Alpha Gaming

I’ve talked about AP gamers before (analysis paralysis) but there’s another type of gamer that can be annoying as well and suck all the fun out of gaming, and that is the alpha gamer.

Alpha gaming is primarily a problem in cooperative games where everyone has their turn, but really one person is deciding what everyone does. Various games try and work around it in different ways, but some of them work better than others, and you can’t always solve the problem. While I say it is an issue primarily or more commonly seen in cooperative games, or so most people would say, I would say that it is pretty common in competitive games as well. The issue in competitive games isn’t so much that they take over your turn for you, but once you’ve gone, the alpha gamer immediately talks about what you did wrong, how you’re giving the game to the person after you, and how it isn’t fair for them because of the seat they got at the table.

Image Source: Polygon

So in both game settings this is bad. It ruins the fun for a lot of people and can make them feel like their an idiot or not really playing the game because of what the alpha gamer is saying. We don’t want that to happen because that would drive people away from the hobby, and we want to grow the hobby of board gaming. How do you deal with that if you realize you are the alpha gamer at the table, or if you realize there is an alpha gamer at the table.

If you are the alpha gamer:
Just sit on your hands. It’s going to be tough, because you might not realize how much you do it, but once you realize you do alpha game, work hard at not giving advice until people ask for advice. And don’t complain if someone does something that’s less optimal because it’s them doing it and making the decision.

And when someone does ask for some help, especially in a cooperative game, I suggest doing what I recommend DM’s do for stuck players in an RPG. Give three options of what the person can do. This allows for two things, the player doesn’t feel like you are telling them what to do so it’s still there decision, and the player will probably be able to discern after thinking about it a bit more what the best course of action is, or at least the most fun one for them.

Also, temper your expectations going into board games. This is less in cooperative games and more so in competitive games. I know, not having played but just heard, that in Puerto Rico, if someone does a thing, there are optimal plays for everyone after them at the table. It’s game, if you have a bunch of veteran players and a new player, the person taking their turn directly after the new player has a big advantage. So as an alpha gamer, you might have to temper your expectations in a game like that where this is a new player. Or simply don’t play a game like that with a new player if you know that it’s going to be too frustrating for you. While that might mean you don’t get to play that game as often, know that it probably means when you do play it you’ll have more fun.

Image Source: Board Game Geek

If you’re playing with an Alpha Gamer
There are a few things that you can do if an alpha gamer seems to be running the table and everyone’s turn. The most uncomfortable and sometimes necessary is simply talk to the alpha gamer outside of the game session and let them know that they are making it less fun for everyone because they are basically playing the game by themselves. Now, don’t be a jerk about it, but you can ask them to hold of on their advice until someone asks for it so that everyone can get a chance to really play. Hopefully the person is understanding, but if not, maybe only play with certain people with that person, or certain games with that person or maybe, if you can’t handle it, stop playing games with that person. But obviously is that hope that it doesn’t ever come to that.

So what can you do in the moment? It would be awkward to call out the alpha gamer at the table, unless in that very rare occasion that is how it works for your group. But I’d guess that over 90% of gaming groups, that would just be really awkward to do around the table. So instead focus on the other players in the game. When it gets to their turn, ask them what they want to do. If the alpha gamer starts to talk over them, suggest that we hear what the active player wants to do first. And then give them time to talk through it. You can make it your job at the table to facilitate discussion as well. Even if the alpha gamer says what they think should be done, ask the player what they think should be done, or better yet, what they want to do.

If the alpha player gets impatient while everyone else is taking their turn, give them some of the book keeping for the game, if there is any, that they also get to do. Something additional to do in the game might help keep them distracted as well and less likely to alpha game. In Pandemic, put them in charge of flipping the infection deck on everyone’s turn. If you are playing something like Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, but them in charge of dealing with combat for other players, or other challenges those players might face in the game. Something that can keep them busy so that they aren’t paying as much attention to the game and everyone else can play more of the game.

Obviously, this is something that is tricky to deal with, same with players with analysis paralysis. It’s something that you’re going to have to work out at your table, whether it’s only that the person can give advice when asked, or whatever it might be. Hopefully these suggestions can help you figure out what you want to do at the table when you have an alpha gamer there. Let me know what you’ve found to work in games that you play.

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