Player Elimination in Cooperative Games

Player Elimination

Many competitive games have abandoned Player Elimination as a mechanic for one simple reason: it’s not fun.  I was reminded of this when we played a 6-Player version of King of New York and I was eliminated fairly quickly in the game.  After being eliminated, I just sat there and watched the game.  Whee … that was fun.  I was reminded of all the fighting game like Risk or Diplomacy or Monopoly where you win by eliminating all other players. And I remember I hated being the eliminated player … watching and not playing.

Cooperative Games

Defenders of the Realm cover

Here’s the thing: one of the reasons I was drawn to cooperative games is that they almost never have the Player Elimination mechanic.  I am thinking of games like Defenders of the Realm, Pandemic, Codenames Duet, and many many more (!) where there’s not even any way to be eliminated.   And it doesn’t seem like the mechanic is even missing: I am  fighting monsters, but I don’t worry about dying!! I don’t miss it at all.

Hit Points or Limited Resources

I’m actually lying a little bit: these games have Player Elimination, it’s just that ALL players are eliminated at once and lose the game!!!   Consider the losing rules for Defenders of the Realm:

Screenshot from 2020-04-20 20-33-16
How to Win or Lose Defenders of the Realm!

If you look at Pandemic or Defenders of the Realm, you’ll notice there’s a losing condition if you “run out a global resource”  (cards or disease cubes in Pandemic or minions or crystals in Defenders of the Realm).  If you squint, it’s almost like they are “shared hit points” among all players: if all those “shared hit points” are gone, the players lose.  Said another way, all players are eliminated at the same time!!

Screenshot from 2020-04-20 21-00-28
Losing condition: the game is over immediately if ANY SINGLE character “dies” (tokens on all abilities on a single row)

There are games (like The Master’s Trial: Wrath of Magmaroth, see above) where all cooperating players lose if just one of you dies!  So, players have to make sure to keep everyone alive as during play!  If just one of you dies, game over and you lose!   Really, this is another way of preventing the grumpiness of Player Elimination:  If any player is eliminated, the game is over so that the eliminated player doesn’t have to “suffer” through a continuing game where he is not playing.

This seems like a good thing: I disliked the Player Elimination mechanic and I was glad to see it was rarely an issue in cooperative games.

So why did I add it to Sidekick Saga?

Take It For the Team

Sidekick Saga is a cooperative superhero game for 1-4 players.  As long as at least one Sidekick  is still alive, the game continues.   Any Sidekick who dies is:

  1. eliminated (in Dark Legacy mode) or 
  2. continues in reduced utility (normal Legacy mode).

And the game still continues.  Either way, the Sidekick who dies suffers the same problems seen in Player Elimination in Competitive Games!!  Why on earth, after arguing earlier for hating this mechanic, would I add this back in?

Dark Phoenix's ending is a far cry from the original X-Men comic ...
Jean Grey dies: her death is soul-wrenching and meaningful

In a phrase, because death has meaning!  If, as a superhero, I choose to “take it for the team” in the late game so that we can win, my death has meaning!!

The only way we could win was for Blackbird to run into the Ice-a-cane!  His sacrifice made it so we could take down the Villain in the last turn!  Without his sacrifice, we would have lost!

It is VERY thematic for a group of superheroes to continue after their compatriot has chosen to die to save the team: it’s what superheroes do!! They make the ultimate sacrifice!!

And there’s also the choice factor in the game: by removing the ability for the player to “take it for the team”, the game has fewer choices.   By adding the ability to choose Player Elimination, players can choose to make the painful, tortured choice if they think they have no more options.

It’s a very human thing to do the right thing, to make the ultimate sacrifice for your group.

Other Games

Screenshot from 2020-04-20 20-36-45

Set A Watch is another game where play continues even if another player is “eliminated” (in this case, all players are exhausted).  Players are given a choice of who will “exhaust an ability” card, and players may realize the only way to win is for Fred to completely exhaust himself so that the team’s remaining abilities can take out the bad guys.  Like Sidekick Saga, it’s the choice that matters.

Screenshot from 2020-04-20 20-55-01

Marvel Champions is another game where players can continue even of their compatriots are eliminated.  Very thematic for a superhero game!

Screenshot from 2020-04-20 20-48-16

Gloomhaven is another game where play continues even if other players are exhausted. Again, it’s the choice that matters.


In the last turn, Delphi appeared and made the ultimate sacrifice, taking all the damage from the Bad Guys.  This left Epsilon Wave open to open the portal and banish the evil villain at the last minute …  Delphi’s death was not in vain: only her sacrifice allowed Epsilon Wave to do what was needed.

At the end of the day, Player Elimination in a cooperative game can be useful and interesting  as long as it is a choice and it has meaning.  It’s when the elimination feels arbitrary (preventing you from playing after you are booted from the game) that  Player Elimination is a undesirable mechanic.

Of course, you have to make sure you aren’t being bullied by an Alpha Player to make the ultimate sacrifice, but that’s a different issue …

Part I: A Review of Forgotten Waters. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Forgotten Waters: The New Plaid Hat Crossroads Game

Let not mince words: I picked this game up because Tom Vasel raved about it on the Dice Tower (and gave it a 9.5/10).   It’s a cooperative storytelling game, set in a Pirate universe.  It seems to be “fun” pirates (corsairs? like Julio Soundrel in Order of the Stick) instead of dirty, grumpy, filthy pirates.   Recall that The Secret of Monkey Island is my favorite game of all time,  so this was an instant buy!  It came out in the beginning of April and I picked it up (ordered it online) immediately from the manufacturer. EDIT: At the time of writing this review, it’s already sold out!

Special Swag by ordering directly from the manufacturer!

I also got some “Special Swag” (basically a card and token holder, see below) by ordering directly from them.

Special Swag: ARH! It Holds the cards and tokens!


The game looks fantastic.

Rulebook and stuff
The Core Adventure Book

The core of the game is an Adventure book: each pair of pages has a beautiful and thematic picture on the left and “some actions” on the right when playing.

More pages from the Adventure Book




There’s quite a bit of cardboard … (see above) …


There’s some dice and cards (1 12-Sided for each player and some standees) and not too many mini cards.

Player Sheets

There’s some player sheets: WARNING!  You only get so many, so it usually makes sense to print characters sheets from the web site rather than use the pristine ones (or copy the pristine character sheets).  There is EXACTLY one character sheet for each different type of pirate, so you might not want to use these out of the box…


And some logs for how far along you get.

My crew for the 1-Player game!

Overall, the game components look really nice.

The Rulebook


I think  that manufacturers are learning: the last few games I have looked at have had excellent rulebooks.  This one is no exception.    The first page(s) have lists of components, so you can know the names of components as you set-up the game.



The Set-Up is pretty good, although it is a bit complicated by the fact that there are no solo rules in the rulebook (but see below).

In general, the rulebook is excellent overall.  My only complaint is that it is a bit spartan: it barely fits in 8 pages and a few times I needed some rules clarifications.  But, you get through it.

You Need An App To Play The Game

App Home Page

This may be a sticking point for some people: you need an app to play the game.  Well, it’s not even an app: it’s a website.   So, just point your phone or your pad to it.  The app (sorry, website) is decent.   The coolest thing is that the first scenario has “acting”, “sound effects”, and lots of great content.   At the time of this writing, they only have these little touches for the first scenario.  After that, one of your players will have to read a lot of text from the screen: it’s a storytelling game after all.

So, I found the app (sorry website) to be a bit clunky.  You can’t “go back” in the browser, you have to go back in the app (website) itself: there’s a button at the top. Many times, I wasn’t sure what to do next from the app.   At one point, I pressed the wrong button and went “somewhere”, but I couldn’t back arrow to get back to where I was!

Here’s the thing: there’s not THAT much state stored in the app (website), so you can usually just reset the whole thing and start over if you ever get to a weird spot.  So, I was able to get around and use it, and when I was really into it: the voices and sound effects were totally on point!  Every so often (more often than I care to admit), I’d just press the wrong thing, or forget something on the previous page … and couldn’t go back. So, I’d just start over.  And it was ok.  A little clumsier than I expected.

Solo Rules?  Sorta?

Solo game set-up

The game, when you buy it, says 3-7 players on the box.  If I had seen that, I wouldn’t have bought it!! I only got it because Tom Vasel raved about it so much.  But, here’s the thing: When you open the app (sorry, website), you get both solo and 2-Player rules!  And these are rules provided by Plaid Hat, so they are “official” rules.    I think Plaid Hat is doing themselves a disservice by putting 3-7 on the box, because, like I said, I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I just saw the box.  They totally could have put 1-7 on the box.

The solo game worked well.  I wish they had a way to PRINT out the solo rules!  They are ONLY IN THE APP!  So, whenever I had solo rules questions, I had to “break” my flow and find it in the app (sorry, website).  I probably should have just opened two tabs in my browser, keeping on the solo rules in one tab and the app (website) in another.  Listen, the solo rules are good, but they are more complex than you might expect.  I think I ended up writing down the major rule changes ON A PIECE OF PAPER so I could have that in front of me as I played.

The solo rules work pretty well, especially as a way to learn the game.

Gameplay and Expectations

A losing solo game …

I lost my first solo game.  I had fun, but I was kind of annoyed.  And that’s MY FAULT that I was annoyed: I didn’t set my expectations properly.

So, here’s the thing: the game is JUST A STORY TELLING game!  At some point, you’ll make choices that seem fine and something dumb will happen.  Or you’ll just die.  BUT THAT’S THE WAY STORYTELLING GAMES GO.

I really liked the Tales of Arabian Nights Game (another storytelling game), but only after I set my expectations.  It’s just an experience (not a game) where stupid stuff  happens to you and you don’t really have a choice (you “choose” things in the game, but the choices never correlate with the results).  Our three main complaints with Tales of Arabian Nights:

  1. It was too random (your choices don’t really matter)
  2. It was too long (we always set it up to be half the length)
  3. The gamebook was full of so much reading, should have been an app

Forgotten Waters fixes (most) of these!

  1. You have choices that boost your stats, and the choices matter much more.
  2. The game has scenarios which you can save halfway through and come back if they are too long (save it by keeping track in the log book)
  3. There is an app for the text, and even better, it adds effects and reads it for you!

So, I am very happy that Forgotten Waters fixes a lot of these problems.  But …

Choices vs. Fiddliness

A Monkey Island flavored character

The game has Mad Libs section at the start of the game: this really makes the game silly and invests you in the game.  I, of course, went with Monkey Island references.


As you play through the game, you get to make  choices to “up your stats”: Exploration, Brawn, etc (see above).  At certain points in the game, you also get to fill in your constellation (the star cluster above) and when you get to a !, something happens which is very peculiar to your character! Very cool!  The actions you make in the game help you choose “which stats” you up.

More pages from the Adventure Book

The main way you up your stats is when you take actions: on the right page of the adventure book are 6 actions you can take, and each one has its own effect: some advance the plot, some advance your stats, some clean up the ship, some add hull, some add crew … there’s a lot of things you can do!


Here’s the thing that I had trouble with.  The game has a lot of fiddliness.  Look at all the things you have to maintain!


There are boards for each position: see above: Cooper, First Mate, etc.  There’s 6 roles, i.e., 6 pieces of maintenance per turn.  Then there’s the choices of actions (where to put the 4 pirates in the rulebook), where to sail, which hexes to put out, etc…

So, putting all this together, it feels like you all your choices should be making your way towards a final game!  And there’s a lot of choices!  But, at the end of the day, YOU ARE SIMPLY BEHOLDEN to some random events.  That may kill you.  Or something worse.

I was annoyed because I was making “choices” throughout the game, doing lots of maintenance and upkeep as I played, and then I died because I turned over the wrong card.  The End.

IF you put your brain into the mindset “THIS IS A STORYTELLING GAME”, then this will be real fun: the movement, the stories, the app (website), the flavor text, the mad lib games ALL make the game full of flavor!

The choices you make still help the game flow, but at the end of the day, you can just die and totally destroy your game.   If you think you can out-think the game, nah, then you are playing the wrong game.   This is a Storytelling game.


Solo game set-up

At the end of the day, this is a fun game.  It fixes a lot of the problems with a lot of Storytelling games (like Tales of Arabian Nights), and the game has a fun sense of humor.  Although I had problems with the app (I mean website) and the basic “fiddliness” of the game, I really did like it.  I think this game will work best with a group who can laugh with each other/at themselves while they play.  The solo experience was good enough to learn the game, but I think the game will really shine when played together as a group.

Appendix: Choose Your Own Adventure

My game group really enjoyed the first Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger game because it was stupid fun.  When I played, I set my expectations: we made choices as a group and read through a dumb adventure.  We died a few times, but we didn’t care because it was so easy to reset and continue.  Forgotten Waters is like that, but the set-up and maintenance is a bit heavier, but you are rewarded with a more customized game with prettier graphics and effects.  If you are looking for a game with a storytelling where your choices distinctly matter, then you should look at Detective: City of Angels:  It’s a murder mystery with limited replayability because once you have played through it, you know the answer!  Some other games with story books (that have a real game underneath) are Agents of SMERSH and Near and Far.

Endangered: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and Initial Impressions


Endangered is a cooperative board game about endangered animals: You all work together on a “global scale” to help save (in a conservation sense) some endangered animals.  This game was on Kickstarter in April 2019 and successfully funded.  It delivered to me about a week ago (April 7, 2020).  It promised delivery in March 2020: given the current state of the corona virus, a month late is actually pretty good.

I won’t be doing a full review until I can get this played with multiple people!  Multiple people playing is really difficult right now with Social Distancing.  So, you may be waiting a while to see Part II of this review.   I can tell you my initial thoughts from my first solo play.



The game looks real nice: the back of the box shows some of the components and does a good job describing the game.

Upon opening the box, you see lots of cardboard (well, not too much) and lots of little wooden bits.

Foam to hold board firmly in place

The board is packed interestingly: notice the foam around the edge!  The foam holds the board firmly in place.

The little bits in the game are good quality: the orange wooden tigers pieces are especially nice, as are the brown otter pieces.  The dice are interesting …

The main board

The main board is two sided: one side is for the Tigers (pictured above) and one side is for the otters (not pictured).

The main cards

The cards are all linen coated.  For some reason, the iconography and pictures remind me of Pandemic …

Summary Cards!

I am always so happy when the game has summary cards!  One for each player (2-sided, both sides shown above).

The components, overall are very nice.

The Rulebook

The first few pages of the rulebook: It shows all components

This is one of the better rulebooks I’ve read in a while.  First of all, it starts with the components VERY CLEARLY labelled, so you can go through the game and find everything (see picture above).


The set-up is right there on the next page, describing general set-up and player set-up.  There’s very nice pictures showing everything.  This was a really good start!  I had no trouble diving into the game.

Overall, the rulebook was excellent!  The rules were described well, the pictures showed what was needed, the art was very nice, and the book had big fonts (I don’t like rulebooks with small fonts).  In general, I wish all rulebooks were this good.

Again, for some reason, this rulebook reminded me on Pandemic: it had a vibe like Pandemic.

Set-Up For First Game


The game set-up pretty quickly: see picture above.  It looks nice on the tabletop.  I was able to keep the rulebook open while I played the game (lower left).  I did need the rulebook open much of the game, even though the summary cards are good.

The first major decision during set-up: do you save the Otters or Tigers (or, if you have the expansion, the Pandas)?    I chose “Tiger” because that’s what the Rulebook defaults to for the first game.  By choosing “Tiger”, I choose side A of the board (green jungle in the middle), a certain deck of Bad News cards (called IMPACT cards, on the left side), some “Tiger” minis  (in the jungle board) and the “Tiger” dossier, which describes how the “Tiger” game is different from the main game.


Each player then chooses a role: each role has special abilities.  The Zoologist above has a special ability for Migration Paths.  Each role has a different special ability.

Solo Play

Solo game: Mid-game

So, this cooperative game has dedicated solo rules (Huzzah! They follow Saunders’ Law).  It’s a very straight-forward solo game: the solo player takes the role of two roles who alternate play.   It seemed to work pretty well, although there was a lot to learn on your first play.  I am always a big fan of solo rules that only make you use one character, but there’s a reason you have to have two characters: this game is (among other things) a dice-placement game, and you need the tension of having some of the dice locations unavailable when your character plays.  That seems to be a core mechanic in the game, and taking this away this tension for a one player/one character solo play would immensely change the game.

First Play

A bunch of actions available

The object of the game: You are trying to convince a certain number of nations to enact laws to save the Tiger, and each nation has a different “victory” condition (usually, you just need more influence)!  You win if you can convince enough nations to save the Tiger!  To accomplish this, you perform actions.  You perform actions by playing dice.

The game, at its core, is a dice-placement game.   The game starts with a few Locations in play, but as you play, you can add more action cards.  The game is interesting, because each role has a different set of action cards!  On your turn, you have to make the hard decisions!  You have three dice, and each die is placed on a card to perform an action.  NOTE: you can only place a die on a card if it is GREATER THAN all other dice already on the card!

All the actions cards the zoologist COULD play, but hasn’t yet!

The game is replete with conflicting decisions:

  1. Do you spend an action to help the Tigers (in the jungle) mate so their numbers soar?
  2. Do you get spend an action to get money?  (Money is important for so many things)
  3. Do you spend an action to gain influence?  (Influence is spent on some ambassador/nation to try to get them enact protection laws)
  4. Do you spend an action to put out an action card?   (At the start of the game, there’s only a few actions out, so you have to spend actions to put out more actions)
  5. Do you spend an action to stop the encroachment of society into the jungle?  (This is represented by tiles in the jungle, blocking places where the tigers can go or mate)
In the end game: only two tigers alive and the encroachment has taken over most of the map!

Every action is precious.    In the early game, you tend to try to put out actions to try to get better actions out.  In the late game, you are doing everything you can to keep the Tigers alive!

Bad News/Impact Cards

Bad News/Impact cards

Like many cooperative games, there are Bad News cards which make the world worse for the tigers.  In this game, they are called IMPACT cards (see above).  Each animal type has its own IMPACT deck (above is the Tiger).  Some of the IMPACT cards are persistent, (which means they stay out the whole game (unless you do something)) and some are one-shots (one and done).  After each character plays a turn, an IMPACT card comes out.

End of First Game

A losing first game!

In my first game, I lost.   There is only one way to win the game: Get 4 or more Yes votes from the Ambassadors in either of your two Voting Years.

There are three ways to lose the game:

  1. If the Animal population on the board is ever reduced to 1 or 0 Animals, the group immediately loses the game.
  2. If the group is ever required to place a Destruction tile on the board and there are none left in the supply to place, the group immediately loses the game.
  3. If the group fails to get 4 or more Yes votes from the Ambassadors in the second Voting Year, the game is over and the group loses the game

I lost because I ran out of time: I didn’t have enough Yes votes from the ambassadors.  It was a rough game.

Sources of Randomness

Five persistent IMPACTS!!

I was frustrated in my first game because I lost so hard.  At the end of the game, there were so many persistent (5!) IMPACT cards, it was a bit of a slog dealing with the Bad news every turn!!!  I was thinking about why I was frustrated: there were a number of sources of randomness and I had trouble mitigating those.

  1. IMPACT cards.  The persistent IMPACT cards didn’t seem to have a way to mitigate them.  After I finished, I realized that SOME of the IMPACT cards allow you to spend money to get rid of a persistent card, but those didn’t show up for me in my first game until after ALLL the persistent cards came out.
  2. Tigers Mate.  To see if the tigers mate, you roll a 6-sided die.  The more tiger-pairs that there are, the better your chances  (Basically, you have to roll under 1+n, where n is the number of tiger-pairs).  You can mitigate this by keeping the Tiger numbers up.
  3. Action cards.  At the start of the game, you only have two of your action cards from you deck available. After every turn, you get to draw another one, but the action cards from the decks tend to come out very slowly.  (Some of the decks have actions which allow you to draw 3 action cards instead of one as a mitigation technique).
  4. Destruction tiles.  Each turn, you have to place a destruction tile.  You choose a row (or column) and you roll a die.  If the destruction covers a tiger, oh well!  (You lost that tiger).  The mitigation technique is basically you get to choose a row/column (that has a tiger).  But you still have to roll.

Although there were ways to mitigate the randomness, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of control over that.   Now that I know the game, I think the most important thing is to get some better actions out quickly.  I realize that I had bad luck: my action cards weren’t great in the beginning, I rolled terribly in the “Tigers Mate” and the “Destruction”,  and I drew all the persistent cards without the mitigators.   So, I was frustrated.  I suspect my second play will go better … it has to!  I am a little  worried about there being too much randomness, but now that I know the game better, I’m hoping the next game will go better…



In the end, this game reminded me a lot of Pandemic with perhaps a little more randomness.  The rulebook was excellent, the game looked great, and there were lots of interesting decisions.  In general, I had fun.   My only worry is the amount of randomness in the game might be frustrating: we’ll have to see with future plays.

In general, this a good game: I am glad I kickstarted it, and I look forward to playing this with my game group(s) to see how it goes.

Concurrency in Cooperative Board and Card Games


One of my top 3 games of all time is Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition.   My friends and I played the heck out of it when it first came out, and we still play at least once a year for Halloween (I have at two copies for two groups)!  It seems to be a real crowd pleaser in my game group(s), but it’s not for everyone: it has a lot of rules to absorb and a lot of components to manipulate.  My game group(s) have absorbed it and know the game quite well.

Screenshot from 2020-04-07 20-52-26
The Game Turn Overview from Arkham Horror: 2nd Edition

Something happened as we played Arkham Horror more and more:  we started to “streamline” the play.   The rules (above) dictate that play proceeds from the first Player (clockwise), and each player must finish their phase COMPLETELY before moving on to the next player.

To quote the rules (see complete rules here, page 5):

During each phase, every player, starting with the first player and continuing clockwise, performs the actions that take place during that phase

When we are playing strictly by the rules, our game play is sequential: every player action has to finish before the next player action completed.

We noticed this was taking waaaaaay too long!!! So what did we do??? We all started taking our turns at the same time!  Basically, everyone gets tired of waiting for “their turn to come”, but since this is a cooperative game (and we are all working together), we can all go at the same time!  We all perform UPKEEP at the same time.  After that’s done, we perform MOVEMENT at the same time, and so on.

In this mode, we are play each phase concurrently: players all act at the same time!

Visualization of Sequential and Concurrent Play

One way to think of the sequential play is to visualize it as a line of actions: Player 1 performs UPKEEP, player 2 performs UPKEEP, (UPKEEP complete), player 1 performs MOVEMENT, player 2 performs MOVEMENT, (MOVEMENT complete) and so on.


In concurrent play, you can think of each phase as a giant bubble of activity: all players perform UPKEEP concurrently (waiting for each other to finish).  Then all players perform MOVEMENT concurrently (waiting for all other players to finish), and so on. See below.


This particular concurrent method SIGNIFICANTLY speeds up gameplay, as there is much less waiting!  In fact, this very idea is used in Computer Science to make computer programs go faster!!! You take a computer program and parallelize it, causing a bunch of work be done!  In Computer Science circles, this idea is expressed in many ways: the Scatter-Gather, Work Crew, or Map-Reduce. (See here for reference)

Parallelism - Multithreading - Scatter Gather — GATK-Forum

If you can do this, this is an easy way to parallelize, or make gameplay faster!

Sequential Consistency

Game night. Frsutation, despair, anguish. A normal night in Arkham.
Playing Arkham Horror 2nd Edition

The problem with all of us acting at the same time was that were times  when two (or more) players collided in their actions!!  For example; What if we both drew from the same deck?    Since this is a friendly, cooperative game, the order we might draw from the deck doesn’t matter: we just both draw and one of us just happens to go first.  If we were feeling pedantic, we would draw in player-turn order, but most of the time we didn’t care: it was better to be moving quicker through the game than care about “who-got-which-cards”.

If we were pedantic in our play, we were ensuring that the game was playing EXACTLY the same way as if we had played WITHOUT the concurrency.  In other words, if everything happens in the exact same order as the game had played WITH THE SEQUENTIAL RULES.  If we can do this with our concurrent play, we are ensuring sequential consistency.

In other words, as long as we are pedantic in our concurrency, we are ensuring that the game plays out in exactly the same way: it is sequentially consistent.

Relaxed Sequential Consistency

Recto des cartes FR
Some of the many decks of cards from Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition

In Arkham Horror, the decks (see above) we draw from are meant to be a source of randomness: the card we draw is meant to be “a random card”.

If that’s the case, does it matter if we are pedantic in the order we draw cards?  We just want a random card!  If that’s the goal, the order shouldn’t matter as long as we are (nominally) getting a random card!

If there are things that really don’t really matter the order that they occur (i.e., , two players drawing from a deck at the same time like above), then we have relaxed consistency.

In the end, this was how we played Arkham Horror 2nd Edition: Concurrent turns with relaxed consistency.   This model helped the game move much faster!

(In fact, the game even says that’s okay …)

Screenshot from 2020-04-07 21-17-21

Seven Wonders and Simultaneous Action Selection

English first edition box cover

It’s funny: 7 Wonders has weird place in my game groups: people love it or hate it! (It turns out, it’s just my game groups, see here).  But one thing everybody seems to like is the Simultaneous Action Selection!! This is very similar to what we ended up with in Arkham Horror (concurrent play with relaxed consistency), but the concurrent play  in 7 Wonders is much smoother.  Frankly, there’s only two main phases (passing cards concurrently and then playing cards/effects concurrently, see below)! 7 Wonders has been designed to avoid the consistency traps we saw in Arkham Horror!  Arguably, that’s Simultaneous Action Selection’s greatest feature: simple concurrency with no need to ensure a consistency model: that’s just the way it works.

If you squint, you can visualize the two concurrency phases in the main play:

  1. All players select 1 card and then pass the rest (ALL HAPPENING CONCURRENTLY)
  2. All players reveal and “act” on their card (buying it, putting it under wonder, etc) (ALL HAPPENING CONCURRENTLY)

That’s why 7 Wonders works so well with a large group: large amounts of concurrency!

Sidekick Saga and Concurrency

The goal of Sidekick Saga was to achieve the amount of concurrency in 7 Wonders, but in a world that must be explored (like Arkham Horror).  Sidekick Saga was designed to be a Simultaneous Action Selection game …  but, it turns out, concurrency is hard.

Originally, the Sidekick Phase (see above) was meant to be purely Simultaneous Action Selection: players strategize together at the start of the phase, then each perform their entire Sidekick Phase completely concurrently!  But several things got in the way:

  1. There was the matter of the Lead cards: they are obtained at the end of the turn and can’t be shared that turn (thematically, you spend your whole turn running down a Lead so you can’t share it just yet).  Can I pass newly minted Leads when I get them?  (Answer: no)
  2. When you can pass cards?  Can I pass a card I got this turn? (Answer: yes, but only if it wasn’t passed to you this turn! Only if you picked it up!)
  3. What happens when two players draw from the same deck?  (Similar to Arkham Horror, but now order can matter if you have the X-Ray Specs)

Addressing each of these is simply a matter of making sure you ensure sequential consistency, but there’s just enough edge cases/rules that it can be confusing, especially as players are learning the game.

So I backed off Simultaneous Action Selection to a Concurrent with sequential consistency model  … like Arkham Horror.  At least players would getting SOME parallelism.  Recall, however, that model was achieved ONLY BY EXPERTS AT Arkham Horror!!  Playtesters, even with experienced players, got confused by the model.  So, I had to introduce a purely sequential mode: Novice!

Screenshot from 2020-04-07 21-49-13

In an ideal world, there would be three modes of Sidekick Saga:

  1. Novice (as players become familiar with the actions): sequential play
  2. Normal (once players are comfortable with the actions): concurrent play with sequential consistency
  3. Advanced (players know the interactions very well): concurrent play with relaxed consistency, approaching Simultaneous Action Selection.  (For this to work, we have to be sure to have rules to deal with of the few edge cases we identified above).

The problem is that Novice was a bad word to use (and what Rahdo picked up on his “Final Thoughts” video).  Novice implies someone who is perhaps not used to modern board games: that’s not at all what I meant!  I meant someone who is new to THIS GAME!!  So, that’s my fault.  What I should have used:

  1. Normal (sequential)
  2. Advanced (concurrent play with sequential consistency)
  3. Expert (concurrent play with relaxed consistency)

The Second Edition of the game will fix this (and there will probably be an updated rulebook on BoardGameGeek).


Concurrency is hard to think about.   In Computer Science curriculum, concurrency is so hard, it’s typically an upper-level college or graduate level course (When I took it, it was a graduate level class). SOme of the lessons I have learned here:

  1. Don’t introduce concurrency unless it’s very simple concurrency (like 7 Wonders and Simultaneous Action Selection)
  2. Realize that concurrency can be hard (and name modes that use it appropriately)
  3. If you are going to introduce concurrency, make sure your rules explain it well and have lots of pretty pictures