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Subject: Co-op games that mitigate the table captain problem rss

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Dan Brown
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A common problem seen with co-op games is the table captain. In short, this is where one player, for a variety of reasons, ends up making most or all of the decisions in the game.

Now, without this deteriorating into a discussion about the benefits or drawbacks of the captain or statements such as, "don't play with those types of players," I'd like to hear about some games that you feel do well (or even just do something) at mitigating the appearance and effect of the table captain.

I have a couple to get us started.

In XCOM, all of the decision making happens during the timed phase. Every player has their own role, tools, and resources and these decisions have to be made in a short time. This makes it quite difficult for a single player to keep everything in their head and therefore make all of the decisions.

In Magic Maze, there is almost no talking allowed. There a few points during the game where this restriction is lifted, but you're under such a strict time limit that you only really want to use that time to state current goals to make sure everyone is on the same page. This almost completely removes the possibility of a table captain. On the downside (depending on what you're looking for in a co-op game), this removes pretty much any form of strategy from the game.
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Ian Toltz
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Sentinels of the Multiverse is just too damn complicated for one person to keep track of everything at all times.

Plenty of coops have a hidden traitor, so you can't necessarily trust everyone.

Hanabi is all about communication, but also strictly limits the communication allowed.
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Robert Bracey
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Asmor wrote:

Hanabi is all about communication, but also strictly limits the communication allowed.


+1 Hannabi. Its the only pure coop I know that leans into this problem and makes it work as a feature.

The timing/complexity solutions just do not really work (or at least only work for certain groups). For example Sentinels I found so straightforward on my first play that I was just bored waiting for other players to figure out the fairly obvious plays they should be making.
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Dan Brown
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Asmor wrote:
Sentinels of the Multiverse is just too damn complicated for one person to keep track of everything at all times.

Plenty of coops have a hidden traitor, so you can't necessarily trust everyone.

Hanabi is all about communication, but also strictly limits the communication allowed.


I would strongly disagree with Sentinels. That game is actually a very good example of a game that encourages captaining. Just as a simple example, there are a number of targets on the board that need to be prioritized. The captain will figure out who can do damage and how much.

Captain:"Okay, P1, you say you can do 3 damage to 1 target? Right you should kill that minion. P2, There's another minion who is going to do damage to the hero with the highest health on the villain's turn. You've got that damage immunity ability. Make sure to cast that on P3 so the damage won't happen."

Etcetera, etcetera. That game is so difficult to win that it comes down to razor thin lines with little room for error. If you don't plan out the entire set of hero turns in advance and instead just let everyone do whatever they want, it's nigh impossible to succeed. Even if you don't plan out every turn, it still breaks down to, "Okay, what can you do this turn? Okay, do this thing, not that thing. That's the best option."
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Mark McGee
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Hanabi gives each player limited information about what they can do. That information is limited to only what other players can tell you. Communication of this information is an action.

Games that have a specific mechanic to limit quarterbacking seem to generally limit information somehow. Given all the known information and enough time, the game becomes a puzzle that one sufficiently clever person can solve, or can at least think they solve. If that person is a dominant personality, they become the team quarterback.

- Limited time reduces the ability to one person to solve it (like you mention in XCOM)
- Rules that directly limit communication is another way, although if the rule is just "no talking", then I think it also removes some of the fun of cooperation.
- The potential of having a traitor makes it no longer a co-op, but also reduces quarterbacking by sewing doubt.

There are some indirect ways that some games try to combat this issue, without having specific mechanisms in place to prevent it:
- If players have different priorities that are valid strategies, then the difference becomes preference and it's less solvable.
- If there's randomness beyond the decision, then the best you can do is solve based on probabilities, which may be optimal, but allows for debate as to whether you should go for the "statistically optimal" move or the "less likely option, but if it works, then we win big".


In summary, the options I've seen are:
Limiting information
Making the information untrustworthy
Making the problem too complex for someone to solve in the given time
Multiple viable options
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Dan Brown
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I would agree with Hanabi, which is similar to The Game. As you said, they both work by restricting the information that you can communicate, which is definitely a common theme with captaining mitigation.

On the flipside, both of these games (just like Magic Maze) lack real strategy; they're more about puzzle solving. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you're looking for.
 
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Michael Korson
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Any Co-op game that has a 'hidden traitor' element will mitigate against alpha gamers, since one person trying to direct/control the play of the game will immediately fall under suspicion of being the traitor. Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game and Shadows over Camelot are the more well-known games that feature this.

Also, Commissioned features the possibility during a turn (due to various challenges or hardships inflicted by the game) that the players must be silent and cannot communicate with each other in any way. That would also help in this regard - although its not consistently in place.
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Dan Brown
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meshnaster wrote:
Hanabi gives each player limited information about what they can do. That information is limited to only what other players can tell you. Communication of this information is an action.

Games that have a specific mechanic to limit quarterbacking seem to generally limit information somehow. Given all the known information and enough time, the game becomes a puzzle that one sufficiently clever person can solve, or can at least think they solve. If that person is a dominant personality, they become the team quarterback.

- Limited time reduces the ability to one person to solve it (like you mention in XCOM)
- Rules that directly limit communication is another way, although if the rule is just "no talking", then I think it also removes some of the fun of cooperation.
- The potential of having a traitor makes it no longer a co-op, but also reduces quarterbacking by sewing doubt.

There are some indirect ways that some games try to combat this issue, without having specific mechanisms in place to prevent it:
- If players have different priorities that are valid strategies, then the difference becomes preference and it's less solvable.
- If there's randomness beyond the decision, then the best you can do is solve based on probabilities, which may be optimal, but allows for debate as to whether you should go for the "statistically optimal" move or the "less likely option, but if it works, then we win big".


In summary, the options I've seen are:
Limiting information
Making the information untrustworthy
Making the problem too complex for someone to solve in the given time
Multiple viable options


This pretty much sums up my research. For a pure co-op game, pretty much the only solution is to restrict communication or information in some way.

I do like (and hadn't had) the thought of multiple viable options. This can potentially allow you to essentially ignore the problem while still making everyone feel involved i.e You can end up with a captain making the main strategy decisions, but there are enough game changing decisions that all players feel involved.
 
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David Usher
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Space Cadets has everyone doing everything all at once, and inside of a 30 second countdown, so it's impossible for one person to micromanage everybody else while they're performing their tasks. Although there is a discussion phase where I suppose one person could try and steer the game in the direction they want, ultimately everyone is doing their own thing so they still contribute (or not!) on their own merits.
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Adam Gemmer
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The Grizzled is probably my favorite co-op because of how well it solves this problem.
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Carlo Patek
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meshnaster wrote:
Hanabi gives each player limited information about what they can do. That information is limited to only what other players can tell you. Communication of this information is an action.

Games that have a specific mechanic to limit quarterbacking seem to generally limit information somehow. Given all the known information and enough time, the game becomes a puzzle that one sufficiently clever person can solve, or can at least think they solve. If that person is a dominant personality, they become the team quarterback.

- Limited time reduces the ability to one person to solve it (like you mention in XCOM)
- Rules that directly limit communication is another way, although if the rule is just "no talking", then I think it also removes some of the fun of cooperation.
- The potential of having a traitor makes it no longer a co-op, but also reduces quarterbacking by sewing doubt.

There are some indirect ways that some games try to combat this issue, without having specific mechanisms in place to prevent it:
- If players have different priorities that are valid strategies, then the difference becomes preference and it's less solvable.
- If there's randomness beyond the decision, then the best you can do is solve based on probabilities, which may be optimal, but allows for debate as to whether you should go for the "statistically optimal" move or the "less likely option, but if it works, then we win big".


In summary, the options I've seen are:
Limiting information
Making the information untrustworthy
Making the problem too complex for someone to solve in the given time
Multiple viable options


Have you thought about different objectives (personal and hidden) that works towards the same goal?
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Mark McGee
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Kajo wrote:
Have you thought about different objectives (personal and hidden) that works towards the same goal?


That's sort of what Dead of Winter does, if you don't have a traitor. Each person has their own win condition, and they only win if it's met. All players can win, but some of these win conditions make it harder for others, in part because you have to spend effort doing different things for different people.
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Alpha is possible for the majority of Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game, but it does have "Instinct" events causing 1 player to make decisions without discussion.
 
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Wayne Schulatz
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I see this question a lot here on BGG. I must have gotten very lucky with the groups I play with. We never have a table captain problem. I don't know if it is because we have a role playing game background or what but fortunately it has just never been an issue.

...unless, I'm the jerk table captain... hmmmm...
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tfoz 15
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+1 for The Grizzled. Only certain elements of the game can be discussed and cards are kept secret until played.
 
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Dan Brown
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Wayne Schulatz wrote:
I see this question a lot here on BGG. I must have gotten very lucky with the groups I play with. We never have a table captain problem. I don't know if it is because we have a role playing game background or what but fortunately it has just never been an issue.

...unless, I'm the jerk table captain... hmmmm...


It very much depends on the player group and each player's experience with the game being played.
 
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RESTRICTING COMMUNICATIONS
the rules limit communications. Whether or not players are good about following and enforcing them is another story entirely.
-Hanabi
-Pandemic on normal to Legendary modes (5 to 7 Epidemic cards)


TIME CRUNCH
the game in part or in whole has a real time element, so there's little to no time for a team captain to be feed all the game's state and data, and digest it, and regurgitate what to do
-Temple Dice
-Space Cadets

 
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I am Abomination
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Asmor wrote:
Sentinels of the Multiverse is just too damn complicated for one person to keep track of everything at all times.


Completely disagree. I can captain the whole table easy with that one, especially as it's my game and I know how most of the characters should play.

But I know better and a friend surprised me by playing an extremely agressive Legacy last time
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Mike Watne
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I dropped in to mention Hanabi, and am pleased to find that it is already so heavily discussed.

Another good candidate, though it may require one tiny, tiny set-up difference, is Captain Sonar. We've found that the real "quarterback" issue comes not from the captain, but rather the first mate. Left unchecked, the first mate has nearly full access to the engineering and captain information and is ideally situated to assert strong influence over a scenario. The simple fix? Have the engineer hold their board. By making it impossible for the first mate to see everything at a glance and basically override the need for an engineer, all of the sudden everyone on the team is contributing and communicating. I figured that out after a very boring game as an engineer basically being shut out by a strong first mate - I lifted my board off the table and forced the first mate to engage with me for information. Every game since, we use this modification and everyone at the table tends to have a blast.

Space Cadets also gets around the quarterbacking issue by giving each "station" a finite, simultaneous time limit to accomplish the goal. A captain can tell everyone what they want to happen, but each functional player has roughly 30 seconds to achieve their task and make decisions about how to allocate the resources, and the captain typically can't multi-task fast enough to overpower the game.

Escape: The Curse of the Temple uses a similar time issue - the game is literally a real-time romp with players frenetically doing their own thing. Assertive players can definitely try to exert an overall plan on the players, but often there is too much chaos for a given player to conform to a plan that wasn't pre-determined. So teams usually start pretty organized, and by the end of the game each player is pretty independently assessing the situation and doing what they can to help the team.

All of that is to say that I absolutely agree with the sentiment that restricting information available to the entire group is the best way to mitigate a quarterback issue. The more the information is segregated among the players (either through mechanical considerations such as Hanabi or time constraints that make big-picture coordination impractical), the more they will need to work together to analyze and overcome the situation, and that's really the point - to give everyone a chance to feel like they're contributing to the game.

Traitor games are good for this to a certain point, but these aren't pure co-ops and thus may be irrelevant to the OP. Further, a very assertive player has real advantages in these games, albeit at the helm of an agenda which may or may not jive with other players.
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HenningK
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Gloomhaven
+1 The Grizzled
 
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Lzmountaingames wrote:
Alpha is possible for the majority of Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game, but it does have "Instinct" events causing 1 player to make decisions without discussion.


You are supposed to select your action without discussion. You can then discuss what to do during the resolution of the actions.

Sadly, the game is OOP and unlikely to come back. If it wasn't for this I'd be suggesting it myself.

I will go ahead and suggest FUSE. There is no deliberate mechansim to solve the 'alpha player' issue but the real time play means that you don't have time to figure out the optimal play.
 
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Alexandre Santos
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Gloomhaven and Shadowrun: Crossfire mitigate the problem by having each player have a different deck of cards than other players (Gloomhaven is more strict than SC on this.

Of course, this would not prevent a captain from having a disproportionate impact on strategy making, but at least each player can play autonomously.
 
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For Pandemic, Forbidden Island, etc, I play with a house rule that players can only discuss strategy if their pawns are on the same space. It works really well.
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Nicholas Johnson
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I feel like secret information and timers are a cheap way to combat it, and traitors especially just change the whole genre. That being said, I have to bring up Mechs vs Minions. They do use a timer, but I have never seen an alpha gamer play it and take direct control. It's too much of a hassle to study everyones program and think about all their possibilities so while the alpha gamer gets to tell people to stay out of a certain path maybe, the players still get to be happy programming their own Mechs.
 
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Justin R
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Mechs vs. Minions
 
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