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Attack! - Thoughts on Player Interaction
Player interaction isn't for everyone. Some enjoy the confrontation in competitive games, the moments when they move their troops into another player's territory and battle commences, the epic card combos that deplete the other player's health or similar actions that directly attack another player. Yet, there are more forms of player interaction, and in this article, I want to look at what these are and how they work.
Tiny Epic Kingdoms
In these games, you choose an action which others can participate in. While it doesn't always affect your choice of action, being aware of how others can benefit from your choice is important. There are other choices in them that are more directly interactive, but these decisions are separate.
This game is an excellent mix of a stock game and a war game. The kinds of interactions that occur between players are different from other games I have played. The majority owner of a country gets to make the decisions for that country. The players interact by purchasing stocks and then by running the armies of the countries into each other. However, because people are often be invested in multiple countries, the decisions about what countries do have complex effects on each player's position. Players can be "allied" in some parts of the board but not others. The only real "direct" interaction that can occur is if you put yourself in the position to receive it (by heavily investing in one country and not others).
I generally prefer two player/team games with direct player interaction. I enjoy a variety of games that do not fit that description. I feel a closer connection with my opponents when we are directly trying to destroy each other. During a game of Azul, I can get to know a little about how someone thinks, but not much. During a game of The Settlers of Catan, I can learn a bit more about a person through how they handle their planning and their trading. During a game of Stratego, LotR: Confrontation, Heroscape, or Afrika Korps, I feel like I can get a better understanding of my opponent. There are elements of trying to get inside my opponent's head (both in terms of understanding the way they think and throwing them off what I am thinking) and elements of handling loss and misfortune. See how someone handles those things gives some insight into who they are.
But in games with relatively simple mechanics the player interaction is giving the game its challenge, so I want to butt heads, hinder opponents, and perhaps attack directly.
Then of course there is the perfect storm of complex mechanics and direct interaction like Dominant Species, which usually leads to an aneurysm
It helps when the player interaction isn't an "all or nothing" encounter, i.e. you win the battle and your opponent is out of the game for good or you lose the fight and have no chance of ever recovering. Unless it's an end game situation like TI, then I prefer smaller less catastrophic fights like you see in Small World. Constant conflict but none of them are "THE FIGHT".
Certain games with...let's just say "high levels of direct player interaction", definitely need a curated play group to avoid folks getting bullied, angry, or rage-quitting. Emotions can run high, players might resort to meta-game tactics to influence in-game actions, and sore losers/gloating winners can ruin a game for everyone.
I understand the thinking that something without an avatar is "indirect", but to me the King is Dead is far from "indirect". You might not have a piece on the board, but you are represented very well by the actions you have taken (especially the cubes you have taken). That's your presence, right there, and when I look at you and what you have done, I am thinking, what do I have to do to make sure that you can't get another red cube? How can I totally mess you up? If I swap these cubes it might seem fairly benign, but it will actually prevent you from forcing that region to go yellow, which, given yellow only has 1 other region, wipes it out of the running - that is pretty direct to me, I have destroyed your position based entirely on what your presence in the game was. I think games like this - commodity speculation, really - can be super vicious. Who am I? An investor, a machiavellian politician, a schemer.
Indirect interaction to me is more like when your primary motivation almost all of the time is just to get what you need. If you see an opportunity to get what you need, and it *might* impact the next player because it might also be what they need, and you take it, and they are like "I needed that" and you shrug your shoulders, and then they take something else anyway and maybe drop a point, that is that indirect interaction to me. Like bumping into someone in the street because you were looking at the uneven footpath.
Personally I prefer interaction where what the other players will do - and what the impact of your own moves will be on them - are the primary consideration, because that is what you have to navigate to actually win.
mc wrote: I think the phrase you might be looking for with regards to Brass, Luzon Rails etc is shared incentive. I really do like that kind of interaction; you are trying to tempt other players to help you out because there is a benefit to them, but the aim is to come out better.
I love these sorts of interactions with games. The ambiguity between helping and hurting other players is delicious. John Company does this hard, and the designer of Archipelago has some quotes about this which I love on BGG.
Gary Sax wrote: I love these sorts of interactions with games. The ambiguity between helping and hurting other players is delicious. John Company does this hard, and the designer of Archipelago has some quotes about this which I love on BGG.
Yep. I've kept a copy of New Angeles around for years that almost never gets played, but has precisely that kind of approach to actions. People have to agree to promote one player's agenda in the hopes that it will later benefit their own. It's a gamble and involves a fair amount of social engineering, which doesn't mesh very well with most of the people I currently play with. But I loved FFG's Netrunner universe and I wanted to keep at least one game of this type in my collection, even though I have several others that basically do the same thing in a more casual manner (Dune, CE, etc.) It's the formalized approach (as in, it's integral to the function of the game) that I like. John Company may end up shifting New Angeles to the trade pile as a consequence.
There is trading, auctioning, bluffing, stock market, negotiation, groupthink, flicking, stacking, speed reaction, shared incentives, social deduction and a variety of party games. (Party game = Time's Up. Tea time sedation = Codenames).
The second question is also simple: "What interaction do you like?", but it is tremendously complex.
I wonder what we mean when we say "interaction"? Are we talking about human-to-human interaction, about relationship or about human-to-game interactions? Please let me elaborate.
It seems to me, relationship is most important in all our life, our daily life, not only with boardgames. People normally would like to think their self, their ego, is most extraordinary. And in all our relationship, the self-centered activity, the ego, is constantly in operation.
If this is always true, how do you get to know yourself? (If you say "I know myself" then further examination stops at this point for obvious reasons.)
Firstly, you can closely observe your reactions, your prejudices, your conclusions, your ideals, how you think, how you feel, how do you react.
Secondly, you can analyse yourself, until analysis is complete and does not interfere with your next analysis.
Within this analysing process, you think you are divided from that which you are analysing. But is that really so? Is your analysis not put together by your thoughts and are your thoughts different from yourself?
The analytical approach has to do with how the so-called (modern) Eurogames are received and appreciated. In the present "hobby scene" the predominant way of thinking about games is as assembly of mechanics. People are obsessed by the idea that game mechanics have some inherent value, that they can be dissected and evaluated and ranked. (e.g. What's the 10 best games of all time? What should I back next on Kicksucker? Is worker placement better than deckbuilding ... - do you follow? Within these thoughts there's separation and division. Also: Dopamine.)
So one should ask: Is the experience of playing a game actually divided from myself?
When talking about conflict in games, let's clarify the frame of reference and refresh one's memory about the structure of so-called (modern) hobby Eurogames: non-confrontational, non-political, optimization, achievement focussed, no social dynamics, no psychology, yes internalising the rules, yes exploiting the system, yes winning.
Competition, ambition, the will to achieve - I wonder if all of this is not part of conflict? By conflict I mean the struggle between opposing ideas.
Do all of these characteristics not emphasize this sense of separation between "my stuff" and "your stuff", between "me" and "you"?
When you are attached to something, there is always fear of losing. Lastly, by avoiding social situations with confronation you are strengthening your rigid believes.
This might be hard to follow, but one should ask:
If I can not properly observe myself in a gaming situation, if my mind can not be attentive of the images put together by my thoughts through cultural conditioning, if I can not see how I am acting and reacting, if I can not see the gaming situation as what it actually is, what implications does this have for my "real" daily life? Can there be relationship at all if I am occupied with myself?
As far as game mechanisms like "pulling a card" or "pushing a meeple" or "attacking" go, who gives a shit. The strength of boardgames is the ability to have collective experiences, where people collectively, and through confrontation with their thoughts and conceptions, established a certain "metagame".
Instead of interference of plans with plans, I'd love to see more interaction between human beings. It seems to me, if there is no proper relationship, then all life is merely a series of conflicts.
Just chill out and enjoy the ride. Play Cosmic Encounter like the barbarians in the hills. It's not an abstract idea. It's what you used to do as kids.
People join my club, I excitedly ask them what games they like only to be told they all like eurogames and wouldn't touch Cosmic, Galactica or any of the other games I like with a ten foot pole.
Gary Sax wrote: It is very hard to get people to play these games, to be clear, so I may be the weirdo on this one!
Erik Twice wrote:People join my club, I excitedly ask them what games they like only to be told they all like eurogames and wouldn't touch Cosmic, Galactica or any of the other games I like with a ten foot pole.
Gary Sax wrote: It is very hard to get people to play these games, to be clear, so I may be the weirdo on this one!
They have been assimilated by the BGG Collective.
They unironically have.
Shellhead wrote: They have been assimilated by the BGG Collective.
In my experience, it's not that these guys only like euros, per se. It's that they have only been exposed to them and never moved in circles where other games were played. That is, the "BGG collective".
More importantly, since their exposure is so narrow, they often feel at odds with other kinds of designs. You might feel at home playing a heavy euro like Lorenzo il Magnifico but if you have never played a negotiation game, you are going to feel exposed. For example, an important chunk of my club doesn't like cooperative games. And I firmly believe they don't like them, not because they are cooperative, but because they feel exposed while playing them and have had poor experiences.
Gary Sax wrote: I don't think it's as obvious as a euro/non-euro split, though. There are a lot of eurogames which have this balance between temporary collective and individual goals. I mean, shit, the 18xx games are basically built around these stockholding tensions.
The trouble is that because the trend in Euros has gone its merry way towards heavy mechanically complex min-maxers and engine builders with not too much interaction beyond "I wanted that action", the idea of what a Euro is has become fairly useless. It is more common to see those more interactive cut throat games involving negotiations and shared incentives and stuff in older Euros, but for someone familiar with the more modern type, it's kind of incomprehensible to think that those are "Euros". I can easily imagine that, as Erik describes, for those players, a T&E or a whatever is going to be just as alien to them - and uncomfortable - as Cosmic.