Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Psychology of the Semi Co-Op: Tanking the Game

I was reading some serious criticism about the 2012 game Archipelago and it made me start thinking about the personality composition I typically see in multi-player games. See,Archipelago is a new-fangled semi-co-op came. And folks are complaining that there are other folks out there who would rather tank the game (by refusing to donate resources to calm the natives) than come into 3rd or 4th or 5th place.

I was hesitant to jump into the same camp as the obvious jerks, but I think in some cases I tend to agree.

Think about your typical 4-way board game. I'm not talking 2 pairs of couples, that's a completely different dynamic. I'm talking a regular group of 4 friends who are pretty familar with each other's hooks and crooks.

How Players Typically See Themselves:

1) First Player - The Current Leader - This player leads the game in points or territory or buildings or whatever. And it's all the result of his amazing skill. The Leading Position is tangible evidence of his overwhelming superiority compared to his rivals, and he understands this simple fact in ways his opponents could never comprehend.

2) Second Player - This player is ready to snatch victory out of the slippery paws of the current Leader. Only a few clever maneuvers, probably at the very end of the game, and the Second Player will undoubtably be leading the pack with no room left to respond from his pathetic adversaries. Until the eventual end game resolution, he will probably toadie up to the leader to make sure no one else sneaks in on his action.

3) Third Player - This player understands that the true path to victory is to make a few serious misplays early on in order to lull his opponents into a false sense of confidence. He also feels free at this point to admire the overall design of the game, as well as the amazing artwork and flavor text.

4) Fourth Player - Finally we reach the lowest level of Hell. This player knows his lowly position is due to a combination of extremely bad luck and unrelenting persecution at the hands of his opponents. When have you not felt this way at the ass-end of the victory point track? If the 4th ranking player had the chance to burn the whole game down and make everyone lose, he would gladly take it in an eye blink. Just to wipe the smug looks off their faces, those jerks.

Games like Archipelago, they need to have rules for this. The bottom players are going to contribute nada, so the top-tier folks better have the ability to help out enough to get the game back on track. So what if you slip down to second place...that's what the other players are hoping for! They know you would rather go down to 2nd place than watch the whole game blow up and everyone lose on an equal level.

And I'm not entirely convinced the game has issues. I'm interested to hear more critical reviews because a) this could be a case where people don't want to give up their lead and b) the original reviews of Archipelago make it sound like the victory point situation is intentionally obscured, exactly for this reason. So no one knows exactly how good or bad they are doing until the end.

Way back in prehistoric times, I had the honor of playing a extremely notable game of Republic of Rome. The memorable part was one of the players again tanking the game for us, which he was completely in his rights to do. He didn't even mean to do it, but didn't realize exactly how bad things were doing in his quest to gain just a little bit on the leader.

I can remember the game, even though it must have been at least 15 years ago. I certainly wasn't frustrated with losing the game. And I probably would have done the same thing in his case. Much like today's modern co-ops, it was part of the experience.

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