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The Philosophical Good, Bad and Ugly of being an "Expert" (Alpha Gaming)

The Philosophical Good, Bad and Ugly of being an "Expert" (Alpha Gaming)

The biggest criticism of cooperative board games and not an unfounded one is that for the highest chance of victory, all the players should listen and do whatever the best player of the game says. This method of playing is infamously known in board gaming terms as Alpha Gaming.

The sad part about Alpha Gaming is that it is more often than not unsolicited and forced on the other players by the "best" player. Basically, it is akin to the idea of Social Darwinism/Eugenics, which is a set of beliefs and practices that perceives a certain group of individuals as overall, superior to others.

So should we just listen completely to the "Expert" of the game? Well read on, make up your own mind my fellow board gamer. 

The Good

In Philosophy, one has to look at any issue from as many angles as possible even with unpopular ones like Social Darwinism and speaking to a topic akin to Social Darwinism very eloquently in the video above is famed Evolutionary Biologist, Richard Dawkins (Ricard Dwankins is not a full on believer in Social Darwinism). 

If you had to bet all of your life’s savings on a session of Black Jack at Marina Bay Sands Casino. Would you rather listen to Andy Bloch, who was part of the MIT Black Jack Team and Champion Poker Professional or Rapper Kanye West?

Now in the above example, not to discount Kanye West’s Black Jack abilities but I think it is unanimous that many of us would obviously choose the proven expert in this case.

Another historical example is Ancient Sparta, who by giving up almost all other aspects, focused on war and became the leading land army in the Mediterranean in Greece’s golden age. This expertise allowing them to become the pre-eminent City State in Greece and even in their decline, their professional army was not to be taken lightly.  

The common thread among these two examples is the goal. Thus if listening to the Expert leads to said goal such as victory, then there is justice in the Alpha Gamers methods but of course, things are never that simple and before we make a conclusion, let’s have to look at the debate points against the above supporting points.

The Bad

The main idea against the idea of Alpha Gaming is defined in the question, who/what is an expert?

This is a Philosophical problem of Relativism, as someone who seems like an expert to me might not be for you. Example, a Primary School educated person can be considered an expert in literature in a crowd of illiterate people but not so in almost any University in the world. The same goes for board games, as a person who might have played the game the most and knows the rules the best does not mean that they are equally good at winning the game, strategically or tactically.

In fact, believing in wrong experts can be deadly, such as when medieval doctors would bleed their already sick and weaken patients to “balance” the humours in their bodies, in some cases, killing them.

Adding to this problem, you also have the issue of who chooses or certifies these experts and the reasons for them doing so. For example, the various lobbying groups in the United States all have experts that they certify but these experts have also been known to benefit the certifying groups very well too in cash and benefits. Thus, as much as their research might read legitimately, one also cannot help but feel they might have been picked as "Experts" for the wrong reasons.

The point of the above being is your "Expert" really an Expert? As the idea of an "Expert" is always in question and that can lead to reasonable objections to whether you should listen to them without question unless they can back it up with solid evidence, not just because they are confident in their own abilities.

Related: Board Game Mechanics 101: Cooperative Games

The Ugly

The unavoidable darkest side of Alpha Gaming though is the unavoidable situation of Exclusion. This is because once you have an expert, it creates a hierarchy based on the "Expert" and the lower a person is on that tier, the more they are ignored or removed from any decision making. 

Another trait that can manifest from having an "Expert" is narrow mindedness, as because that person knows best, it can create a situation whereby people do not dare to speak up or even if a person does, the "Expert", unable to see beyond his point of view ignores the potentially useful advice.  

Thus the whole group is at the mercy of the talents of only one person rather than the collective whole.


In conclusion, I personally feel that Alpha Gaming has more drawbacks than merits and should be avoided but on the other end, I also am not pushing that everybody views are equal and if a person does show a higher ability in the game, then that person should be consulted more rather than just doing it equally to push a point on equality.

Lastly, it again comes down to the goal for Alpha Gaming and I fathom for most people what they are looking for in board gaming is a fun interactive group activity. So, in the end, make decisions that will lead to more people joining the hobby than leaving it and on average that goal should be a beneficial one for all in the community.  

Zhou Huibin is a smith of words who majored in Philosophy & History from the University of Western Australia and whose life has followed the flow of his hobbies. He seeks continual contentment in his ponders, reading, writing, painting and board games which fills almost all of his time.
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