Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Kingmaking

Kingmaking has been around as long as interactive multi-player games have. It is generally considered a bad thing, and frowned upon, especially by those on the losing end of it. Before I discuss it, I'll give my definition:
Kingmaking is when a player who cannot win a game is in a position, by his actions, to decide who does win.
Although I tend to be against implementing any measures preventing it, or even imposing taboos upon it, I am somewhat undecided in my opinion on the various issues about kingmaking.

It's not against the rules

Shouldn't it be valid for a player to do anything within the rules? Sort of, but there are clear exceptions. If a player does not care about winning and simply does anything he can within the rules to disrupt play, that is unacceptable.

Always try to win

If a player cannot win, they should still be trying to win. What does this mean? Maximize their final score? Come as close to the winner's score as possible? Not come in last? These goals can be contradictory.

Say kingmaker K has 20 points, player A has 28, and player B has 30. K plays to maximize his own score. He gets 6 points, and B wins the game with 36 points. K loses by 10 points.

Let's try it the other way. K plays to come as close to winning as possible. He chooses actions that net him only 5 points. However, this prevents B from scoring any points, and let's A score 4. K loses by 7 points.

Clearly, this is only possible if scoring is predictable in the game. But which is the proper play to avoid accusations of kingmaking? The answer is neither. Once you land in the position, you are screwed no matter what you do. Intelligent players must realize this and not take it personally.

Who chose the winner?

In the above two examples, K either allowed B to get 6 points or A to get 4. So what? Every turn you take, you are making choices to give opportunities to and to block opportunities from the other players. Perhaps A allowed B to get 10 points earlier in the game. Why is it that only the player who makes the final call is the bad guy? If I made a play on turn 1 that cost you 4 points and you lost by 2, was I a kingmaker?

Metagaming

Ok, so you've accepted that kingmaking isn't going to go away, and that it's not evil. How are you going to make the final stab? Is it going to based on who screwed you the most during the game, who won last time, or where you'll have to sleep tonight?

I really don't care. Games with human interaction are going to be driven by human emotions. If you ruined a player's plans, expect them to remember it. If you win often, expect to be a target.

Summary

If gaming is all about winning for you, then you might have the wrong hobby. Play as hard as you can to win, but enjoy the process not the victory. Congratulate the winner, and hold no grudges against the kingmaker...except perhaps next time when you are in his seat.


Kingmaker image by chrisinengland

8 Comments:

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Brian said...

I disagree that maximizing your score still makes you a kingmaker. In my mind that's the only fair move you can make. If you're making a move which isn't advancing your position or gaining you points then you aren't playing well or you are kingmaking.

Obviously, there are many games which are not victory point driven and you're screwed in those situations.

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger ekted said...

But maximizing your own score might put you further behind the winner, or in last place when you could have been in 3rd place. I assert that there is no consistent way to measure success in these cases.

 
At 10:05 AM, Blogger Gerald McD said...

I agree with your conclusions. In most of our family games, we simply try to improve our finish position, since we keep ongoing records of how each person finishes each game. If we can't improve our own position, we often target the person ahead of us who has more overall points for the year in our records, to try to gain on him (the metagame). However, sometimes it is just a pay-back for something that person did earlier in this or another game of the day.

 
At 2:54 PM, Blogger Fellonmyhead said...

Excellent!

I do like to hear dismissive comments about kingmaking and the metagame.

 
At 10:22 AM, Anonymous il Silvano said...

Hi!
I wrote an article about the Kingmaking issue in GiocAreA OnLine #21; you can read it at www.davincigames.com

There's a little idea on how to deal with kingmaking, and in the next issue (coming on October 1st), there will be a second part of this article.

Enjoy!

 
At 1:03 AM, Blogger sedjtroll said...

There is a decent way (in theory) to encourage players to play a certain way once they are mathematically eliminate from winning the game, but it entails recording game finishes over multiple plays. Suppose there were a leaderboard at your game club, or a prize each month for whoever earned the most "points" that month (you'd score some points for 1st place, fewer for 2nd, and fewer still for 3rd for example).

This is something I've always wanted to do, and it would help the Kingmaker "problem" a lot - you'd either have a reason to kingmake, or a reason to play for position (or both)... the metagame.

 
At 1:50 AM, Blogger ekted said...

The criteria you use to decide the "prize" will affect how players play. Total VP, place, or how far behind the winner you ended up are all very different and arbitrary conditions. Any of them might work for a league or tournament, but not when you bring out a game once a month.

 
At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kingmaking is a flaw of the game itself, not the players. If you hate kingmaking, don't play a game where you can abuse it.

Simple as that.

 

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