Variant: Cooperatives and Dominant Players
The “Dominant Player Problem” is the bane of cooperative gaming. Basically, it means that one player takes charge of what should or shouldn’t be done and tells everyone else what to do. You may see this in Arkham Horror as one player directs who should go where and fight what, or in Pandemic with one player essentially moving every piece. It turns a cooperative game into a solo game with spectators.
Or so the theory goes. One blogger has adamantly declared that it is in fact a problem with the player and not a problem with the game. And, to a large extent I agree. If someone is being an overbearing jerk, they are just as capable of doing so in a cooperative game as in a competitive one. How often has someone “suggested” that another player make a move that also benefits the suggestor? Yet, the very nature of the fully cooperative game allows a Dominant Player to flourish — perhaps to the chagrin of his peers.
Rather than explore the game vs. player dichotomy (which Gamer Chris did well), I’m more interested in the evolution of cooperatives to address the perceived problem. The two major avenues this has taken are: utilizing hidden knowledge, and time constraints.
Sentinels of the Multiverse hides knowledge from the other players. Since each has their own hand of cards, it is generally impossible for one player to completely plan out everyone’s moves, and the dominant player’s influence is much reduced. Still, it is common for a player who wants advice to say, “Should I deal damage to the villain, or should I play a card that eliminates that bad environment card?” So, you still have cooperation without undue influence.
On the other hand, you have real time strategy games. Space Cadets and Escape are both recent exemplars of this tactic. Escape is completely real time with players yelling and rolling dice as fast as possible. They must coordinate, but with the pressures of the real-time recording, perfect knowledge is not obtainable. Similarly, Space Cadets uses real time elements where players must solve puzzles while still trying to communicate (especially helm and shields). Again, perfect information is not knowable.
So it seems that cooperative developers have realized the potential problem. And, in a battle of wills against the Dominant Player, are subtly reducing his efficacy. I think both methods released so far are beneficial if imperfect. But I’m eager to see what the next mechanism will be to prevent full blown dominance.