Pick A Player, Any Player

Recently on another game design blog there was a debate about whether a designer should accommodate poor player decisions in the game design. Although it was not the topic of the original article, the discussion veered into new territory (as they often do). I pointed to my article Eliminating Player Elimination where one of my points is that the designer takes on a higher challenge and risk by keeping players in the game (rather than eliminating them) because those players need to be engaged in the game to the end. The idea that the designer is responsible for prompting this engagement was challenged by one of the commenters and, in particular, my light-hearted description of behaviors that bored losers will exhibit was criticized with the following. (Paraphrasing…)

The designer doesn’t need or want to accommodate for bad play or bad players. I wouldn’t play with people like that [bored losers] and no one should. The way to deal with people who don’t fight until the end with complete attention to the game; people who are not serious gamers, is to not play with them. If every game group did that, there wouldn’t be any players like that.

While you might be able to limit your game group to only people who are always equally invested in the game (though, I doubt it unless you only play with the same few people), can you, as a designer, limit your audience to this same subset of gamers? Personally, I don’t think so. Regardless of your game’s weight, not all gamers in your target audience are serious gamers, and serious gamers have their faults as well when given the opportunity. Game reviewers, and likely your gaming buddies also, often criticize games for reasons that would be moot if everyone met this serious gamer standard.

Here is a list of common criticisms of games and player behaviors that games are criticized for being prone to cause. Many of these would be moot or at least marginalized if all players were equally serious; engaged in the game, determined to fight to the end regardless of their position, and respectful of everyone else at the table: (Note: A definition from the BGG Glossary is provided when available.)

Specific Game Issues

Downtime

  • Defined by BGG: n. The time that a player spends doing nothing while waiting for other players to complete their turns.
  • Argument: Serious gamers would be more tolerant of downtime. They are engaged in the game and will not become bored no matter how long it is between turns.

Run-Away Leader (or Rich Get Richer)

  • Defined by Opie: n. One player can take an early lead and their lead extends every turn due to the fact that they are in the lead.
  • Argument: Serious gamers would be content that their early loss is their fault and the leader should be able to revel in his blessings while they struggle vainly, but valiantly for another 30-60 minutes to lose.

Player Issues Promoted by Game

Alpha Player/Gamer or Quarterbacking

  • Defined by BGG: Also called, "Quarterbacking" and "leader effect." In a derogatory sense, it is where one player tends to take the lead and may boss others around, telling them how to play. This has been a common complaint to Cooperative games in general.
  • Argument: Serious gamers will all be happy for the most qualified person at the table to control the game and take them all to victory; especially since they know it is they who is the most qualified.

Analysis Paralysis (AP) or Min/Max

  • Defined by BGG n. When overanalysis and mini/maxing increase the downtime in a game beyond a desirable level. Sometimes abbreviated as AP in the forums.
  • Argument: Serious gamers would be more tolerant of AP – after all, the other player is just being serious about their position in the game.

Kingmaker

  • Defined by BGG: n. A player, himself in a losing position, that has the power to decide who will win a given game.
  • Argument: Serious gamers know that Kingmaking is a reasonable activity for a losing player who is engaging in the game and wouldn’t expect the game to discourage it.

Turtling

  • Defined by BGG: v. to play a very defensive strategy (i.e. hide in your shell) in a multiplayer wargame, with the hopes that other players will attack each other thus weakening themselves. Generally seen as boring by players. Multiplayer wargames that avoid turtling usually do so by giving incentives to attack in the form of VP's, additional units/resources, stronger units, etc.
  • Argument: Serious gamers know that Turtling is a viable strategy and wouldn’t expect the game to discourage it.

Sure, some of these are overstated, but the designer may take into consideration their responsibility for the way the game plays to the end for all intended players. The game designer can say, “You can’t blame that problem on my game,” but many people do. So ignoring the potential problems is opening the door to criticism of your game, fair or not.

Who are the gamers you want to play your game?

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