Friday, March 21, 2014

Classics Lecture Series: Negotiations - Risk

When I used to play Risk with the neighborhood kids the strategy was pre-determined, take Australia and South Africa, or barring that, take North America as fast as I can. The real game was how well I could get the other kids to allow me to do this.

Who wins and who loses in Risk is driven by negotiations. I’ll let you have Africa, you let me have South America.  If we do not work together then Sam over there is going to take over North America while we fight each other.

I still play Risk every once and a while online without anybody talking to anybody, and though the mechanics have not changed, it’s a completely different game. Player negotiations is a game component that adds multiple dimension to a board game.

Negotiations Create Player Options

Negotiations opens up options for players as how to pursues their goal.  Without negotiations a game of Monopoly is fixed by the roll of the dice as to who gets what.  To be honest, if players do not haggle, barter, and trade, then Monopoly is just a very long game of roulette.

With negotiations players create new property combinations that alter the balance of who is favored to win the game.  Players are no longer just waiting for the right die combinations.  Players are actively engaging each other, sizing each other up, as they look to find trades that will give them a chance to win.  The options created from trade changes the game from a game of just chance, to a game of skilled negotiations with some chance.

Negotiations Counters Runaway Winners

Through negotiations players are able to keep others from running away with the win.  If we can coordinate to not destroy our chance to win in Risk by fighting each other to the death than we can also negotiate to work together to prevent another player running away with a win.

Using negotiation to coordinate player action to prevent a runaway leader even occurs in games where negotiations may be limited.  In Settlers of Catan players will not only boycott trading with the player in the lead, they will also work together to move the robber, exchange resources, build roads, and settlements to contain the player in the lead.

Negotiations Personalize the Player Experience

Negotiations necessitate personal interactions.  I have to convince you to work with me.  That means success or failure becomes dependent on player personalities.  Are you vindictive?  Are you pragmatic?   Do you have trouble trusting people?  Do you have trouble trusting me?  Are you forgiving?  These personality traits alter game negotiations and alter game experience.

If you do not trust me in Risk then you might hesitate to enter an agreement with me to attack another player because I may exploit your undefended border.  Just finding my personality abrasive can alter what I can achieve in negotiations.  Someone might not trade with me in Monopoly because they just think I am a mean and horrible person.

Different players have different personalities.  Each time you play with a group of people you are dealing with a different combination that creates a completely different game experience.  That means a game with a heavy negotiation element plays as a new variant every time you play it, just like Risk Legacy.  Even if you play the same game with the same players, they will remember what happened last time and adjust how they treat the other players.

Winning and Losing Negotiations is a Game Itself

Navigating your personality amongst other player’s personality is a game within itself.  Which player can best navigate their personality strengths and weaknesses amongst everyone else’s strengths and weaknesses?

Take the game of Pandemic.  Players are constantly negotiating with each other to form a consensus on how to fight the epidemic.  Players who do not adjust well for the negotiating strategies and personalities of their teammates will not work well together and will fail to coordinate to save the world.

Risk and The Resistance shows that winning negotiations gamers are not just about building coalitions, they are also about negotiations that successfully destroys them.  Players are battling each other to either build trust or destroy it.  If you are not part of the coalition that appears to be winning the game then you need to use your best negotiation skills to break it up.

In Risk, the player leading the game sees everyone attempting to form an alliance to counter their growing power.  A good negotiator does not sit ideally by and let a new alliance form to prevent their rise to glory.  They walk over to the player with trust problems and remind them of all the times the other players stabbed a partner in the back. Next, they quietly stroll over to the players who are known for stabbing others in the back and tries to make them an offer they just can’t refuse.

While playing The Resistance, I need to figure out what is the best tactic to convince the leader that someone else is a traitor and not me.  I weigh the success of deflecting attention from myself by attacking others, versus using such aggressive tactics backfiring and drawing attention to myself.  At the same time I have to decide if vocally professing that I am not the traitor will lead more or less people to trust me.  If a group challenges my loyalty I must work to undermine the credibility of those who label me a traitor and sew seeds of mistrust within the group itself.

Risk is not Risk Without Negotiations

Risk without negotiations is not risk, its multiplayer chess with dice.  Negotiations turn simple mechanics into an intense meta game of wits among the players.  Players are no longer just trying to solve a simple puzzle, they are actively competing with each other to achieve a diplomatic victory that will hand them the game.

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