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Subject: Alpha Game Problem: Ever Present or Fixed in Space Alert? rss

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Joe Sallen
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How does the timed nature of Space Alert deal with the alpha gamer problem (one player making decisions for everyone)?

Does it...

A) make it difficult/impossible to Alpha-game because there isn't enough time?

B) suffer from the same Alpha Game problems as most coops because it is "solvable" like Pandemic?

C)Both A and B

D) Other
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Jeff Wood
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A, some C

The Real-Time introduction of Threats make it a challenge to keep up on the optimum plays when not everyone has all the cards the Alpha-gamer needs them to have.

However, the Alpha-gamer can be like a Captain and determine who is best for a particular job, then hope they have/get the cards they need to accomplish it before the Threat damages the ship.
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Enon Sci
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A.

It isn't just the time, but the lack of visual feedback during the run. This is something I never appreciated before getting it to the table, but you might know a threat is on the starboard side of the ship, but new players aren't likely to know exactly how close it is, or whether they're even dead yet.

However, the game has a captain role, so just slap that on the alpha.

*edit: ninja'ed ninja
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Robb Effinger
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A)

---

The timed nature, combined with the fact that you can't see other player's hands, so don't know what is possible for them to do, means that (assuming the difficulty level is hard enough), one player can't really tell others what the best thing to do is.

You will have players telling each other what to do, but normally it's on a micro-scale. As in "I'm trying to kill the Destroyer, I need someone to shoot the lower right gun on Turn 5 - can anyone do that?"... and sometimes no one can do that, and you end up firing on Turn 6 instead. Which is a co-operative process. And you might also have players telling each other what to do on the macro-scale - "Jon - deal with this intruder!" - but then Jon still gets to figure out how to deal with the intruder, which means they're playing the game. And "dealing with it" might just be Jon coming back with "I've figured out how to handle it - Robb, stand there and use your battlebots on Turn 7"... .

If you're looking for co-ops that aren't just single-player games in disguise, this definitely fits the bill. Hanabi is another one worth checking out.
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Ben Kyo
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Some people hate Space Alert because of the time pressure. There isn't the time for everyone to discuss how to proceed, unless everyone at the table knows the game well enough to process all the information immediately and act on it.

Usually one player will take a coordinating role (the captain), but won't be able to dictate everyone's actions because it takes too long to find out all the information needed to do so effectively. The captain typically has to identify what needs doing, then ask who can handle it, then delegate. Players who act independently, or don't let the captain know what they are doing, will usually screw up things for everyone else.

So, in summary, some people do get an "alpha gamer" vibe from Space Alert, because they don't have a good handle on what is going on and feel like they are just taking orders. However, a good captain and/or more experience with the game should usually reveal that the game does deal very well with the "alpha" problem.
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Nathaniel Chambers
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The first time I played this, it was 100% alpha gamered. It maybe needed to be because the group just wasn't into board games (except for me), so it may have been overwhelming otherwise. But, it ended up not being fun.

That said, ever since then, when I play, I've never had that issue. But, there is an issue where if someone feels lost, they'll hate the game when it comes to actually play it. Some people are just the kind of people who want to play and learn instead of listen then play. This game will have a crappy first game for them.

Another thing to keep in mind, this game is crap in loud environments. It just doesn't work. It's harder to hear people, harder to explain, harder to hear the track. It ends up being not fun if you try to play somewhere that has lots of games or noise going on.

The game is best played over and over with the same people, something I have yet to achieve. Because of this, I feel like I've only scratched the surface, and will continue to only scratch the surface until that changes.
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Benkyo wrote:
Some people hate Space Alert because of the time pressure. There isn't the time for everyone to discuss how to proceed, unless everyone at the table knows the game well enough to process all the information immediately and act on it.

Usually one player will take a coordinating role (the captain), but won't be able to dictate everyone's actions because it takes too long to find out all the information needed to do so effectively. The captain typically has to identify what needs doing, then ask who can handle it, then delegate. Players who act independently, or don't let the captain know what they are doing, will usually screw up things for everyone else.

So, in summary, some people do get an "alpha gamer" vibe from Space Alert, because they don't have a good handle on what is going on and feel like they are just taking orders. However, a good captain and/or more experience with the game should usually reveal that the game does deal very well with the "alpha" problem.


I really could have quoted any of the replies above. I think you guys put it in perspective. The one that resonates most with me is that you get the alpha gamer vibe if you are new and someone is acting as the captain, delegating responsibility. As a huge fan of the game, I've always claimed that it fixes the alpha gamer problem.

My cohort and I on a podcast disagree on Space Alert. During our latest episode, yet to release, he said I was blatantly lying about Space Alert fixing the Alpha Enigma. I think you all put out the words I was searching for.

Along these lines, I'm interested to know: How many plays did it take before you liked the game? I feel like many people who learn from a teacher, not the excellent and funny rulebook, tend to get an initially frustrating feeling. I am one of those. Thoughts?
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Ben Kyo
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josefsallen wrote:
Along these lines, I'm interested to know: How many plays did it take before you liked the game? I feel like many people who learn from a teacher, not the excellent and funny rulebook, tend to get an initially frustrating feeling. I am one of those. Thoughts?

I bought and taught the game, so I loved it from the start. I'm always surprised when people don't share that love, but I have realised that it just isn't a good fit for some people, and that how I introduce and teach the game is crucial for making good first impressions.
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When teaching the game, I always take communications officer rather than captain. I figure failing in a chaotic manner is more fun than (maybe) succeeding by my throwing commands at everyone.
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Jack Spirio
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I also try to be not a captain all the time (unless my group wants me to be) and let them learn and help if they need
this game is a lot about communication, and the captain can't think for everyone (at least not on the harder levels) so people have to think together and always try to remember everything, move their figure and the energy and so one
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Cameron McKenzie
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In my experience, there is too much going on for one player to micromanage each and every action for every player.

What usually ends up happening players ask each other questions like "Can anyone get to that room (pointing) by turn 5 and fire the laser on turn 6?" It is typically quite important to coordinate when you fire the weapons or move energy around, but you really don't care the exact steps someone took to do a thing or even much care who it is pushing the button at the same time as you do.

Even with the "Captain" role in play, the captain is often working with a player to solve a threat when another threat pops up on the opposite side. When this happens, I always just look to the other two players and say, "Can you guys take care of it, while we finish solving this one?"

I think it's pretty hard to alpha-gamer and you will probably play better if you are not doing it because there is really no advantage to it.
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A (is just one of the many reasons I love this game) ...
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josefsallen wrote:


Along these lines, I'm interested to know: How many plays did it take before you liked the game?


One. After several games, it rose to my #1 game as of late 2012 and there it stands.

josefsallen wrote:
I feel like many people who learn from a teacher, not the excellent and funny rulebook, tend to get an initially frustrating feeling. I am one of those. Thoughts?


It was a little frustrating, but I had a good teacher....and he made heavy use of the handbook and "script"!
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Trent Hamm
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My experience with Space Alert, and I've played it four times, is that the audio starts, someone else says "play cards to move your guy to here and then press button b," I play those cards, and then sit there until the next phase, at which point someone else says "play cards to move your guy to there and press button a," I play those cards, and then sit there until the next phase, at which point someone else says "play cards to move your guy to here and press button b," I play those cards, and then sit there until time is called. I don't see how this equates to anything but the ultimate in alpha gaming or how this ever equates to anything approaching fun.
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trenttsd wrote:
My experience with Space Alert, and I've played it four times, is that the audio starts, someone else says "play cards to move your guy to here and then press button b," I play those cards, and then sit there until the next phase, at which point someone else says "play cards to move your guy to there and press button a," I play those cards, and then sit there until the next phase, at which point someone else says "play cards to move your guy to here and press button b," I play those cards, and then sit there until time is called. I don't see how this equates to anything but the ultimate in alpha gaming or how this ever equates to anything approaching fun.


I quite agree with the underlined! So why do you choose to play that way?
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amacleod wrote:
trenttsd wrote:
My experience with Space Alert, and I've played it four times, is that the audio starts, someone else says "play cards to move your guy to here and then press button b," I play those cards, and then sit there until the next phase, at which point someone else says "play cards to move your guy to there and press button a," I play those cards, and then sit there until the next phase, at which point someone else says "play cards to move your guy to here and press button b," I play those cards, and then sit there until time is called. I don't see how this equates to anything but the ultimate in alpha gaming or how this ever equates to anything approaching fun.


I quite agree with the underlined! So why do you choose to play that way?


I don't "choose" to play that way. That's just how every game I ever play of Space Alert unfolds. If I speak up about anything, it turns into what amounts to an argument and then someone starts yelling about not being able to hear the audio and so it either turns into misery or just doing what the alpha gamer says.

I am pretty sure that many of you in this forum are actually alpha gamers of this game and you don't recognize it. Even in this thread, there are many comments about how it is difficult to get a consistent group of this game together. You may want to consider that many of those players who try it and then avoid it in the future feel much like I do, that this game is *strongly* alpha-gamed and is thus not an enjoyable experience for those who are not alpha-gaming it. I would imagine this game would be lots of fun if you just alpha gamed and everyone functioned as your assistants.
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This game can be really horrible or really awesome, depending on the group
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trenttsd wrote:
amacleod wrote:
trenttsd wrote:
My experience with Space Alert, and I've played it four times, is that the audio starts, someone else says "play cards to move your guy to here and then press button b," I play those cards, and then sit there until the next phase, at which point someone else says "play cards to move your guy to there and press button a," I play those cards, and then sit there until the next phase, at which point someone else says "play cards to move your guy to here and press button b," I play those cards, and then sit there until time is called. I don't see how this equates to anything but the ultimate in alpha gaming or how this ever equates to anything approaching fun.


I quite agree with the underlined! So why do you choose to play that way?


I don't "choose" to play that way. That's just how every game I ever play of Space Alert unfolds. If I speak up about anything, it turns into what amounts to an argument and then someone starts yelling about not being able to hear the audio and so it either turns into misery or just doing what the alpha gamer says.


Then don't speak up. Am I right in assuming that the four games you played were losses? That (potentially erroneous) assumption is based on the inability to actually get anything done in this game if one player is attempting to be the Alpha Gamer. He has to spend so much time telling other players what to do that there's no way he can have time to do what his crew-member needs to do.

That's what makes Space Alert so marvelous: if anyone has Alpha Gamer tendencies, it's very difficult for that person to exercise them, since there just isn't time. This game forces players to be pretty much on their own; if they're wasting precious time telling others what to do and arguing with the disobedient, they're doomed!

So what if a player is a noob and could really use some guidance? Provide it...before the game begins! In my games, strategy is always discussed pre-game with deliberations about what we'll do in hypothetical situations. In-game, we just do the tasks assigned to us, with "conversation" reduced to things like, "Did anyone toggle the mouse yet?" "Did you refuel the main reactor?" "Are those bots actually activated?" and "Why aren't you launching rockets, you buffoon?!"
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trenttsd wrote:

You may want to consider that many of those players who try it and then avoid it in the future feel much like I do, that this game is *strongly* alpha-gamed and is thus not an enjoyable experience for those who are not alpha-gaming it. I would imagine this game would be lots of fun if you just alpha gamed and everyone functioned as your assistants.


I have utterly no doubt many people dislike this game; BUT I have yet to play it with anyone who does! Incidentally, my one nephew (aged 22) is the ultimate Alpha Gamer; and yet he is incapable of playing this as an Alpha Gamer! And yet it's still one of his favourite games.
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trenttsd wrote:
I am pretty sure that many of you in this forum are actually alpha gamers of this game and you don't recognize it. Even in this thread, there are many comments about how it is difficult to get a consistent group of this game together. You may want to consider that many of those players who try it and then avoid it in the future feel much like I do, that this game is *strongly* alpha-gamed and is thus not an enjoyable experience for those who are not alpha-gaming it. I would imagine this game would be lots of fun if you just alpha gamed and everyone functioned as your assistants.

This is an interesting assumption, because I think it is half-right. When I started teaching the game and everyone was new, everyone had fun. Then I played one game where I taught the game, took the captain role, and behaved much as you describe, because I wanted to experience a win, and at least two people at the table had no fun at all. So I realized my mistake, and now never take the captain role when there are less experienced players at the table than me - which seems to be always. As someone mentioned above, comms officer is the best role for someone like me. It took me exactly one game played the "wrong way" to realize my error and correct it for all future games.

Now, if you somehow end up playing the game, not once, but four times with a captain who continues to play the "wrong way", then you are going to have a bad time. I'm curious as to why you even played games 2, 3, and 4.

Of course, you could argue that this isn't fixing the alpha gamer problem in any way - unless the alpha gamer chooses not to take the captain role, there will be an alpha gamer problem. However, this is predicated on three things. One, the would-be alpha owns the game or just knows it way better than anyone else at the table. Two, the would-be alpha is given the captain role at the start of the game by everyone else's mutual consent. Three, the difficulty is at a level at which the captain can micro-manage everyone - i.e., too easy (as soon as you have significant internal threats to deal with, and a bunch of other wrinkles and complication, this shouldn't be possible - at the very least, the Int. Sec. role will need one or two players to co-ordinate with in actions that really clash with whatever needs doing at the front of the ship). EDIT: And a fourth thing that is independent of everyone's choices - during play, the players assigned to "deal with X" happen to have exactly the right cards to do that. More often than not, that isn't the case, and requires on-the-fly discussion and coordination, which is usually too "micro-level" for the captain to participate in.

So I do think the game does a lot to resolve alpha gamer issues. If you are unlucky enough to play with a group that consistently does everything possible to bring alpha gamer issues to the fore, then the group will win out over the game. I don't really think that is the game's fault though.
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Benkyo wrote:


So I do think the game does a lot to resolve alpha gamer issues. If you are unlucky enough to play with a group that consistently does everything possible to bring alpha gamer issues to the fore, then the group will win out over the game. I don't really think that is the game's fault though.


Ouch. Not saying you're wrong, but still ouch. I've played with Trent in all 4 of his plays, I believe. Generally I play as the captain since I bring the game. I try not to micro-manage as I generally sit in the cabin and have a tough enough time making sure all the threats are out at the right time! Usually once I've done all the book keeping for the game I go through all the threats and make sure the team is dealing with it. I think what's happened to Trent is he gets brought along to deal with a threat. I've never told him what to play and when, though that very well could have happened. Generally I'll say things like "we need to deal with this by X turn, or it will move tracks!" or "you gotta shoot this first to reduce its shields before you hit it with the big guns!"

I cal what I do being a captain, but I'm not sure if that isn't more like a comms officer?
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josefsallen wrote:
Benkyo wrote:

So I do think the game does a lot to resolve alpha gamer issues. If you are unlucky enough to play with a group that consistently does everything possible to bring alpha gamer issues to the fore, then the group will win out over the game. I don't really think that is the game's fault though.


Ouch. Not saying you're wrong, but still ouch. I've played with Trent in all 4 of his plays, I believe. Generally I play as the captain since I bring the game. I try not to micro-manage as I generally sit in the cabin and have a tough enough time making sure all the threats are out at the right time! Usually once I've done all the book keeping for the game I go through all the threats and make sure the team is dealing with it. I think what's happened to Trent is he gets brought along to deal with a threat. I've never told him what to play and when, though that very well could have happened. Generally I'll say things like "we need to deal with this by X turn, or it will move tracks!" or "you gotta shoot this first to reduce its shields before you hit it with the big guns!"

I cal what I do being a captain, but I'm not sure if that isn't more like a comms officer?

Very interesting to hear both perspectives on the same games! Sounds like you aren't necessarily being a domineering captain, but are running a dual captain/comms role and a couple of other players are figuring out what needs doing, getting things done, and part of that involves (for them) telling Trent what to do. While that might be a boring experience for Trent, it doesn't sound like any definition of alpha domination that I know of - after all, who is the alpha in that situation?
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josefsallen wrote:
I cal what I do being a captain, but I'm not sure if that isn't more like a comms officer?
I find it really hard to be both captain and comms officer. The comms officer needs to be really sure to get the incoming threats, and so needs to tune out of ongoing conversations. Ideally someone else takes over the overall planning and making sure that every threat gets dealt with.

What you describe doesn't sound like micromanaging, but the warning bell for me is talking about threats jumping tracks. That's a pretty advanced threat, and I wouldn't have sprung it on a newby straight off--New people need to be able to correctly predict what threats will do when in order to contribute more substantially than responding to "fire the lower red lasers on turn 5", and phasing and track-jumping is just really hard to predict. If you don't want to tone down the difficulty too much, you could prune the deck of a few of the more complicated threats, leaving the stat monsters.
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dthurston wrote:
the warning bell for me is talking about threats jumping tracks. That's a pretty advanced threat, and I wouldn't have sprung it on a newby straight off--New people need to be able to correctly predict what threats will do when in order to contribute more substantially than responding to "fire the lower red lasers on turn 5", and phasing and track-jumping is just really hard to predict.

Very good point - I missed this because I have never played with anything other than white threats with new players. I can imagine that a mere four games in a new player many players would be unable to contribute anything to discussion of how to deal with high-level threats, and would just be stepping on everyone else's toes if they tried to do so.

EDIT: For example, assuming that you ramp up at a reasonable speed, the fourth game should really be the first/second attempt at a full mission, probably using only white threats. I suppose that might differ if you have a really aggressive, really successful group, but even then you want to make sure everyone at the table is picking things up at the same speed.
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I'm amazed at how many people in this thread treat the "Captain" as an indication of anything important... personally, the only reason the Captain matters to us is that he gets to move first in all the phases, and gets to take credit for completed threats .

I guess one possible difference is that I only really play with the expansion. The fact that you're holding a bunch of cards which are double-actions also means that other players have basically no idea what's in someone's hand. In the base game, I'm guessing you could tell someone "walk into that room and hit the A button", and have reasonable confidence that they have the cards to do that, but with double-action cards, there's no guarantee that they can even walk that way, or if that they have an A button that doesn't come attached with a B or C or undesired movement. There's also an extra couple of threat points, adding to the chaos.

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