Markets in Everything: 3 Player Chess

by on November 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm in Games | Permalink


Rules and ordering information can be found here.

1 Ed November 30, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I have many friends who are really into games, and the consensus among them is that three player games are to be avoided because they always seem to result in two players ganging up on the third.

2 Efi November 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Or alternatively one person sits back and waits for the other two to duke it out.

3 Michael B Sullivan November 30, 2011 at 12:26 pm

These are avoidable problems — to a large extent, at least — given good game design. Take the card game Dominion, for example: “attacks” always target both opponents, never just one. The game rules minimize the extent to which politics can be played. No interactions are ever with a chosen other player — they’re always with either “all other players,” or with a player specified by seating order (your left or right). You don’t get to gang up.

However, three player chess is very likely prone to the problems you mention.

4 Cliff November 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I don’t think that’s right. I am pretty sure there are cards in the Dominion expansions that allow you to target players.

5 Michael B Sullivan November 30, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I assure you that you’re wrong.

6 Dan Weber November 30, 2011 at 5:32 pm

You would need to earn something by capturing pieces in 3-player chess. Shogi lets captured pieces be returned to the board later, making it pay off to attack.

7 sam December 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

‘Possession’ for example, targets only one opponent.

8 sam December 1, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Though to be fair, it’s not exactly an attack (though it sure feels like one!)

9 theDAWG December 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Possession targets “the player to your left”, not “Doug, who you suspect is winning.”

Likewise, the Witch might have a different effect on different opponents if you run out of Curses halfway around the table, but you don’t get to pick who gets a Curse and who gets spared.

10 Rahul November 30, 2011 at 1:47 pm

2 against 1 fights are OK so long as the game dynamics forces the alliances to keep breaking. e.g. Weaker 2 gang against strongest which in turn upsets the strongest and so on.

11 Nishant November 30, 2011 at 8:44 pm

You should play ‘Galcon’ – it’s a game between many players, very similar to a fast paced real time risk. It usually gets whittled down to 3 players at which point the game lasts for quite a while if all three players are skilled. Two players will never just gang up on one because the one has a credible threat to focus on one of them, leaving the unfocused one big enough to wipe them both out.

12 JWatts November 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Three is often the hardest number to satisfy with, but there are plenty of board games that support 3 players. Most Euro style games do well with 3 players, some better than others. Any game that doesn’t have direct player conflict will often avoid the whole one player against two players syndrome.

Chess would not generally qualify of course, since the entire game is based on player conflict. And what is the point of creating a 3 person version of Chess. There are hundreds of good games and Chess is designed for 2. I would much rather play another good game designed for 3 players than a mediocre variant of Chess. Unless, a person is just fixated on Chess, and there are such people of course. But they really should get out more 🙂

Good 3 player Board games:
Cartagena, Ra, Ticket to Ride, Caylus, Carolus Magnus (which actually does have player conflict, but still plays very well with 3), Through the Desert, Tigris and Euphrates.

13 Jim November 30, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Exactly right. Europeans may not do many things well, but they have completely nailed boardgames. Typically they remove the idea of direct player-player confrontation, and each player competes “against the game” and attempts to use his resources and particular situation in the best possible way to do so.

This solves the multi-player problem, and also tends to make more interesting games that kids are willing to play, and that adults are willing to play with kids.

Please — throw out your Monopoly sets and go visit Rio Grande Games ( as soon as possible. They, among other companies, translate these Eurogames into English. I’ve got a basement full of them. Endless fun.

14 affenkopf November 30, 2011 at 2:44 pm

And once again Europe gets the credit for something Germany does.

15 JWatts November 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Certainly, Germany was the trend setter and the term German style game is still used, but it’s hardly the only contributor. Quitea few are American designed, but they are still generally referred to as Euros.

16 flantz November 30, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Was Sid Sackson from Germany?

17 Rahul November 30, 2011 at 1:45 pm

What about “Settlers of Catan”?

18 JWatts November 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

It’s a decent 3 player game. I like it from 3-5 players. It doesn’t play 6 players well though. In a 6 player game one person, inevitably, ends up in an unwinnable board position.

19 Silas Barta November 30, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Rahul meant “What about ‘Settlers of Catan’?” *with respect to the game-breaking team-up-on-one dynamic*, moron.

20 JWatts November 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm

And you’ll note that I started with “It’s a decent 3 player game.”, with the implication that 2 on 1 is not a problem. Indeed, Settler’s of Catan may suffer from a pick on the leader syndrome (refusing to trade cards with the obvious leader who is close to winning being the norm) , but it doesn’t suffer from a pick on the weakest syndrome, except for 6 player. That’s why I mentioned that in 6 player, the weakest player will probably end up in an unwinnable board position.

And why did you feel the need to call me a moron?

21 Silas Barta November 30, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Because your original answer didn’t address the 2-on-1 question you were being asked.

22 flantz November 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm

JWatts, your answer was perfectly relevant and clear, don’t sweat the trolls.

As for ganging up, it’s not such a big deal. The real problem is Kingmaking, as Veridical Driver points out below.

23 John Schilling November 30, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Presuming the players are actually playing to win, yes, of course there will be two players ganging up on the third to the extent the game mechanics allow. Specifically, two other players ganging up on whichever player is clearly in the lead. This will frequently change several times during the game, and it results in the game being more closely balanced for most of the duration of play. I fail to see this as a bad thing.

Well, granted it could be a bad thing in a game prone to either excessive duration or excessive frequency of draws. Three-player chess I could see always turning into a three-way draw whenever three good players are involved. And if one of the “friends” isn’t as much of a friend as the others, such that Alice and Bob don’t care which of them wins so long as Eve loses, well, yes, a three-player game will reveal that dynamic in an unpleasant way.

And the more practical application of this is, if you’re designing a political system or military alliance or whatnot where “I win – now crown me Eternal Overlord” is an undesirable outcome, something akin to three-player chess is worth a look.

24 Finch November 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm

> Specifically, two other players ganging up on whichever player is clearly in the lead.

In some games you want to gang up on the weakest player because there is a significant advantage in eliminating them, either through some bonus, or just because it improves the odds of you being the winner who takes all.

25 John Schilling November 30, 2011 at 3:48 pm

That’s an argument for the leading player trying to eliminate the weakest, but how does the guy in the middle benefit from joining the carnage? #1 and #2 combine to destroy #3; #1 collects the bonus (explicit or otherwise), and proceeds to destroy #2 for the win. #2’s best bet is to protect #3 to keep the bonus out of play, either by directly defending #3 or by attacking elsewhere when #1 is distracted.

Or, try to sucker #1 into a 1+2 vs 3 alliance structured so that #2 gets to claim the kill and the bonus, but now #1 is going to be disinclined to join the proposed gang.

26 Rahul November 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm

In some situations #3 is obvious and weak. #1 and #2 may not be clear.

27 Finch November 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Sometimes your ability as #2 to eliminate #3 depends on more than your score. For example, if I’m #2 in a poker game and I see I have very good hole cards on one particular hand, I may choose to put #3 all-in. I gain little from having #3 still around. If I see a tactical advantage (which may be transient), I should press it and move to heads-up play.

Somebody who knows something about poker may step in and correct me. And this is in some respect just a specific example of Rahul’s observation.

28 Rahul November 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm

@John Schilling

Another situation is when both #1 and #2 think that they are #1. In some games positional advantages are not immediately apparent.

29 celestus November 30, 2011 at 1:09 pm

This is a particular problem with chess as it’s a reductionist game where the secondary objective is to make your opponent lose pieces, rather than to really accomplish anything yourself.

But there’s little reason for this to be true in, say, Catan, right? Seems to me the only time a player gets ganged up on is when they’re visibly close to winning.

30 B November 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Only socially inept people avoid those games. Games where alliances are necessary are fun. Playing Risk caused more fist fights in my dorm room than card games, alcohol, sports, and girls combined. I LOVED it.

31 Dan Weber November 30, 2011 at 5:41 pm

You only need one socially inept person to destroy many of those games.

32 Veridical Driver November 30, 2011 at 3:05 pm

It also suffers from the Kingmaker Effect: The player that is losing gets to decide the winner by deciding who he is going to gang up on.

33 Ted Craig November 30, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I guess we know what your getting Tyler for Christmas.

34 Neal November 30, 2011 at 12:21 pm

“Service Unavailable”

Looks like you brought down your server.

35 Neal November 30, 2011 at 12:21 pm


36 Winston McGrain November 30, 2011 at 12:24 pm

When I was a kid in the 70s we made a 4-man chess set by adding two extra rows to each edge so it was a 10×10 cross shape. The players would put their pieces on these extra rows. The only change was that each person removed their queen-side pawn so there were no automatic attacks. It was pretty fun.

37 JWatts November 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Well the rating for the game on BoardGameGeek is a 7.25 out of 10, but that’s with a very low number of ratings (4 actually).

38 TallDave November 30, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Maybe you could eliminate the 2:1 problem with the following scoring:

+1 winning player
0 first player eliminated
-1 second player eliminated
-.5 two-player draw

That would create an incentive to always attack the strongest player, rather than gang up on the weakest or play for a 2-player draw.

39 celestus November 30, 2011 at 1:11 pm
40 caseynshan November 30, 2011 at 2:03 pm

already done by ‘The Big Bang’ (one of the best shows on tv)

41 Troy November 30, 2011 at 2:27 pm


42 affenkopf November 30, 2011 at 3:04 pm

This show is crap. Watch the IT crowd instead.

43 JWatts November 30, 2011 at 3:32 pm


44 TallDave November 30, 2011 at 6:25 pm

We watch it, but it’s only good imo, not great. I do give them props for coherence on some esoteric physics and etc, but it’s a little too silly the rest of the time.

45 Veridical Driver November 30, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Chess is an uninteresting game. There is no uncertainty, all information is known. All actions are 100% deterministic. There is no room for negotiation/cooperation, all actions are zero-sum. Assuming that there aren’t limits on computing power, it is dead simply to write a Chess AI (the only interesting part of a Chess AI is paring it down to work on more modest hardware).

Games like Settlers of Catan are definitely much more interesting.

46 inky13112 December 7, 2011 at 11:44 pm

In a game like chess the better player wins.

In a game like Settlers the better roller wins.

Don’t get me wrong, I think settlers (and many other games with random elements) is great fun, but when you want a true test of skill, play something like chess or go.

47 EdH November 30, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I’m waiting for the 3D version. More of a challenge for the Vulcan’s in the crew.

Also that 3D Go/Life hybrid for the rec room that Starfleet keep promising.

48 Rahul November 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Lots more opportunity for using your French: “j’adoube”

49 Ronald Hillbrecht December 1, 2011 at 1:49 am

It seems that white’s king and queen are misplaced.

50 Finch December 1, 2011 at 9:56 am
51 nico cooper December 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm

I’m waiting for the 3D version. More of a challenge for the Vulcan’s in the crew.

Also that 3D Go/Life hybrid for the rec room that scarfleet keep promising.

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