Multiplayer is one of the most common and enjoyable casual formats. One of the reasons is that the intense competitiveness of one-on –one interaction is removed, and the need for very tight deck construction is lessened. This is because the games feature slower development and more unpredictable deck selection by one’s opponents. Multiplayer – Chaos format – is also enjoyable because it gives the newbie a chance to scavenge a win, and to perhaps exploit the politics of a multiplayer game to his ( or her … ) advantage.
Now, of course, while slinging spells is enjoyable, the ultimate purpose is to win, and winning in Chaos is the purpose of this article. In particular, I’m going to examine multiplayer politics, and how emotions filter into the flow of a game.
The routes to victory in a Chaos game do, I believe, depend very much on the group you are playing with. That means how the personalities interact. Some writers like to pretend that the increased numbers of participants don’t matter beyond the increased difficulty, or that inter-player politics doesn’t come into the equation. I am not of this school of thought. Inter player politics are extremely important. (To the extent that they actually influence deck construction, in some cases.) If you manage to rile up a single player, that’s bad enough, but an entire hostile table is nearly always fatal. Therefore my first rule would be: try and distribute damage and attacks evenly, wherever possible. An adjunct to this rule would also be: don’t deal too much damage at once. Players typically react good-naturedly to dropping a single card to Ravenous Rats or getting an elf Shocked. But dump Shower of Coals on their army taking out all their fatties, and that’s a declaration of war.
Another aspect of the emotional politics that go on is what the players perceive to be true. I can cite a personal case where one of my playgroup complained that I “always” kill him first, whereas I’m damn sure that I always leave him for last, wherever possible. Now here’s a case where one needs to lay off that player more than usual, because of what he * believes * one is up to. Either that or make it clear during the flow of the game that he’s being treated equally. Some players might shrug their shoulders and say “well, if he wants to be touchy, that is his problem.” I’d agree – except for that it is not his problem, it’s your problem too, when he goes after you game after game.
Being the target of that sort of vengefulness is not only extremely destructive to one’s chances of winning, but can also break up the play group. So, how can ongoing feuds be avoided?
Mental resilience is the key.
Example: If you have viciously eliminated one of your chums in the previous game, I find that there is often an element of payback the next game. Personally, I reckon that sucking it up good-naturedly is the best way to go on. In other words, when the guy you crisped the game before with the 15 damage Blaze, lays into you for a few the next game, it might help to mention that “yes, I probably deserved that, considering that smoke is still curling up from the top of your head”, and NOT immediately retaliate. The dude is feeling sore at his savage take down, and getting a poke back makes him feel better and calms him down. The score is now even. (Some players will see this as a sign of weakness, or try to exploit the situation by getting a few hard knocks more in. This sort of nonsense must of course be stopped in its tracks. That’s when the Madman Defence can work wonders. Read further for this
) If you DO retaliate, then what happens? The tit-for-tat will escalate, because you are always ‘one up’ on him and eventually what you have is a one-on-one duel within a Chaos game, which will almost certainly see neither of you do well.
By taking the pragmatic route, you will develop a reputation for fairness, which goes a way to building good will in the ad hoc alliances that develop in a game of Chaos.
Goodwill and a reputation for honourable play is useful in Chaos. Sometimes one needs to make an overt pact with other players against a too-powerful player. If you have a reputation for backstabbing, that isn’t going to happen, and even if it does, chances are, they will hold back in order to counter your inevitable (in their eyes) backstab. Which means that the power-player will probably win.
Of course, too much pragmatism and leniency is also bad, because you will be perceived as a soft target. You need to have respect, and a certain dose of fear, to claw your way to the top over the fallen bodies of you opponents. How does one achieve this while retaining a fair guise? Well, what I used to find is that my power plays and big attacks used to get interfered with. There’s nothing more annoying than tapping out and swinging everything into a player only to have another opponent Fog or Moment’s Peace your attack away. Or to counter your 15 damage Fireball to another opponent’s head.
That’s when I resort to what I call the “Madman Defence”. The next available opportunity I will devote all my resources at flattening the player that * thwarted * my big play, even if that means I run the risk of losing the game. I will also make it clear that even though he wasn’t the target of my initial attack, he now * becomes * the target because he got in the way. Yes, this does lead to a bit of sore feelings. But, in the long run, it also makes people think twice about interfering just for the hell of it. It’s all about justifying oneself. He will think “Well, if I didn’t save the other player, who is my enemy anyway, I’d still be in the game right now. Hm. Maybe next time I’ll avoid doing this.”
This style of play may not work for all groups. There are some players that achieve good finishes because they play like a loose-pinned hand grenade, simply because nobody wants to mess with them. Other groups may not put up with this sort of thing and vendettas will be born, which is not the intention at all.
Ultimately, I think that keeping one’s finger on the emotional pulse of a game can work wonders, and playing the player as well as the game state is important.