December 07, 2011
Gaming with Kids: The 4-Player Threshhold
Perhaps price is one aspect? Adding components for 5-6 players would mean additional production costs. Realistically, though, hobby gamers understand that. Though we sometimes like to whine and complain about value (like any other hobby market), we are still willing to pay a little extra for a title that accommodates a little extra. Believe it or not, families are willing to, also. So then maybe game length is a consideration? It is possible that adding that 5th and 6th person will extend playing time beyond a title's welcome. Yet hardcore gamers are well adjusted in dealing with the added time, and family-oriented games are generally elegant enough to keep game length under control despite a couple more players. Finally, perhaps balance is a major factor? Before ever hitting the market, designers and volunteers playtest games to work out the flaws and kinks. It is likely that everyone involved in this prototype-to-production process discovered that four players created a "sweet spot." Or at most, to add mechanics and components for an additional opponent would derail the entire experience so severely, they don't even include them as an option. That sounds like a logical explanation, yet it is weakened by the existence of a number of expansions that add additional players to a base game which originally accommodated only four, such as Dominion, Race for the Galaxy, and Stone Age, to name but a few.
Scaling a game so that it plays smoothly regardless of 2, 3, 4, 5, or more players is not always easy. It can be an art and a science. I get that. But that balance, as well as value and playing time, is a subjective concept. I would not argue that every single game must accommodate 5 or more players. But there seem to be a great many titles that would benefit by providing at least the option to the gaming consumer. Games on our wishlist that we may never buy because they don't accommodate more than four include: Trollhalla, Forbidden Island, Rattus, Tobago, Defenders of the Realm, Sobek, Roll Through the Ages, and Stone Age. Going that little bit extra would include another demographic of potential buyers. Families and gaming groups who are willing can add a player or two, while at the same time, those who prefer keeping at four (or even less) have that option. In a world where it's impossible to please everyone all the time, providing that choice is the next best thing. Let's call it crowd control.