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I have been working on a semi-cooperative space empire 4x type game for some time now. A central element I want in the game is a political module where players would need to work together (an interstellar Senate) for the best of the entire group while still having their own individual goals. To get more of a concrete idea of what I envision, please see these posts:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1590183/space-4x-semi-c...

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1639749/ideas-cooperative-s...

After play testing the game, it became apparent that there were a couple of problems with it:

1) The core engagement (part of the game that appealed to my play tester) was not the Senate phase but the part of the game involved with exploring, colonizing and so on.
2) The open nature of the Senate phase where players could offer proposals did not work. My play tester would always take a selfish approach and never collaborate for the good of the entire group of players. For example, when an enemy was attacking my colony I tried to pass a motion that required all members to help out. He voted against it even though he recognized if it destroyed me, it would go ahead and attack him. His attitude was he was ok with this as long as the enemy killed me first.

This incident attests to the difficult beast of semi-cooperative games where players will always choose themselves over others if there is not proper mechansims in place to prevent it.

In short, I am looking for a concrete set of mechanics that greatly encourages collaboration and serves the core engagement which is players collecting resources, colonizing, building units and so on. Ideally, this would be framed in a context of each player representing a different faction with different political agendas where voting is used to push through such agendas.

One hint I have gleaned to make semi-coops work is that any reward or punishment needs to effect the entire group.

The best example I can find of a semi-coop that seems to work well is the "Dead of Winter" where Crisis cards indicate what goals the survivers must meet together or otherwise suffer a consequence that effects all (lowering of morale, for example).

Drawing some inspiration from this, here is a brief outline of my thoughts so far.

1) Two types of cards, Event Cards (for example, a plague hits a planet, or a super nova explodes) and Faction/Senate Objective Cards (an objective to discover a new technology, an objective to colonize X more planets, mine asteroids and so on) have a collective reward or punishment.
2) A collective punishment could effect a happiness rating which applies to all players where a failure to fulfill the requirements could result in the collective happiness going down which could result in strikes and so on.
3) The collective punishments or rewards would be specified on each card. Besides harming or awarding all players, it could also individually benefit some players more than others (to also increase competition). So, for example, in a collective project which requires research to find a cure for a plague, the player who contributed the most reseach would gain a special extra award.
4) Event Cards would be generated in a fairly random fashion (never know when a plague all of a sudden hits).
5) Faction/Senate Objective Cards need to be generated on every game turn or round to set the stage (like revealing a Crisis Card at the start of a Player turn phase in the "Dead of Winter.").

Within this brief outline I want to fill in the details and especially flesh out part (5) on how the Senate Objective Cards are generated.

Obviously, the Senate Objective Cards could be drawn randomly but I do not like this idea. For example, you could be approaching the end game and a card shows up that talks about colonizing which does not fit the current state of the game. It would be nice somehow the cards are tied to the state of the game. For example, in the beginning of the game, the Senate Objective cards would be more on exploring and colonizing rather than the end game involved with exterminating.

I would also somehow like to tie the cards with each individual faction and some sort of Senate voting mechanism. For example, each player's faction has a preference for some sort of activity (industrialists like building, militarists like attacking and so on) and each player would pick a couple a cards corresponding to their faction's preference and select one to try to push in the Senate to be voted upon.

Any ideas to flesh this outline out and suggest some concrete mechanics towards that end would be appreciated.

Thanks.

--DarkDream
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Jeremy Lennert
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How is your game scored?

Most players want to win. That means getting them to play in the style you want is mostly about making sure your game rewards the players who adopt that style.

In most games, winning means beating the other players in a zero-sum contest. But if that's the case, there is literally no such thing as "collective good". Adding 10 points to everyone's score doesn't change anyone's chances of winning. Giving everyone 10 money doesn't "help everyone", it helps the player who has an effective use for an extra 10 money and harms the player who doesn't.

In this model, if all players are playing optimally, you will never get unanimous consent on anything, and the only time you will get a majority to agree is when they want to gang up on the winning minority.


A lot of "semi-coop" games try to add an incentive to care about the collective by including a possible outcome where "everyone loses".

If you do this, it is critical that you specify whether "everyone loses" is better or worse than "you lose and someone else wins", because the strategy of the game is radically different depending on how you rank those options, and if the game doesn't specify, then players will make conflicting assumptions and then get angry at each other for "playing wrong".

But even if you rank the outcomes properly, this still leads to ultimatums where players threaten to ruin the game for everyone unless they get what they want. Is that the sort of gameplay you want to encourage?


A less-common approach is to let everyone win or lose separately. E.g. instead of trying to have the most points at the end of the game, you try to have at least 100 points. If everyone has 100 points, everyone wins. If no one has 100 points, no one wins. Then it's possible for an action to truly help everyone or harm everyone. But balance may be rather tricky...


Or maybe you de-emphasize winning entirely, give everyone an ambiguous ending with no definite winner or loser, and instead try to focus the players on what happens during the game (what they discovered, what they built, etc.). A game needs a goal to be a game, but it doesn't necessarily need a winner. At this point, though, we're getting pretty subtle; you'll have to be very careful how you teach your game...
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Matt Lee
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I'd suggest playing through a few semi-coop games to get a better sense of how they handle those things that Jeremy mentioned above.

For example, Red November is cooperative, but at some point, if someone believes that the team will fail, they have the option of attempting to win alone.

Shadows over Camelot isn't quite the same, but it's a coop where someone *may* be working against the players, and the mandatory actions that are "bad" for the group is spread out in a way that it isn't entirely clear who (if anyone) is against the team initially.

Cutthroat Caverns is actually an interesting beast since it is probably more illustrative of what Jeremy describes. Overall, there may only be one winner (but nobody wins if everyone dies), yet you also might not be sure who won until the very end and eliminating the other players may also guarantee that nobody will survive, so teamwork is essential to make it through to the end.
 
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Jeremy,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. Let me try to respond as best I can and pose a few questions.

Antistone wrote:
How is your game scored?

Right now I have been leaving that aside until I have figured out how to get the semi-cooperative element to work. I was considering each player earning victory points which, as you pointed out in your post, in an unadulterated form may not work.

Antistone wrote:

In most games, winning means beating the other players in a zero-sum contest. But if that's the case, there is literally no such thing as "collective good". Adding 10 points to everyone's score doesn't change anyone's chances of winning. Giving everyone 10 money doesn't "help everyone", it helps the player who has an effective use for an extra 10 money and harms the player who doesn't.
I think you have some good points here. To add onto it, a player may actually go ahead and sabotage the entire group getting a collective award for money, if that player deems the award to one or more players will benefit them more.

Antistone wrote:
In this model, if all players are playing optimally, you will never get unanimous consent on anything, and the only time you will get a majority to agree is when they want to gang up on the winning minority.
Hence, you will always encounter situations were some players want to cooperate and others will not - effectively destroying any true form of collaborative group action.

Antistone wrote:
A lot of "semi-coop" games try to add an incentive to care about the collective by including a possible outcome where "everyone loses".

If you do this, it is critical that you specify whether "everyone loses" is better or worse than "you lose and someone else wins", because the strategy of the game is radically different depending on how you rank those options, and if the game doesn't specify, then players will make conflicting assumptions and then get angry at each other for "playing wrong".

But even if you rank the outcomes properly, this still leads to ultimatums where players threaten to ruin the game for everyone unless they get what they want. Is that the sort of gameplay you want to encourage?


Intuitively it seems that "everyone looses" is always worse than "you loose and someone else wins." But that is my personal assessment.

Even if you specify in the game that "everyone looses" is worse and make it clear, there will be players that will always sacrifice the entire group (or demand as you pointed out) rather them loosing and having one or more players winning. Is this the general point you are trying to make?

In "Dead of Winter" if the morale track hits 0 then everyone looses. This type of mechanism, as you pointed out, is done as an incentive to act for the collective good. But, as I think others have pointed out, there is nothing stopping a player purposely causing everyone to loose (and are not the traitor) because they see "everyone looses" as worse than "you loose and someone else wins."


Antistone wrote:
A less-common approach is to let everyone win or lose separately. E.g. instead of trying to have the most points at the end of the game, you try to have at least 100 points. If everyone has 100 points, everyone wins. If no one has 100 points, no one wins. Then it's possible for an action to truly help everyone or harm everyone. But balance may be rather tricky...


This is a great suggestion, and I have thought about this one a bit. The only problem I can see is that even with players trying to reach at least X amount of points, is that if a player is way below that threshold of points to win they can try to sabotage things so to stop the other players winning. This is because the points awarded to those players who are near reaching their goal are of greater value than the player who is far behind (most likely not reach the goal to win individually) and thus will want all others to loose. If that sabotage player has the ability of easily tanking the game for all the players, then it will most likely happen.

I think all these problems can be mitigated by:

1) Making it hard for players to have the ability to cause the game to fail (do not have a collective morale track, for example).
2) Players should have hidden personal goals that individually earns them points or other means of obscuring the total amount of points any other player has at one time. Also possibly not knowing the exact threshold amount needed to win until the end may help obscure the winning status of all players.
3) Sabotage behaviour can be mitigated further by combining a collective award and individual punishment. For example, if there is a plague hitting and all players are required to contribute resources to resolve it and one player refuses to contribute, that player will be individually punished by loosing points while the group of players who finally resolve the plague all get equal awards of points.
4) The player that is continually trying to sabotage can be voted out and not have any say anymore in collective actions.


Antistone wrote:

Or maybe you de-emphasize winning entirely, give everyone an ambiguous ending with no definite winner or loser, and instead try to focus the players on what happens during the game (what they discovered, what they built, etc.). A game needs a goal to be a game, but it doesn't necessarily need a winner. At this point, though, we're getting pretty subtle; you'll have to be very careful how you teach your game...

This seems like a tough one. Do you have any examples of board games that does this?

Thanks again,

--DarkDream
 
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DarkDream wrote:
This seems like a tough one. Do you have any examples of board games that does this?

Not really. I was thinking of a story I'd heard about the development of the video game Tower of Goo, where the first version was just a bunch of goo that you could build with, and supposedly players weren't very interested until they added a sign saying "build up", at which point several players became very engaged because now there was a goal.

Though arguably you could say any solo or co-op game with instructions to "score as high as possible" has a goal but no victory condition.

It's less an issue of rules and more an issue of convincing players to look at the game in a certain way.
 
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Matt Lee
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DarkDream wrote:

Antistone wrote:

Or maybe you de-emphasize winning entirely, give everyone an ambiguous ending with no definite winner or loser, and instead try to focus the players on what happens during the game (what they discovered, what they built, etc.). A game needs a goal to be a game, but it doesn't necessarily need a winner. At this point, though, we're getting pretty subtle; you'll have to be very careful how you teach your game...

This seems like a tough one. Do you have any examples of board games that does this?


Games do need a success/fail status (how else to know when it ends?)

Maybe Hanabi? Your success level is based on the group's collective final score.
 
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klz_fc wrote:
Games do need a success/fail status (how else to know when it ends?)

Tons of games have an end condition that is independent of whether you succeeded or failed, such as after a certain number of rounds or after a certain resource runs out.
 
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You seem to be flailing around trying to make rules for the Senate because you do not have a clear vision of it's purpose. I think this is one of those situations where the mechanics need to follow the theme. Try coming up with it's history: how and why it formed, what it's powers and limitations are, and the benefits for it's members. Figuring out the mechanics should be relatively easy, after that.
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1) You may want to have a look at the game "Harbiger Saga". It has a senate, which is an alternative win-condition smehow.
Also, you can invest more into it, which means more VOTES.
So, if somebody sends a lot of ambassadors, he has more decision space.

2) Interaction of SENATE with an EVENT DECK (consequences of choices):
f.i. the Plague: If some of them collectively defy the plague, they all get immune or a medicine token. The plague is shuffled into the event deck.
If any player explores a planet, they may encounter the plague.
If they didn't contribute, they have to face bad consequences later.

3) I would go for random, but with choices. The person who has spent the most for senate (the last time) is the president: He chooses one card out of three, which might help him. Also: Space for role-playing and theme.

------------
As having played a lot with the semi-coop mechanism. The players (or my playtesters) won't hurt the group and loose, before they destroy the game or the mood for the other players. But they will definitely blame it on the game design… It's a shitty feeling either way.
 
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John Breckenridge
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DarkDream wrote:
I have been working on a semi-cooperative space empire 4x type game for some time now. A central element I want in the game is a political module where players would need to work together (an interstellar Senate) for the best of the entire group while still having their own individual goals. To get more of a concrete idea of what I envision, please see these posts:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1590183/space-4x-semi-c...

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1639749/ideas-cooperative-s...

After play testing the game, it became apparent that there were a couple of problems with it:

1) The core engagement (part of the game that appealed to my play tester) was not the Senate phase but the part of the game involved with exploring, colonizing and so on.
2) The open nature of the Senate phase where players could offer proposals did not work. My play tester would always take a selfish approach and never collaborate for the good of the entire group of players. For example, when an enemy was attacking my colony I tried to pass a motion that required all members to help out. He voted against it even though he recognized if it destroyed me, it would go ahead and attack him. His attitude was he was ok with this as long as the enemy killed me first.

This incident attests to the difficult beast of semi-cooperative games where players will always choose themselves over others if there is not proper mechansims in place to prevent it.

In short, I am looking for a concrete set of mechanics that greatly encourages collaboration and serves the core engagement which is players collecting resources, colonizing, building units and so on. Ideally, this would be framed in a context of each player representing a different faction with different political agendas where voting is used to push through such agendas.


I think if you're simulating a political body, you can make it work the way real political bodies work, i.e. if Player 1 wants Player 2 to vote for his proposal, he needs to include something Player 2 wants in the bill. Add a mechanism for sticking amendments or riders onto a proposal, in order to coerce other players with pork.
 
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Edington Watt
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HaNd_SoLo wrote:
You seem to be flailing around trying to make rules for the Senate because you do not have a clear vision of it's purpose. I think this is one of those situations where the mechanics need to follow the theme. Try coming up with it's history: how and why it formed, what it's powers and limitations are, and the benefits for it's members. Figuring out the mechanics should be relatively easy, after that.
Thanks, Davin. I envisioned the Senate to function a little like the Galactic Senate in Star Wars. For more details on how the Senate works, I was thinking of something like the Star Trek federation where all members are required to help its members.

jbrecken wrote:
I think if you're simulating a political body, you can make it work the way real political bodies work, i.e. if Player 1 wants Player 2 to vote for his proposal, he needs to include something Player 2 wants in the bill. Add a mechanism for sticking amendments or riders onto a proposal, in order to coerce other players with pork.

Amendments is an interesting idea. I am thinking of similar type mechanisms that encourage a form of "bribes" where players can offer something extra if they vote for a bill being put forward.
jkrenner wrote:
1) You may want to have a look at the game "Harbiger Saga". It has a senate, which is an alternative win-condition smehow.
Also, you can invest more into it, which means more VOTES.
So, if somebody sends a lot of ambassadors, he has more decision space.
I believe you are referring to the PC game "Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga"? Seems like a really old game. Wonder if there is a way to see how the gameplay works.

jkrenner wrote:
3) I would go for random, but with choices. The person who has spent the most for senate (the last time) is the president: He chooses one card out of three, which might help him. Also: Space for role-playing and theme.

Yes. I think that is definitely a good idea to have the President or Consul of the Senate be the key player in setting the agenda or issues for the Senate to consider.

Are you referring to "GURPS Space" RPG?

jkrenner wrote:
------------
As having played a lot with the semi-coop mechanism. The players (or my playtesters) won't hurt the group and loose, before they destroy the game or the mood for the other players. But they will definitely blame it on the game design… It's a shitty feeling either way.

Yes. I have noticed it is very challenging to come up with a mechanism that works that all players enjoy.

Thanks for all the input.

--DarkDream
 
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