Solo gaming has a huge following and playing against an AI or trying to solve an objective or puzzle set by the game can be very satisfying. Playing two player games is a different challenge, whether you play co-operative or competitive, and I love playing games with my wife. However, having three or more players changes the situation again and it is this player count that I want to delve into a bit deeper.
When you play games in a group of three or more, there is a whole new level of dynamism. When playing solo, you’re focussed on the game and your actions, while at two players you focus on the other player’s actions, even in a co-operative game. When you get to three players, you now have two players to worry about, even if the game is multi-player solitaire. After all, even if everyone is doing their own thing, you need to know how your progress in the game compares to others, so you know where you have to focus your efforts. Most multi-player solitaire games also have some sort of player interaction, even if it is a matter of choosing an action, resource, card or another shared component. Your choice will influence what the other players are able to do – or not.
In any game with three players or more, you will find that some sort of alliance forms. In a three player game, it then becomes a matter of two against one, which can make things more interesting – or just unfair, depending on the game and whose perspective you’re looking at it from. Alliances even form in co-operative games of three players or more. It is not uncommon for one player to go off on their own way and do their own thing, even if it foils the overall group objective. Of course, there are co-operative games where everyone still tries to get an overall point win, so even if you’re all working together, everyone tries and finish their objectives first.
There is also another element of playing with three or more players, and that’s the social element. Chatting about what you’ve been up to since you last met is very common, and games that allow this, by giving players downtime between turns and not being too complex for example, are very enjoyable and welcome in many situations where you have several people around a table.
More competitive games also give the opportunity for friendly banter, trash-talking or general teasing the other players, which is then often coupled with alliances forming between players. It is implicitly encouraged in games with high player interaction, but even games with low interaction but high complexity seem to ask for players to put each other off. Of course, this only works in a group of people who know each other relatively well, or who have formed an immediate affinity. It always needs to be done in a friendly manner, because games are supposed to be fun.
When you get to player counts of five or higher, the group dynamics tend to change again. It is often hard to form alliances with more than one or two players, so you tend to end up with three or more alliances forming, meaning that each group of allied players tends to form temporary pacts with other groups to help them along. It is like a meta-level of alliances, which can really do your head in.
Large player counts better lend themselves to party games of course, because more complex games, or games with high player interaction, become very hard indeed when you play them with five players or more. So having something light and less demanding to play makes more sense.
Social deduction games and games where you try and find other players who have something in common with you are very popular at these higher player counts, which just wouldn’t work at three or four players, let alone one or two players.
So as player count goes up, there are different challenges and opportunities for games to create excitement and fun.
What player counts do you enjoy games at? Do you prefer larger groups or smaller groups, or even solo? Have you ever played a game with five or more players? What was that like? Please share your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you have enjoyed or not.