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?
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.
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.)