Help me help you

As a Euro player, I often get a lot of questions when I say that I love interaction in games. Part of it is that some understand interaction as Take That, or trashing your opponents’ stuff down to the ground, while to me, blocking, affecting board state, and majorities all count as satisfying forms of interaction. Another aspect which too often gets forgotten though is what I call the “help me help you”.

HMHY is what I call incentivizing others to take a move which helps you in an otherwise competitive game. These can take many forms, and sometimes lead to a “shake hands” moment, other times to cursing as your opponent is forced to benefit you: to me both of those are strong moments, and should therefore be designed towards. It allows one player to feel clever, it adds a strategic layer to reading your opponents’ positions, and it adds interaction in a Euro-friendly, non-confrontational way.

Before going through examples, let’s discuss the main pitfall that can come up from HMHY: kingmaking. Kingmaking is when the winner is determined not by one of the players competing for it, but by a third party who’s out of the running. It’s considered, by en large, an enormous bug of games with political or negotiation aspects: remember when your sister sold all of her properties to your cousin for 1$ in Monopoly? Yup, that.

I think HMHY is a great solution for kingmaking: by making you win, #3 was doing the best move for them. However, you’re still putting it in their hand: if they don’t, you lose. I think HMHY should either be a minor aspect, where one such action cannot determine the winner, or make sure the players definitive positions are unclear, meaning you’re doing what’s best for you, without knowing for sure if you’re giving someone the game.

The game which best represents HMHY, to me, is Imhotep. To my eyes, this is the central conceit of the game: the more you get to ride other players’ coattails, the more cube-placing actions you have. But because the value of a cube differs so much based on where it’s going, you can’t compete if you always let others decide where your cubes will go. Knowing where others want their cubes to go, and using that opportunity, is where the game’s tactics lie. Riding Coattails is not as much about incentivizing a move, but it’s using the already existing incentive to your advantage.

Another particular example is Lords of Waterdeep, when you add the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion. SoS adds the mechanism of placing extra resources on other spaces: the next player to go there will gain it, in addition to whatever that action gives. There are many strategic ways for you to use it: you place it on a space you built, and therefore get a bonus when other players use them; you are last in turn order and would like someone else to go grab first player; there’s an action you desperately need, and now you can send an opponent likely to take it elsewhere. And of course, each of those makes you feel clever.

Brass is another example of this: many of the buildings require resources, and sometimes, you’ll have to use an opponents’. A large part of the game is about evaluating when demand is about to outgrow offer, and to position yourself to profit from it. Only flipping your mines, and not having help to do so, is a great way to finish last. This adds a layer of mastery to the game, and a need to always stay flexible in your plans: sure, I want to do X, but can I pass over this opportunity to fill up the market with my coal?

Many games have used this concept to make highly interactive games which never feel agressive. It is one of those mechanism that I think is underutilized in today’s market. Maybe the nuance it adds to a game’s strategy is ill-suited for today’s “play-it-once-then-forget-it” market, but I think the staying power of those three games can be seen as evidence of how strong a tool it can be.

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