Whose Rules?

Something I didn’t really touch on in considering So What Is a Game? is the number of players that may be involved – one player, two-player or multiplayer. Having two or more players does not necessarily make a game competitive, although it is likely to make the outcome of the game increasingly uncertain.

In their book, Game Design and Development: Fundamentals of Game Design, Ernest Adams and Andre Rollings describe the following possible combinations (pp.16-17)

• two player competitive (“you versus me”)
• multiplayer competitive (“everyone for themselves”)
• multiplayer cooperative (“‘all of us together’)
• team based (“us versus them”)
• single player (solitaire, ”me versus the situation”)

For each of the above game types, can you think of an example game, from both the world of computer games as well as ‘real world’ games?

In terms of how a game is played, why do you think two player games are singled out, rather than just being considered a class of multiplayer game? Is this distinction a good one to make?

One thing that particularly intrigues me about multiplayer games is the fact that the rules may be different for each of the players.

In other words: are my rules the same as your rules?

In a symmetric game, the same rules, starting conditions and goals apply to all players. But in an asymmetric game, different rules may apply to different players, and these players may then in turn have different aims.

(Turn based games are asymmetric in the sense that one player starts first, but we’d probably let that difference slip through if they were symmetric in all other respects!)

One of my favourite asymmetric board games is hnefatafl – Viking Chess.

hnefatafl board

In this two player game, the white ‘defender’ must move their king from the centre of the board to one of the corners, guarded by their ‘army’ of pawns. The black ‘attacker’, whose pieces are all the same, and start around the edge of the board, seeks to capture the king.

As the above diagram shows, even the initial configuration of the board can differ under different variations of the game.

You can find an online version of hnefatfl, along with a description of the rules, at http://aagenielsen.dk/hnefatafl_white9.html.

If you find a version of the game that can be played over the web, post a link and we could maybe have a game? ;-)

In the meantime, can you think of any particularly good examples of symmetric and asymmetric games, in respect of: a) different starting positions, but otherwise the same rules?, b) the same starting positions but different rules, and c) different starting positions and different rules?

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11 Responses to “Whose Rules?”


  1. 1 Doug Clow March 10, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    And what about games where the rules change – e.g. Fluxx or Bartok/Mao – or indeed where changing the rules is actually the main point of the game (e.g. Nomic)? Or indeed Mornington Crescent where the rules are … obscure.

    The enumeration of player possibilities seems to omit many logical possibilities as options – e.g. two player cooperative, or one player versus two, or one player versus a team, or team cooperative. At least some of these do exist – two player options in the Sonic series are two-player cooperative; Blockbuster with Bob Holness was one player versus two; chouette is backgammon played by one player ‘in the box’ against a team of two or more (if the team wins, the team captain goes in the box, and everyone else in the team moves up one rank, with the loser at the bottom); and topically, you could describe D&D as team cooperative.

  2. 2 Andy Mee March 10, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Is the distinction between two player and multiplayer games just a legacy thing? With older computer and console games you only had the option of one or two players. Multiplayer wasn’t possible for a long time.

  3. 3 Tony Hirst March 11, 2008 at 12:55 am

    I love nomic – both an idea and – on the single occasion I played it – as a game. (We did used to play a card game equivalent, too, in Goodricke snack bar, (10 points to anyone who can put a marker on the spot in Google maps, and comment back here with a URL*) called “Cards”, where the rules were unstated, (a bit like Mornington Crescent), but you could be challenged at any point and would have to justify why whatever card you had played was valid!)

    [*There’s an easy trick to adding a label to a marker in Google Maps – add the label in brackets to the search query (the bit starting q=); for example: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Walton+Hall,+Milton+Keynes+(The+Open+University) {Arghh – doesn’t autolink properly – try this: http://tinyurl.com/2ctulp } ]

    I started thinking about how nomic could be taken online, maybe using some form of voting mechanism (as per social news sites) to ratify suggested rule changes. You can find traces of my thinking on this at http://psychemedia.corank.com

    Part of the one, two, multi-player distinction I think has to do with trying to identify cooperative/competitive structures.

    Doug, when you made your point did you maybe have a some sort of matrix, or other graphical, view in mind? What representation would make explicit the *exhaustive* list you hinted at, and can you draw us a diagram (e.g. in gliffy?) to demonstrate it?! ;-)

    PS 10 bonus marks if anyone (except Doug!) gets this (and I *do* know the answer ;-) – why is D&D in the news at the moment?

  4. 4 Kate March 11, 2008 at 7:02 am

    D&D in the news: possibly because one of the creators died last week?

    http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/welcome

    Can I transfer the marks for M363, becaus I might need them over there!

    :-)

  5. 5 Kate March 11, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Argh! two mistake and no preview for comments on this blog.

  6. 6 Tony Hirst March 11, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Yep – 10 points to Kate :-)

    Gary Gygax, co-creator of the game Dungeons & Dragons, died recently. Here’s the BBC take on it – “Five Things that Dungeons and Dragons Begat” ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7280969.stm )

    Now where did I put my D10? And you always had to fancy your chances (or not) with a D4, didn’t you;-)

    (If you’re wondering what I’m rambling on about – http://flickr.com/photos/lilcrabbygal/302527937/ )

  7. 7 Juliette March 11, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    There are also games like Shadows over Camelot (admittedly not a very good game) and Saboteur which have a traitor or traitors whose identity is not shared so the game is asymmetric but the exact asymmetry isn’t transparent.

    In Shadows over Camelot, the game is either a win for the traitor or for all the other players combined. In Saboteur, there are multiple rounds with different traitors each time. You get a point if you are a traitor and the gold mining is successfully sabotaged. If you are a not a traitor you get a variable number of points depending on who was first to reach the gold. At the end, the person with the most points wins. So the game is multiplayer cooperative globally but has collaborative aspects locally.

    I guess more generally games can have different levels of aims and objectives. Doug’s example of Mao is a good one – there’s the obvious local objective of getting ridding of all your cards (hehe, am I allowed to say that?), but that’s not really the objective of the game, which is to collaboratively create an interesting game experience. Mao can be fiercely competitive despite that though and it’s the constraints of the competitiveness that are almost essential in making people creative about how they go about producing that experience.

  8. 8 trave March 17, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    I took a little while to find Hnefatafl online, as you’d misspelt it in the body of your text! “Hnefatfl” gets 90 hits in Google (including Digital Worlds at no. 4!), whereas the correct spelling gets 57,700 or so.

    Anyway, amongst the online versions I’ve found, none so far allow two human players. Those where you play against an AI, I’ve had little joy with – they’re too good! I haven’t quite got my head round the game yet, and playing against an “infallible” computer just isn’t fun! However, I’m not good enough to teach myself ;-)

    Actually, I’ve just found a website that lets you play a version of Hnefatafl, Tablut, against human opponents. The website is http://www.ludoteka.com/ There are a few players connected who are prepared to play Tablut! Registration is required, but it appears to be free, although you can pay for a more advanced account. I’m registered there as “trave_uk”, should you fancy a game!

  9. 9 trave March 17, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    (actually, with that website, you get 1 hour of “free play”. I haven’t checked the rules, but that may be a weekly quota. Hopefully there’s an alternative somewhere!)

  10. 10 Tony Hirst March 18, 2008 at 12:34 am

    “I took a little while to find Hnefatafl online, as you’d misspelt it in the body of your text!”

    Oops – apologies, now corrected – it is as you discovered, Hnefatafl… sorry about that…

    Re: playing a game… I just got an account there as ‘psychemedia’, but I need to call it a day just now. Maybe we can try to hook up for a game at some other time?

  11. 11 Nikki May 4, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    how about this combination:
    me vs you, but together against the enemy. like in call of duty 5, the campaign you team up against the enemy, but its competitive between the two of you to get the most kills and points.


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