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When our group plays longer games (6+ hours), we usually choose games where players who fall behind still have chances to recover, so all players remain interested in and engaged with the game. (Examples: Advanced Civilization, 7 Ages, the crayon rail games.)

Sometimes we want to play games where, once you fall behind, you're pretty much out of luck -- games like RuneBound or Titan, for instance. But our gaming has a social component that is as strong as the gaming itself and we don't want to break that. Even if dropping out of the game doesn't appreciably change the game for the remaining players (not always a safe bet!), "go read a book until someone else drops out and you can play another game on the side" is no fun. This is particularly frustrating for people who get knocked out an hour or two into a game that's going to run for several more hours.

Sometimes when we find ourselves in this situation we call the game early, but that means we miss out on the end-game. What other general approaches to this problem could we take? Or are there no general approaches, and we should look within each game for house rules that allow one to continue playing at some ultimate scoring penalty?

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I am at a loss for how to tag this; I didn't find anything about group dynamicss, general play, etc. Help? –  Monica Cellio Apr 18 '13 at 15:42
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Maybe tag:etiquette? Might be worth creating a group-dynamics tag. –  Gregor Apr 18 '13 at 16:41
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this is the exact reason why in my group we only play certain games as teams. This way when one team loses they can go off and play with something else. –  Pow-Ian Apr 18 '13 at 19:51
    
@Pow-lan, that would make a good answer. –  Paul Marshall Apr 19 '13 at 1:38
    
@Pow-Ian, I never thought about teams. I second the suggestion to write that up as an answer, particularly if you can address how playing in a team differs from playing as an individual (other than having somebody to do something with when you fall behind :-) ). –  Monica Cellio Apr 19 '13 at 3:16

7 Answers 7

The games you are talking about are ones that possess a positive feedback loop for players who are in the lead, causing them to continue to be in the lead in an exponential way. This is generally considered bad game design for the exact reason you are implying. As such, you have two simple options:

  1. Stop playing these games, due to their flaw.
  2. Create house rules to improve them.

The latter may be more difficult than you think, however, and the idea you've suggested only exacerbates the problem. As an example, the game The Scepter of Zavandor was heavily inspired by an earlier game, Outpost. While Outpost had an exponential growth mechanic with nothing to curb the positive feedback, Scepter had a mechanic that slightly inconvenienced players who were in the lead while benefiting players who were behind. These effects were not substantial enough to punish the winning players or desensitize them from continuing to try and win, but it did act as a Comeback Mechanic to an extent. These types of mechanics are more prevalent in modern games, such as X-Factor in Marvel vs Capcom 3. If you wish to improve the games you are playing, use these mechanics as a baseline.

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When playing games that are supposed to eliminate some of the players and then speed up, you can always play as teams.

In my group games with that kind of mechanic do not work, we are simply either too competitive or too strategic to come to an entertaining experience for everyone.

This lead us to play in teams so that if one 'player' loses there are always two people that can start playing something else to be entertained while the rest sort out what happens next.

You can play in teams in two ways.

The first way is a strict team. Two people per avatar army or whatever else represents a player in a game. In games that take a long time to play because of strategy or because of a dominance mechanic, this works out because it lessens the amount of players and it gives you a chance to collaborate and play in a style that you may not normally play.

In our group we have players that are volatile and risky and players that are very reserved. Usually when we make teams we put one reserved and one volatile together. It leads to very interesting game play.

The second way to play teams is to play a cooperative version of a game. That is to say each 'player' on a team gets his own avatar/army whatever represents a player in a game, and for all intents and purposes, they must win together.

This leads to very interesting play also because you must choose sometimes to forget about your own ambitions and do something to help your struggling teammate to get to a better place in the game.

We frequently play that this alliance is only skin deep however. When there is only one 'team' left (2 players), it becomes a rather quick game of 'back stab your brother' to see who ultimately wins.

This is my favorite kind of 'team' play because you are going to help your 'teammate' but only enough that once you two have eliminated the competition you can still compete with one another. It gives you a reason to play with another player but only enough motivation to keep them from losing, not outright ensure they prosper.

With this mechanic added to a game you need to add some simple rules:

  1. As long as you and your team mate are not the only players in the game, you may not take actions against one another. That is to say you can't fight each other or otherwise do things that would detriment the other player unless the only action you can take is to do so.

  2. If a single member of an opposing team is eliminated, the other member of the team is eliminated also.

I do admit that this leads to a fair amount of people who cede once they are on the remaining team, but that is OK because there is still a clear winner and everyone got to play together.

Your mileage may very but we have had lots of fun playing this way.

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+1 great suggestion, definitely something I am going to try –  AquaAlex Nov 14 '13 at 12:33

In games where it is safe for players to drop out, but there's a tendency for them to cling to life for a while with no chance of winning, the most effective modification may in fact be to encourage them to drop out. This could be a metagame thing (saying "it's fine to concede") or an in-game thing (house rules to help put losing players out of their misery).

Obviously it's not perfect, but especially if you can manage to get two players knocked out, they can start a quick side game while the others finish. And sometimes games are faster with fewer players, so it may also help reduce the amount of time they have to wait.

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Make the first eliminated player be "the banker." When more than one player is eliminated, they should start another game.

Like the banker in Monopoly, they'll hand out all cards/tokens, make change, and manipulate pieces that aren't controlled by a player directly. It's not that fun, but it keeps them participating, and they can heckle all-the-while.

Alternatively, you can have them join another team as an adviser. This can be awkward for games with hidden information (I don't want a poker adviser), but with the right social dynamic, it can be pretty fun to be someone's Grand Vizier or Minister of Agriculture.

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In college, I played Diplomacy as a member of a "club," so we had "social" constraints for everyone to end the game together so we could go on to the next thing as a group.

To keep the game at six hours, rather than "all night," we had a house rule for a "minority-majority" victory. That is, any three people (a minority out of seven) could declare a team victory with a total of 18 supply centers (a majority). To keep people in the game, we had a further rule that if someone was down to their last supply center, you couldn't take it away from him, except on a fall turn, and as part of a projected 18 center majority. If you couldn't assemble the majority, the supply center had to be returned to him.

The rules meant 1) a shorter game 2) everyone had a "chance," to win by joining a winning team but 3) more supply centers meant a better chance to be on a winning team.

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We let players who lose team up with other players. As more players get eliminated our teams get larger and the game gets more intense. As a bonus this preserves all the mechanics of the original game.

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A more devious way to solve this problem without changing any rules would be like in the game of risk. When we play we try to trap players up against the borders of the stronger enemy players borders. at this point we pile up troops on their border to contain them, and offer them peace if they agree to invade the larger players continents thus reducing the number of troops needed to hold up the fronts allowing more aggressive play in other areas. this allows the other player a goal to fight for and you can help decrease the numbers of the larger player in that zone to allow them to more easily push with fewer armies, also allowing you to keep them from owning their own continent. at the end of the game the largest player just mops up all the smaller players and then its over.

Another thing we tend to do with house rules is we would allow people to continue drawing cards in risk. this allows them to continue making matches and gaining troops that can be used to break out of a hard place.

We have also been known to allow losers to collect a small amount of armies per turn and every time its supposed to be their turn the roll the dice. if they get double sixes they are allowed to attack any space on the board in an attempt to weasel their way back into the game.

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This sounds like it's going to extend the game, much like handing out money on Free Parking in Monopoly. It gives the doomed player something to do, and it tears down the current winner, but doesn't give the doomed player any significant chance of winning -- they're just going to have three bonus hours of staring at a hopeless position. –  Paul Marshall Oct 16 '13 at 17:49

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