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Subject: Alpha Gamer problem rss

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Dhaval Mistry
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Hey guys, I need some suggestion as to how I can restrict a possible alpha gamer from taking over the game and making decisions for others.

I am designing a co-op game (game vs the players) where players have to make decisions each turn of what each player is going to do. There are always several things to do each turn (at least 8-10 different options). This is a fully co-op game and there is no traitor element nor there are individual goals.

Every turn the players go first and then the game goes. While coming up with strategy of next turn, I dont want an alpha gamer to take over and spoil the experience for other players. Because there is quite a lot of socializing, I feel that if there is an alpha gamer in the group then he/she will start taking over the game.

How do I prevent that from happening?
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Carter Rezac
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My first thought was to have a "spirit stick" so only one person can talk at a time and only once each round. You could have a 20 second timer or something too. Then players vote for the best strategy.
 
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Forrest & Ryan Driskel
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Search this forum. There are at least a couple of 20+ page threads on the topic. It isn't easy.
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Geert Vinaskov
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Give players a hand of cards (or other hidden information). They cannot show these cards to other players, but they can tell what they have.

How does this help?

1) Players are asking eachother what cards they have. Players will feel involved, even if they aren't making gamechanging decisions, since they are talking (asking and answering questions).

2) The Alpha player will need to stop his monologue of ideas, to ask a question (do you have a good card for this situation?), and listen to other players. These other players will have their mouths open at that moment (you know, to answer the question) and the Alpha player will have his mouth shut. This creates a moment, where other players may feel comfortable interupting the Alpha player.

Simple idea, but I've found it works.
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B C Z
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Include a small roll of duct tape in the box, labeled "For Alpha Gamer Only"
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Josh Zscheile
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Hidden information (as described above) is one possibility. The other one that comes to my mind are secret side goals that the players may not talk about, but need to achieve, either to make it easier for themselves in the long run or even, as mandatory quests, to win the game. You can envision the secret goals many semi-coop games have, just with rewards that serve the whole group.
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B C Z
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dhavalmistry wrote:
I am designing a co-op game (game vs the players) where players have to make decisions each turn of what each player is going to do. There are always several things to do each turn (at least 8-10 different options). This is a fully co-op game and there is no traitor element nor there are individual goals.


One important question is: can this game be played solo.

If it can, you can have an alpha.

Traitor/individual goals help split the cognitive load so that the Alpha cannot possibly suggest the right course of action from each player's perspective
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Geert Vinaskov
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From your description it isn't perfectly clear whether or not each player has a pawn, or a clear "presence" on the game board.

This "presence" isn't just physical, it's also a factor in time. Does each player has his own turn? Does each player have his time in the spotlight?

Both of these can help players to identify with their role in the game. Players will be more eager to "do their thing" when they feel it's their moment in the game.

These may create social boundaries (like not moving an other player's figure, or respecting another's player's turn). Alpha players will be more aware that they're being out of line and speaking out of turn, if you create clear boundaries.
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Julian Wasson
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Sometimes personal goals can just aggravate the situation and cause arguments. The Alpha Gamer still thinks they have the best solution because they ca't take your personal goal into account. It gives you some ammunition to argue back, but for anybody that a simple "hey it's not your turn, cool it" won't shut up I can see this making it worse about as often as it makes it better.

Three things I find tend to help with Alpha Gamers:

- Alpha Gamers have more leverage the more certain the information on the board is. Games that require you to build, plan, and prepare for the future rather than respond to current crises help in that there are fewer situations where you know you have to do a particular thing /right now/ or we're going to lose. See: Pandemic Iberia

- Alpha Gamers are often experts at optimization. The less the focus is on low-level efficiency and the more the focus is on choice and strategy, the less of an imbalance there is. In other words, if your game has a lot of tech, the AG can explain the best way to accomplish a certain thing and you can't really disagree, but the playing field is more even when you're focusing on high-level strategy where there may not be a "right" answer. See: Ghost Stories

- If the tech aspects are entirely opaque, the AG has less opportunity to micromanage. It's more fun to be told "we need to kill this enemy ASAP" and figure out how to do that on your own than to be told "okay, play that card and do this and then use this ability." See: Sentinels of the Multiverse

Also: the more likely you are to lose based on a single misstep, the more likely an Alpha Gamer is going to fight real hard to get their way. If they're reasonably confident you'll win unless somebody does something real boneheaded, it's less imperative that every move be perfect, so it's easier to let go.
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Russ Williams
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byronczimmer wrote:
One important question is: can this game be played solo.

If it can, you can have an alpha.

This. If players can freely discuss and plan together as a hive-mind (a litmus test for which is "can one person play the game solitaire?"), then nothing inherently stops one player from leading/dictating; the other players may even want it, if they think the alpha is the best strategist.

To avoid hive-mind, you need limited knowledge and communication between players, e.g. Hanabi.
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Jeremy Lennert
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I'd like to reiterate Julian's point that a lot of the pressure to be an "alpha gamer" seems to come from the perception that there is a crisis that can't wait; "we're going to lose unless we do X right now." When there are multiple reasonable ways to deal with a problem, or multiple goals that could reasonably be pursued, there's less pressure to fight for a specific option.


I've also found that simultaneous actions with different areas of responsibility make it more likely that everyone will participate, because players tend to focus on their own assigned area first. If everyone is working on the same problem, but you can figure things out twice as fast as anyone else, you'll usually be the person suggesting the solution; but if everyone starts working on a separate problem, then at least they'll be halfway through their own problems by the time you finish yours.

For instance, in my game Frontier Stations, threats activate all over the table simultaneously, but each player can only directly contribute to the threats near them, so the table tends to break into a lot of simultaneous small discussions where the players next to a threat figure out what to do, and the players across the table are too busy figuring out their own thing to take over.

However, while simultaneous action reduces the ability for one player to take over, it also reduces the opportunities for players to cooperate, since each player (or small group) tends to operate independently of the others. So it depends on what you want out of the game.


I've never really liked rules of the form "you are allowed to communicate this information, but aren't allowed to do so efficiently" (e.g. you can tell everyone the cards in your hand, but can't show them). I feel like they bog the game down, and can actually discourage independent thinking because you'd need to interrupt the group discussion to obtain the information you'd need to formulate an alternative plan.

I noticed that Pandemic originally had a rule like this, but that it wasn't included in Pandemic Legacy, which makes me think it didn't work out as well as the designer hoped. (Though there are other possible reasons for the omission.)
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Dhaval Mistry
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I am not a big fan of hidden information/hidden goals in a co-op game and so I wont be adding it to the game. Also, this game cannot be played solo. Each player has specific perks and tasks that other players dont or cant do.

What the problem is that an AG could potentially could give orders as to what a player should do on their turn.
 
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Russ Williams
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dhavalmistry wrote:
I am not a big fan of hidden information/hidden goals in a co-op game and so I wont be adding it to the game. Also, this game cannot be played solo. Each player has specific perks and tasks that other players dont or cant do.

What the problem is that an AG could potentially could give orders as to what a player should do on their turn.

You mean each "character" has specific perks and tasks, right? A single player could run multiple characters to play the game solitaire, it sounds like. Or am I misunderstanding you?
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Stick to the game; different groups will play it in different ways depending on dynamics of the individuals involved. Designers create the playground but they can't walk around it with a whistle while the kids are playing.
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Dhaval Mistry
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russ wrote:
dhavalmistry wrote:
I am not a big fan of hidden information/hidden goals in a co-op game and so I wont be adding it to the game. Also, this game cannot be played solo. Each player has specific perks and tasks that other players dont or cant do.

What the problem is that an AG could potentially could give orders as to what a player should do on their turn.

You mean each "character" has specific perks and tasks, right? A single player could run multiple characters to play the game solitaire, it sounds like. Or am I misunderstanding you?


In this way, most of the games can be played solitaire. I thought the meaning of solitaire game means that you play as a player against the game. Playing both sides in chess doesnt mean its solitaire since you are playing an opponent i.e. yourself.
 
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Joe Martineau
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dhavalmistry wrote:
russ wrote:
dhavalmistry wrote:
I am not a big fan of hidden information/hidden goals in a co-op game and so I wont be adding it to the game. Also, this game cannot be played solo. Each player has specific perks and tasks that other players dont or cant do.

What the problem is that an AG could potentially could give orders as to what a player should do on their turn.

You mean each "character" has specific perks and tasks, right? A single player could run multiple characters to play the game solitaire, it sounds like. Or am I misunderstanding you?


In this way, most of the games can be played solitaire. I thought the meaning of solitaire game means that you play as a player against the game. Playing both sides in chess doesnt mean its solitaire since you are playing an opponent i.e. yourself.


Except that Chess analogy is flawed because your game isn't 1v1. It is everyone versus the game. Few would consider Chess a true solitaire game, but something like Robinson Crusoe definitely is. I play it solitaire and prefer to use three different characters, simulating a three player game.

There is no hidden information and no individual goals. A co-op game like this just evenly distributes the actions among the group and inevitably has an alpha gamer problem.

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Russ Williams
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dhavalmistry wrote:
russ wrote:
dhavalmistry wrote:
I am not a big fan of hidden information/hidden goals in a co-op game and so I wont be adding it to the game. Also, this game cannot be played solo. Each player has specific perks and tasks that other players dont or cant do.

What the problem is that an AG could potentially could give orders as to what a player should do on their turn.

You mean each "character" has specific perks and tasks, right? A single player could run multiple characters to play the game solitaire, it sounds like. Or am I misunderstanding you?


In this way, most of the games can be played solitaire. I thought the meaning of solitaire game means that you play as a player against the game. Playing both sides in chess doesnt mean its solitaire since you are playing an opponent i.e. yourself.

No, that's not the same as playing 2 sides of Chess. In a coop game, the players are a team against the game (and they win or lose together against the non-player game AI system), not against each other as in Chess (in which only 1 player wins).

In most coop games, the "team" of players can be a single player. If the game has characters and is normally played with 1 player controlling 1 character, typically nothing prevents a player from controlling more than 1 character. E.g. the game Tetrarchia is (officially!) for 1-4 players: it has 4 generals who each take turns. You can play it coop, with e.g. 4 players, each controlling 1 general; or 2 players, each controlling 2 generals, or solitaire with 1 player controlling all 4 generals. The player (or players) competes against the game, trying to win.

That is not at all like playing 2 sides of Chess.

In contrast, Hanabi is a coop for which one player could not play multiple roles to play it solitaire, because the entire premise of the game requires that there is restricted info and limited communication among the roles.

(later edited to fix typos)
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Dhaval Mistry
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russ wrote:

In most coop games, the "team" of players can be a single player. If the game has characters and is normally played with 1 player controlling 1 character, typically nothing prevents a player from controlling more than 1 character. E.g. the game Tetrarchia is (officially!) for 1-4 players: it has 4 generals who each take turns. You can play it coop, with e.g. 4 players, each controlling 1 general; or 2 players, each controlling 2 generals, or solitaire with 1 player controlling all 4 generals. The player (or players) competes against the game, trying to win.

That is not at all like playing 2 sides of Chess.

In contrast, Hanabi is a coop which one player could not play multiple roles to play it solitaire, because the entire premise of the game requires that their is restricted info and limited communication among the roles.


In that case then yes, one could say that my game can be played solo. Now, I need suggestions as to how I could prevent an alpha gamer from taking over. I dont want to add hidden info or secret goals.
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My house rule to stop alpha gamers in coop games: you can only talk about strategy with someone if your pawns are on the same space.
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Brian Fouts
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I have a tendency to be the Alpha Gamer myself, and the house rule we apply is that I can't provide advice or commentary unless someone else asks me for it. That takes a small amount of self-awareness that not all alpha gamers have. I value fun over winning, and it's good practice for me to bite my tongue.

As for what to put in your game... some combination of hidden information, and deliberate rules that limit communication should cover you. Hanabi is a good simple example to follow.
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patrick mullen
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The "can it be played solo" question is really about cognitive load. Yes, it is possible to play as all 4 players by yourself. But if it becomes challenging to keep each "players" decisions in the mind of a single person trying to play solitaire, then it will become less attractive as a potential solo game. The same quality that makes the game difficult to play in this manner will make it difficult to alpha game. Because alpha gaming is essentially playing the game in solitaire mode - even though the other characters have players attached, their minds are no longer being used.

So increasing the load to the point where a single player feels comfortable with their character, but most players will not feel comfortable trying to think ahead to all of the characters moves, you will have hit that sweet spot.

On the flip side of the coin, if you really ARE in a situation where you have to get the decisions exactly right at this very moment or we will lose (or prevent the win) the alpha gamer is not a "problem" but an asset. If that is the kind of game you want to make, I don't think there is much point in trying to eliminate alpha gamers.
 
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Geert Vinaskov
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saluk wrote:
On the flip side of the coin, if you really ARE in a situation where you have to get the decisions exactly right at this very moment or we will lose (or prevent the win) the alpha gamer is not a "problem" but an asset. If that is the kind of game you want to make, I don't think there is much point in trying to eliminate alpha gamers.


Depends on what type of players you have at the table. If you have four competitive players at the table for whom winning is the most important part of the game, then it is an asset.

I'm more of an exploring kind of player, for whom winning comes third or fourth. The social experience, communication or groupfeel a game provides, or diversity in strategies and tactics (even if they're far from optimal) are more important to me. I like winning, sure, but I'd choose to lose-the-game-without-an-alpha-player over winning-with-an-alpha-player any time. (Even if the alpha player takes control only during crucial moments, since I think there should be communication at any point in the game.)

I suppose there are more of the first category than the second here on BGG.

For me, it's a good design principle to try to cater to both kinds of players. The alpha player problem is often a major reason the second group doesn't enjoy the game, hence I feel the designer is right in doing anything he can to avoid the alpha player problem.
 
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Ben Kyo
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dhavalmistry wrote:
In that case then yes, one could say that my game can be played solo. Now, I need suggestions as to how I could prevent an alpha gamer from taking over. I dont want to add hidden info or secret goals.

Sounds like the only thing left is time pressure and communication restrictions, such as in Space Alert, for example.
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So far I experienced four concepts that completely mitigated alpha gamers:

1) Real time - games like Space Cadets or Space Alert don't have a problem with alpha gamers. They work just fine but you can't apply real time to any sort of game.

2) As mentionened before, hidden roles, hidden information and secret agendas can work, too. But I have to admit I saw an alpha gamer take over during a game of Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game. The traitor struggled to stay undetected because if not everyone did what the alpha gamer said you were exposed. The only game that really worked this way that I know of is Witness.

3) Heavy specialization. And I don't mean some simple perks like you said your game is going to feature. That's more like Robinson Crusoe and you have a big problem with alpha gamers in that game. No, I mean games like Captain Sonar (team vs team) or, again, Space Cadets where everyone is playing a completely different game and an alpha gamer could not keep track of everything.

4) It's not really a concept or a game mechanic but games that rely on abstract thinking and creativity overcome the thread of an alpha gamer taking over. In Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases everyones input matters because one person is most likely too restricted in his approach to solve a case. In Mysterium a single player won't get every clue and it's vital to have a discussion going on.
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Lisa K.
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nvsg wrote:

3) Heavy specialization. And I don't mean some simple perks like you said your game is going to feature. That's more like Robinson Crusoe and you have a big problem with alpha gamers in that game. No, I mean games like Captain Sonar (team vs team) or, again, Space Cadets where everyone is playing a completely different game and an alpha gamer could not keep track of everything.

Asymmetrical play is also a good term to use here, if you wanted to research more games. The Ravens of Thri Sahashri is an interesting example for that. Though with more players, it will make explaining the game the first time a bit difficult (I've found Space Cadets very difficult to explain to new people, for instance).
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