The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Among Us and my Theory on semi-cooperative games

After playing another few hours of Among Us, I remembered that I’d written a theory of semi-cooperative games (12 years ago!) and I wondered how well my theory matched up with Among Us.

Here are the original ‘rules’:

The “Cooperate/Compete” decision should be a spectrum, not just binary.

Parts of the “good” group can win without the full group.

Players must have strong incentives to act differently. These incentives should not be obvious to other players.

Clearly, among us get the last two rules right. Point two is trivial in werewolf games, which start with a good guy death, and point three is handled by the task list. The first point is (I now realize) maddeningly vague, but I think covered because Among Us is a video game and your decisions/strategies are pretty wide ranging.

And here are my ‘suggestions’ for further semi-coops:

Players should not be able to make instant decisions about each other’s play.

However, with the expenditure of resources players should be able to discover past plays. (“Tracking down evidence.”)

Once teams have been ‘proven’, the game resolves quickly.

Simultaneous play and fast turns….

Limited communication during the early part of the game….

Looking good. Obviously the differentiator in Among Us (versus the boardgames I was discussing) is the computer moderator. Play is all simultaneous, the limited resource is time/attention. In theory everyone could all stay together, do their tasks and wins. But (apart form being boring) the game makes that difficult (although not impossible):

  1. Imposters have better eyesight and can see more of the screen at a time. (Vents gives the imposters an improved speed of motion, at the cost of exposing his status if viewed).
  2. Lights sabotage drastically reduces the crewmates eyesight further (sabotaging lights)
  3. Doors sabotage splits the team directly
  4. Other sabotage forces teams to split up — O2, Reactors, etc require at least two groups to resolve.

Even with all of these, Among Us is still fragile. We didn’t have a full group of 10 (with two imposters). Two imposters makes information much fuzzier. If a body was discovered and you were with X and Y the whole time, they are clear if there’s only one imposter (and can vouch for you!). With two, they may have just been waiting for a partner to make a kill.

With 6-8 players and merely a single imposter you have to carefully tinker with settings, particularly the kill cool-down time (unlike in base werewolf a kill does not automatically trigger a meeting …. only the discovery of a body does). Too low then an imposter may able to pick off people relatively quickly. Too long and the crew-mates will often get to a position where 3 people have enough information to clear themselves, at which point the game is a lock.

And of course the settings need to be more ‘imposter friendly’ as the players count goes up. I also think that we’ll need to turn of the ‘visible tasks’ setting, which ‘proves’ that a player is a normal crew-mate with the expenditure of resources (Other people have to watch). For a single imposter, that verification is too much. In a good group, that may be too much information even with two imposters.

Overall I think that my suggestions/rules are nicely followed by Among Us — this isn’t saying that my thoughts were particularly deep, anyone who designs a good semi-coop will converge on this — but its nice to be right.

I wonder if there’s a non-obvious suggestion that would take the game to the next level, but off hand I don’t see it….

Written by taogaming

October 13, 2020 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents, Game Theory

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4 Responses

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  1. I’ve heard really good things about Hades.

    Iain Cheyne (@Icheyne)

    November 2, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    • I assume you meant to put that on the videogame thread? I was tempted, but there’s a bit too much “real time” in this roguelike, at least according to hte videos on steam….if Hades is a boardgame I’ve missed it.


      November 4, 2020 at 4:27 pm

      • But I may still get it, I’m hearing very glowing review from many places.


        November 6, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      • I did get Hades. It’s a bit too much of a button masher, but its clever enough. After about 20 runs I switched to Easy mode so that I can advance. I suspect I’ll get 50-100 hours out of it, so hardly a disappointment.


        November 8, 2020 at 4:25 pm

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