Flash Duel's new raid mode is cooperative, in that you team up with up to three other players to defeat the dragon. The mortals win as a team or lose as a team. There's a common problem with cooperative games that a dominant player can bark orders at everyone else and basically play the game solitaire. What to do about this?
The most common answer is to do nothing, and "play with different people." Another common answer is an infeasible and sloppy one: rules about how you can't share information with people on your team. Another answer is to have a secret "traitor" on the team, so you can't trust everyone's advice and you have to think for yourself. Finally, there's a very uncommon solution used by Space Alert and Wok Star where there's time pressure (meaning the game takes place in real-time, not turn-based!) and that there simply isn't time for a single person to do everyone's job. In video games, of course there's the solution that your instructions don't replace the skills of other people (hey, just get all head-shots in this FPS!) but we're talking about board games and card games here.
Let's talk about the worst solution first, the one where the game claims that you can't share information. If you're experienced with tournament rules, hopefully you immediately see the problem here. You can "give hints" but you can't say what cards you have? Like "I have a high card" might be ok, but "I have the Jack of Spades" is not? A hint is actually identical to saying the card in high level play. You give enough hints, or you encode information in the hints to make that so. You can also tap your arm or your forehead to pass information, or other such signals. The point is that there is no real way to stop this kind of stuff. In fighting games, it would be like saying "don't use a certain move *too much*" or some such fuzzy, non-discrete, unenforceable thing.
Fuzzy Rules and Battlestar Galactica
Another example of how this type of solution is sloppy and infeasible comes from the game Battlestar Galactica. In that game, each player submits a card face down to a pile that represents a team effort to complete a task, then two extra random cards are added. This allows a traitor to sneak in a card that will hurt everyone, then he or she can claim that card must have been one of the random ones when everything is revealed. Ok, sounds fine at first glance. But what about sharing information? The rulebook says this:
Skill Cards and Skill Checks: Players are prohibited from revealing the exact strength of cards in their hands. They may use vague terms such as “I can help out on this crisis a little bit,” but they may not make more specific statements such as “I am playing 5 piloting.” In addition, after a skill check is resolved, players may not identify which cards they played. The reason for these restrictions is to keep hidden information secret and to protect Cylon players from being discovered too easily.
One player who is not the traitor should announce the following strategy. "I am not the traitor, and it's in my interest to expose the traitor. If you are not the traitor it's in your interest too. If you do not do what I'm going to say in a moment, you must be the traitor. What I'm about to say benefits non-traitors and exposes traitors, so there is no reason to not to go along other than being a traitor. We'll all "hint" at the cards we're going to play, and of course hints and just saying the card are the same in high-level play. Then when the cards are later revealed, we see if every card claimed to be there really is. If anyone lied, they are the traitor. If anyone was intentionally too vague with hints, they are the traitor. (The game pushes us all asymptotically close to the taboo tactic here.) Note that it's possible that a lying traitor could get lucky and his lie matches a random card. That's no matter though because if the cards *don't* match, then we definitely know the traitor. We'll just do this every single time, preventing the traitor from ever doing anything."
Is that a fun way to play? Not really. But that just highlights the problem. Playing well breaks that game because rules trying to limit communication between people who really want to communicate don't really work. Playing that way is also "against the spirit of the game," but with a squishy information sharing rule, playing against the spirit of the game is just playing well, really, and that's a problem too.
A Better Way to Handle Hidden Information?
The problem is that it's infeasible to give players an incentive to share information, then claim that they can't. A better way to handle this is to attack the problem at the incentive level. Make the players not want to share information. Either way, the goal is to make it so not every player knows everything so that players have to think for themselves rather than rely entirely on the advice of the loudest player. If we can give people some reason they don't *want* to share information, we don't have to worry so much about all the annoying stuff above.
We need a traitor who gets his power from information. On the one hand, the more information you share, the better off your team is because you can all plan together. On the other hand, the more information you share, the more powerful you make the traitor, so you should not share everything. The moment you hold back sharing anything, we've already solved the dominant player problem.
In Flash Duel, the hidden information is the cards in everyone's hands. Remember that these cards just have a single big number on them, like a "2" or something, and that you only have hands of five cards. The traitor has a special power where he can voluntarily reveal himself and then attempt to kill off the mortals by naming the cards in their hands. If the traitor can name every card in every other mortal's hand, he kills them all. This would probably never happen in a real game though, because players will know that showing their hand cards can be deadly. What this really does is keep information sharing in check.
By the way, the revealed traitor then fights alongside the dragon, so he's not out of the game when he reveals himself.
The Betrayal Mode
Last time I wrote about the Raid on Deathstrike Dragon mode, the one without the traitor. In that one, the answer to the dominant player problem is "just try to work together and don't play solitaire." But a dominant player certainly could ruin that experience, as with almost any cooperative game. The Betrayal mode is a harder version of that raid where one of the mortals (or zero of them, but you won't know that!) is the traitor.
In playtesting, several players actually preferred the regular raid over the betrayal raid. The regular raid is a bit simpler, and if you are all getting along and cooperating anyway, there is no problem to fix. That said, I think the betrayal mode will really appeal to certain groups in that it's an extra challenge, and really different (and treacherous!) game dynamics. If you're ready to turn your Flash Duel up a notch, then try it. See which mode your group prefers, and feel free to post your experienes, questions, or hype on the boardgamegeek.
Flash Duel 2nd Edition ships in early December.
In closing, have another dragon card image: