Game Theory: Cooperating Effectively

Game Theory: the branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants

If you’ve never seen it before, I present to you, The Prisoner’s Dilemma:

We’ll use the above visual to aid our discussion on game theory and decision making.

Whenever you’re playing a game of Malifaux decision making is at the core of winning and losing. Assuming that you and your opponent are playing lists that are decently balanced, decision making is going to most likely decide the winner – not that one black joker flip. If you’re making the “correct” decisions throughout the game you’re setting yourself up for victory. Why is “correct” in quotes? Because sometimes the correct decision doesn’t always end up being the right one.

Quick example: You’re at a 19 duel total, if you win your opponent’s master dies, if they have the Red Joker they go to 20 and win. You decide not to cheat to 20 and guarantee a tie because they have 1 card in hand and its late in the turn, they cheat Red Joker and you fail. You made the “correct” decision by not cheating because the odds were severely in your favor, they just happened to hold onto the Red Joker – which makes your decision seem wrong because the action failed.

So the Prisoner’s Dilemma, in most cases this is how you should be treating your decisions in Malifaux. If you look at the table above you’ll see that if both players (prisoners) cooperate, they’ll get 3 years in prison. If one cooperates and the other defects, the cooperator goes free, while the defector gets 5 years. And if both players defect they each only get 1 year. As you can see, if the players involved can’t trust each other to defect and each get 1 year it is in their best interest to cooperate – cooperating leads to the best outcome for each person REGARDLESS of the decision of the other.

What does this mean for us? When you’re making your decisions in the game you want to think of the option that is the equivalent to cooperating. You’re either going to win big, or lose the least and still progress. Think of your options and determine which one would benefit you REGARDLESS of the decision your opponent makes.

This mindset is also the driving force behind the idea in Malifaux of, if an action would score you VP, or deny your opponent VP, you should probably do it.

Example: You can move a model and place a scheme marker to score you claim jump, but doing so opens that model up for a ranged attack that will kill them afterwards. This could be an example of both players cooperating. You get a VP, which wins games, but you’ll lose your scheme runner to do so. If this decision is late in the game and that VP earns you the win, you cooperated and the system worked in your favor. However, if you made this move Turn 2 and it kept you from scoring claim jump for the rest of the game, you defected and your opponent cooperated – you lose that decision.

What can you do?

Focus: In your next few games focus on your decision making. If you’re finding yourself “cooperating” with every move you’ll likely notice that you win, or at the very least lose by a very slim margin.

Reflect: After your games look back at where things went wrong for you. Determine why they did. See where the decisions that went poorly for you fall on the chart above, if you thought you were “cooperating” then what happened? Did your opponent lose something for it?

Don’t be Blinded: If you’re consistently able to make the correct decisions in game, or defect, you’ll likely notice that the pain of Jokers is significantly reduced. Jokers have what, a 2% chance of coming up usually? So if 2% of your decisions go wrong, 98% should go right. Don’t blame jokers, instead see where you went wrong in the game. You had many other chances to win, one card flip didn’t ruin it all for you.

Thanks for reading, best of luck in your upcoming games!



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