Aggressive versus Passive interactions

Boardgames that are interesting to play generally feature a significant amount of interaction between the various players. There are board games where this is not so much the case, but games of solitaire are not really what we are interested in here.

I find that there are two main methods of interaction, Passive and Aggressive. I'm not sure that these can ever be fully delimited or defined, but I think I can illustrate the two best by means of an example.

Chess is a game that encourages aggressive interaction between the two players. The aim of the game is to checkmate the opposing King, and to do so you must generally take some of the opposing pieces. So, you are aiming to remove the resources of the other player, which directly reduces their ability to oppose you and further influence the game.

Settlers is a game that encourages more passive player interaction. Once a piece is played on the board, it cannot be removed. You can limit access to other resources by claiming territory, or blocking the expansion of another player, but you cannot take away the pieces they have played.

When we wonder which is best, passive or aggressive interaction, it is hard to be entirely certain. It would seem that very few games could rely entirely on one type of interaction or the other, for example, I would classify the robber in Settlers as an aggressive form of player interaction, but this is one of the few elements. The German-style games tend to favour passive interaction, and American are more skewed towards aggressive.

I find that I tend to prefer to design to the German style, so favour the passive interaction, but I am more than will to use aggressive interaction elements in a game should I feel that they are merited. I prefer to see players with the opportunity to potentially get back into the game if they start badly, which is impossible to do if they are totally eliminated due to aggressive interactions. I am always conscious that the passive interaction can lead to an elimination in all but name, as the poorly performing player can have all viable play options removed, I always try to design to avoid these situations where possible, but sometimes it is unavoidable.


2 Responses to “Aggressive versus Passive interactions”

  1. Yehuda Says:


    Yes, the types boil down to piece elimination (or, moving another player back) versus option elimination (or, slowing another player from moving forwards). Of course, there is also moving yourself forwards faster than your opponent can.


  2. toadflaxgames Says:


    Thanks for the comment, it’s reminded me of something I wanted to cover, about how taking on an obvious lead position is not always an optimal strategy, which you can read about in my ‘Unassailable lead’ post.


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