Negotiation and Wacky Futures

Quo Vadis!Nearly every multi-player game has some aspect of negotiation, whether overt or implied. Many games boil down to “attack the leader” which is a form of negotiation. You give up something- your turn- to gain something in return. This is the essence of negotiating.

However, some people object to these kinds of negotiations, and in some games, such behavior is out-right banned. For example, in a poker tournament, any kind of overt negotiation is considered collusion and banned. “Checking it down” to eliminate a player is a form of implied negotiation that is allowed… as long as nobody says outloud that’s what you’re doing. And there are plenty of games where the players have their own meta-rule about table talk that prevents these deals, because they feel that it’s not within the spirit of the game. (I personally think a game that breaks down when the players can’t talk has a problem… but then again, I still play poker, where this is almost always a rule.)

One interesting consequence of games that allow negotiation is what kind of things the players have to agree on. Not every game has resources that can be traded amongst each other, so often times you’re trading turns, options, and positions on the board. Jake, one of my frequent opponents, is fond of using “wacky futures.” In games where you want something from another player, but don’t have anything in mind to trade them right then and there, you can trade for wacky futures. Basically, if you owe me wacky futures, I can ask you for anything on a future turn. Almost no game has rules for enforcing future deals (and how could you enforce something as vague as wacky futures?) so you have no guarantee that the person will keep his word. Of course, refuse to give up wacky futures, and no one will offer it anymore. And if you ask for too much when cashing in your wacky futures, the other player won’t offer it in the future, or even give it to you this time. Such are the perils of such games.

There is an entire genre of games that are focused on negotiation, called, wait for it, Negotiation Games. A few of my favorite games are negotiation games.

Quo Vadis? is a very pure negotiation game, where players lobby for votes from their fellow players to advance through the twisty Roman Senate and score points. The negotiation is full of deals for points, vote-trading, and turn-trading (mainly for blocking purposes.) The only flaw is a hidden trackable issue (and it’s generally not difficult to track, and the game is broken with totally open information) but that can easily be fixed.

Dragon’s Gold casts the players as dragon slayers, who have their adventurers gang up on dragons and then split up the loot. A random treasure is drawn for dragons, which then must be divided among the players (with no leftovers.) They only have 45 seconds to come to a deal about the treasure, else it is lost. Different kinds of treasure are worth different amounts to different players, which gives a set-collection twist and encourages competition among the players… who all would love to take everything, but must give to others.

Mall of Horror, reviewed much earlier, is a negotiation game where the players are trying to survive a zombie attack (but make the other players get killed in the process.) Players negotiate over gaining special cards and a special role (which factors into turn order.) There’s a lot I like about Mall of Horror and in the negotiations and back-stabbing that comes up during the course of play (and there’s something visceral about being sold out by the other players and seeing one of your three pieces eaten by zombies.) It just needs a little work to fix some of the issues of the game as written. It’s ancestor, Lifeboats, has recently been reprinted too, so I’ll have to try that out.

I can’t recommend I’m the Boss. I had heard it was a very hard-edged negotiation game, filled with betrayals and surprises. When I played, it had all sorts of weird timing issues, and played more like a “take that” game then negotiation.

I still have hopes for Chinatown, if it ever comes back into print. The fans of it say it’s a very intense negotiation game with lots of meat, like much of Alea’s line.

Diplomacy is primarily negotiation, since your military force won’t get very far without help. Monopoly has some elements of negotiation in it, and when you get right down to it, any game that involves trading is a negotiation game. It’s those games that give lots of options of what can be negotiated (not just trading) that are the best. Negotiation games feature, by definition, high amounts of player interaction, and also decrease downtime.

The downside is that these games are more likely to increase hard feelings from a deal gone wrong or a promise betrayed. Just be sure that everyone understands that it’s just a game… and that you shouldn’t ask for wacky futures in real life!

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. Diplomacy: Man this game as sparked more arguments and hurt feelings than the worse Rules-layering D&D debates we had.

    Still it’s a brilliant game in design and simplicity.

    Multiplayer Magic the Gathering also has a lot of politics and Wacky Futures negociation… although it also often becomes ‘Wacky Right Freaking Now Thank you Very Much’ 🙂

  2. joshx0rfz says:

    A bunch of friends of mine want to play Diplomacy but I’m hesitant for that very reason. It seems like a game waiting to cause argument.

  3. Phil- I haven’t played multiplayer Magic in a long time (my play now tends to be mostly in booster drafts) but there was a lot of that gang up on the leader stuff I didn’t like. Emperor and Two-headed giant were both a blast though.

    Josh- there’s no luck at least!

  4. Diplomacy: The thing is, the rules are crystal clear and the arguments are never about them… no the arguments are about much worse: Betrayal by those you thought your friends!!

    It’s like inverted D&D in that you build up trepidation for a master stroke and you know that you negotiated yourself into a winning position…. only to realize that your were backstabbed by everyone!!!!!

    Magic: We almost always play 2 headed-giant or circle of death (kill the guy on your right) so we have somewhat averted the ‘kill the best player first’ strategy (although I have a Prime directive on that)…

  5. re:
    “I personally think a game that breaks down when the players can’t talk has a problem”
    “only flaw is a hidden trackable issue”
    “needs a little work to fix some of the issues”
    “all sorts of weird timing issues”

    Not arguing any of these points specifically, but was curious if you have ever (or intend to in future) write an article about any games that, in your analysis, contain no problems or flaws. If there are none, which are closest? And do they share any properties (all are 2 player, all have auctions, etc.)?

  6. Good question count crackula…dispense us thy wisdom!

  7. Are you implying I’m a bit negative? 🙂

    It’s a great idea that I’ll have to think about. I’m always looking for new article ideas too.


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