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  • Essays
  • Give and Take - Player Interaction

Give and Take - Player Interaction

O Updated
(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

I've recently got into heavier games, such as Brass: Birmingham with my games group, because they help me completely focus on a game, allowing my brain to fully put aside my day-to-day worries and thoughts. I've also started to enjoy games with more player interaction, which encourage everyone to stay focussed on what everyone around the table is doing, rather than just doing their own thing and not being part of the group. However, for me, the best type of player interaction is where you don't just put one over on another person, but where everyone gets something out of it, and in this article, I want to look at those types and what it is I enjoy about them.

So let me start with the sort of player interaction you find in games, such as Brass: Birmingham. The game is really just an economic simulation, representing a network of industries that need resources when they are constructed and when built, produce resources that can be sold on. In fact, there is a real network, of course, consisting of canals or railways and depending on the goods you want to sell, you rely more or less on that network, as well as other industries.

In the early game, players are trying to create their own, personal and private networks of industries and canal or railway links. That way players can use their own resources to build industries and their own network to sell products to the common market. That gives players the biggest benefit and doesn't give anyone else anything.

However, very quickly other players try and get onto your network, either by linking theirs with yours or building their own industries in your existing network. Suddenly, you are forced to use their resources to sell your goods, giving them some victory points in the process - or vice versa, the other players will use up your resource to sell their own goods, which means you no longer have what you need to sell your own. Yet, you will benefit from their industries in some way too and get some victory points as a result.

So even though Brass: Birmingham is very much about capitalism and trying to get one over on the other players, you can never gain the full benefit yourself and always have to give the other players a share of the victory points. There is a constant push and pull and you always have to weigh up how much you benefit from your actions versus the benefit others get.

I've not played the game enough to be certain, but I feel that you could even do well in this game if your strategy is purely to create the resources needed that others need to build their industries and sell their goods, making you a supplier and the other players manufacturers.

The next type of player interaction I want to look at is exemplified by Rising Sun in my view. In this game, you can form alliances with other players, or rather one other player, because alliances are only ever two-way. Any actions you play make them more powerful or more beneficial for your ally as well as yourself. Allies also can't attack each other, which is useful during the war phases of the game.

However, these formal alliances don't necessarily have to be expressed in the players' actions. It's not uncommon for two players to form an alliance, but then do things that will only benefit themselves or even be to the detriment of the other partner. Players not part of the alliance can also offer bribes to one partner in the alliance so that they take actions that benefit the player outside of the alliance.

Of course, the other player will quickly break the alliance or at least not go into alliance with that player ever again, if creates too much of a disadvantage for them, so you have to be careful what you do and how you treat your alliance.

However, what I want to talk about for the purpose of this article here, is how allied players have to consider what they do on their turn. They will discuss with their partner what action to take of course, so that everyone is happy, but no action ever gives everyone the same benefit. I might get a huge victory points haul while my alliance partner gets very little, but I might then tell them they can choose the action on their turn so that they get the full benefit, while I get nothing or very little myself.

Rather than being a push and pull, like in Brass: Birmingham, here it's much more about constantly finding compromises so that your partner is happy, but you still get the bigger benefit that will lead you to victory. After all, at the end of Rising Sun there can be only one winner. So you need to be clever about how you can offer your ally something that they see as valuable for them, but still get what you need.

Everyone is invested in the game and will pay close attention to what everyone else is doing. It brings people into a shared experience, rather than being a multi-player solitaire game. Yet, you're not just constantly trying to get one over on someone else, but instead negotiate a compromise that everyone is happy with.

I'm sure there are more types of player interaction that force players to weigh up the pros and cons and that aren't just black and white. Have you come across any games where you can gain a benefit, but always at the cost of giving another player something in return? What sort of player interaction do you like in games? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I'd love to hear what other people want out of player interaction in games.

There Will Be Games

Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #315070 13 Oct 2020 13:00
I prefer board games with player interaction, especially multi-player games. Co-ops are good, as long as the game has some kind of safeguard against alpha player dominance. Take-that cards definitely create engagement. I think my current favorite style of play is semi-cooperative, where players can choose to work together or against each other, and treachery is also possible.
Pugnax555's Avatar
Pugnax555 replied the topic: #315078 13 Oct 2020 14:58
What you've described is very much the reason why so many of us like to sit at a crowded table in the corner playing with our choo choo trains. Winsome Games isn't publishing anymore, but many of the best of their games have been republished by other companies (Chicago Express, Paris Connection/SNCF, Ride the Rails, etc). And then there's 18xx. Tons of give-and-take interaction to be had in the train game world.

Oh, and let's not forget the grandaddy of interactive economic games, Acquire.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #315080 13 Oct 2020 15:15

Pugnax555 wrote: Oh, and let's not forget the grandaddy of interactive economic games, Acquire.

Acquire is a great game. My dad was obsessed with it, so we played a lot of Acquire when I was a kid. But it's a relatively low-interaction game. Drawing a tile is not interactive. Playing a tile is not interactive unless it triggers a merger. Buying shares of stock isn't interactive. Competing to get a controlling share in a stock is maybe a little interactive, but it doesn't require any discussion or negotiation.
Pugnax555's Avatar
Pugnax555 replied the topic: #315082 13 Oct 2020 15:24
All very true. For some reason I have it stashed in my mind as an interactive game. I guess it's the post-game feeling from trying to keep tabs on who has what shares and who else is going to benefit from the mergers. But yeah, you're right. It's actually not very interactive at all.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #315084 13 Oct 2020 16:12
I could see where Acquire might seem more interactive, depending on the players. If people did a fair amount of table talk and maybe made verbal agreements not to compete for control of a given stock. But I don't feel that the game is structured to encourage that level of interaction.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #315086 13 Oct 2020 16:50

Shellhead wrote: I think my current favorite style of play is semi-cooperative, where players can choose to work together or against each other, and treachery is also possible.

This is kind of what makes Zimby Mojo the treasure that it is. You often have to work together to kill the Chief or at least not work directly against each other. After that, total free-for-all.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #315089 13 Oct 2020 17:28
I need to get Zimby Mojo back on the table some day. So far, I have only played a single four-player game of it. But it's such a tough sell, if I am honest with prospective players. We're going to play a complex game that will probably last around three hours, and it's about, uh, magic, cannibalism, and betrayal.
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #315108 14 Oct 2020 10:16
My favorite games are ones with player interaction, mainly adversarial with allowances for negotiations and such.

Spartacus is chief among them. Merchant and Marauders can be as antagonistic as you would like it to be, but those merchanting captains are choice pickings. Blood Royale has plenty of interaction, and that can be a hindrance if negotiation time periods are not kept under check. Targi, one of the few worker placement games I really like is all about weighing that give and take.

Games without some form of interaction can really bore the pants off of me. Karuba is a notable exception in that area.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #315115 14 Oct 2020 11:39
Jim has been trying to get people together to test out the Zimby Mojo TTS module.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #315193 15 Oct 2020 16:19
My least favorite form of interaction, especially in a multiplayer game, is direct "take that"/ "bash the leader" stuff, especially where these actions provide no benefit to you. Games like Munchkin, Fluxx, and Kill Doctor Lucky come to mind. If the only choice is "keep the game from ending" when the games themselves aren't interesting, that's a hard pass for me unless I want to be indulgent to budding gamers. You still see this kind of stuff in games like Villainous and Lords of Waterdeep, where it feels like it's tacked on to prevent the games from being complete solitaire affairs... but it's not an interesting form of interaction, and in both of these titles the leader is usually kind of hard to judge, to the point of these cards arbitrarily determining the victor at times.

I like games about controlling space on a board, whether it's as simple as the spaces in Small World or Root, or as open-ended as X-Wing or Heroscape.

When it comes to economic games, I like auctions and direct trading/deals made between players. I'll take Power Grid or Catan over just about any Euro that gets rid of these features in the name of individual player boards. (These two games are also games about controlling space, incidentally).

I like games with some guesswork or bluffing involved, whether it's as simple as a social deduction game, or trying to create those kind of Princess Bride poison test moments in Race for the Galaxy. In this way I find that hidden information creates player interaction by forcing you to try to guess not only what your opponent is outwardly showing you, but what you can deduce based on what they're not doing. Good CCGs do this too, and get around the 'take that' problem of multiplayer games by there only being one target. Even in those games though, pure control decks that exist simply to tell the other player 'no' over and over again are usually considered to be less fun.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #315222 16 Oct 2020 04:11
I'm a big player interaction fan, I don't really get on with many Euros, though better than my regular gaming group does.

I don't mind take that style play as long as the game isn't overly long. Munchkin could be a fun game if it lasted 20-30 mins. Instead it lasts "forever". I think one of the underrated considerations in some games is 'how long is the thing I am asking people to do fun for?'. Design your game to be that long, then make it stop. People can always play it again.
oliverkinne's Avatar
oliverkinne replied the topic: #316846 04 Dec 2020 10:41
Thank you for all your replies. Lots of great discussion here, which is lovely to see.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #316858 04 Dec 2020 15:55
Great article, we could hit lots of thee mechanics in articles of their own.

I prefer lots of player interaction when the game itself is very simple and fast or when player actions affect everyone. The worst (for me) are games where each player turn is a lengthy affair but has no direct impact on others (other than maybe some combat) such that downtime is brutal and some players just zone out and are only required to start planning their moves when they are up, as if they couldn't be bothered to strategize AT ALL until every single turf war on the other side of the map has been resolved.

Multiplayer solitaire is ok for me when the game is complex and it is ultimately a point salad race. Some crossover competition (for resources, worker placement, etc) is fine but if I'm engine building I want to be mostly unmolested. Another big turn off is when I spend 5-10 minutes constructing an elaborate sequence that can be casually derailed by an off hand action of another player... AARRGH! In that case the game needs to be really simple so the "take that" action doesn't hit you too hard.

I'm ok with either luck based player interaction (chucking dice at each other) or pure skill based (planning out power grid city plots) so long as there are decent catch up mechanics for players that get dogpiled. I also dislike games that lead to king making, it's ok to not have 3 player war games :p