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Subject: I'm having trouble wrapping my head around this game's weird combination of cooperative/adversarial play. rss

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Victor Ferreira
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I love both competitive and cooperative games, but Gloomhaven has me stumped. On the one hand, it plays out mechanically and thematically much like a standard cooperative tabletop roleplaying game, like D&D. And yet on the other hand, it inescapably includes deliberately adversarial mechanics like individual looting and many secret battle goals. Even the mandate that we not share certain kinds of potential action information has me baffled.

I've read a few other threads around here, and I'm clearly far from the only one who feels this way, and yet I keep seeing people making excuses for it, saying that changing these things would fundamentally alter the game balance or progression. What I've not seen is any insight on why the game balance and progression were designed in such a way to begin with. If individual loot supposedly balances otherwise subpar characters, why is that how they were balanced at all rather than some other way? What is the point of battle goals being secret if not just to be frustrating? Why is open cooperation a variant rather than the assumed default? What exactly did the developers have in mind when they made these decisions?
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Paul T.
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Twilight_Sonata wrote:
I've read a few other threads around here, and I'm clearly far from the only one who feels this way, and yet I keep seeing people making excuses for it, saying that changing these things would fundamentally alter the game balance or progression.


Using words like "excuses" is pretty much stating that these design decisions are wrong. Where you see excuses, others see a great mechanism for reducing or eliminating the alpha-gamer problem inherent in co-ops. Where you see imbalanced characters, others see characters with flavour and actual differences compared to many games where characters are interchangeable with little impact.

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Even the mandate that we not share certain kinds of potential action information has me baffled.


It's not really that baffling. Not sharing precise card details makes the game harder (and hence the actual optional variant in the rulebook to play with open information and increase the difficulty) and introduces another learning curve in terms of understanding how your teammates play their characters, learning the various initiative values of their cards and more.
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Ronald
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I think the biggest problem every cooperative game has to solve is the Alpha player issue. With hidden goals and limited communication this becomes a non issue.
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George Aristides
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It really depends on you and your group.

You can very easily house rule open information if you so wish; it may make the game a bit easier but as long as you are having fun, go ahead and try it.

In my group, we stop just shy of sharing "hidden" information (like we don't say "my hidden goal is to kill an elite" but we do say "I'd really, *really* like to be the one to finish off that elite *wink* *wink*")

Works well for us and we can cooperate well while still within the RAW.
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Trent Y.
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RitterFips wrote:
I think the biggest problem every cooperative game has to solve is the Alpha player issue. With hidden goals and limited communication this becomes a non issue.



This is pretty much it. I feel GH has gone a little overboard against the aloha gamer. But it's all good.

My group is very cooperative. We practically tell each other our battle goals ("Today, I love doors!" Or "I hate gold!". We try to encourage everyone to grab some loot. We even lend each other money (but it must be paid back).

After playing it a lot, I think the whole not sharing concept could all but be abandoned and the game would still work great.

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Victor Ferreira
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5hrike wrote:
Using words like "excuses" is pretty much stating that these design decisions are wrong.

How about instead of "excuses", then, I call them "explanations that miss the point"? Your explanation of not sharing precise card details is a great example. Saying that would make the game easier misses the point of the question, which is why the game was balanced at this difficulty to begin with. Your explanation of adversarial mechanics making characters flavorful and different is another example, as it misses the question of why that was the method chosen to make some characters flavorful and different rather than some other method.

Quote:
the alpha-gamer problem

RitterFips wrote:
the Alpha player issue

Oh, is that all? Honestly, much as I see folks on this site complain about that, I've never encountered it in any of the groups I've ever gamed with. I'm inclined to think the issue is overblown if not an outright myth. If that's why these design decisions were made, that's a shame.

My group and I will probably just end up ignoring them then. From what we've heard, the game is fun enough anyway that I doubt any potential minor imbalance would detract that badly from it, and I'd rather risk that anyway than play unnecessarily adversarially.
 
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Richard Dewsbery
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Hidden information is also another way that the game introduces a random element that affects the outcome of each turn without relying too heavily on card draws or dice.
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Rob Hughes
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"What is the point of battle goals being secret if not just to be frustrating? Why is open cooperation a variant rather than the assumed default?"

Thematically, to me it makes more sense that less information, rather than more, is shared - it's a rag-tag bunch of adventurers going off on a mission together, they have their own agenda for signing up and they are not going to agree on every plan of attack nor always agree to split loot evenly.
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Jussi-Pekka Jokinen
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Twilight_Sonata wrote:
RitterFips wrote:
the Alpha player issue

Oh, is that all? Honestly, much as I see folks on this site complain about that, I've never encountered it in any of the groups I've ever gamed with. I'm inclined to think the issue is overblown if not an outright myth. If that's why these design decisions were made, that's a shame.


Maybe you are the alpha player in your group? People with a problem are usually the last to notice it.
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John Andrikopoulos
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Thinsilver wrote:
Twilight_Sonata wrote:
RitterFips wrote:
the Alpha player issue

Oh, is that all? Honestly, much as I see folks on this site complain about that, I've never encountered it in any of the groups I've ever gamed with. I'm inclined to think the issue is overblown if not an outright myth. If that's why these design decisions were made, that's a shame.


Maybe you are the alpha player in your group? People with a problem are usually the last to notice it.


I 100% second that!
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Eric Glimme
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I'm not a big co-op fan but I like Gloomhaven. If it was completely open co-op I would lose most of my interest in the game. The fact that characters have ulterior motives and that the game requires actual teamwork is great.

In many co-ops you just end up figuring out as a group what the best move is and doing it. I usually find that boring and a waste of time.
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Richard Ham
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Twilight_Sonata wrote:
What exactly did the developers have in mind when they made these decisions?

Making the game more exciting and fun.
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Robin Oosterom
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This is the mechanic that makes the game the best game i have played all year. I liek coops even witha alpha palyer in it i dont mind it. Gloomhaven is just great and the theme off being a mercenary that besides doing the right thing for the group also has his own agenda is the best.
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Ben Kyo
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Twilight_Sonata wrote:
5hrike wrote:
Using words like "excuses" is pretty much stating that these design decisions are wrong.

How about instead of "excuses", then, I call them "explanations that miss the point"? Your explanation of not sharing precise card details is a great example. Saying that would make the game easier misses the point of the question, which is why the game was balanced at this difficulty to begin with. Your explanation of adversarial mechanics making characters flavorful and different is another example, as it misses the question of why that was the method chosen to make some characters flavorful and different rather than some other method.

Quote:
the alpha-gamer problem

RitterFips wrote:
the Alpha player issue

Oh, is that all? Honestly, much as I see folks on this site complain about that, I've never encountered it in any of the groups I've ever gamed with. I'm inclined to think the issue is overblown if not an outright myth. If that's why these design decisions were made, that's a shame.

My group and I will probably just end up ignoring them then. From what we've heard, the game is fun enough anyway that I doubt any potential minor imbalance would detract that badly from it, and I'd rather risk that anyway than play unnecessarily adversarially.
The "alpha gamer problem" is not only a problem if have an "alpha gamer". For many of us there is really no point playing a so-called cooperative game if it is exactly the same as a solo game with four people sitting at the table discussing the optimum play.
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Erik Weidenbach
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Dont really understand the question. For me gloomhaven is fully cooperative. Secret battle goals are not adversary. Its not like I am acting against anyone and when we play the mission always comes first and if you can achieve your goal thats great but not a must. Not knowing 100% what the others are doing makes planing less calculating for the perfect turn. Shared loot does not work with the idee of new players dropping in and out. They have not really contributed to the gold, are they allowed to use it? And if so, how much would be fair?
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C B
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I guess for an exact answer you would need to contact the designer

My two cents would be that the having to act on not perfect information add a little bit of realism on top of what others already said. That is one point why I like this game a lot.

The point of individual loot might be a necessity from the retirement system. If you could exchange items and money freely, I can see a lot of ways to exploit that. Characters would have almost always perfect equipment and enough gold for enchantments. Having to decide between a new enchantment and a cool new item is part of the fun for me.

With hidden battle goals and life goals we play it a bit more open than in the rules.

Just my two cents as I said.
 
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Elias Helfer
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Adding to what others say, sharing all information would lead to information overload, and prolong the game significantly. At the moment, I have to consider all my own cards, and which two I play. I play a Tinker, meaning I have 12 cards with two actions on each. On my first turn, then, I have to choose between 24x11=264* different plays. If I also had to take into consideration three other characters' hands, plus try to play towards their goals AND my own... my head would explode, and a round would be half an hour.

Having hidden information reduces time and mental load, increases tension and excitement, and is more thematic - in the heat of the battle, you don't have time to coordinate everything perfectly.


*: Assuming I first have to select one action, either top or bottom, them an opposite to match. If we instead choose a top, then a bottom, we're left with 12x11=132, which is still a lot.
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C&H Schmidt
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My partner and I never have any alpha gamer problems when we play cooperative games together, and we love many open-information co-ops where others complain about this issue, but we also really like that Gloomhaven does things a bit differently.
For us, not knowing exactly what the other is up to makes the game more exciting! Small egoistic actions thematically fit perfectly for a band of mercenaries, and not being able to coordinate every turn perfectly makes the game progress much more quickly.
I can see that this can turn out to be frustrating for example if a player chooses to go for treasure at a moment when the team really needs them to help defeat an opponent -- but this is really a question of how your group chooses to play. We usually take care not to put the overall scenario objective before any personal goals, and before looting.

But as everything in gaming, this is a matter of taste! We had a third player in the party at the start, but he didn't like that information wasn't fully open, and didn't enjoy the game enough to devote hours and hours to it, so he stopped being a regular member of the party. He may still join for occasional scenarios.
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Greg
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This really isn't rocket science here. As mentioned, this design choice is partly to avoid alpha gamers that are real and not myth. If you haven't encountered them then you either are the alpha gamer, or your play group is very narrow. I've been part of a game group for 6 1/2 years that has over 40 people and anywhere between 15 and 25 of us will get together every Monday night. When you play with a good variety of people, you will encounter alpha gamers.

Another thing about not sharing all information, is that just because other co-op games allow this, that it is the only way it should be. I mean, in the heat of battle, do you really think people are going to explain every detail of every move they make, or are they going to fight to win and survive and brag about their awesome moves afterward?

Again, to break up the typical theme of a bunch of buddies entering the dungeon together, Isaac is having a bunch of mercenaries act together and they each have their own agenda for the long term as far as retirement. But they each have a shorter personality quirk in a battle goal that may lead them to be more agrees I've or cautious, or greedy etc during an individual game. This doesn't necessarily mean it's adversarial. It can be if it messes with someone else's plans or the group plans, but that's something that the player has to weigh when choosing it and whether or not to persue it. Other players have to deal with the same thing, so ultimately, players should understand the nature of the game instead of being pissy about what another player might do, because you're going to do something like that too sometime.

Also, all players should understand that everyone will need some money here and there to buy better stuff. If one person plays so greedily and stupidly to not understand that, then eventually the group will begin to lose more missions because of some characters being badly equipped. While there are some individual goals and such, this is still a team that has to work together to a degree in order to have success.
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Ben Martell
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You seem to be coming from a place that naturally assumed adversarial play in a co-op game is ‘frustrating’ and needs specific justification for its design.

Whereas what I see is a designer who made a game he wanted to play, and he likes the adversarial aspect. To my mind that’s all the justification that’s ever needed.

Not once have I ever seen Isaac suggest or imply he’s solving the ‘alpha gamer’ issue (although he might be). Instead, I’ve seen him consistently talking about his decisions as being about what he enjoys playing himself.

As for your personal approach, you might consider what my group does - character rotation. This retains the fog of war aspect (which is actually rather fun) without being actually adversarial since a character who dies rather well at the expense of others will make the rounds.
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Des T.
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Alpha players are real. I am one. Thankfully, my wife has slapped me around often enough to get me to "suggest" less and be open to suggestions myself.

Thinsilver wrote:

Maybe you are the alpha player in your group? People with a problem are usually the last to notice it.


Thank you so much for making my day.

Seriously, though: Gloomhaven is, at the core, a puzzle game. There's very little randomness involved in the game, and the bit of randomness we do find can be countered by the flexible use of cards.

The game has an optimal path to play, and four players, given enough time, will find that path. "Given enough time" is the big issue, though. A lot of gamers attracted to low variable games want to find that optimal path. But, given the amount of variables GH has, it would take a really long time to figure out. This is an interesting challenge for analytically minded players (like the ones who enjoy chess).

By limiting information sharing, and adding hidden objectives, Gloomhaven reduces the long term strategic approach and supports a short term, tactical approach, allowing the inclusion of players who prefer instinct, pattern recognition, lulz or whatever other playstyle turns them on.

As it is now, the puzzle gamers will still get their fix by optimizing their moves once all cards are flipped up, the instinct gamers will get their gratification for having guesstimated the correct approach. Munchkins will try to get the most loot and XP out of each scenario and casuals will be able to play without their brain melting. Lulzy players will enjoy attempting their battle goals without sabotaging the mission and find "cool" combos to pull off.

In my opinion, Isaac made the design decisions the way he did so the game could be enjoyed by as many different gamer types as possible, and guessing by the popularity of Gloomhaven, he achieved that goal admirably well.
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Alexander Steinbach
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Some good replies given so far. I would like to add two things.

1. Isaacs Childres, Gloomhaven's designer, wrote some blog posts back in the days describing certain aspects of Gloomhaven and it's design. Notably, his motivation for this design choice is one of them. See these posts for more background:
http://www.cephalofair.com/2015/03/challenge-cooperative-gam...
http://www.cephalofair.com/2015/02/turn-rpg-board-game-147-e...
http://www.cephalofair.com/2015/02/turn-rpg-board-game-147-e...

2. I heard a reviewer talk about this recently and his main point was that true cooperation has to be voluntary. If you are forced to cooperate by game mechanics, it is not really a cooperative game, but rather a solo game played with multiple players. Legends of Andor and Pandemic are prime examples. However, when you have a game that offers you the choice of cooperating, you truly are cooperating. For example, the choice between loting 3 coins or killing that monster in Gloomhaven. If you choose to kill the monster you are truly cooperating. If you would have gotten the gold anyway, this would not be a meaningful choice.

It is a conscious design choice. One that is unorthodox, but works great in this game.
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nobody82b wrote:
It really depends on you and your group.

You can very easily house rule open information if you so wish; it may make the game a bit easier but as long as you are having fun, go ahead and try it.

In my group, we stop just shy of sharing "hidden" information (like we don't say "my hidden goal is to kill an elite" but we do say "I'd really, *really* like to be the one to finish off that elite *wink* *wink*")

Works well for us and we can cooperate well while still within the RAW.


My group isn't that obvious, and yet is that obvious.

When someone changes up their playstyle for no apparent reason, it's usually pretty easy to figure out what their battle goal is.

Why is our spellweaver rushing forward to open that door? Why is that one person asking exactly how many monsters they've killed? Why is that person avoiding picking up any gold?

Once you've learned the signs, you can figure it out pretty quick, and just accept it and plan around it.
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Twilight_Sonata wrote:
Oh, is that all? Honestly, much as I see folks on this site complain about that, I've never encountered it in any of the groups I've ever gamed with. I'm inclined to think the issue is overblown if not an outright myth. If that's why these design decisions were made, that's a shame.


It is not a myth. Not even close. Heck, I've caught *myself* doing the alpha gamer thing in co-ops, and had to rein it in.

If you play with the same group and none of you are alpha gamers, awesome. But I've seen people driven away from co-op games by the alpha gamer problem. It's actually one of the reasons some women can have trouble getting into gaming -- mansplaining and the alpha gamer problem typically go hand in hand -- but it happens whenever you have one person with a type A personality playing with a bunch of people with lower self-confidence.

Quote:
My group and I will probably just end up ignoring them then. From what we've heard, the game is fun enough anyway that I doubt any potential minor imbalance would detract that badly from it, and I'd rather risk that anyway than play unnecessarily adversarially.


If you want to play that way, you can; just know that the game will be easier, and you may have to up the difficulty to compensate. Especially if you allow retiring characters to trade off all of their loot prior to retiring. That negates a lot of the fun and difficulty of starting a new character.
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Andrew Sarnowski
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Twilight_Sonata wrote:
5hrike wrote:
Using words like "excuses" is pretty much stating that these design decisions are wrong.

How about instead of "excuses", then, I call them "explanations that miss the point"? Your explanation of not sharing precise card details is a great example. Saying that would make the game easier misses the point of the question, which is why the game was balanced at this difficulty to begin with. Your explanation of adversarial mechanics making characters flavorful and different is another example, as it misses the question of why that was the method chosen to make some characters flavorful and different rather than some other method.

Quote:
the alpha-gamer problem

RitterFips wrote:
the Alpha player issue

Oh, is that all? Honestly, much as I see folks on this site complain about that, I've never encountered it in any of the groups I've ever gamed with. I'm inclined to think the issue is overblown if not an outright myth. If that's why these design decisions were made, that's a shame.

My group and I will probably just end up ignoring them then. From what we've heard, the game is fun enough anyway that I doubt any potential minor imbalance would detract that badly from it, and I'd rather risk that anyway than play unnecessarily adversarially.

Alpha Gamers are real. I am one. Not on purpose, but because I get bored really easily and tend to see what I'm going to do on an intuitive level several minutes before other players. From there I just get passionate and am good at arguing/influencing people. I play with a group of entirely alpha gamers most game nights. (It's an odd experience.)
Games that purposefully hinder the alpha game kind of communication are invaluable. But this is a board game. Your rules are your own. You can houserule whatever you want. Adapt it to your group. But before you do watch yourself game a lot. Do you control the discussion? Do you argue passionately about the next move? Do players doing things suboptimally annoy you? If so, you're probably a lot like me. And you're being annoyed by mechanics specifically meant to retrain your style of play. Learn from them instead. It'll make you a better gamer and friend(if you're an alpha gamer as described above).
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