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Let's assume I am playing a board game with at least 2 other players and there is a clear way to see how well players are progressing. Also assume there is an attack mechanism that cannot be directly blocked. This is a scenario I have experienced across several such board games:

  1. I find a way to progress relatively well.
  2. Other players see this and team up to attack me.
  3. I start to fall behind due to the attacks. Others progress past me.
  4. Other players continue to prioritize attacking me.
  5. I finish far behind in last place.

Up until step 4, this seems like a rational way for players to play. At step 4, however, it would make more sense to switch gears and attack the other players that have gotten ahead, but this either doesn't happen or it happens far too late in the game. It appears that there is some kind of psychological aspect wherein once players start attacking someone, they don't want to stop.

My question is: how can I mitigate this "bandwagon attacking" from other players? This is an issue for me because the game feels hopeless once I realize step 4 is occuring, and I find myself waiting for the game to end.

I have tried explaining to the other players that it would make sense to start attacking different players, but they write this off as me trying to protect myself (which isn't wrong). I have thought about quantifying the attacks by keeping a tally of some sort, but that feels a bit petty.

For reference, these are some games that I have experienced this in:

  • Lords of Waterdeep
  • Villainous
  • Survive - Escape from Atlantis
  • Blood Rage
  • 4
    Does this only happen to you, or does any player in the lead experience this? – Arcanist Lupus Mar 3 at 17:55
  • 5
    Don't play Monopoly. Problem solved. Otherwise read, How To Make Friends And Influence People. – Mazura Mar 3 at 19:26
  • 4
    Maybe play a game like Dominion where attacks always affect all players. – eyeballfrog Mar 3 at 21:49
  • 2
    In Blood Rage you should be able to mitigate the problem by picking the right strategy. Losing units in Blood Rage doesn't necessarily mean losing the game. Survive is a family game designed to allow kids to pick on their parents (or at least that's how it's been explained to me). Lords of Waterdeep does have some attacking but it shouldn't be game ending (pick a strategy which better hides how well you're doing). I've never played Villainous. – Stephen Mar 4 at 3:44
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    Suggesting other types of games to play might not be an answer you are interested in, but just for the record, if this kind of behavior bothers you much, maybe German-style board games would be better. They keep all the players in the game until the end (there is usually no death), conflict is limited, and a large part of the score is hidden. Players strive towards their (often independent) goals, there are limited ways to prevent others from progressing, and it's not immediately obvious who has the highest chances to win. It might not stop this problem completely, but will surely mitigate it. – vsz Mar 4 at 7:23
57

Use this bias in your favor!
Some players just won't listen to the most reasonable arguments. Trying to convince them that you were attacked enough won't work, instead use their biases in our own favor. Don't lead on the start of the game, try to be the second strongest player, then stay quiet while others attack the leader. It is nice to see everybody team up to destroy the leader, giving you an easy win.

In those kind of games, being second is usually the best in terms of winning probability.

I will add to the reference list:

Of course this "stalling" strategy is groupthink dependent, looks like that in your gaming group it will work like a charm.

  • 19
    To add to this: Has it ever occurred to you (the OP) that the person typically winning the games is using this strategy deliberately on you? Is it typically the same person winning? – Tom Mar 4 at 11:50
  • 9
    Another game where this is extremely obvious: Munchkin, never be the first to try and win the game, with more players it is even better to be third, because the first two will be grilled. – Falco Mar 4 at 12:01
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    Looking that you're behind is usually the best in terms of winning probability; it's worth to take a careful look at any potential differences between "in-progress" score as it looks to other players and the score that actually matters in the end - things that are either hidden or perhaps not easily available for others to notice; or things that bring you zero score right now but have a potential to bring you lots of score after a few turns. – Peteris Mar 4 at 14:40
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    @Tom The groups I play with in a game tend to be a bit random but there is definitely one recurring player that comes to mind. I can see now that he has likely been doing this in each game I play with him. Thanks for the answer, this appears to be the prevailing advice overall and I can see why. – user1442605 Mar 4 at 22:56
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    Managing psychological aspects of the other players is as much a part of the skill of a game as the mechanics written in the rulebook! – Darren Rogers Mar 7 at 5:27
23

My experience is mostly from Magic: the Gathering, so may not be applicable here but I have found a couple of effective tactics.

Make Attacking You Painful

Since the first person to be attacked frequently becomes a target for others, you must avoid being that player. To achieve this, the best way in my experience is to make attacking you involve a significant cost. In my games of Mtg one player has cards to make attacking them cost life/mana, or destroy creatures; but the cost does not have to be direct: If you make it clear that someone attacking you will receive your full wrath, they will think twice as to whether they can afford it.

Don't Let Them See Your Strength

Or more accurately, don't let them see you as a threat to them. Faced with a choice between defence and offence, choose defence until you can be sure that none who remain will be capable of retaliation. Frequently, in my experience, this involves someone who has done so little as to be forgotten suddenly pulling off an infinite combo.

Team Up With THEM

Before they decide to attack you, align yourself with them. There may be nothing forcing them to remain loyal but people tend to at least pay tribute to the idea, lest they be considered unreliable (side note: unreliable allies make excellent common enemies.) This does also free you to retaliate against people who do attack you. Just make sure that you can claim they betrayed you before you attack your allies. The one to break an alliance is rarely looked upon favourably.

  • Welcome to the Site! Great first answer! – Malco Mar 4 at 15:29
  • I'm not familiar with MtG but these are good ideas. The last one especially is something I should be more proactive about. Thanks for your answer. – user1442605 Mar 4 at 22:52
11

Appear less threatening than you really are. Depending on the game, you have a variety of options available to you:

  • Sandbag or stall your plan like Cohensius describes so that you are not the first target.
  • Amass resources instead of spending them on flashy plays. For example, in Lords of Waterdeep, this could mean saving your resources for future plans instead of immediately completing quests. This means you won't be in the lead as often, and you'll also have more flexibility with which quests you complete.
  • Change your play-style to play with more deception instead of straightforward strategies that are easy to gauge the threats from. For example, in Villainous avoid characters like King John, whose win condition is very easy for your opponents to keep track of.
  • Play different games. Try games where it's less easy to directly sabotage another player or games that aren't zero-sum. For example, Terra Mystica is a competitive game, but the game is designed in a way that a good play for one player doesn't necessarily adversely affect the other players. There are a lot of mutually beneficial arrangements built into the game. Or even play team/cooperative games. People won't target you if they're your teammate.

If these changes of strategy don't work, then you really have a metagame problem with your reputation. In these cases, your targeting is not due to in-game decisions but rather to how fellow players perceive you as a player. Perhaps you really do win more than your fair share of games. Or maybe other players think you win more than you do because your victories are more memorable. You'll likely have to adjust your expectations of victory. Either way, the best advice is to take your lumps for a while, congratulate the victors, and subtly point out that there is a new king of the hill to overthrow.

  • 1
    I used this strategy to win at MTG for years in my group. Also, had a friend use this exact strategy in hearts. He always would be "second best" until the last hand. EVERY game. He was that good. – John Mar 4 at 21:25
  • I haven't heard the term Sandbag before but that is a good one to add to my dictionary. Thinking deceptively is not something I'm used to but this is a good reason to start learning. Thanks for your answer. – user1442605 Mar 4 at 22:51
5

There are many ways to mitigate this, although which one(s) work will depend on the game and the playgroup:

  • Don't take an early lead. In a game where players have an easy way to penalize/attack one player, hanging out in second and pointing out how dangerous the person in first is can be a great way to sneak into the victory if everyone dogpiles the person in the lead.

  • Make deals and/or build preemptive alliances to get people on your side before the ganging up happens. Make sure that your allies/trading partners feel that they are benefiting enough from your strength to not betray you.

  • Go for victory routes that are less visibly obvious. If the game has both hidden and visible victory points, go for more of the hidden ones. Alternatively, prepare yourself to seize a number of objectives simultaneously so that when you gain the lead, it is sudden and harder to stop.

  • Focus on infrastructure in the early game rather than points. Build up a base that makes it easier for you to do things and/or attack other people rather than initially trying to win, and then be opportunistic.

  • Play games with hidden victory points (such as Chinatown or Smallworld) or a game where victory points are sufficiently hard to calculate (Agricola, 7 Wonders) so that people can't necessarily tell who's winning in order to gang up on that person.

  • Play games that don't have as many ways of attacking people (Power Grid, Chinatown, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy) or where attacks are directed by the game rather than by players (Cosmic Encounter, Dominion (depending on the kingdom cards))

  • Play games that have 2 teams (Battlestar the Board Game, Star Wars Rebellion, Descent) to remove the problems of multiplayer dynamics while still playing with a large group.

  • 1
    Games with hidden victory points are tricky, in some instances it will exacerbate the effect. My repeating experience with Smallworld was that careless expansion or using some overpowered combination effects in being bashed forever, as players are often completely clueless about how effective initial retaliation was. OTOH, hidden points are perfect for "stay second" strategy: average players are going to be consistently surprised by your score. – Frax Mar 4 at 21:31
  • @Frax Not everything is good for every playgroup. Your experience with Smallworld sounds like the appropriate response for that group is the "less visibly obvious" routes to victory – Zags Mar 4 at 21:33
  • These are good points. Your answer also helps me realize one reason I like many of the games you listed in the last couple of bullet points. Thanks for your answer. – user1442605 Mar 4 at 22:48
4

I think the important thing to distinguish is why the other players are attacking you for. Are they attacking you because:

  1. it is funny to them? (them attacking you has little to no benefit to them in game, and they enjoy seeing you suffer more then they enjoy winning the game)
  2. you are too good at other games compared to them and they think you will win the game unless teamed up against?
  3. you get ahead in the game too early and seem like the biggest threat in early stages of the game?

If it is the first one, you may want to talk to your friends, explaining to them that attacking you just for the heck of it is making games unenjoyable to you.

If it is the second one, then ooph. Tough spot. You may have to lose a few games before you try to run the argument of "Hey, I keep losing at this game, so why not attack player X, who has won this game way more times then I did?"

If it is the third one, you have landed yourself in what is called the "early leader syndrome" (term taken from the board game Diplomacy). This means the other players see your score early, think you are the biggest threat, and hurl everything they got against you because they think you'll win otherwise. The key strategy against this situation is to be at a good spot, but not at the best spot. For that, you have to figure out what the players think matters the most in the game. For example, in Lords of Waterdeep, if players focus on the victory points, try to spend your early game actions to create an engine that will help you score quests instead of trying to score quests (focus on plot quests or buildings that will help you complete quests instead of trying to complete 10+ victory point quests). If the players are experienced enough to judge who is the biggest threat based on the engine they create, then try to create the second best engine, and then point out to everyone that there is a player who is a bigger threat than you. In my gaming sessions for example, whoever gets the quest for hiring the Lieutenant becomes public enemy number one, and is screwed over whenever able. That is when I build my engine. "Oh, I am totally buying this building to screw over the lieutenant holder, nothing else"

  • "Early Leader Syndrome", I haven't heard that term before that is quite apt to what I have experienced, maybe a bit of #2 mixed in there with recurring groups. Thanks for your answer. – user1442605 Mar 4 at 22:46
  • @user1442605 my pleasure :) – shamwow Mar 5 at 14:39
4

You could embrace your notoriety and play with "everyone vs you"-rules. For example, Magic: The Gathering has an "Archenemy" game mode, where one player is the "Archenemy" and everyone else gangs up on them. It might not make you win more, but you won't feel cheated, and victory will be all the more sweet. You could also take turns being the "Archenemy" so the others get a taste of their own collusive medicine.

1

Make yourself beneficial to them

As with some of the other answers, this one is coming from experience with the card game Magic: The Gathering.

I have a reputation among my friends of being tactical and pulling out surprise combos and come-from-behind victories. This causes me to be a frequent target if the deck I'm using can't readily fend them off. One deck in particular simply isn't a strong enough deck to do that, so I took a different approach.

In that deck, I added a card called Curse of Echoes. You target a player with it, and then as long as that card remains active, then whenever that player casts a sorcery or instant, all other players get to copy that sorcery or instant.

I wait to play that card until I know who is leading, or who has the most sorceries and instants to play, and then I put it on that person. And just like that, I'm no longer a target from anyone except that one player! Now, instead of trying to eliminate me, the other players actively try to protect me because I am useful to them!

And at that point, as weak as that deck is, I'm suddenly very likely to actually win the game, because I am now beneficial to the other players.

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