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FDQ: What Is Player Interaction?

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In recent twitter activity, the question came up as to what exactly player interaction is.

I’ve noticed that with certain games, some will praise it for subtle interaction while others will disdain it for being essentially “multiplayer solitaire.” Aside from the fact that solitaire does actually have a two-player variant, how can one game be thought of so differently?

Okay don’t answer that. That’s not today’s FDQ. Today’s actual FDQ is, how do you define player interaction?

@Futurewolfie answers:
Honestly, to me player interaction comes in all different forms. It can be direct and impactful, or very very subtle. I think anytime the other players can do anything that affects the game for other players, that counts as player interaction. Regardless of how subtle it is, it forces players to keep at least some tabs on each other and react accordingly—and that’s a form of interaction.

Case in point here is Dominion, which is sometimes called a “multiplayer solitaire” game. However, I disagree with this notion. Sure, you build your own deck and most of what goes into it is completely up to you. Other players have little chance of affecting your hand once your turn has started. However, attack cards aside, the central supply keeps all players connected. Sure, you could build a perfect deck and then buy up all the points if you were playing on your own. But the challenge comes from having to do it faster than the other players. Each time a player takes a province, not only does it push the game that much closer to ending, but it prevents any other player from getting that province, quickly dwindling the supply. Thusly players have to keep tabs on each other to make sure they don’t wait too long. They have to react to the things other players are doing. And that’s interaction.

If Dominion was, say, a turn-limited game, it would be much more solitary. Then you would simply attempt to build your deck in a specified amount of turns, regardless of what the other players were doing. I think there’s a huge different there.

@FarmerLenny’s answer:
I think player interaction is anything another player can do that forces you to change your plan. What typically passes for player interaction is conflict, where players are allowed to directly influence a player of their choice (an attack). I think there are other forms, too. For example, there is competition over choosing an action or role as in Agricola or Puerto Rico. There’s the interaction of trying to read what your opponent will do as in Race for the Galaxy (though, admittedly, this game can be played without much interaction at all). There’s the interaction of monitoring a common supply and trying to determine what your opponents are up to as in Dominion (granted, this game can be played without much interaction as well, especially if your goal is the baseline silver gambit). I don’t think there’s an ideal level of player interaction for any game (though there must be some; otherwise, what’s the point of finding other players at all?); it’s up to individual players. For me, I prefer games that avoid direct conflict and love games that find other ways for players to interact. My three favorite games—El Grande, Dominion, and Acquire—all cause interesting player interactions without direct attack. (Okay, there’s some in El Grande. For some reason that game gets a pass.)

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion6 Comments

  1. Player interaction is being able to wash the bones of your slain enemies!

    Oh, um, er, just kidding… *sheepish grin*

    You both cover it well. I tend to think of interaction as directly affecting other players as in attacks or steals or blocks. Essentially when one of the, if not THE core mechanic of the game involves a back-and-forth of matching wits and reacting to strategy with other players. Games like Dominion, Kingsburg, and Puerto Rico I’ll label as “subtle” interaction, but I don’t necessarily think of it as interaction “in practice.” Just denying another player a resource because you take it first is fairly lame on the “interaction scale.” But I recognize it as technically interaction.

  2. I agree. I like FarmerLenny’s definition of, “anything another player can do that forces you to change your plan.” Of course, as a died in the wool Euro lover, I like the very indirect player interaction. Even just taking a spot in Caylus and forcing me to go elsewere is “interaction” for me.

    I think it’s just a case of degree. People like different amounts of interaction. Below your personal threshhold and the game is “multiplayer solitaire.”

  3. While once in a while, it’s fun to just beat the crap out of an opponent, I really prefer the more subtle interaction of games like Dominion. That being said, ‘race’ style games such as the great DungeonQuest are fun, but having no impact on what other players can do makes if a filler game, not one that you can waste a whole day on.

  4. @Jason–Maybe I shouldn’t ever play games with you. They sound brutal… 🙂

    @GeekInsight–That’s good…well, insight that below your threshold is typically where the “multiplayer solitaire” moniker is used.

    @The Janitor–I prefer the subtle kind, too. What’s interesting is that you say no impact games are better as filler. I agree, but I also think that too MUCH impact makes a better filler game, too. If I can’t plan too far in advance, I want the game to end quickly. A longer game, IMHO, should reward long-term planning.

  5. @FarmerLenny I couldn’t agree more. There is something about maneuvering yourself into a winning position that is much more satisfying than simply bludgeoning yourself to the win.

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