If I can't win neither can you - Playing Spoiler

When we have a game with only one winner but there is a state in which all players can lose, what’s the best way to deal with that?

Two games have been in my mind lately Archipelago and Tomorrow. Archipelago has a potential traitor role that actually wins when the game does hit the fail state and I think handles this situation far better than Tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s controversy is generally due to its theme, massive global depopulation, ie genocide. The players are heads of superpowers in the future and it is discovered that due to something that isn’t fully explained that the only way for humanity to survive at all is for the population to be reduced quickly. Naturally the superpowers want themselves to be in charge when this is done. So you try to keep your population intact along with the odd invasion and protection of minor country population.

So here’s a problem with what’s going on there. If a player becomes convinced that they’re in last place with no hope of recovery they don’t have any incentive to really save the world anymore and may quite possibly want to drive it off the edge out of spite. The game includes nuclear weapons for this exact purpose. Population killed by nukes do not count towards saving the world and in fact sets the counter back with the ensuing fallout. In a game that can be a struggle to reach the safe line at all these are classified revenge weapons and with a country like the US or Russia can amount to a table flip with their sizable arsenals.

The idea is that Tomorrow is a game of negotiation. You want to convince the players they have a chance while plotting to take the lead at the last moment. But if a player ends up as a punching bag they have a pretty good shot at tanking everything.

Contrast this with Archipelago. In that game a random role assignment could see you wanting to burn everything. Just the mere possibility of you being the rebel can be used to leverage stronger players to pick up more of the slack in crisis situations. I think that it’s this unknown quality that might keep player feelings from boiling over and force compromise. Now it’s just as possible in Archipelago for someone to feel so far behind they want to tank it anyway without being the traitor but I think that it is less accepted by the game rather than Tomorrow which has a mechanic for playing spoiler. Again, in both you can use a clearly behind position as a bargaining chip but Tomorrow has a real spite mechanic added.

What games handle spoiling players well and not so well?

Tom M

I used to play a lot of 3-player games with some buddies of mine. This caused some timing issues, because if one player was eliminated early, that player ended up having to just sit around. If the player wasn’t actually eliminated, there was the problem of the person playing spoiler or otherwise influencing the game without having an opportunity to actually win.

We “solved” this problem by tracking victories over time, but also by adding partial victories. Basically, at any point during the game (but usually in the late game), players could negotiate for fractional victory. Basically, it allowed a losing player to get some credit for being able to exert influence on the game.

If you were eliminated, you got nothing. If the game was a draw between the remaining players, they could divvy up the victory (.5/.5, or .6/.4, or whatever seemed appropriate). If nobody would make concessions, play would continue, but usually a losing player would take a smaller percentage instead of risking a total loss. Mostly though, the idea was to keep games from dragging out too long.

If a player was eliminated, they got no fractional points, so threatening to play spoiler often meant the other players would gang up on you to avoid having to share a percentage. In other situations they might concede .1 or .2, which was better than leaving with a total loss.