Optima Player Count – Part One

I initially wanted to write an article discussing my favourite two player games, or at least, games I like to play with two players. It seems that convenience means I play quite a few games at the two player count. Sometimes I look at my shelf of games and I am hesitant to get out certain titles because it feels to me like a waste to play them with only 2 people.

It occurred to me that there are many games we perceive as having an optimal number of players. Yet until now I have not really investigated or defined clearly what I mean when I refer to a game as having an optimal player count. I am not talking about stating that Twilight Struggle is perfect at two players. I mean multiplayer games that list 1-4 (or more) players as working at an optimal level when X number of players sit down to play the game. That X depends on the game of course.

Twilight Struggle box art - Optima player count article gameapalooza australiaWhat’s your optimal player count for Twilight Struggle?

Each game seems to have a number of players that it performs best with and as game reviewers we provide this insight as part of our reflection. While many might be happy using intuition to justify such claims regarding an optimal player count, there is a need to clarify the term and to define it in a practical way. The reason for this is simple, if we are unable to define what it is we are discussing when we use the term Optimal Player Count we are not providing information that is useful to the reader. Without definition I could say that Small World is best played with 3 people and this information may or may not be true. There is no way for you to decide if the reasons provided fit or do not fit with what you enjoy in a game. Allow me to provide an example.

I love watching reviews by Tom Vasel on the Dice Tower Network. I find that in many respects we have similar tastes and much of what he says resonates with me. Yet I know Tom loves dexterity games when I do not. I know that he enjoys certain kinds of randomness in his games where I do not. So the question is then, how is it that I trust his opinion and feel well informed by his reviews when we have strong differences of opinion? For me it is the fact that I know what he means by the language he uses. When he talks about loving Galaxy Trucker because of the chaos and unpredictability of the game I know he is describing a style of randomness that has a major influence on gameplay that the player can rarely mitigate. He enjoys these styles of games while I do not. When he reviews games and uses certain language I know what he means and I avoid those games. Sometime I buy games based on what he says because he can describe the game in a way that I know would appeal to me. I have only been disappointed once. It was Welcome to the Dungeon and I honestly do not know why he loves that game as much as he does; it's terrible.

Welcome to the Dungeon... what you talkin bout VaselWelcome to the Dungeon… what you talkin bout Vasel

So when I tell you in my reviews that a game is played best at 3 players, you might accept that at face value, you might reject it outright. Before you can do either you first have to determine what I mean by my statement so you can decide if you agree or disagree. I want to clear up the language barrier a little and offer to you some clarifications of this term by putting optimal player count in the context of different parts of game play. We will make sure we stop and look at some games on the way. Who knows, by the end I may even settle on my favourite games to play at two players.

For another Gameapalooza article about two-player games specifically, check out Best two-player tabletop board games.