Gameological Unplugged

Battlestar Galactica board game art

Traitor!

It spices up the action when one board game player is working against the rest, but the result can be more stressful than fun.

By Samantha Nelson • October 8, 2013

In Gameological Unplugged, Samantha Nelson looks at trends and new developments in the vast world of tabletop games.

I’m not a fan of most competitive games. I hate realizing I’m so far behind that there’s no way I can win even though I’m stuck playing for another 20 minutes while things wrap up. I hate when I’m doing well and all the other players gang up on me as result, typically egged on by whoever’s in second place. I like winning, but considering I’m almost always introduced to a new game by someone who’s already quite good at it, I tend to get frustrated long before I’ve played enough to actually have a shot at victory.

That’s why cooperative board games—games when players try to beat the game rather than each other—were such a revelation for me. When I join my friends in facing down randomly generated menaces in Ghost Stories and Arkham Horror, the board game experience becomes what I was always told it should be: a fun way to hang out with friends. That’s a nice break from my frequent struggle to keep my temper from flaring up while not becoming so detached that I got bored. When I lose in a cooperative game, I’m losing to the game itself. I can get mad at a game without making it awkward to hang out later. Cardboard doesn’t hold a grudge.

Battlestar Galactica Cylon card

A Cylon “loyalty card” from Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game

But a cooperative game can become less enjoyable when you’ve got someone at the table that feels like he or she has mastered it. In an ideal co-op setting, players talk out strategy and make moves that they think are both effective and fun. A veteran player, though, can wind up dictating what others should do and might blame setbacks on the subpar actions of others. When everyone’s cards are literally all on the table, you can wind up with a multiplayer game effectively being played solo.

Enter the traitor mechanic. Board games like Battlestar Galactica, Shadows Over Camelot and Betrayal At House On The Hill all have players working together to win the game as a collective, but they keep things from getting too cozy by making it possible that at least one player is working against the rest.

In Shadows and Battlestar, players receive cards at the beginning of the game that dictate if they are a loyal knight or a turncoat, a human or a Cylon, and their goals for the game are determined accordingly. In this setup, players can’t reveal all their cards or possible tricks for fear the traitor will capitalize on the knowledge. And if one player tries to take charge of the proceedings, the resulting suspicion will typically keep everyone else from being too obedient—wary that the great strategies being proposed are actually part of the traitor’s evil scheme.

Betrayal At House On The Hill

Betrayal At House On The Hill

Betrayal At House On The Hill is a weirder case. The game starts with everyone on the same team, setting out to explore and survive a haunted house that you all build piecemeal, tile by cardboard tile. At some point, one of the players goes bad, typically in an obvious fashion. But the knowledge that someone will turn on you still puts an edge on the early game. If misfortune weakens one player, you can hope that person winds up being the traitor. Likewise, if someone gets too many good items, it can make other players uneasy. At the same time, the well-geared player is unlikely to want to share with people they might wind up having to kill later.

The traitor-in-our-midst device definitely changes the mood of a game, but not always positively. While Shadows and Betrayal can feature a traitor, not every playthrough has one. (That sets them apart from games in which the whole object is to ferret out disloyal players, like the many variations of the party game Werewolf—aka Mafia and Witch Hunt.) Strangely, some of my best experiences with “traitor games” are ones in which all the tension gave way to the revelation that all of my friends really were my friends. A loss that’s even partially engineered by someone you know stings a lot worse than losing to an antagonist made of cardboard.

But the real victim of games with traitor mechanics is often the double agent herself. When I sit down to a game of Shadows Over Camelot, I want to do knightly things like beating back barbarian hordes and questing for the Holy Grail—the premise of the game, after all, is to complete as many quests for the forces of good as possible. I don’t want to be the one turncoat, taking incredibly quick turns where I just place another siege tank at the gates of Camelot, even if that is the most effective strategy. Battlestar also dramatically reduces the actions you can take once you’ve been revealed as a Cylon.

Shadows Over Camelot

Shadows Over Camelot

As a result, I’ve found that traitorous players often play suboptimally: They spend too much time doing helpful things to throw other players off their scent while dreaming of a big, dramatic reveal that too rarely comes. (It’s akin to a nervous poker player “slow playing” a killer hand.) In addition, rulesets tend to favor the “loyal” players, and loyalists also have the advantage of being able to bounce ideas off each other while traitors typically have to plot alone. The upshot is that traitors in those games are rarely victorious.

The emotional dynamics get even more complex when allegiances can change in the middle of play, as is the case in the Battlestar Galactica game. The object here is for the humans to collaborate—by shepherding resources and managing crises—on a journey to their home planet of Kobol. In the context of the show’s fiction, it makes sense to have Cylon “sleeper agents” who think they’re human, only to start working for the toasters once they’re activated. This is in keeping with the events of the TV source material. So are Cylon sympathizers: humans who see the sad state of things on Galactica and think they can get a better deal working for the bad guys.

But for a player, changing allegiances mid-game is a jarring experience that makes it hard to get excited about your new role. If you’re a Cylon sleeper agent, it’s all too likely that you’ll find yourself with no friends and a human fleet in good shape to achieve victory, meaning you’ve just been traded to the losing team. And if the humans are in dire straits, a sleeper agent doesn’t get to enjoy the fun of trying to come back from behind, either—you just wind up kicking your friends when they’re down.

It’s more fun to be the traitor in Betrayal because there’s just not much to the game until the reveal happens. When you turn into a vampire or befriend a poltergeist, you often get some neat new powers and monster friends to play with. Here the balance of power shifts a bit too far in the other direction, making it very hard for the “good” players to win and bringing back my problems with competitive games. Traitors often spend a lot of time chasing down individual characters and removing them from the game. When you spend 30 minutes with nothing to do but hope your surviving allies can eke out a victory, it gives you a lot of time to think on how smug your friend looked while stabbing you in the back. It makes me long for the camaraderie of a purely cooperative board game all over again.

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  • Cloks

    Time to gather round all ye Gloggers and listen to weird Uncle Cloks’

    Thrilling Tales of Boardgame Stupidity

    This story involves the game Bang!, which if you haven’t played/heard of before is a reskinning of a game like Mafia or Werewolf, where players are assigned roles secretly and perform actions according to those roles. There are typically two factions, in Bang! those are the upholders of Frontier law (the Sheriff and their deputies) and the Outlaws, lowdown dirty cheats trying to kill the Sheriff. There is however a third, wildcard faction: The Renegade. The renegade’s goal is to kill everybody at the table (in the game as well) and be the last player alive. This is typically one of the most difficult roles to play.

    Now, your old friend Cloksy here was playing Bang! with his regular group for the first time, although a few had played similar games before. Because you’re supposed to keep your character secret, he snuck a quick peek at his card before playing his role appropriately… that of the renegade. Tweren’t mighty long before one of the black-sheep of the game, a no-good Outlaw made themselves clear. Sharpshootin’ Cloks took aim and made sure they died in a blaze of gory glory to ingratiate himself with the side of the good and true. This happened a few more times until there were only a few people left alive: The Sherrif, two mysterious players and Traitorous Cloks.

    I was a venomous snake in the rough, but at this point I wasn’t too good at hiding it. Shots started coming in my general direction from the two remaining deputies (by Mathematical Cloks’ simple calculation) and even the Sheriff himself. Now, one of the deputies in particular had an itchy trigger finger and took a shot at your pal Cloks every time she could. The other was more cautious, knowing that Duplicitous Cloks could hurl her bullets right back at her… or so it seemed. Now, even your good chum Cloks ain’t rightwise immortal and he eventually fell to the inspired players.

    “Consarn it!,” he said, flipping over his card, “I was el renegado all along!” Only, the card had other words to say. Apparently Forgetful Cloks was a deputy all along! This explained why one of the deputies had been cautious and the other had been reckless – there was a true blue traitor in their midst the whole time. She made quick work of the remaining law men, my dear brothers in arms, and rode into the sunset, tossing a single coin onto Blundering Cloks’ chest to thank him for all his unintentional help.

    The moral of this story is no moral! Pay attention in boardgames and one day you too will be able to ramble like Storytellin’ Cloks.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      My first experience with Bang! resulted in a group of people chanting “Kill the Indians! Kill the Indians!” I’m the other kind of Indian, but still, that was kind of unsettling.

      • Cloks

        My games usually result in a group of people shouting “Kill Merve! Kill Merve!” but we mean the other kind of Merve.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        I’m no kind of Indian and I find it unsettling.

    • SamPlays

      Full disclosure: I killed the deputy.

      • BobbyMcD

        I shot the sheriff, but I did not do what you did.

      • Effigy_Power

        Sorry, where is the room where people meet who shot their lady down, they shot her down with a gun?

        • SamPlays

          It’s in the “Texas” conference room.

    • Enkidum

      Bang! is some fun. That is all.

      • wordsampersand

        It’s an easy game to burn out on, though. I learned years ago that if you play it too much in too short a period of time, its flaws (which are many) become pretty clear. 

        • Enkidum

          Actually I can see this. I’ve only played it twice with real live people, where it was awesome because of how quickly you pick it up – after one hand, everyone knows more or less everything there is to know about the rules.

          Which may be part of the problem. I’ve played it a bunch on the iPad app but not for months and months, so perhaps I’ve burned out on it as well.

    • Fluka

      This is a delightful story.

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    “It spices up the action when one board game player is working against the rest, but the result can be more stressful than fun.”

    I dunno, Samantha, that sounds a lot like spy talk to me.

    Really, though, after playing who-knows how many games of The Resistance: Avalon with a consistent group of seven to nine players, including myself, I cannot disagree more. It could just be a matter of luck or circumstance, but it’s been lots of fun, despite (or because of) how stressful it can be at times; it’s all good stress. The whole game is about play-acting, but experience and experimentation has given my group plenty of memorable lunch-hours. There’s also been enough variety in the roles, with bluffs upon double-bluffs upon triple-bluffs, that I’ve rarely felt constrained by the game.

    I can’t speak to the specific games you mention in the article, but there’s so much potential in the kind of asymmetric, social play that these games are about. I’ve never been interested in the kind of time and effort that a full campaign of, say, D&D would take, but Avalon provides enough structure that the players can fill in the blanks in any number of ways.

    • Gryffle

      You’re absolutely spot on about “good stress”. I guess I can understand if that’s just not your thing (sort of), but some of my favourite boardgame sessions have been Battlestar and Avalon, where accusations have been flying, mistrust is rife, and a dramatic reveal can cause the whole table to erupt into cheers and/or jeers. 

      I think there’s something to be said for both games. Avalon is short and sweet, made up of intense little bouts of table-talk, lying through your teeth or trying to rat out the baddies; Battlestar is an epic, slowburning paranoia-fest, where the payoff after an hour or more of bluffing can be incredible.

      • Roswulf

         I tend to agree with this.

        I think the article is quite well written, but I’m not sure it ever really moves beyond the opening sentiment: “I’m not a fan of most competitive games.” If that’s true, traitor mechanics that by their very nature transform a cooperative into a competitive game aren’t going to be to your liking.

    • SamPlays

      Good stress and bad stress are unified by the fact that stress sweat smells worse.

    • Aaron

      Agreed. I’ve yet to get burned out on Resistance: Avalon, though I prefer to play with ten players, and we’ve even come up with our own additions/variants–for instance, Guinevere, who knows both Lancelots, but not which is which. (In this variant, the Lancelots would *not* know each other.)

      We keep finding new strategies, interesting deceptions, and despite playing with regulars, still get our reads wrong fairly frequently–which makes every game filled with that *good* kind of tension. If only the bad guys didn’t have such favorable odds to win by simply randomly picking Merlin–depending on the variant, if Lancelot’s outed, they’ve got at least a 20% to win, even if they lose.

  • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

    The thing that makes BSG fun is the tension before cylons are revealed. The entire game is balanced around that. Optimal cylon play generally looks like subpar human play. Subtle attempts to sabotage their chances while planting seeds of doubt about everyone else. 

    I have only played the game twice so far, but both times are still burned into my brain because of the experiences they created for me and my friends. Lying straight to your buddy’s face is just so fascinating a gameplay mechanic to me. I can see how this type of game wouldn’t work for someone who takes things personally but it’s terribly fun when you have a group that just runs with it. 

    Also worth noting, The Resistance is said to provide similar thrills in a more easy-going, shorter package. Might want to try that one if you’re worried about playing “gateway games.” Which I don’t think you should be, but whatever.

    • Ferraro

      I can vouch for The Resistance as a pure, fast, and simple Traitor-ferreting game. The only gameplay it has is rounds of accusations, arguments, and attempts at deduction between secret ballots. Incredibly stressful but very entertaining. And very revealing about your friends and loved ones and their abilities to lie, act, and manipulate.

      You can watch a decent playthrough on youtube if you search Wil Weaton Resistance.

      • Mail Ssinnigcm

        Add another vote for Resistance, especially good for relatively new players. It’s hard adding someone new to a circle of BSG players because there’s no substitute for experience, and they tend to just do whatever the person that yelled at them the loudest told them to do.

        But Resistance only takes a couple of rounds to figure out how it works, then it’s off to the races. Plus it takes up to 9 players, which is good if you have a big circle of friends who are all also naturally suspicious of each other :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.downie.353 Matthew Downie

        My experience of The Resistance wasn’t so good. The difference between the loyalists and the traitors is that the loyalists are determined to find out who the traitors are, while the traitors don’t really care. It’s very hard to act well enough to fool anyone in the long run.

        • The_Misanthrope

          In my experience, it is hard to keep from at least one of the traitors from being revealed, but it is also easy to get one of the loyalists mislabeled as a traitor, especially if the loyalist team has at least one shouty guy prone to rash judgments.

        • Ferraro

          I guess my friends are a pack of experienced liars? The spies just have to do a good job of acting like they’re trying to find things out, even throwing one of their own under the bus to earn the trust to be put on the decisive mission.

          After the spies started winning too many in a row we started using the bonus cards that provide a little more information — mostly by giving spies more ways to get caught in their lies. Eg: “He said that, but now she says that, so either BOTH of them are spies or THAT GUY has to be the spy!”

          Note that I’m speaking of the original Resistance, not the Avalon sequel.

        • Aaron

          I disagree, unless people have terrible poker faces. Traitors act as if they’re determined to find the traitors and just find ways to make missions that cast doubts on other people in a logical fashion that they can argue. They don’t always fail missions (which can lead one spy to be outed on a mission that perhaps had THREE), and some, like Morgana, can singlehandedly win the game if they can act enough like Merlin to identify Percival and figure out who Merlin was through him/her.

          EDIT: I just realized you’re talking about the basic Resistance. Give Avalon a chance; it’s much better, such that I’d never go back to the original, much like Cities & Knights of Catan pretty much ruins the original.

        • boardgameguy

          The Plot Thickens cards add a lot of fun. You gain information but people still have to make a decision whether they believe you or not. The added knowledge only creates more intrigue.

      • Gryffle

        Even better than the Tabletop episode, I think, is Shut Up and Sit Down’s playthrough of The Resistance: http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/blog/post/susd-play-resistance-avalon/

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      I’ve never had the chance to play the Battlestar Galactica board game. I’d almost jump at the chance, but I don’t believe any of my friends own the game, which is unfortunate.

      If my enthusiasm above wasn’t apparent, I heartily recommend the Avalon version of The Resistance. The basic concept is the same, but rather than receiving random mission cards throughout the game, players start with an assigned role. There’s more roles than can actually be used, so it’s fairly customizable, and there’s also a handful of other rules that the group can add or leave out, depending on which team they feel needs a handicap. The only caveat I’ll say is that two of the more interesting rule-sets (the Lancelot roles and Excalibur) are only in a promo set that’s currently sold out.

      None of the rules are flawless, but nearly every one allows the spies to lie to the group. However, lying can be a tell if it contradicts what someone knows, or “knows”, so a good spy needs to be able to balance how well they cooperate along with how well they sabotage the group.

      I think my favorite mechanic has to be Excalibur; if you’re playing with it, then the leader who puts each team together has to give it to a player on the team other than themselves. If that player chooses to use Excalibur, they get to see one other player’s mission card, but that player’s other mission card is then used to determine the mission’s results. It really opens up a lot of interesting gambles and bluffs. Does a knight risk bungling a successful mission to find a spy? Will a spy vote for success, but chop a patsy to fail the mission? Can the spies be tricked into passing a mission under the threat of a chop? And so on and so forth.

      • SamPlays

        *writes ‘BSG boardgame’ on Christmas list for @The_Helmaroc_King:disqus , scratches off ‘Hawaiian shirt’*

      • Akbar Bitcoins

         The best play I’ve ever made in Avalon was claiming, after the two Lancelots switched, that I was Bad Lancelot at the start of the game (I was actually a regular traitor).

        Everyone thinks I’m now on their side, but I haven’t changed sides at all.  I then outed one of the other traitors while claiming that I literally forgot who the other one was, then I tried to get them to send them on missions.  It was glorious. 

        They eventually worked out what I’d done, but Merlin made it pretty obvious who they were in the process so we won at the end.  It was a good day.

        • Aaron

          Wait . . . in a game with switching Lancelots, Lancelot doesn’t know who his fellow traitors are (for exactly this reason). Claiming to be Bad Lancelot when you are *not*, however, is an interesting strategy, though I’m not exactly sure how it helps, since it only gives the real Bad Lancelot an incentive to speak up.

    • CNightwing

      One of the expansions adds Cylon leaders, who get to be outright bad guys, although there’s still a nagging feeling that they might be on your side. Depending on the number of players they either want the humans to win 1/3 or 2/3s of the time, but under some specific condition (like all your resources are low). They’re great for veteran players (as many of the conditions are a real challenge) and even if it’s clear you’re evil, you get a full suite of things to do as evil (which I believe revealed players can also have fun with).

      • http://amalgamatedwittering.blogspot.com/ Plumberduck

         My favorite Battlestar session was as a Cylon leader. The genius of the Cylon leader agendas are that they require the game to be close – the ‘Humans Win’ objectives generally require them to be in some sort of dire straits when it happens, and the ‘Cylons Win’ objectives require the humans to make a certain amount of progress first.

        That puts the Cylon Leader player into a really interesting tightrope act. In either case, the trust of the other players is a useful tool, but hard to earn. And you generally have more information than they do – Leoben, for instance, gets to look at the randomizing Destiny deck on his turn, which means his player knows which negative cards are being added by players, and not just random luck – but using that information to benefit or harm the others requires them to listen to you.

        It’s definitely not a role for first-time players, but if you play the game largely for the social manipulation action, it’s incredibly exciting.

    • http://amalgamatedwittering.blogspot.com/ Plumberduck

       Battlestar’s biggest weakness is that a bad Cylon player can ruin the experience for everyone. Especially because it’s not immediately obvious to a lot of players that revealing yourself as a Cylon and setting off your bomb or whatnot is an on-turn action. I’ve had more than one game where the Cylon, close to being outed, admitted it, tried to activate their ability, and then got mad when we told them they couldn’t.

      In Mafia, a bad Mafia player can ruin a game, but games are only 10 minutes long. Someone screwing up a game as long as Battlestar because they’re inexperienced can ruin the gameplay aspect of a whole evening.

      That being said, the best part of Battlestar is when someone spills their drink or something, and you immediately accuse them of being a Cylon because of it. More accusations = more fun.

      • HobbesMkii
      • Bob J Koester

        Yeah, and it seems like Murphy’s Law works overtime to make sure that any first-time player will be a Cylon, and therefore will be stuck in a situation where they have to be very circumspect about asking for rules help (or taking an inordinate interest in the Cylon parts of the manual).

        • Agate_avc

          We stack the deck a little by discouraging new players from playing Baltar or Boomer, and encouraging experienced players to do so. 

          You can take it to an extreme: my friend’s 8-year-old kid likes to blow up spaceships, so we let him play Starbuck and make sure he doesn’t get dealt a Cylon card.

      • Mercadier

        Wow, your games of mafia are 10 minutes long? One ROUND of mafia is 10 minute minimum for us.

        Uh, we’re chatty and paranoid

    • HobbesMkii

      Resistance is fun because it’s short, and because of the secret ballot, there’s no way for you to definitively prove to another player who is and isn’t a spy. That said, I’ve never played a game where you didn’t get stuck in a logic loop of two or more people (having all just been on a failed mission) declaring that they themselves are not a spy and the other person most definitely is. At that point, it comes down to the strength of your convictions.

      By the by, I’ve played the game a dozen times or so (probably more), and while, to date, I’ve never been a spy, this hasn’t caused people to trust me any more than anyone else.

      It’s also more fun than your average Mafia game, because people don’t get eliminated as time goes on and have to sit out stewing because people misplaced their trust.

      • Aaron

        Avalon improves upon this by providing additional information and checks that can help to break logic loops (or confuse them even more, if you’ve got tricksy spies).

      • boardgameguy

        The “Plot Thickens” cards for the original Resistance do this as well. I’ll play the game without it, but I find it much more fun with them.

  • rvb1023

    Between my 5 or so games of Betrayal at House on the Hill, I have had the same event 3 times. It’s the one where the bird picks up the house and everyone has to fight over the 2 parachutes available and jump out. I will admit there is a bit of charm in how random the games can turn out. You could find the best items and be in the best position and essentially lose it all immediately off of a bad dice roll.

    • Mail Ssinnigcm

      there’s a caveat in the rules that say if you dont want to do the story required by the location/card, you can just pick one to do by consensus. We’ve done that a couple of times, when we played twice in one sitting and got the same draw on the second game.

      • rvb1023

        I always assumed there must have been a rule like that,  but still good to know.

    • CrabNaga

      The past couple games I’ve played have ended pretty quickly after the haunt was revealed with either the heroes being in a perfect position to destroy the traitor and his monsters, or the traitor being in a perfect position to squeeze the last bit of life out of the heroes. Unfortunately, this was with a group of people who weren’t as familiar with the game, so it kind of sucked for it to be their introduction.

    • The_Misanthrope

       And I’ve never played that one once!  Though I have done the Mad Bomber What Bombs At Midnight one at least twice.

      I really, really love BATHOTH because I’m a fan of horror and games with a strong narrative hook.  I don’t even care whether I’m the traitor or not.  Sadly, our group’s copy has started to warp really bad, so I may need to invest in a new copy.

      I do have a couple of nits to pick with the game, though, both of which might be solved with a decent PC/tablet version.  For one, there are just too many game pieces–what I term “fiddly bits”–to sort through.  Mind you, some scenarios use very little, but then there are some that make the traitor manipulate a small army each turn.  I also feel the whole transition to the doom scenario could be smoother.  I’m a veteran with tabletop RPGs so sifting through new rulesets mid-play doesn’t bother me, but I can see how it could be a drag for novices.

      • CrabNaga

        Get one of those plastic containers with various compartments normally used for storing office supplies like paper clips and thumbtacks. Then sort out all the different pieces in the slots. Makes finding whatever piece you’re looking for into a cinch.

      • boardgameguy

        Or using a tacklebox can be a good fiddly bits sorter. And I just played the board version of Through the Ages. I’ve never seen so many fiddly bits.

    • Waldo_Jeffers

      I got Betrayal when it was first released, and my friends and I sat down to play it.  I forget what our scenario was, but could not activate the second half, with one of the players being a traitor.  We played for a while, and then just had to stop because it was clear the monster was never going to get activated.  We searched the rules, and we weren’t doing anything wrong, so we gave up in frustration.

      A couple of days later, I found a website that had a long list of errata for the game- apparently the scenario we played was incorrect as written.  Anyway, given this, and that were a lot more mistakes that had gotten through to the released game, we never attempted to play it again.  It’s a shame because it seems like it could have been fun.

  • ItsTheShadsy

    I always liked the idea of this mechanic much more than the execution. Maybe it’s just because I always liked the tension in The Mole and movies where characters become turncoats, but I think the idea of multi-layered scheming is ripe for potential in the game medium. However I can’t think of a game that required strategic/deceitful playing that didn’t end up incredibly tense on a personal level or with plans going unexecuted. That makes it not fun for everyone playing and especially for the traitor.

    • boardgameguy

      As noted above, many people like that tension.

  • flowsthead

    Man, I wish my friends and I actually had the money to buy all of these games. I’ve been wanting to play a cooperative board game for forever. I’m the type of RPG player that prefers PVE over PVP so I feel like that would be perfect for me.

    Not that I don’t love competitive games, but I feel the same way as you Samantha in that I want everyone to have a chance at winning the game, even if it isn’t an equal chance. It’s why, despite its flaws, I still really love Settlers of Catan. The actuality of the game is that one or two people are clearly winning, but since you can’t see their cards, usually 3 out of 4 or all 4 people can feel like they have a good chance to win. One person is building cities and settlements for points, another is grabbing all of the development cards, a third is going for the extra points like longest road, etc. I’ve been in more situations where 3 of us are at 7, 8, or 9 points and a few moves away, depending on dice rolls, where each person could win.

    Games where the winner is decided really early can feel like a drag since it’s just waiting out the inevitable. This is pretty much every multiplayer Magic game I have played because I’m bad and my friends have better decks than me, so it’s between two people usually and the rest are just waiting to die. On the rare moments when 3 or more people are all viable for a long time, it’s super fun.

    Anyways, this means we mostly play silly party games like Telestration (pictionary telephone), Fish Bowl, and the like.

    • TaumpyTearrs

      Have you tried any variant play styles with Magic?

      Two-Headed Giant can make things more balanced because two people working together have less chance of getting screwed on cards or mana than a player on their own, and Highlander where everybody starts with double life but you can only have one of each none basic land card in your deck (and everyone has a huge deck so they won’t run out of cards), leading to much longer and more unique games, where it actually feels like an epic battle between wizards instead of a quick and dirty smackdown.

      • ZTO

        I think the thing that really balanced out my MTG games was playing Highlander in the star format. It’s a 5 player format where the person to your left and right cannot attack you directly and cannot affect you with spells or abilities that affect enemies. You can call them your allies, but when you start to win they will probably try to stop you. Your goal is to kill the 2 players across from you. This provides some checks against stronger decks (you share a common enemy with each of your “allies”) and evens out weaker decks (you may want to prop up your weaker allies to prevent you being focused by a more powerful enemy). EDH is a good format for this since you can play more politcal decks there and the double life makes games longer.

      • flowsthead

        I have not. Thanks for the suggestions @TaumpyTearrs:disqus  and @ZTO:disqus . Maybe we’ll do one of those next time we play. Those sound pretty fun.

    • SamPlays

      Have you tried adding beer to your Magic deck? Every game will become super fun, or at least tolerable.

      • ZTO

        Drinking and playing what we’d call Magic poker is the best. Take a random stack of garbage cards and make a deck for each player (size really doesn’t matter). Players can then choose to play any card as either a land of it’s color (any blue can be an island) or as the actual spell. All other rules are normal.

    • Unexpected Dave

      I enjoy competitive games where you can’t really gang up on another player, like Scrabble or Carcassonne.  

      • SamPlays

        That still depends on what kind of people you’re playing with. I’ve played games where people will pool resources even if it’s strictly not an in-game strategy (i.e., providing assistance, sharing information).

      • Persia

        You’ve obviously never handed the #2 scorer a triple word score just to knock #1 off his pedestal.

      • flowsthead

        Yeah, I’ve played Carcassonne once and it was pretty fun.

        • Unexpected Dave

          It’s a great gateway for modern board games. And you can play it with a bunch of novices so long as there’s one experienced person to teach and keep score.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I’d recommend joining a local board game club or meetup group. That way, you and your friends can get access to a wide variety of board games for a small fee without having to buy all of them. Of course, the downside is that you’ll have to play with complete strangers as well, but meeting new people who also like board games can be fun.

      • Aaron

        Boom.  Meetup.com will lead you to good stuff in the NYC area–from quick games like “Bottle Imp” to light games like “Troyes” and more complex mechanics like “Tzolkin” all the way up to all-day affairs like “Here I Stand” or “Twilight Struggle.”

        • boardgameguy

          Also, many specialty stores that sell these types of games will have open board game nights.

  • Agate_avc

    I will hear no complaints about Battlestar Galactica.  I consider it the best traitor game of all time, and think it handles most of Samantha’s complaints beautifully.  “It’s too easy for the good guys to win” — with crisis cards happening constantly, it’s hard for the good guys to win even *without* a traitor.  “It’s too boring for the traitor after they’re revealed” — that’s why you get your super-crisis card.  Once you’ve finished gloating over your Big Reveal, you get to start planning your diabolical mega-revenge.

    I do agree that discovering you’re a sympathizer is kinda disappointing, but it’s such a perfect fit to the themes of the TV show that I can’t complain.

    And oh, there are so many beautiful ways to out yourself as a Cylon.  What other game can you sit around and tell tell stories with your friends about memorable playthroughs from years ago?  I still remember the time as Cylon Chief Tyrol I convinced my fellow players to throw the president into the brig, then used my once-per-game ability to sabotage the crisis event drawn by the player before me, damaging the ship, then came out as a Cylon on my turn by sending Starbuck to the brig, then played my super-crisis on my next turn to send a massive invasion fleet at a crippled, defenseless, leaderless Galactica.  Bwa ha ha.

    • Gryffle

      The sympathizer card is probably the weakest aspect of the BSG boardgame, just because it’s not very fun for the player who draws it. Luckily if you play with exactly five players it doesn’t get used, and there’s also an official “no sympathizer” variant on the Fantasy Flight Games website that removes it from the four- and six-player games. We tend to go without the sympathizer all the time now.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        No Sympathizer is definitely the way to go with BSG. works great fora 6 player game, anyway. That card is trash.

    • TaumpyTearrs

      Man, I wish I had enough people to play this game. I don’t live near any of my friends right now though, so games are limited to my fiancé and my mom. I got Munchkin a while back and my mom loves it and it works fine with 3 players, and my fiancé learned how to play Magic which is awesome, but I really want to play stuff like this.

      And it gives me the opportunity to give Galactica a different ending over and over! Its like a dream come true.

      • CrabNaga

        Munchkin is pretty fun, but gets old once you realize that the race to level 10 is more like “race for everyone to get to level 9 and everyone thwarts each other’s attempts to get to level 10 until resources are depleted and somebody slips through the cracks.”

      • Fluka

        Yeah, this article made we wish I had an actual group of friends to play these things with, as opposed to individuals scattered around the country.  Have family that enjoy doing these sorts of things, but that requires planning and a two hour train trip, bleh.  (I still stupidly and unreservedly love Battlestar Galactica…)

        • boardgameguy

          If you look on boardgamegeek threads, there are people all over the country looking to meet up to play games. Take a flier on meeting people in a public place. If you like them, meet again to play. If you don’t, look for another group.

  • CNightwing

    One of my friends’ favourite party games featuring traitors, if you can see it that way, is Shadow Hunters. Some players are Hunters, who want to kill the Shadows and protect the innocent, whilst the Shadows want to kill the Hunters or the innocent – either will do. Neutral players get their own specific victory condition they’re trying to complete (like survive to the end, or be the first to die). Every character gets a special power they can use if they reveal themselves. You wander around the board collecting items, handling events, sometimes getting information and attacking others – you’re a little bit at the whim of the dice as to whether you can attack the person you suspect of being on the other side, but with a large number of players luck becomes less of a factor.a

    Best of all, the internet likes the game and has come up with many, many additional characters and powers. This leads to fun like the character who wants the person on their left to win, unless they choose to reveal and then it’s the person on their right. Or the character that wants to have taken the most damage and have survived. There’s also a Hunter/Shadow pair who are in the same game and can win together if they kill all the others in their teams, in a doomed love scenario.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.downie.353 Matthew Downie

    There are some interesting co-op games without traitor mechanics that suffer less from ‘Pandemic syndrome’, which is where the way to win is to work out who the best player is and let them make all the decisions for everyone.
    The Pathfinder Adventure card game, for example, has you working together, but you have a persistent character and you want to get the best magic items for yourself.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Best co-op is Space Alert, which solve the “quaterbacking” problem by putting you on a strict time limit. Seriously, it’s like the best boardgame ever. So intense and chaotic and ohgod I want to play it now.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Is that the game with the audio CD with the sound effects? Because that sounds awesome.

        • AGreatDisqusUsername

          That’s the one, and it’s amazing. 10 minutes of extremely tense co-op action, with everyone trying to keep the ship alive while new threats are constantly being announced in real time. Periodically the CD even blasts static, signifying a communication breakdown in which players aren’t allowed to talk or otherwise interact. The game can also be hard as fuck, which is great for groups that are used to working together.

          I seriously can’t recommend it enough. I just found out my gaming group is playing it tonight and I’m pretty psyched about it. 

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          Well, there are currently TWO coop games that are hyped up in board game circles that use a soundtrack, and yeah, Space Alert is one of them. More recently though a game called Escape! came out and I think the soundtrack is entirely sound effects, whereas Space Alert’s acts as a kind of DM by calling out threats.

          Escape is SUPER light and consists of everyone frantically rolling dice while Space Alert is fairly heavy and consists of essentially programming your little space worker. 

          So, yes.

      • boardgameguy

        both ESCAPE and SPACE ALERT are super fun. if you like dice rolling, stick with ESCAPE. if you like hectic and frantic team planning, then SPACE ALERT is definitely the game. one of the few games i rate as a 10. cannot praise it highly enough.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          You, I like.

    • Bob J Koester

      I plead guilty to sometimes getting bossy in co-op games, but am trying to get better (when I play Lord Of The Rings I sometimes put a rule on myself that I will not speak on someone else’s turn unless they ask me to).

      One general solution is to turn the whole game into “Model U.N.”, and basically make the discussion of optimal strategy the center point of the game  (with the person whose turn it is basically being the rotating Final Decision Maker). Of course, this makes the game longer, so is better for something like Pandemic (where you might stretch it from 30 minutes to 45) than BSG, where you might be adding hours on top of hours.

      One category where I find the syndrome less of a problem is in co-op Deck Building Games (for instance the Borg Scenario in Star Trek DBG). Because each person’s deck is the product of their previous decisions, over time they develop their own capabilities, and even if they let the group influence them their own decision will have a cumulative effect over time, so that when you say “Those Borg viruses are no problem because I use my Binars to upgrade the computer”, you can really enjoy your moment in the sun, because YOU were the one who bought the “Binar Upgrades” card however many turns ago.

      • Chris Haese

        Sentinels of the Multiverse is the best game for groups with alpha players. Everyone has their own decks with wildly different abilities and power combinations. The only way to win is for everyone to discuss each round how they can best work together to do the most damage and mitigate the most danger.

  • signsofrain

    In my house, I grew up playing Quicksand. It’s an endurance race to the finish line. It’s competitive in that there’s only one winner but there’s no way to screw other players and performance is based purely on luck of the dice. This is a good one to play with friends or kids, it’s a friendly kind of game. 

    We later moved on to Scotland Yard, where a mostly-invisible Mr. X sneaks around a big map of London by public transit and taxi with the other players playing the investigators in hot pursuit. Both cop and criminal are fun to play, and while the competition is a little stronger in this one at least you know who you’re up against, everyone knows who’s playing Mr. X. He’s sitting there cheshire catting it up or, even better, looking nervous and sweaty!
    Lately the family’s all about Scrabble, which is fun ’till somebody loses an eye. With my wife’s family we play Monopoly which is pretty much 2 hours of non-stop laughter… I love it.  

    • Agate_avc

      One of the great things about being a kid or a parent in modern society is that they won’t have to play pure-luck games like Quicksand ever again.  The world is now full of much better games.

    • boardgameguy

      Scotland Yard is fun. If you want more people hidden and fewer with public knowledge on the board, try NUNS ON THE RUN. One (or two) people play the head nuns at a catholic school and the rest of the players are schoolgirls, moving around the board hidden trying to complete a secret goal (like finding a bottle of alcohol or a book of black magic). Good times.

  • The Archmage of the Aether

    Yeah, this kind of game is best suited for Serious Gamers.

    After years of co-operative RPGing, we started one AD&D 2nd ed game that quickly bcame known as “Evil Campaign”. No Good players, mostly Neutral and Lawful Evil. Masterfully GM’d (not by me), masterfully played.

    But we didn’t ONLY play Evil Campaign; sometimes we wanted to play together; we had another campaign for that.

    • TreeRol

      Vampire campaigns are fun in that respect. Everyone tends to have his own agenda, which makes the team dynamic very fun. It’s a good thing our storyteller is a master, because I couldn’t imagine the headaches that causes for him.

  • http://amalgamatedwittering.blogspot.com/ Plumberduck

    I had all of the fun of Pandemic stripped away for me by an experience playing it online, on some weird German board game portal. The other guy just barked a series of orders at me that were the ‘optimal’ moves, and then yelled at me if I didn’t follow them.

    I still enjoy Pandemic with friends, but any big disparity in skill levels is going to ruin it for everyone.

    • SamPlays

      The weird thing about Germans is that when they’re barking orders and yelling at people, I’m never sure if they’re being rude or excessively polite.

      • The Archmage of the Aether

        “WHETHER I AM RUDE OR POLITE IS IRRELEVANT TO WHETHER YOU CAN MAXIMIZE YOUR KILLING POTENTIAL SO THAT WE CAN ALL HAVE FUN”
        –Typical Germany

    • Bob J Koester

      I mention this above, but I think Pandemic works better as an exercise in group decision making than as a “do whatever you want” game. Hopefully if everyone goes into it knowing this they can have (a different sort of) fun and less frustration.

      It seems like there should be more games where everyone can wander around the board and have fun in there own way, while still feeling the pressure to get together and win, but I imagine that’s a hard balance to get right. Seems like the old Chaosium version of Arkham Horror was this, but that the FFG version has such a thin margin of victory that “optimization” can defeat fun.

  • http://amalgamatedwittering.blogspot.com/ Plumberduck

    The beauty of these games, for me, is that they allow players to stretch two sets of muscles that polite society generally dissuades us from using: lying, and detecting.

    Lying is obviously a faux pas most of the time. And detecting, analyzing every move the people around you make for clues, is pretty much solely the realm of cops and the paranoid.

    But they are both also extremely FUN.

    It’s why I play Epic Mafia online – using nothing but your words and logic to either pierce the lies of others (and convince the masses), or to twist and manipulate people into thinking you’re their friend is a serious rush. It’s why I don’t find Betrayal At House on the Hill all that interesting – there’s no detection, just one player designated the killer by the game.

    My one problem with this article is this quote: “When I sit down to a game of Shadows Over Camelot, I want to do
    knightly things like beating back barbarian hordes and questing for the
    Holy Grail—the premise of the game, after all, is to complete as many
    quests for the forces of good as possible.”

    In my view, all of the actual gameplay is just set-dressing for the real game – social manipulation. There are true cooperative games for players who don’t want to tread in those sometimes-upsetting waters. When you get into a game with a traitor mechanic, the traitor mechanic is the star.

    • SamPlays

      I hate to disagree but “polite society” is almost entirely predicated on lying.

      • The_Helmaroc_King

        Yes, but they’re polite lies.

  • Mega64

    Co-op without quarterbacking? Try Space Alert or Escape: The Curse of the Temple. Kind of hard to quarterback when you only have ten minutes to play the game! Of course, that might be too stressful for some, but then again there really aren’t many co-op games that exist that don’t have that quarterbacking problem.

    Also, Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorite games simply because of how well the traitor mechanic is implemented. It really leads to some fantastic stories and memories, and as unoptimal as it may be, I just love playing a deep-cover Cylon waiting for that perfect moment to reveal.

    It’s a shame that the later expansions really skew toward the Cylons even/especially with experienced players. Pegasus is pretty pro-human, but Exodus and especially Daybreak are definitely pro-Cylon, with Exodus’s dominant strategy of overwhelming Galactica with Raiders using the Basestar Bridge and Daybreak requiring humans to waste many precious actions on Mutiny and Missions. Plus the new end-game scenarios generally suck and aren’t worth playing.

    It’s amazing that more games haven’t done the traitor mechanic, and especially that there aren’t many that do it well. There’s The Resistance of course, and I actually like Room 25, which is shorter than BSG and ends up being a better version of Panic Station. But usually traitor mechanics end up being poorly-done in other games, and it’s something I’d love to see done well in future games.

    • O Superman

      ESCAPE

    • Chris Haese

      Pandemic has an expansion with a bio-terrorist traitor role. There’s an apparently amazing 4X economic game (which I’ve yet to be able to play) called Archipelago which also features a traitor. Police Precinct has an optional traitor role too. If a co-op game is popular, an expansion with a traitor is actually very likely.

  • DrFlimFlam

    I have had fun with coopoerative games but also have to rein in my love of strategizing, even it means subpar strategies play out. It’s not up to me to tell everyone how to play Forbidden Island; I have to let it happen in a group discussion setting.

    I need to play one of these traitor games; it sounds like a fun twist on coop, which is what I generally prefer.

    • SamPlays

      All this traitor talk… I don’t know…

      *dials number for CIA*
      *files report*
      *cracks cell phone in half, throws in garbage*

    • Bob J Koester

      This exactly for me.

    • boardgameguy

      It also makes non-traitor coops more fun when you go back and play them because then they feel like a breeze, even if the game itself is difficult, because you don’t have to be concerned about finding a knife in your back

  • snazzlenuts

    “And if the humans are in dire straits, a sleeper agent doesn’t get to enjoy the fun of trying to come back from behind, either—you just wind up kicking your friends when they’re down.”

    But who doesn’t love kicking their friends, when they’re down?  Isn’t that the point of board games?  Am I the only one who enjoys trash talking and piling on the loser, while completely expecting people to do the same to me?

    • SamPlays

      Your lack of human decency strongly suggests that we should play a board game together.

      • snazzlenuts

        I am the guy who will go for a loner in Euchre, while in the barn and will not blame anyone else, if they do it to me because I deserve it.  If you don’t know Euchre, just know it is a dick move.

        • SamPlays

          So I’ve read up on Euchre and I can only come to the conclusion that you’re a horrible person.

        • snazzlenuts

          Yeah, well.

        • boardgameguy

          @snazzlenuts:disqus I’m right with you. The games are fun because of the trash-talking opportunities. And yes, Euchre is fun and going loner always a good decision, because the benefits outweigh the risks so decidedly.

  • CrabNaga

    I’m glad Betrayal was mentioned, since I feel like it doesn’t get enough love. I feel like it is uniquely different from these other “traitor”-style games in that because there are two distinct phases of the game (exploration and haunt), the game is perfectly suited to integrating new players without requiring a 30 minute lesson on the game mechanics. The exploration phase has very little a person/character can do: explore new rooms of the house, find items, have events (bonus if the person reading the event cards can really sell a faux-spooky narrator voice) that by themselves implicitly explain your different stats and how they might have a bearing on what you do in-game, and so on. It’s pretty much “go through this house and see what you can find.” However, it’s never boring. You can find some shiny new axe in one room and get caught in a spiderweb the next (requiring someone else to come free you if you’re not mighty enough). At least in my experience, people generally acted autonomously in the first phase of the game, because there’s no reason to stick with another person because they can be the traitor. On the other hand, there’s no reason to specifically target another player (which really just amounts to “not helping them,” since there’s no combat in the exploration phase) because there is a good chance that they are going to be a hero when the haunt is revealed.

    Then, once the haunt finally IS revealed (after a bunch of stressful die rolls whenever an omen is found), everyone finds out the actual scenario of the game and their role in it. If a new player is the traitor, they may still need some help from a veteran player, but they generally have a good enough grasp on the mechanics that they can function and be a worthy adversary to the heroes. It’s been said in the article and in the comments that these sorts of games are often ruined by a new/bad player being assigned the traitorous role, either by showing their hand (sometimes literally!) too early on, or by making sub-optimal decisions that ruin the balance of the game. I think Betrayal does a great job of fixing this simply BECAUSE the traitor’s identity isn’t a secret held by the player, but by the specific random scenario that dictates it. Once the traitor is revealed, it is revealed to everyone, and everyone gets their own specific goals and methods. Additionally, there’s two sets of rules for each haunt, one that the heroes have and one that the traitors have, so even though everyone knows their own goals, it’s not guaranteed that they will know the other side’s goals, which preserves a bit of the tension and subterfuge of this particular genre of games.

    • snazzlenuts

      I’m in.  I’ve never played this game but it sounds really interesting.  Thank you for the explanation.

    • HobbesMkii

      I like Betrayal, but I always get shunted off to the basement in the early game, and spend my time desperately trying to find the stairs out and getting hurt by the stuff down there, only for the haunt to start with me either a severely weakened traitor, miles away from his quarry, or the survivor who gets killed first because he’s so weak.

      Because the basement sucks. The only good thing about it is that sometimes there’s that rickety bridge that monsters have to do a speed check to cross. Almost saved me from a zombie horde, once.

      • CrabNaga

        The basement has the Larder (free might point), the Vault (2 items if you can open it), and the Gymnasium (free speed point) to balance out the Crypt, Catacombs, and Pentagon Chamber. The basement is like a huge wild card; there’s a lot of variance in what goes on there and it often provides a very real barrier between the traitor and the heroes (or splits up the heroes, or leaves the traitor with one hero to unceremoniously [or explicitly ceremoniously] murder). 

        My favorite thing is the fact that in the original version of the game, there is a misprint on one of the room tiles, where the “Underground Lake” is printed as being an “Upper Level” tile. They released an errata that basically states “if you uncover the Underground Lake, it means you entered a room and fell immediately 2 stories below into the Underground Lake.” Then you just place the Underground Lake somewhere in the basement.

        Also, you must have been playing the game incorrectly in that zombie game, because the traitor and all monsters are immune to all movement-impairing effects of the house (and can use the mystic elevator at will). You were doomed to die by zombie bites, I’m afraid.

        • HobbesMkii

          Well, fuck it, then. I hate that game.

  • Kyle O’Reilly

    I grew up with one of those hyper-competetive friends who can’t accept losing as an option whether it was a simple game of Farkle or a 10-hour marathon of Risk. If I had known that I could harness his misplaced anger to help us defeat a common cardboard enemy, I would’ve saved myself a lot of time either watching him play single-player games so he doesn’t freak out or cleaning up tiny cannons from the floor after he flipped the board and bolted out the back door.

    • DrFlimFlam

      So long as they’re not obsessed with orchestrating the entire game, leaving the rest of the players as mere puppets carrying out his well.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        There are actually a number of games that could scratch that itch as well! I’m thinking stuff like Descent, Mansions of Madness, or even Catacombs(!) which one player acts as a sort of DM and the other players band together. Though these kinds of games will probably suffer if the DM is playing to win instead of playing to give the group a fun adventure.

  • Smilner

    Lots of this.

    I’ve been working at finding cooperative games to play with my wife, my best friend, and my daughter.  I am viciously competitive, my wife is determined to take someone down with her when she loses, and my daughter has mild anxiety issues.  This all adds up to very little Monopoly being played in our home.  Hell, we hardly ever even break out Sorry.  My daughter loves all of these games of course, but if things take a bad turn in Munchkin, things take a hard turn for the rest of the night.  A traitor dynamic would never be able to fly.  I think it’s why D&D4e has been so successful in our home.  Sure, I’d love to be able to set aside a weekend and fire up Axis & Allies, but it’s as important to know your players as it is to know your games.

    • Chris Haese

      Mice and Mystics is a no-brainer for your family. Seriously, go out and get it right now. (it’s a story-based co-op dungeon crawler about a group of mice trying to save the kingdom from an evil sorceress). 

      Bonus: after you’ve played the story in the base game, you can use the minis and boards in your custom D&D4E campaigns.

      • boardgameguy

        Second on this. Mice and Mystics is fantastic.

  • R Peterson

    The one thing I’m left with after reading this article is an uncertainty about what type of board game to play.  If competitive games leave the player dissatisfied and friendless (which is also how I often feel after playing such games), cooperative games end up becoming a one-man showboat (this has happened to me with the game Pandemic, where one person told everyone else what they should do and then got upset when we played a second time and asked him not to be so “helpful”), and the traitor games become unbalanced, where does the author find the most enjoyment at the end of the day?

    • Chris Haese

      Games with traitor mechanics are less about winning and more about playing with psychological and social dynamics within your group. I always have tremendous fun with a game of BSG or Resistance even if I end up on the losing side. I’ve never found balance an issue in these games, but I tend to play more for the enjoyment of playing than the desire to crunch numbers and form perfect strategies.

      But if you think that aspect of traitor games might not work for you, there’s lots of co-op games that are alpha-proof. The best are usually ones where either there’s a time limit (Space Alert, Escape: Curse of the Temple), or everyone has their own vastly different set of skills (Sentinels of the Multiverse, Mice and Mystics, Dragon Rampage).

      If all else fails, there’s always Eurogames. They are generally competitive, but aren’t as cut-throat as American competitive games. Player interaction is more limited; you are mostly playing the same game simultaneously and comparing points at the end. The worst kind of conflict you’ll find in these games is if someone takes something that you needed or somehow blocks one of your moves by making theirs. The themes sometimes seem boring, but the mechanics are usually tight and smart and great fun. My suggestions for gateway euros (most are extremely complicated and not recommended as entrypoints) are Takenoko, Galaxy Trucker, or Ticket to Ride. 

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      This is actually a huge annoyance I’ve had in regards to boardgame discussions on the internet. Every single game/genre/mechanic has people that absolutely hate it and will go out of their way to let everyone know. Generally try out what sounds appealing to you and forge your own taste. I would even say that you don’t need to start with “gateway games” as long as you take the time to understand how the game is played and how to explain it beforehand, which isn’t as much of a hurdle as it initially seems.

      But yeah, Munchkin is awful.

    • boardgameguy

      Samantha is hashing out what she likes and doesn’t like. I’m uncertain if she is trying to sell a type of game. Instead, she is explaining where she sits with them.

  • Drinking_with_Skeletons

    I liked the Nyarlathotep Epic Encounter card in Arkham Horror (Kingsport expansion?) where each player is asked, in turn, if they’d like to side with the Ancient One.  The first person to do so is the only one allowed to, and he/she then sits out the rest of the battle and wins or loses along with Nyarlathotep.  It was interesting in that it A) reveals players who are more interested in winning than in playing, B) forces those players to rather cruelly assess their team’s odds of success, and C) allows them to screw themselves over by picking the wrong side at the very end of the game.

  • Boonehams

    Not boardgame related, but an acquaintance of mine has created his own traitorous game-within-a-game for Payday 2.  Instead of helping with the bank heist, he awards himself points for every act of subterfuge.  If he gets over 9,000 points or if he gets away scot-free while all of his teammates are arrested, he wins.  Otherwise, he loses.

    He’s started filming his attempts and calling the series The Iago Chronicles.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQvU-dcvjSY

  • Knarf Black

    Shadows Over Camelot can go screw itself. I have never seen the good guys even come close to victory, even though I stink at being the traitor and am always found out immediately.

    • Aaron

      A) There isn’t always a traitor in Shadows and B) I can tell you that the good guys can *absolutely* win, even with the harder expansion in which moving from location to location might incur penalties, your knights begin *without* their powers (they have to first complete a quest to be “knighted”), and you’ve got a secret goal that must be finished in order for you to actually win (such as “Finish the game with at least eight siege engines on the field”). You might just have a team that isn’t good at working together, or may have forgotten the primary rule of maximization: either *narrowly* finish each quest, or lose them without ever wasting time attempting to win.

    • boardgameguy

      I’ve won in Shadows several times, even with traitors. I love the game. The Merlin expansion adds a lot to its replayability and variance.

  • http://theliberati.net/quaequamblog James Graham

    I totally accept it is a matter of personal taste and not everyone enjoys “traitor” games, but you’ve written this as if it is a fundamental flaw of the games themselves, which I simply don’t accept.

  • boardgameguy

    So happy that Gameological is going to have a running series on board games. Thanks for this entry, Samantha, and I look forward to reading (and commenting) on more.