Board Game Terms: Alpha Gamer

All this week we’ll be taking a look at some of the jargon used in board games. If you’re new to gaming, you might like our piece from last year explaining the terms used to describe different types of games. This week we’re concentrating on terms used by more dedicated players to describe characteristics of games and gamers, particularly ones that can be controversial or problematic.

Today’s phrase is “alpha gamer” which refers to a situation in cooperative games (players work together against the game rather than one another, such as in Pandemic) where one or more players wind up giving advice so strongly that they are effectively telling people what to do on their turn. It can also be referred to as “quarterback syndrome”.

This can be deliberate or it may be the result of someone with an overbearing personality or more assertive confidence than other players. It can be a particular problem when the “alpha gamer” is highly experienced with the game and playing with newcomers.

The negative of “alpha gamer” is simple: the other players feel they are having little or no input into the game and are effectively reduced to spectators.

Alpha gamer is largely a combination of a social issue and an inherent drawback to cooperative games. However, if you are uncomfortable with addressing the social issue during a game, there are a few ways to mitigate the issue.

  • Look for games which combine a shared win condition with personal, secret objectives such as Dead of Winter. This can help players feel more confident about making moves that aren’t necessarily what the potential “alpha gamer” is advocating.
  • Look for games which may have one player in a traitor role such as Dead of Winter again or Shadows Over Camelot. This can add enough doubt about the advice of the “alpha gamer” for players to consider taking a different path.
  • Explore games with a twist on the co-operative setup. For example, in This War Of Mine, players don’t control individual characters. Instead one player takes control of all the characters for a particular turn. The rules suggest that the current player makes all the decisions for the round without consultation and the group only discusses the decisions at the end of the round.
  • Consider games such as Escape: The Curse Of The Temple which play in real-time and are usually too frantic for players to not only take care of their own actions but also figure out and tell others everything they should do. In some games such as Magic Maze, communication is actually restricted as part of the gameplay.

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