012 – Co-Op Mechanics Part 2 – Fighting the Alpha Player Problem, Creating Team Decisions and Adding Tension

Hello fellow adventurers,

In today’s episode, we are discussing co-op game mechanics that can be used to:

  • Fight the alpha player problem
  • Foster team decision situations
  • Add tension to the game

What are the main goals of co-op mechanics:

  • One problem in co-op games is the so-called quarterbacking. What it means is that one player makes all the decisions for the team. This can happen when one player is more experienced than the others or when one player is from his or her personality someone who likes to make decisions and lead the way. For some players that can lead to a feeling that they don’t decide anything themselves and ruin their gaming experience. Therefore, a lot of coop mechanisms are made to make counter quarterbacking.
  • The most important purpose of co-op mechanics is to encourage teamwork. Often this is implemented in a way that some player has access to something the other player needs. (a resource or a certain skill for example)
  • Another goal is to organize teamplay. Who is acting when? Who is getting what reward? Who plays which role in the team?
  • Balancing the power between players.   

Co-Op Mechanics to fight the alpha player problem in co-op games

  • Information Overload (Spirit Island)
  • Restricting Table Talk (Gloomhaven, LOTR LCG)
  • Limited information sharing (Comissioned)
  • Distributed Knowledge (Mask of Aanubis) 
  • Action Selection
    • Realtime (xCom, 5 Minute Dungeon)
    • Simultaneous (Gloomhaven)
    • Hidden (Gloomhaven)
    • Random

Co-Op Mechanics to Foster Team Decisions Making

  • Group Characters (Eight Epics)
  • Multiple (unassigned) Goals / Tasks (Spirit Island)
  • Giving Players time to process information
    • Delayed enemy actions (Aeons End)
    • Delayed player actions (Aeons End)
  • Variable/Player-chosen turn order (Aeons End)

Co-Op Mechanics to Add Tension to the Game

  • Traitor Mechanic (Battlestar Galactica, Dead of Winter, Bang, Werwolf, Betrayel at the house on the hill)
  • Hidden / Personal Objective (Gloomhaven)
  • Personal (hidden) Event Triggers (Dead of Winter)
  • Secret Information Sharing (Messenger Letter) (Runebound)

Games analyzed in today’s episode:

  • Spirit Island
  • Gloomhaven
  • Dead of Winter
  • Aeons End
  • Runebound
  • Eight Epics
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Bang
  • Werwolf
  • Betrayel at the house on the hill
  • Comissioned
  • Mask of Anubis
  • xCom
  • 5 Minute Dungeon
  • LOTR LCG

Important Links:
Nerdlab Website 
Nerdlab Facebook Page
Nerdlab on Twitter
Nerdlab on Instagram

Sources:
Episode 1 of the Podcast Series of Co-Op Mechanics
Music by Mathew Pablo

 

Tags

4 comments

  • Hello Marvin,

    Just wanted to say that as soon as you talked about “killing your babies” or “mechanics on a whiteboard” … I immediately could relate to your issues. It’s true that MOST mechanics we think about “sound good on paper” turn out to “not be FUN in the end”. I feel the same way with my design called “Monster Keep” (MK). In MK, I have managed to keep (pun intended) some mechanics like rolling three white dice and one black die, to manage the resources each round. I am glad that this mechanic introduces a couple of interesting consequences. Let me explain.

    A> Since you roll three (3) white dice, there are three (3) resources in the game: Power, Skill and Magic. All methods of attack, protection and healing are affected by these resources. But since you ROLL the dice and then “get to CHOOSE” which die will allocate each “resource”, it becomes a bit of HOW you want your turn to play. Each player allocates the dice as he/she sees fit. I really like this mechanic and it can lead to two situations as you have pointed out.

    1. “Resource” Flooding. Meaning that you have a high amount of resources making the subsequent round very “combat intensive”.

    2. “Resource” Screwed. Meaning that you have insufficient amount of resource making the round very limiting in what “actions” you can take and how you don’t have enough resources to conduct multiple attacks.

    But since it’s dice-driven and affect ALL players identically, it is a FAIR mechanic. And it has it’s UPs and DOWNs.

    Using the law of averages, in MOST situations, you should have enough “resources” to attack some opponent and save some resources for further down the round where you defend yourself. Yes, I use resources for both “attacking” and “defending”… But remember that when you “attack” that unit is “exhausted” meaning that it can not attack a second time this turn. But with extra resources, that exhausted unit MAY “defend” during other player turns in that round.

    Take for example my second point (about FUN and mechanics). As my earlier design “TradeWorlds” is simple and more-or-less “direct” conflict … It is easy to learn and FUN to play.

    But I offer this “Second Question” you should ASK yourself. Instead of “is this game FUN?”, you should ask “is there a MARKET for this game?” WHY??? Because FUN is relative and each game you design offers a DIFFERENT “experience”. Not all games can be simple using “direct” conflict. It would make games BORING because they would ALL be the SAME!

    So in MK, I have resolved to asking myself, is a “slower”, more “intellectual” experience of VALUE??? And the conclusion I draw is this:

    1. Indeed there is strategic depth which is offset by RNG with dice rolling for resources. It makes the game less predictable and offers up different types of ROUNDS. Some more aggressive on the “attacking”, others more defensive and calculated to maximize the limited resources.

    2. Does the game force players to THINK about what to do next? And in the case of MK, the answer is YES.

    I know the First Question is always: “Is this game ‘playable’???” Do the mechanics allow the prototype to WORK. But as I have explained, your Second Question should NEVER be: “Is this game ‘FUN’???” You should go with a more definite question that offers up more encouraging results: “Is there a MARKET for this game???” And figure out WHO would LIKE to play such a game… Is there gamers out there with more “complicated” games out there that could use something “lighter” or “deeper” depending on which way you are looking at it.

    So give your game a SECOND CHANCE by seeing if the game offers up a “unique” experience which may appeal to some market segment of the population. You don’t have to create a game for EVERYONE. You just need to see IF your game appeals to the segment of people (Gamers) that you want to offer your game to.

    Cheers,

    Kristopher
    Aka QuestCCG
    Game Designer of “TradeWorlds”
    BGDF Moderator — Publisher List

    • Hi Kristopher,

      and thanks a lot for your great comment. Maybe you’re right. Whether it’s fun may not always be the right question to ask. Fun is highly subjective. And maybe there might even be a market for the mechanic I abandoned. But it wasn`t fun for me. And that’s a problem. Because that can make me lose the fun of the whole project. I just can’t imagine continuing with a mechanic that I don’t think poses any interesting questions to players. Therefore I decided to change the mechanisms accordingly. My design is still in a stage where this was possible without any problems.

      I absolutely agree with you that games do not need to be for everyone. One major aspect that defines the target audience is in my eyes complexity. Some games are great because you can put them out of your pocket and play right away. Others are great because you can spent hours over hours to finetune your characters, playstyles, etc. The audience is a different though.
      As you mentioned, the amount of luck involved in a game is also something that defines the target audiences. I for example like roling dice and your resource mechanic sounds like a lot of fun to me. But I am sure there are also people who dislike it because of the amount of luck involved. Even if there is a highly strategic decision making process after rolling the dice.

      Thanks again for your input. It made me think a lot and in fututre I will definetly ask more specific questions to myself than “is this fun?”. A question I prefer is: “What questions does this mechanics pose to my players and does answering these questions create the experience I want to create? ”

      Cheers
      Marvin

  • Hello Marvin,

    I had something that I wanted to ADD. “Monster Keep” (MK) is a “CCG”: Customizable Card Game. The customization comes from the fact that each player has their own “custom” Micro Deck of 12 Cards. Each Micro Deck is then divided into four (4) distinct Blocks. Each Block serves as a purpose in the game ensuring that ALL Decks have the fundamental building blocks required to have a more-or-less BALANCED deck.

    But since the game is “Customizable”, a player can choose to PERSONALIZE his/her own Micro Deck even further as long as they obey the rule imposed by the Blocks.

    In general, I wanted to FIX the reason MOST CCGs fail in the market. The answer may sound simple: not enough players. But this is merely a symptom of a GREATER problem. And that problem is NEW players don’t want to spend HOURS figuring out HOW they need to configure a deck for competitive play. Most gamers want to have a FAIR method by which they can use a deck and PLAY the game in a way which is EVEN in terms of odds of a Victory.

    My Blocks aim to CORRECT this problem by ensuring that the “customization” process follows strict rules which allow a player to fully customize their Micro Deck (If they want to) but at the same time offer a simple template for players NEW to the game to follow (in that you don’t need to be a Magic genius to figure out what cards are required to give you a CHANCE to WIN the game).

    So this method of allows NEW and EXPERIENCED players to some kind of MIDDLE GROUND. Decks are fully Customizable using strict Block rules:

    1. What this means is that each Micro Deck is divided into four (4) Blocks: Melee (“A”), Ranged (“B”), Support (“C”) and Command (“D”).

    2. If you want to “customize” your Micro Deck with a card from the “A” Block (Melee), you must replace one of three cards in the “A” Block. Meaning that cards are divided into categories and only SUBSTITUTION is allowed.

    3. Lastly three (3) copies of a card are allowed with the exception of cards which are UNIQUE. Unique cards may only be present one time in a Micro Deck.

    With these rules it is possible to fully CUSTOMIZE a Micro Deck with the cards you prefer and tailor each deck to your own liking. But at the same time it offers up the possibility of allow NEW players the chance to quickly choose cards in a way of producing a “responsive” Micro Deck without requiring hours of searching through cards or with too much depth in understanding how each Block affects the game.

    And you must be wondering: “WHERE the heck is he going with this comment???”

    The answer is simple. Sometimes game mechanics can be used to FIX problem in OTHER games. Meaning IF you build a BETTER “mouse trap”, you may entice more gamers to your game … because there is value in what it is you are offering. Much like your example of reducing the annoyance of the “Alpha Gamer” in cooperative games, this is ANOTHER example of a better “mouse trap”.

    My whole point is that sometimes as we design games, we tend to forget the DEPTH or “cleverness” of the design and think too much in terms of relative terms of “FUN”. What’s FUN too, is playing a game that is BETTER designed too! So as you solve the various aspects or concerns in cooperative games, know that you are SOLVING real game problems and building a better game too (a better “mouse trap”).

    Cheers,

    Hello Marvin,

    Just wanted to say that as soon as you talked about “killing your babies” or “mechanics on a whiteboard” … I immediately could relate to your issues. It’s true that MOST mechanics we think about “sound good on paper” turn out to “not be FUN in the end”. I feel the same way with my design called “Monster Keep” (MK). In MK, I have managed to keep (pun intended) some mechanics like rolling three white dice and one black die, to manage the resources each round. I am glad that this mechanic introduces a couple of interesting consequences. Let me explain.

    A> Since you roll three (3) white dice, there are three (3) resources in the game: Power, Skill and Magic. All methods of attack, protection and healing are affected by these resources. But since you ROLL the dice and then “get to CHOOSE” which die will allocate each “resource”, it becomes a bit of HOW you want your turn to play. Each player allocates the dice as he/she sees fit. I really like this mechanic and it can lead to two situations as you have pointed out.

    1. “Resource” Flooding. Meaning that you have a high amount of resources making the subsequent round very “combat intensive”.

    2. “Resource” Screwed. Meaning that you have insufficient amount of resource making the round very limiting in what “actions” you can take and how you don’t have enough resources to conduct multiple attacks.

    But since it’s dice-driven and affect ALL players identically, it is a FAIR mechanic. And it has it’s UPs and DOWNs.

    Using the law of averages, in MOST situations, you should have enough “resources” to attack some opponent and save some resources for further down the round where you defend yourself. Yes, I use resources for both “attacking” and “defending”… But remember that when you “attack” that unit is “exhausted” meaning that it can not attack a second time this turn. But with extra resources, that exhausted unit MAY “defend” during other player turns in that round.

    Take for example my second point (about FUN and mechanics). As my earlier design “TradeWorlds” is simple and more-or-less “direct” conflict … It is easy to learn and FUN to play.

    But I offer this “Second Question” you should ASK yourself. Instead of “is this game FUN?”, you should ask “is there a MARKET for this game?” WHY??? Because FUN is relative and each game you design offers a DIFFERENT “experience”. Not all games can be simple using “direct” conflict. It would make games BORING because they would ALL be the SAME!

    So in MK, I have resolved to asking myself, is a “slower”, more “intellectual” experience of VALUE??? And the conclusion I draw is this:

    1. Indeed there is strategic depth which is offset by RNG with dice rolling for resources. It makes the game less predictable and offers up different types of ROUNDS. Some more aggressive on the “attacking”, others more defensive and calculated to maximize the limited resources.

    2. Does the game force players to THINK about what to do next? And in the case of MK, the answer is YES.

    I know the First Question is always: “Is this game ‘playable’???” Do the mechanics allow the prototype to WORK. But as I have explained, your Second Question should NEVER be: “Is this game ‘FUN’???” You should go with a more definite question that offers up more encouraging results: “Is there a MARKET for this game???” And figure out WHO would LIKE to play such a game… Is there gamers out there with more “complicated” games out there that could use something “lighter” or “deeper” depending on which way you are looking at it.

    So give your game a SECOND CHANCE by seeing if the game offers up a “unique” experience which may appeal to some market segment of the population. You don’t have to create a game for EVERYONE. You just need to see IF your game appeals to the segment of people (Gamers) that you want to offer your game to.

    Cheers,

    Kristopher
    Aka QuestCCG
    Game Designer of “TradeWorlds”
    BGDF Moderator — Publisher List

    • Hi Kristopher,

      I really like your analyses of the Customizable Card Game problem in the market. I have the same feeling and interestingly I came to a similar solution.

      Although I played Magic for an infinite time and enjoy constructing decks in magic, it was rather annoying for me to build my own deck in games like Arkham Horror LCG, Aventuria or LOTR LCG. That’s why I played these games mostly with a standard deck and adjusted it slightly while leveling up. Where did this feeling come from. Deck Construction can be very intimidating for new players. And even with experience from other games it can take a lot of preparation time.

      From my point of view, there are two aspects of deck construction that you have to balance for your game depending on your target audience and your gaming experience:

      1. Variability: to allow players to create their own playstyle and identify with their deck.
      2. Complexity: the more changes you allow, the less rules for deck construction you have, the more complex get the choices.

      Here are a few examples:
      – Gloomhaven (One additional card per level to be added to you available pool) (Low complexity, Low variability)
      – Magic (High complexity / High variability)
      – Cardquest (digital card game): You don’t exchange single cards, but blocks of 3-5 cards at once. I like that method for games where the cards are very synergistic. (medium complexity / medium variability)
      – Pathfinder: Very strict rules which type of cards can be added to the deck (e.g. 2 light weapons, 4 light armors, etc.) (medium complexity / medium variability)

      Cheers
      Marvin

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