this in some RPG groups. The Thief may be calling the shots during ecploration and trap searching, the priest steps in to deal with the supernatural and healing, the wizard comes to the fore for identification or magical problems, and so on.
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James Wood
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Hanabi, played properly (i.e. in accordance with the RAW), should not have this problem for the addition I would make:

Limited communication.

If you cannot communicate (in game information) then it is hard to try to control the game.

V.
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Koen Hendrix
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Omega2064 wrote:
Another way to deal with this is to have lots of situational encounters that place the most most knowledgeable character for the task to the forefront. You see this in some RPG groups. The Thief may be calling the shots during ecploration and trap searching, the priest steps in to deal with the supernatural and healing, the wizard comes to the fore for identification or magical problems, and so on.

This actually seems similar to how XCOM approaches things... it obviously uses strong time pressure, but it also calls on every person separately. Everyone else may have an opinion on or stake in the reseacher's decision, but in the end the researcher has to make a decision in 5 seconds and no-one else. It's spotlighting.

One method that isn't really in your list is Hanabi's complete ban on free talking/communication.

Personally, I think there's a place for cooperative games that allow a bit of quarterbacking... I often play with a mix of beginners and experts, and I've found that the prospect of being quarterbacked can lower the threshold for a beginner to join the table.
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Easy Mode: On your turn you may ask for advice in the form of one "YES/NO" question to one other player.

Hard Mode: Unless it's your turn... you don't GET to speak.
 
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Shaun Higgins
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khendrix wrote:
Personally, I think there's a place for cooperative games that allow a bit of quarterbacking... I often play with a mix of beginners and experts, and I've found that the prospect of being quarterbacked can lower the threshold for a beginner to join the table.


That's an interesting take on it, Khendrix. Quarterbacking is only a problem when it's a problem for the players...
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Not to take this discussion too far OT, but a few minor points:

1) I somewhat disagree with the very first sentence in the OP. If it is known going in that we are about to play a co-op, then the problem isn't necessarily the game, but the players.

2) I don't like the use of the word "Quarterbacking" as it does several things. First off, it colors the conversation at the start - Quarterbacks are seen as leaders. Sometimes co-op game "quarterbacking" is nothing more than a self-appointed know-it-all being bossy. Secondly, while in sport, a QB can "tell" people what to do, he can't force them or do it for them - in a co-op game, this can happen.

3) Given the two above (i.e. that co-ops and how they are experienced are largely a function of the players), I will only play co-ops with people who are not poor co-op players. Much in the same way that I won't play party games with ultra-competitive gamers or try to play Puerto Rico with someone who only likes light games. Trying to "force" bad co-op players into playing a game that doesn't "fit" their gaming style makes little sense. Sometimes I don't understand the fixation with trying to "fix" co-ops. They're not broken - just don't try to force them on a group that doesn't understand that "Co-op" means "cooperate with each other" not "cooperate with ME" or "co-ercion"
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Another common way to limit quarterbacking is an overload of information. This is usually accomplished with variable player powers, rapidly changing situations, etc.

In a way, this is a form of limited information, as usually the would-be quarterback simply doesn't have time to process all the information in a more complex game in order to give advice.

For example, If we were playing Pandemic and each player had 2 special abilities rather than 1, and those abilities are dealt randomly at the start of the game, a player would have a very tough time analyzing the situation at the start of each player turn and running the game. Sometimes adding slightly more complexity to a game can reduce or remove the quarterback problem.
 
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Jordan Booth
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Quarterbacking isn't bad game design, it's a personality type. I've had alpha gamers QB in all of those situations you mentioned, especially hidden roles games where everyone seems to be an armchair general simultaneously. And it isn't just limited to co-op games either, I know a few very aggressive players who will tell people what their "best move" is in competitive games.

It's a people problem, not a game problem.
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How about this: incorporate the quarterback role into the game itself?

I'm presently working on a co-op based on a space ship where all the characters have military ranks. In this situation, it makes sense that the highest ranking character (and the player who plays him) should be the "leader" and give orders to the others.

However - the character can only give orders to those in the same room or within communication contact. As suggested above, giving orders is an action (so there's an opportunity cost). And finally, because there are up to three secret roles in this game, it's up to the player to actually do what he or she was ordered to do, given the context of the crisis at hand.

During game set up and character selection, a player who is typically a quarterback (or alpha player, as I've always referred), might be willing to challenge himself by taking a low-ranking character. Conversely, a meek, quiet player might take the challenge by taking a higher-ranking character.
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In many ways it is up to the other players at the table to notify the dominant player about the behaviour, sometimes enthusiasm can manifest as being overbearing which the player might not actually realise in the moment.

The situation in co-op games can worsen if one player has more experience of the game than others so has perhaps learnt the pitfalls that new players need to experience and learn from themselves. Random set-ups and victory conditions could help ease this, also using dice to determine success or fails as a mechanic can also help, due to the random results it can make it difficult to make clear cut decisions (pushing your luck)
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Fire

Lots and lots of fire
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Robert U
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tell them to shut up.
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I've heard people say that there's less quarterbacking in Pandemic: The Cure than Pandemic due to the dice.

What do people think about this? Does output randomness mitigate quarterbacking?
 
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I don't know the answer but I do know that I REALLY do not like co-op games in general. I just find it much more interesting to play against dynamic human players than it is to simply continually process the odds against a carefully balanced but somewhat randomized cardboard puzzle.
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Born-of-Ashes wrote:
Quarterbacking isn't bad game design, it's a personality type. I've had alpha gamers QB in all of those situations you mentioned, especially hidden roles games where everyone seems to be an armchair general simultaneously. And it isn't just limited to co-op games either, I know a few very aggressive players who will tell people what their "best move" is in competitive games.

It's a people problem, not a game problem.

I fully agree. I play a LOT of co-op games with other people, and I rarely run into this issue... the only time I do run into this issue is with the type of person who tells others what to do in competitive games too. It is very much a personality problem, not something inherent to the genre.

From my experience:

Table manners would certainly solve the problem, if the alpha gamer dictating to everyone would take the hint, but often that is not the case.

Hidden Roles/Traitors does not stop someone who knows the game from dictating to others what they should do. Nor does imperfect information or an overload of information. These things might slow them down if it was their first time playing, but if they have played the game more than once or read all the rules, believe me, they will still be dictating.

We've never tried penalties, mainly because the sense of unfairness would probably ruin the fun for everyone. And adding a "time" component would make me not want to play the game. It's not that I take a long time with my turns, quite the opposite, but if I start to feel stressed when playing a game, it is no longer fun. I don't enjoy timed puzzles in video games either.

And I should state, I don't like the term "Quarterback" and for my responses above, I'm using the extreme alpha gamer meaning of it.

There are plenty of times when the leader in a co-op game is fair, listens to everyone, and helps the game move along. The rise of a leader is not always a bad thing, as Koen said.
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I tend to avoid co-op games other than when I play them solo. For example, I love Pandemic as a solitaire game. I'm not a huge fan of it as a multi-player game.

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kevkev60614 wrote:
I've heard people say that there's less quarterbacking in Pandemic: The Cure than Pandemic due to the dice.

What do people think about this? Does output randomness mitigate quarterbacking?


I would tend to agree. The only data I have to support this is that I own and play both Flash Point: Fire Rescue and Pandemic.

For me, Pandemic is much, much more susceptable to quarterbacking. This is down to three reasons:

Firstly, because of how the infection cards are put back on top after an epidemic, throughout a game of Pandemic you basically have the same set of cities getting infected again and again. This gives all players some idea of what's about to happen, and thus puts pressure on players to be in certain places. Quarterbackers will know what cities are potential outbreaks and will lean on other players to get to those cities and treat disease there even if the players in question had other ideas.

Flash Point mitigates this by spreading the fire randomly. Since every square on the board has an equal chance of coming up, fighting fire in the kitchen is just as useful as fighting it in the hallway. In my experience there's little more a QB can say to this other than forming a rough plan ("Can you keep this fire down while I go for the victim?") which is some respects isn't a bad thing, every team needs a little bit of leadership.

Secondly, Flash Point has no actions that require two players to be in the same spot at the same time. Each player plays independently of the others and is free to persue their own goals. Pandemic's Share Knowledge and by extension other card or movement sharing actions (like the Researcher's or Pilot's abilities) is a big reason for QB'ing because it allows the QB to now think about how other players can benefit each other as well as what each player "should" be doing on their turn.

lastly, Flash Point's character roles are I think much more tightly defined than Pandemics, and this helps to focus players efforts, remove uncertainty and mitigate quarterbacking. In Flash Point, if you're the Paramedic, then your job is to rescue people. If you're the Driver/Operator, your job is to driver the fire engine around and put fires out with the hose. This helps removes that big, fat juicy piece of bait that quarterbacking players love to hear when another player starts their turn: "What should I do?"

While Pandemic has roles with special abilities that can define what you do, it's not as stark as Flash Points. Sure, the Scientist only needs 4 cards for a cure. That doesn't mean you can spend your whole time just sat in the lab, waiting for your cards to come up. You will have to undertake the full range of available actions. You will have to Treat Disease, you will have to Share Knowledge, you will have to discard cards to fly to places. In one game your choice was easy, "I fight fire." and it benefits everybody, now that choice has become "Should I go to new York and treat disease? Should I fly to Bangkok and trade a card with Joe? Or maybe I could make it to Baghdad and build a research station."

All that said and done, I think the most effective solution is to simply play with the right people. I have my own personal example of this.

My girlfriend is very competitive. She likes to win at games. She has more success than me at games like Dominion, Jaipur and Carcassonne. She also isn't a big fan of being told what to do. Playing Pandemic with her is...not as enjoyable as it should be. Flash Point on the other hand, is much better for us as a couple. The roles clearly define our jobs, the randomness prevents blame being placed ("I TOLD you New York was going to get infected next! That outbreak is your fault!") and each of us can get on with our own turns, but still have the challenge of coming up with a rough plan to follow.

It's different with my old school friends. We play online games together a lot, mainly co-operative ones like Killing Floor, Warframe, Payday etc. We find Flash Point too simple. Pandemic on the other hand, is an absolute joy to play. We work together, as a team, constantly reforming and revising our "rough plan" as we go. Suggestions are offered and opportunities pointed out if someone asks, otherwise we get on with the "plan" and make adjustments as we go. We win, we celebrate a shared victory and defeating the challenge. We lose, no blame is placed, but strategy is discussed and revised.

tl;dr You can mitigate it with certain design decisions, but at the end of the day, quarterbacks gonna quarterback.
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John duBois
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I think the more relevant question here is, who is letting a chicken put on pads and a helmet?

Clearly, in coop games, a quarterback has a distinct advantage against other chickens who are most likely completely unarmored!

Besides, who even makes American football equipment that small? How does the chicken put the equipment on?

Frankly, I think the balance and logistical questions posed by this idea outweigh any benefits to the newly-armored chicken quarterback.
 
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I mostly dislike cooperative games because i see their major flaw in:

usually providing a simple puzzle that has a single optimal solution.

some of the ways to remmedy this that have been mentioned:

Table manners: sure, if it works for you... whatever... I personally don't like the idea of telling players they're playing it wrong and putting the blame on them. I think good game design should actually provide a real incentive in the game's mechanisms to guide player behaviour.

arbitrary rules (no talking, no information sharing):
IMHO against the basic idea of a cooperative game and usually also not very thematic. Some people love Hanabi, i don't.

time restrictions: don't like it, it makes a game too stressful. Making a game too hectic and stressful just so it can't be "solved" by a single player isn't my idea of fun.

Imperfect information:
This could be a pretty large are of design space to work with. the way it's been talked about here seems to go towards "hidden information" and "randomness", which can work well, but maybe also become too random.
i'll get back to a specific aspect of it (or something similar) in a second).

Hidden roles and traitors:
For my personal taste: too much deviation from the original concept of a pure "coop", but perhaps an option.

penalties:
yeah, so much fun...


What i'd like to see more in cooperative games (that might solve the problem of quaterbacking):

Imperfect information in the sense of "push your luck; risk/reward; non-optimal solution"-situations:
simply don't have optimal solutions all the time. Allow for some kind of "push your luck" situation where a player has to take a risk. Like an in-game minigame of "Skull" or something like that.

roles as "Involvement" vs. "hidden roles and goals":
Include more RPG elements where players try to identify with a character, actually create a story and play a game that isn't just an abstract puzzle game with some pasted on theme. Make them "care" about their decisions more. Make their deicisons more personal instead of mechanical.



on a general note:

*Unthink the concept of cooperative games the way you have come to know them*

If you change the goal/"end game condition", almost any competitive game can be played cooperatively.
Most cooperative games can be played as solo-games.
solo-games can be played in paralell by many players at the same time, either for competing scores, max. combined scores or "for time".

"cooperative vs. competitive" should be less about the goals and "game end" (these are kind of arbitrary and can easily be changed to suit whatever label you want to apply) but instead try to have mechanisms that encourage investment and interaction on the level you're looking for.
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I don't believe that the emergent phenomenon of Alpha-gamer syndrome is a game design problem. Rather, I think it's a feature, and not always an unwelcome one.

The question of how players should interact with each other around any given game is defined by the rules in some cases, but also by context.

Context is the various ways in which a game communicates to you what is and is not ok that isn't covered in the rules. For example, if scrabble tiles were a little askew, you'd think nothing of fixing them, even if the word was not your own. But you would be much less likely to arrange your opponent's armies in Risk. Why? Implicit context. In Scrabble, a word, once played, belongs to nobody. Clarity is of utmost importance, and the chance of error in fixing the word is basically none. In Risk, the armies dont' belong to you! They're a different color, and butlering somebody else's pieces is frowned upon, unless you've cleared it with them first.

Designers can use context to make it more or less likely for alpha player syndrome to occur. But I think it's important to remember that alpha player syndrome is just the negative expression of a context which can be very positive - a context in which players are invited to openly collaborate.
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I agree with others that to the extent the alpha gamer situation is a problem, it is not a problem that should be the game designer's responsibility to solve. But since you are clearly asking for concrete solutions rather than broad principals, I think the best ways to limit the problem are:

-Hidden or obscured information. Even having open information, but requiring players to keep their cards to themselves (e.g. Castle Panic) means that the leader must ask you for input rather than just looking at your cards.
-Over-abundance of information (i.e. there is so much information that must be analyzed that one person can't run the whole show without input from the other players). Of course this one works best alongside...
-Time pressure. I can't be bossing you around if I barely have time to do what's in front of me.

Thee elements that I don't think are as effective:
-Randomness (e.g. Pandemic: The Cure). Making the game more random may take some decision-making power away from the quarterback, but it also takes it away from everyone else. The leader in P:tC could still tell everyone what to do and what to reroll.
-Limiting communication. Hanabi is an excellent game (in my top 5), but in Hanabi, limited communication is the game. I wouldn't just sprinkle this in willy nilly; it needs to otherwise make sense.
-The traitor mechanic. Logically it makes sense that giving the players a reason to distrust each other will mean that nobody listens to any particular player. But in my experience, traitor games actually give people with strong personalities more incentive to try to enforce their will.
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I tend to stick to the co-ops where I've found this is not so much of a problem...games such as Hanabi, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, and, to a lesser extent, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game...
 
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Zveroboy wrote:

tl;dr You can mitigate it with certain design decisions, but at the end of the day, quarterbacks gonna quarterback.


Agreed. This isn't a game design problem, and as others have said, the Alpha is going to be an Alpha even in non-co-op games, if that's what he's inclined to do.

Furthermore, different people are going to define "Alpha Gamer" (aka QB) differently. When I'm playing a game with newbies, I try to offer helpful tips and suggestions so they don't get creamed for being newbies. I will frequently point out strategies that are against my own better interests (in competitive games) and I always try to make clear that I'm just offering options, not telling them what to do.

Most of the time it isn't a problem, but I have on very rare occasion been accused of being too bossy. I backed off, of course. I don't think I'm an Alpha Gamer at all, so if someone is uncomfortable, I leave them be.

As a designer, I think you should worry more about the rules, less about how people play the game, if you see my meaning.
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Shaun Higgins wrote:
Quarterbacking in coop games exists due to poor game-design. Many coop games are superficial, in reality being nothing more than a single-player game under the management of a group.
Rubbish, stop playing the game as a puzzle that needs to be solved, trying to find the most optimal move (or allowing the quarterback to) and start playing it as a game.

Have a look at the theme and play accordingly.

You are spread throughout the town in Dead of Winter, and you can't shout to each other, you all know what the team goal is so play accordingly. You don't have time to sit and chat, there are zombies you know.

You are spread throughout the world in Pandemic, you can't communicate properly with each other, you all know what the team goal is so play accordingly. You don't have time to sit and chat, there are diseases you know.

You are spread across the island in Forbidden Island, you can't communicate properly with each other, you all know what the team goal is so play accordingly. You don't have time to sit and chat, the island is sinking you know.

You are spread throughout the burning house in Flash Point, you can't communicate properly with each other, you all know what the team goal is so play accordingly. You don't have time to sit and chat, there are people to be rescued you know.

You are spread throughout the castle in Castle Panic, you can't communicate properly with each other, you all know what the team goal is so play accordingly. You don't have time to sit and chat, there are monsters tearing down the walls you know.

Try and play them like every other game, you do your move and I do mine, but we have a shared goal this time, not an individual one.

Find a game of Break the Safe and play it. You don't have time to sit and chat, there is a time clock ticking down you know. This is how cooperatives need to be played. Spend the time playing the game, not talking about how you are going to all play it and allowing the quarterback on the field.
 
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