When you sit down at the table to play board games, the person sitting across from you might end up being your best friend, or your worst enemy. It all comes down to the competitive structure of the game. Some games will break you up into teams or have everyone work together. Others will pit one player against the rest of the group, or it might be everyone for themselves. Depending of the makeup of the competitive structure, you could be in for a dramatically different gaming experience.
For this week’s CMON Feature Friday, we decided to take a look at competitive structures, some of the features and drawbacks of each, and when is the best time to play each one.
Everyone For Themself
This is probably the most common competitive structure. If you’ve played some games in your life, chances are you’ve tried one of these. In this type of game, players compete with each other to achieve a set of goals faster or better than their opponents. Monopoly, Clue, RISK, and even games like Checkers and Chess would fall into this category. While you’re going to play a lot of games like this in your lifetime, they are best enjoyed when the playing field is as level as possible. Everyone will have more fun if they feel they have at least a chance of winning. Pick games that no one player is an expert at, and you should have a good gaming experience.
These can be a great deal of fun! Teaming up with someone, or a group of people, to work together for a shared goal immediately forms a bond between players. You can trash talk the other teams to get in their head, and support each other through your shared tasks. Sometimes playing as a team can up the competitive spirit a bit. You feed off each other’s energies. And when you lose, at least you share that with other people. These are usually great games to pull out during parties or team building exercises.
Sometimes you don’t want to compete with humans, you just want to work together to solve a problem. There is still competition in cooperative games, but the ‘foe,’ as it were, is the game itself. With co-op games, a lot of people worry about the ‘alpha gamer’ problem. That’s when one player knows the game better, or is more experienced in gaming, and they tend to quarterback other players’ turns and tell them what to do. This can be a legitimate problem. However, more recent cooperative games go a long way towards solving it. The structure of the game, itself, takes away the alpha gamer issue. For a thematic, immersive experience, Zombicide: Black Plague is a perfect fit. Players are transported back to medieval times to combat an illness infecting the population. For those looking to solve a complex problem, check out Kreus. It's hitting your FLGS later this month. In this game, players are tasked with building four levels of a planet with very limited communication. Games like this are perfect when you want to take the competition level down a notch.
One Vs. Many
We talked about One vs. Many games in the past. There are a lot of great examples on the market today. In these games, most of the players work cooperatively against a single opponent. Typically, One vs. Many games feature asymmetrical starting powers and win conditions. One of the best in recent memory is Eric M. Lang’s The Others. One player takes on the role of one of the Seven Deadly Sins. They’re trying to bring on the apocalypse, while the rest of the players work together to try and stop them. Another great new title to feature this competitive structure is Rise of Moloch. This second entry in the World of SMOG series is still taking late pledges on Kickstarter. One player is the Nemesis, trying to bring about an ancient fire demon, while the rest team up as members of the Unicorn Club. These heroes work together to end the nefarious plots of the Nemesis. These are great games to play when one player is more experienced than the rest. It allows people to gang up and work together to defeat a common enemy.
Player vs, Player vs. Environment
In Player vs, Player vs. Environment (P vs. P vs. E) games, you not only have to worry about the other players running around the board trying to beat you, you also have to take into account the environment of the game, itself. A perfect example is Arcadia Quest. Players control the Heroes of their Guild in an effort to complete quests and earn points. They do battle with each other along the way, but also have to tangle with the monstrous creatures that have taken over the city of Arcadia. It’s pretty challenging to be constantly switching between human and AI opponents. It’s hard to balance these types of games well, but when it’s done successfully, P vs. P vs. E can offer an interesting and refreshing challenge.
Board games are all uniquely different experiences, and one of the major contributing factors is the competitive structure. It determines how you play the game, and who you’re playing against. What is your favorite competitive structure in games? Did we miss any big ones? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #CMONFeatureFriday.