The 5th Wheel Becomes The 6th Man


In Albuquerque, New Mexico, there is a phenomenon called The 6th Man.  The home games of the University of New Mexico Lobos (college) basketball games are played in an arena called “The Pit“. (No, really!)  The 5-man basketball team is helped by their spectators. The spectators generate such an uproar supporting their Lobos, the Pit is frequently called The 6th Man. 

The crowd (booing and yelling when appropriate) in the Pit  supports their home Lobo team,  becoming the 6th Man in the basketball game!  This gives the Lobos a decided advantage when playing.

Spirit Island

Recently, I received my Kickstarter for Spirit Island in the mail.

I have played Spirit Island a  number of solo games, and I was ready to bring it to my game group.  So, there are a lot of rules.  This is probably a “Euro” co-operative game.  It’s a great game, it’s fun, the components are fantastic, but it is by no means a light game.  It was critical I learn the game ahead of time before bringing it to my game group; it’s just too much to learn and play without some understanding upfront.

Player Count

So, I put out the call to my game group to “Come Learn Spirit Island!”  I invited a small group.  The game plays 1-4 from the base game, but if you want you CAN play 1-6, if either (a) you have the Kickstarter exclusive map (see below) or (b) buy two copies of the game.  I was lucky and had the map.

The 1-6 Player Map, only from Kickstarter

But, the rules BEG you (seriously) not to play with the large big map until you have played the game a few times. (If you look closely at the map, you can see huge amounts of starting resources per area.  That’s waaaay too much for a starting game). Given that I was the only one who had played, I acquiesced to the rules “begging”.

The 5th Wheel

So, we played the 4 player game.  That means I became the 5th wheel.  I sat out of the game (I am not pictured below) so my friends could play.

Rich helps his friends with the rules to Spirit Island!

Yep, I really wanted to get the game played so I sat out and became a “5th wheel”.  I was bummed.  I wanted to play.   I became more a shepherd of the game, answering rules questions and teaching the game to my friends.  I, of course, wanted to play, but I really wanted to get this played in a big group to see how it went.  And I noticed something: as the “fifth wheel”, I was helping EVERYONE win the game.  Spirit Island is a cooperative game, which means I could roam and help whomever needed help.

I became The 6th Man.

The 5th Wheel Becomes The 6th Man

One of the things I love about cooperative games is that you can easily add and take away people from a game.  Since you are all working together as a team, everyone is on the same page trying to win the game as a group.  Someone can easily step out and someone can easily step in to take their place.

A 1–player game of Spirit Island

The 6th Man is an obvious extension to this idea.  Even if a game, like Spirit Island, has a smaller player count, other players can join in and help as The 6th Man, a roamer who people can bounce ideas off of, or just offer a new perspective.  Seriously!  Just getting around and looking at the board can sometimes offer new physical and mental perspectives on a game.

Roles of The 6th Man

The 6th Man is not just limited to one type of role.

  • The Rules Shepherd: This is someone who knows the game, and helps shepherd the game along, answering rules questions and helping players with basic strategy.
  • The Expert: If a game is particularly hard, this player can work closely to make sure the players have a chance of winning.  He can roam the game and make suggestions as the players play.  This player has to be careful not to catch Alpha Player Syndrome.
  • The Watcher:  Like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Watcher can be an equal member of the team, concentrating on things outside the game:  “What’s this rule?”  “Can you look up this rule?”  “What do you think of this idea?” “Can you help me with this?”. Whatever is needed by the players, the Watcher does whatever is needed to move the game along.
  • The Replacement:  Many times, people need to come and go from a gaming session.  The 6th Man can be watching and ready to jump in if someone else has to leave suddenly.  He is also participating as the game plays.

Certainly, there are other ways The 6th Man can be useful.  Are there other roles we are missing here?


In cooperative games, a 5th Wheel can become the 6th Man.  This is just one of the may great things I love about cooperative games!  Even  players who aren’t directly playing can still participate and have an impact.   The next time you are playing a cooperative game and are worried that there are too many people, consider assigning some players to be The 6th Man.



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