My girlfriend has the most wonderful quality of bluntly stating observations about me that I, in my 35 years, have never noticed but cannot argue against.


An Alpha Gamer, for those fortunate enough not to have had the displeasure of our company, is someone who can figure out the moves required to achieve a goal for everyone and then attempts to guide the other players to that goal. In other words, as my girlfriend would put it, they tell everyone what to do on their turn and generally suck out the fun for everyone else.


In my mind I’ve always considered myself to be of leadership quality. Apparently, that can be annoying. A fact I realized when I was later faced with an Alpha Gamer who directed other players during a game that wasn’t even cooperative!

Five of us were playing Power Grid. Power Grid is not a cooperative game. Power Grid is about making calculating decisions as to when to expand or when to buy resources or power stations. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I highly recommend it. Any mishap by another player is a great advantage to the others.

The Alpha Gamer sat across from me. He was immediately identified by his adamant declaration that we would all be playing with his house rules which, he assured us, were far superior to those that originally came with the game. This was not his house. This was not his game. I protested and was met with his disapproving sigh.

We played on and it was clear as we were getting near the end, the Alpha Gamer and I were head to head for the win. This, I felt, was a great feat considering throughout the entire game he had been telling the other three players exactly what they should do. As I said before, if a player makes a mistake in Power Grid, it can be a great advantage for other players. He was doing his best to make sure those advantages were few.

The most infuriating part of it was, that he believed he was helping and increasing the joy of the game experience. I suddenly saw what my girlfriend had been talking about. I too thought I was being helpful when I directed others on how to play their turns. As I looked around at the tired and exasperated players who had, for the most part, been told what to do on every single turn, I finally saw and felt the pain of the other players I had “helped”.

I no longer play cooperative games in which players can discuss what each of us should do in the game. Pandemic was once a fond memory of me directing my fellow teammates to saving the world. Now it’s a haunting recollection of me yelling at people to do as they’re told. Forbidden Island never sank on my watch, but nor did anyone enjoy saving it but me.

I’m currently working on a cooperative game in which, as a design challenge for myself, I am writing out the Alpha Gamer in the rules. It specifically says that no player may tell another player what to do or give advice unless they are adjacent to them. There’s thematic reasons for this of course, but in all honesty, I like cooperative games and I am trying to design my way back into them.

Perhaps we should all take a moment to explore how we affect other players during games. I for one will always try and be mindful that the experience of play is much more important that the goal of winning. Or some stupid thing about not winning being good. Knowing is half the battle!