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A 'problem' with some coop board games is that it's easy for a dominant person or people to take over all decision making in the game.

I personally see this happen in Pandemic all the time, even though it tacitly tries to prevent this.

I can only think of three techniques.

Hidden information. Each player has information only they can see, so all players can be involved as information sources.

  • Pandemic.

As a side note, as far as I have seen this is not very effective, it's usually very easy to get all the 'pertininent' information quickly and move onto decision making

Timed turns The players have a limited amount of time to make their decisions, and there are more decisions to make than one person can make, or more information to analyse than one person can consume.

  • XCOM - The Board Game
  • Space Alert

Distrust Players cannot trust the information other players give, so they must make their own choices.

  • Shadows over Camelot
  • The Resistance

This type predominantly uses a traitor or potential traitor to cause the distrust. Perhaps there are other games that use a different mechanic such as forcing players to lie about certain things etc?

  • There is a similar question here: link but I am focussed here one preventing a player making all the decisions, not simply requiring players to sit at the table because only they can dispense information. – Landerah Sep 15 '16 at 1:56
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    The Resistance is not a cooperative game! – The Chaz 2.0 Sep 15 '16 at 12:53
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    regarding effectivness of hidden information: have you tried Hanabi? – Deo Sep 15 '16 at 16:00
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    Any game where there are teams is both a cooperative and competitive game. That you may not know who is on your team doesn't change that. – aslum Sep 15 '16 at 16:41
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    Yes, Hanabi is a relevant example here; not only is information hidden, the amount of communication between players is extremely limited. – swbarnes2 Sep 15 '16 at 23:04
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Simultaneous choice is another method of forcing players to stumble over each other a bit. Space Hulk Death Angel uses this to great effect - players have to choose between their available actions, placing the card facedown, before all choices are revealed simultaneously and then executed in order. Robo Rally can be played in teams, and there you can really get in each other's way by accident.

"Active Player chooses" is another mechanism a lot of FFG coop games use to pass the decision making load around. Yes, everybody else has to keep their mouth shut while the player makes a choice, but if you aren't following the rules you're not really playing the game, are you? In a way I think this is a good way to allow table talk most of the time but give players short, important windows where they can keep from doing it.

Keeping everybody busy with their own problems seems a reasonable approach, and the LOTR LCG does this fairly well - enemies are dispensed from a central "staging area" to engage with a particular player, and in this way they fade from everybody else's view a little bit. I suppose a succinct way to phrase this approach would be "specialization".

Hidden information can be pushed farther than it is most of the time. Hanabi is an example of a cooperative game in which information sharing is really the central mechanic, and it's the first coop game I've played that really couldn't possibly be done as solitaire.

Narrative can also help remove the "single decision maker" problem by engrossing all the players in the events and giving them agency. I recently played a game of Mansions of Madness in which my daughter made some choices against my advice that cost us the game, but really they were in character for her (too much curiosity is what did it), and I was glad she felt confident enough to go ahead. We also talked afterward about lessons learned. :)

Lastly, regarding distrust, Shadows and Resistance each have a "bad" player from the start, but in some games (e.g. the Insanity mechanism in Mansions of Madness) a player can become bad, or have other weird behaviors emerge unbeknownst to the other players as a result of game events.

@matt points out in another answer that randomness (which is essentially information hidden from all the players) can help.

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Andrew provides an excellent answer, I'll just add one more option. Randomness can prevent "alpha player syndrome" to an extent, by making the outcome of choices uncertain. In a deterministic game with no hidden information, some actions are objectively better than other, and the alpha player will campaign for these. If there's an element of randomness to the game, it's not possible to know the utility of any particular move - depending on what happens, any one of a number of moves could be the best play at any time. This can promote a bit more discussion and reduce the effect of the one guy who knows everything about a game and can identify optimal moves faster and more frequently than the other players.

Forbidden Desert does this to an extent with the shifting board state. Depending on which way the sandstorm moves and when the sun beats down, what looked like a great plan can suddenly go sour. Sometimes there's no obvious best move that the team quarterback can push for.

  • Pandemic does this too, to an extent. You don't know which city will get hit next (though after the first Epidemic you have some idea of what's on the list). And yet dictators are very common as the OP states. – KeithS May 31 '17 at 19:50
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Semi-Cooperative games

Another option is "semi-cooperative" games. Legendary is a good example; at the end whomever saves the most bystanders and beats up the most villains is the "biggest winner", but if the players fail to cooperate they could all lose together.

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    It is worth noting that semi-coop games come with bunch of own problems, which often can be worse than alpha-gamer syndrome – Deo Sep 15 '16 at 15:57
  • What sort of problems? – aslum Sep 26 '16 at 13:52
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    If a player sees they can't win a game, they don't have a reason to cooperate anymore, so often will just throw a game off for everyone else ("If I don't win nobody wins"). And if that doesn't happen and players beat the game collectively, only one is entitled true winner and all other players suddenly discover they all have lost ("we all worked together, yet only one of us is winner and everyone else are losers"). Both these situations can lead to very unsatisfactory experience. – Deo Sep 26 '16 at 14:46
  • @Deo, that's how my gaming club plays Republic of Rome. A fair amount of the club thinks that "if I didn't win, it's exactly the same as if I lost" - so if they're not winning, they tank the game and Rome is destroyed by its external enemies. That game hasn't hit the tables in several years, because everyone knows how it's going to end. – PotatoEngineer May 31 '17 at 21:07
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Having "The Dictator" hijack decision-making in co-op games is never much fun. However, it should be said that in many of the real-world situations such co-ops model, dictators are built into the system in the form of a chain of command. If the guy at the top wants something done, it will be done.

With that said, dictators in true co-ops can be fairly effectively controlled by restricting speech. If you can't talk, you can't give "orders". Some games make this a part of the rules; the person whose turn it is can allow or forbid anyone else to speak. This same rule, or some voting system to grant or restrict any one player's speech, can also be part of the "meta-game" of almost any co-op.

This does not, however, work very well for semi-coops like Battlestar Galactica, Werewolf, etc; restricting someone's speech during times when everyone is expected to talk out the group's next move (i.e. who to lynch). Fortunately, these games have a built-in solution; lynch the dictator. Eliminated players typically can't talk per the rules of the game (they just get to watch the rest of it unfold from a theoretically-disinterested perspective).

The remaining risk is that a would-be dictator will take steps using his own turn to sabotage the group and lose the game for everyone out of spite. There's only one solution to having this poor a sport at the table, and it's to not have him at the table ever again.

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Real Time games

Another option is to have your game happen in real time. Damage Report and Captain Sonar both happen in real time, and everyone needs to be doing their part all the time, so there literally isn't time for one person to be "alpha gamer" ... Though one could argue that the captain in Captain Sonar sort of needs to act as an "alpha gamer" for their team to do well, however they can't micro manage everything, which is the real issue in co-op games.

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