I’ve noticed that sometimes I throw around some board game jargon in my reviews that might not necessarily be as well-established as I thought. With that in mind, I will be starting a “What is…” feature that will randomly appear when I want to define something.
Kingmaking is where the actions of one player, who for all intents and purposes cannot win the game, perform an action(s) that dictates who will win the game, aka make them king. It basically boils down to knowing that while you cannot win, the actions that you choose to take will dictate who does win.
In my opinion, it can fall into one of two categories:
Direct: Where a player performs an action which grants victory to a specific player while others are still contending for the top spot. This decision could be made due to spite, ignorance, or un-acknowledgement. Typically, this is only really an issue when it’s done knowingly and/or out of spite. For example, a game of Kingdomino where a player purposely takes a tile that another player needs to win and they do not need, only because it would shift the balance of who wins.
Indirect: Where a player performs an action to better position their final ranking while granting victory to another player. For example, a game of Viticulture where a player fills an order just to ensure they finish second, whereas another player could have used the space to potentially win.
Kingmaking could also be construed as actions taken throughout the game to ensure that another player benefits unfairly, not just at the end. I have not seen this but we’ve joked about it a few times (“You’re only doing that because she’s your wife” or “Don’t trade with Kurt, you know he does this every time!”).
Full disclosure: I do not care about Kingmaking. To be fair, it is not a huge issue in our group and any time that it has come up, it has been more in jest than anything. If someone wronged you in the game that you are playing and you have a chance to keep them from winning, not only is that the right move to perform it is also encouraged. Now, if it carries over from The Godfather to Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill, that’s an issue. This is particularly true when playing cutthroat games with high degrees of player interaction and the possibility of conflict, such as Diplomacy, The Godfather, or Survive: Escape from Atlantis. Keeping emotions contained is paramount to a good time but I feel like that’s a different topic for a different day.
I contend that if the possibility of another player dictating whether you will win a game or not means you did not optimize your strategy and actions throughout the game. This won’t be the case for all games however. Game of Thrones and Cosmic Encounter can lead to diplomatic alliances and longer than average turns as discussions about terms of diplomacy are handled. I personally love those games and discussions so it doesn’t bother me but it’s something to take note of. Cosmic Encounter, now that I think about it, might not fit this mold since player interaction is decided randomly and multiple players can win. A better example might be Chinatown, where trades are the essence of the game but if the game comes down to a trade you didn’t or couldn’t make, did you really try your hardest?
I do agree with indirect Kingmaking however. If you cannot finish first, but can bump yourself up to finish second or better than where you’re at, why would you not? The goal is to win the game and while second place is the first loser, it’s a lot better than last. Bragging rights and pride are a major source of contention in our gaming circle and being able to say that you bested someone is more than enough reason to make a move.
I have yet to have an issue of Kingmaking in any of my plays but I know it’s an issue out there somewhere.