In this post we describe some exciting examples of meaningful choices in board games, and what makes them so meaningful, both to the player making the choice, and the other player’s playing.

As stated before, We hope the following isn’t considered as a know it all expert blathering about how to make the best game ever. We hope it provides insight into why we make our games the way we do,  and provides a starting point for discussion on discussion on this topic.

Choice in games is extremely important. a game is basically a series of meaningful choices. In order to look at what makes a good meaningful choice, today we will look at examples of games that feature excellent choices, and what makes them so exciting.

We’ll start with a choice very similar to the prisoners dilemma. In Cosmic Encounter, a game about taking control out outer space, the way you handle battles is through a card system. These cards determine the attack value of your ships, and range in power from 4 to 40. So far, so normal. BUT, there are negotiate cards, which will only work when the other player wants to negotiate as well.

This means if the other player attacks, no matter the strength of that attack, they win. You can see how this can get interesting. Players can convince each other to play the negotiate card, then attack them, or be attacked when they bring their own negotiate card out. This leads to interesting discussions between players, lots of mind games between players, and hey! Now just choosing a card to put down has become a game in itself.

EDIT: As it turns out, there’s more to the Negotiate cards than I previously stated, IF a player plays a Negotiate card, and the other player plays an Attack card, the Attack player wins, BUT, and this is a big BUT the Negotiate player is then able to random select one of the attacker’s cards for each ship that is sent to the void. As Pete Olotka says “This leads to many a pyrrhic victory on the Attack side as the Negotiator fishes for key cards.”  You can see how this can influence the game! You might give up a fight to collect your opponents powerful cards (or all of them if your opponent has very little cards) and this rule encourages players that have many strong cards to also Negotiate if their opponent is playing the Negotiate card. Thanks to Pete Olotka for clearing this up.

On the co operative side of things, Pandemic is an extremely exciting board game to analyze for meaningful choices. You and your friends work together to save humanity by ridding the world of four extremely dangerous diseases, and lose when the diseases take over enough cities to cause outbreaks. Every turn you take you’ll have to decide which city to move to, and how you’ll do it. At the end of your turn, you have to pick up infection cards to determine which city gets infected again, and has an extra infection cube placed on it. If a city gets three infection cubes on it, and gets infected again, then an outbreak occurs and the cities around it get infected as well, and this can cause more outbreaks to occur.

So ideally you’d use your cards to go to the most infected cities, right? But here’s the thing, to cure a disease, you need 5 cards of the same color, and then be on a research station, and then cash them all in. So do you keep that “New York” card, so that you can cure the disease in the US, or do you use it to get there, since it has 3 cubes on it and you don’t know if it could be infected again? What do you and your team mates think? You don’t want to let them down do you? Then you’ll always be that guy that kept his “New York” card while the whole world burned…

One of the problems about co operative games is the quarterback player. This is basically someone who knows the game inside out, tells everyone what to do, and makes the game less fun for everyone else. One game that has an amazing series of mechanics to combat this is The Dead of Winter. The game is about surviving the zombie apocalypse in winter, and gives every player their own goal, along with the goal of keeping everyone alive. The thing is that their goal could be to hoard all the food, make a robot using lots of  tools, or just plain burn the survival camp to the ground.

This means that anyone trying to railroad players into doing certain things is immediately suspected of doing something that benefits their goal. And here’s the other amazing part. Players can be voted out of the group, which means all their goals change, and they aren’t playing on the same team as everyone else anymore, so if a player seems like a traitor, they can be voted out, and their entire game changes. That’s some amazing meaningful choice that involves everyone playing.

Thanks for reading, and we’d love to read some of your own most interesting choices you’ve had to make in a game. Maybe there’s a choice you’ve made during family game night that your whole family will never let you live down? Or one which saved the whole game for everyone? I’d like to hear any stories from anyone that’s finished Ghost Stories, and what kind of dark god you had to pray to in order to win that.