Wanna Be A Baller, or…

“Why do I even invite this person to play?”

We’ve all run into it before.  We’ve brought a new person- maybe a girlfriend or significant other, maybe a sibling who’s in town for the holiday- to a board game night.  We’ve got our typical set of friends, our core group of players that we invite over whenever we’re tackling a new game. The ones who understand rulebooks inherently, who metagame naturally, and who have a real, personal stake in the win at all costs.

The Quarterback.

And about ten minutes into the first game, you remember… oh yeah. This person really likes to play the entire cooperative game for everyone. They know what moves everyone should make to maximize success.

And they will tell them. Oh, will they ever tell them.

It’s an inherent problem with cooperative games, moreso with some than others (I’m looking at you, Castle Panic and Pandemic).  An otherwise excellent game can quickly become overwhelming and downright off-putting to a new player who suddenly feels like they aren’t so much playing as helping the Quarterback play with themselves. It’s effectively cardboard masturbation at that point, and they want you to watch.

This is a hard habit to break. I find the Quarterback often isn’t even aware they are doing it. They’re just thinking out loud, and self-awareness isn’t always our strongest trait. They didn’t min-max into Not Being Overbearing. 

As I’ve often read, we cannot design for every group of friends. To some degree, we provide the opportunity for social interaction, but the onus rests with the group to mitigate the less… desirable qualities. So… no. It is not our responsibility.  A good design does not require asshole-proofing. But with that in mind, CAN we design to mitigate it?

As a design challenge, what mechanics can be introduced to prevent quarterbacking? One of my personal favorite comes from Plaid Hat’s Dead of Winter.  While not always purely competitive, their ingenious “there MIGHT be a traitor” mechanic heavily prevents quarterbacking. It’s hard to tell everyone what to do without looking like you might be in it for yourself, and the possibility that you are helping a player who is only appearing to be behind the curve often tamps down the most aggressive Quarterback.

With this in mind, what other mechanics come to mind? I’d love to know of games that are cooperative, yet require information be gated or hidden in some way.  Comment below with your examples.

Published by ashermhart

I work at an amazing miniatures company during the day, and try to unravel the mysteries of game design for the rest of us plebians at night.

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