Quarterbacking is a game design issue that occurs in cooperative board games, when all decisions are taken by one player.


The name comes from American football (not pictured) where a quarterback is a position with most tactical decisions to make.

In tabletop games, quarterbacking is sometimes just a problem of one player that is not socially subtle enough… But often, when everybody is highly motivated to win the game, guidance by the most experienced player is indeed the best strategy Players have less fun when decisions are taken for them, and cooperative games by default don't glue well with a large difference of skill — this is an issue that should be solved by good design.

Comparing to board games, quarterbacking is less of a problem in computer games where often having a skilled leader who calls the shots is a positive. (In casual games a dispute may be on who is to be that leader, but that's a different problem). The reason for that difference between game types is that with board games the decisions are at the core of gameplay. In computer games there is usually more to do: you have your own smaller decisions in real time and frequent dexterity testing. These features are tried out in board game design to answer the leader/quarterbacking problem. Another common attempt is to put constraints on communication or discouraging from it (by additional non-cooperative goals).

Interestingly both of the above "precautions" tend to occur naturally in music games: there are demands of music to play, and it's hard to communicate then. But if a game is structured with untimed phases of free communication when decisions are collectively made, this design issue needs to be taken into consideration. Another issue comes from the fact that not only player's experience in playing the game matters, but also musicianship. Experienced musicians naturally tend to dominate the progress of a music game and this should be addressed both in design and in facilitation.

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