Picking on the Leader

I’ve still been struggling a lot with the player politics in our game. I feel that I’m able to articulate the problem a lot better then I was a month ago, so I thought I’d share some of my musings.

The main culprit is called targeted interaction. This is when a player can select who they want to interact with, either positively or negatively. In games like ours, where its very easy to tell who’s winning, players will often choose to gang up on the leader when they have the opportunity.

The obvious drawback to this is that players are punished for taking the lead, which can make experienced players hang back to avoid getting picked on. This is generally not a strategy we want to encourage.

Games like this can also tend to be a roller-coaster, where being in the lead at one point of the game means nothing. Players take the lead and are picked on in turn and only the end of the game matters. Ideally, we would want the actions the players make to be meaningful throughout the game.

There are some pros to this type of gameplay that I would be hesitant to do away with. Firstly, targeted interaction is thematic for our game. It wouldn’t feel right if you couldn’t directly attack someone.

Picking on the leader also acts as a catch up feature. Without some way to stop the leader from accelerating to victory, the losing players will feel as though they have no chance. And if the game is a long ways from being over, then being forced to play out a game you have no chance in can be very frustrating. Picking on the leader helps keep the game closer and more exciting.

Considering all this, I believe that the best course of action would be to try to blunt the impact of picking on the leader while still keeping the thematic feel and catch up features. I’ve decided to try adding defensive cards to that effect.

If we had high cost defensive cards, wealthy players could use them to help cement their lead. Having this option would make players less wary about taking an early lead. The leader would still get picked on, but the impact would be reduced making the game less swingy.

The bonus to this is that these defensive abilities act as a catch-up feature, since only the leaders really need to spend money on it. Since losing players are freed from this burden, they can put their resources toward catching up.

Adding these defensive options will hopefully help a player convert an early lead into a victory, while making the game much closer for the other players. I’m not positive that this course of action will have the right impact, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

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