What to do about this “alpha player”?

“You are saying this is how I should do I it? Guess what? I won’t.” It was the losing move at the and of an exciting co-op game. A friend and I had thought three turns ahead to figure out this winning strategy. Player number three just had to follow orders. And he chose not to.

At this moment, a few years ago, I found out that I am not always co-operating when I play co-operative games. Winning is important to me, so I will do whatever it takes, sometimes even at the price of my fellow players…We call this Alpha Player Syndrome. It is what can happen if a co-operative game allows one player to take the upper hand. To talk about your strategy is a good thing, but giving orders no longer is co-operation. In this blog post we discuss the downsides of the Alpha Player Syndrome and what you can do against it.

The downsides

For the alpha player
For his friends
Plays alone Little influence on the game
No co-operation No co-operation
Has to be persuasive Do not share in victory

Possible causes

There are different reasons why during the game someone might take over. It is partly caused by the players and partly caused by the game design. Some of these causes are:

  • Difference in experience (The twentieth game or the first time playing it)
  • One of the players has a tendency to be bossy and a strong winner mentality
  • The game is too predictable
  • There is one superior strategy
  • There is enough information to understand all options and compare them in detail


How can you solve it?

As a publisher we are naturally aware of this challenge and when making new games, we look at ways to decrease the possibility for alpha player syndrome to start. Some of these tricks you can also use at home, by adding or changing some minor rules

  1. Share less information
    In a game where everyone can see each other’s cards, try playing with closed cards. Or agree on a set of words that you can no longer use.
  2. Play with a time limit
    Be careful not to add stress to your game night, but with less time to compare all the options, your players are forced to contribute. Agree in advance how much time is available per turn or per game and what happens if you exceed the limit.
  3. Change the alpha player
    Not suitable for all games, but it is possible to agree in advance that every turn, someone else can be in charge. This temporary boss can get help from his trusted advisors, but he does not have to listen to them.
  4. Add more roles to the game
    Come up with extra game roles in advance, such as the rebel, the supporter, the chaotic one, the jester et cetera. Chose a role that matches your personality or take a role you normally would not take. Make sure you experience the fun that this newly created dynamic will cause.
  5. Allow others to learn from their mistakes
    Are you an alpha player yourself? Then remember that the fun of a lot of co-ops is in overcoming a challenge. Make sure everyone understands the game during the explanation by using some examples. And then let the game play out. Do what makes sense in your role, but let others decide.
  6. Work it out together
    Make sure that each of you can indicate it in time if someone is becoming dominant. Help each other to give opinions. Whenever you make an important decision about the strategy of a game, check with everyone if this is the way to go. From alpha player, to omega.

Is one of the tips above going to help you at home to decrease the alpha player syndrome? Are there other things you do?

If you can help someone else with the tips in this article, please share it. This way we can make the world a little bit more co-operative together.

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