Listen to me...
Most people want to gather around the table to play board games because of the social interaction that they get from it. To meet that desire, most games have a certain amount of discussion built in. Social deception games like Werewolf and Resistance are obvious examples, but even classics like Risk and Monopoly encourage players to try and convince their fellow players to take actions that are more beneficial to them:
"I'll give you an extra 100 to trade with me"
"Want a truce on this boarder for three turns?"
While this helps meet that desire for social interaction, this same aspect of gameplay can lead to certain players feeling isolated or left out. Consider different groups of gamers that you know. Odds are, there is at least one person that you know who talks more in these types of games than perhaps the rest of the group combined. These individuals typically are trying to help lead the group to a better outcome, and believe that what they are doing is for the good of the group, but this can cause the players who are more quite to be left out, un-heard, and feeling like they aren't playing the same game as everyone else. Sometimes the loud person is wrong and leads the group to failure... repeatedly in some cases. Maybe that person is just really... really annoying.
Games in which each player is looking out for themselves have a natural way to remove this problem, as each player will in turn be incentivized to disregard the loud player's advice and act against them. Games that are free-for-alls are much less at risk for this phenomenon becoming a problem, so lets focus more on team-based games.
When creating a game that allows social prowess to be a gameplay element, it is important to keep in mind what players who don't like to talk can do to offset the inherent disadvantage that they will face. Consider Werewolf/Mafia. A very persuasive player can lead an entire group of villages, but that game has a built in system to help other players alleviate that problem: the werewolves. Whenever one player is leading the group, they typically become the target for the werewolves, and are thus removed from the game. Not only does this discourage a "leader" from turning the game into their own personal soapbox, but in the event that such a leader is not killed off, it typically causes the group to become suspicious of that player. "If you're right, how come the werewolves haven't killed you off yet?"
Other games, however, do not have this same valve in place. Resistance and Avalon, for example, both can suffer from one player completely running the game.
So what can be done about this? As we've seen in WW, removing the player from the game is one option. Another option is to provide each player with a certain subset of abilities that only they can do, so that the group needs to work together. Even if one player is acting as a leader, the rest of the group still feels very involved because they are a needed component for the team. XCOM the boardgame is a great example of this. Speaking of XCOM, any real time game, game in which you have a real life time limit such as Space Alert, circumvents this very naturally, and is an interesting design space that has plenty of exploration left to be done.
Causing players to separate into different teams or areas has a similar effect. Whether it be physically separating those players, like in Two Rooms and a Boom, or separating their attention, like in World of Warcraft the Board Game, this prevents one louder player from drowning out all of the other players.
That's what she said
And with that, we are at the end of 2015. Let us know what other games have done a good job of addressing this issue, or whether you think this is even an issue at all.
Join us next month when we take a look back at 2015 and do a little retrospective posting. From everyone at Ghost Roadhouse, we hope you had a great holiday, have a great New Years eve, and a great year to come!