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Alliances Mechanic


Similar in some ways to the Cooperation Mechanic and the Negotiation Mechanic, alliances in card and board games are often a useful way to help players strategically interact and work together while keeping an aspect of competition in the game.

Alliances will often show up informally in many different games as a single player begins to pull ahead, but designers can also plan for alliances in a variety of different types of games to create interesting and unique opportunities!

After reviewing the article below, please share your thoughts to continue the discussion as we work together to create joy through tabletop games.

Overview of Alliances

Alliances as a board and card game mechanic refers to creating opportunities for players to formally or informally work together in a competitive environment to combine strengths and create unique player trade-offs. This does not include fully cooperative games or games with only a head-on conflict between two players.

Alliances can do quite a bit to level the board as well. I remember losing games of Chess 4 to less-experienced players because they formed alliances to remove me from the game early on. Alliances can be a good way for those less-experienced players to have a chance in many games, which minimizes the learning curve required and makes those games more accessible to more players.

Important Considerations with Alliances

We’ll separate this section into two parts: one for informal alliances, which are not consistently employed but can be designed as an important factor in gameplay, and the other for more formal alliances, or alliances that are planned into the game’s structure and required for playing the game.

Informal Alliances: Many game structures implicitly encourage alliances and even provide structure for them without explicitly defining or requiring them. These include games such as Settlers of Catan and Risk, where players are incentivized to work together for trades and support in order to survive and eventually conquer.

Game designers can encourage informal alliances by granting players permission to trade and work together, and by designing for situations where players can work together to catch other players left hopelessly ahead.

Formal Alliances: Formal game alliances include making player alliances a part of the game’s core play, whether they are required (as in The Chameleon) or optional (as in Falconry). These types of full-round or full-game alliances between are fairly common in games, but another type of formal alliance that I haven’t really seen before is requiring players to work together under specific rules to achieve particular objectives throughout the game.

This might, for example, include a game where players receive specific shared bonuses for working with one or more other players to accomplish a task or turn in specific resources. This would be especially interesting in a game with battles or some other kind of direct conflict, as players would balance each other out by working as allies for one battle and opponents in the next.

Formal alliances also include asymmetric alliances that create competitions between varying numbers of players, such as the Allied Nobility variant of Falconry, where two players form an alliance to defeat a single player with each side varying in its abilities and proficiencies during gameplay.

What other types of alliances would you like to see or create in future games? Please share your thoughts!

Cautions and Tips for Using Alliances

When designing a game with alliances, whether optional or required, it is useful to make sure through analysis and playtesting that potential alliances are balanced, with each participant having an equal chance at benefiting from the alliance, of course based on individual choices and decisions throughout the game.

This especially applies to any alliances that create an asymmetric challenge for players, as each potential combination should be carefully playtested and balanced whenever practical and feasible.

However you choose to incorporate alliances into your games, consider specifying a few options for trading and working together in the game instructions to give players permission and better encourage collaboration.

What are some interesting ways you have seen Alliances be used as a part of a game? How else can Alliances be used strategically in games? Please comment below with your thoughts!

Alliances as a board and card game mechanic refers to opportunities for players to formally or informally work together in a competitive way throughout the game.


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Other Tabletop Game Mechanics to Explore

Are there other game mechanics or topics that you would like to see explored further? Please comment below with any requests!