A Party Game: “Coalition”

Longtime readers know from time to time I write simple games. I’m a big fan of the so-called “German style” of game design. Simply put: good games are simple and abstract. Bad games have cumbersome rules in a pointless attempt to simulate reality.

Somewhat like geeky programmers, I like to see how simple you can make a game and still have it be novel and fun. With that in mind, here’s an idea I had after reading William Poundstone’s The Prisoner’s Dilemma. It’s a great book, and a fairly easy read.


A Game by Zach Weiner


Gather 5 or more people around a table. Give each person a concealable surface on which to write.


One round has 3 steps:

Step 1:

Without conferring, each player writes down whether she will join coalition A, B, C, D, or E.

Step 2:

Each player reveals what she wrote.

Step 3:

All the members of the largest coalition get a point. If the two largest coalitions tie, no points are awarded.


First player to 10 points wins. In case of tie, the members of the largest coalitions receive no points and must pick different coalitions the following round.

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12 Responses to A Party Game: “Coalition”

  1. Vince says:

    I read Poundstone’s “Dilemma” over the summer. Its a great read filled with all kinds of interesting “games”. I think the “dollar auction” was the most interesting, and speaks highly of how much people are willing to throw money at a bad investment.

  2. Fernando says:

    “In case of tie, the members of the winning coalition …”

    If there’s a tie, there is no winning coalition??

  3. ZachWeiner says:


  4. Jonathan says:

    Fernando – if two people (both in the winning coalition) would both reach 10 points in the same round.

  5. Relsqui says:

    You might want to use five tokens per player instead–anything easily identifiable and small enough to fit under a hand. Quicker than writing down one of a small symbol set every time, and saves on paper. :)

    (Chess pieces would give the coalitions interesting names, and one set would give you enough pieces for four players if you didn’t use the kings or queens. Or if you want to keep the letters, Scrabble/Snatch/Bananagrams tiles. You get the idea.)

  6. Zaq says:

    I am absolutely playing an alcohol-themed version of this game.

    Just think of the drunkards trying in vain to inconspicuously advertise their coalitions.

    P.S.- Love your work, Zach! SMBC is a big influence in my work.

    • ZachWeiner says:

      Please report back! I’d love to do a followup post.

      • Zaq says:

        Everything went as expected. Except only I lived up to my projection of a drunkard’s behavior.

        “Whaddya mean you picked ‘A’? The look I gave you had ‘E’ written all over it!”

        “Actually, you said ‘A’. You literally said it.”

  7. Bill says:

    Interesting game. I presume there would be a permission for conversing between the players? If not, disregard this post, though I can’t see the challenge of the game if there is no communication.

    Anyways, the only problem I see is what happens if all players agree to work together. They all join the same coalition and everybody gets a point. This would continue without end, as there is no reason to separate from this group. You have to devise some form of deterrence for this. The one that comes to mind at the moment would be to offer some sort of reward for a person who is alone in his coalition (this might be viewed as the equivalent to ‘snitching’ in the Prisoner’s Dilemma) in addition to rewarding the largest coalition. This solo person should get more points than the people in the coalition, as this would favor the political maneuvering and backstabbing.

    This would make the game very interesting as people would attempt to make agreements to form the largest coalition while simultaneously everyone is considering the opportunity of secretly joining a different coalition.

    Also, if this change were to be made, it would probably be best to have a number of coalitions to something like 2/3 of the # of players. Not so small that no one can be ‘solo’, and not so large that everyone can be.

    I’m sure there are some flaws with my ‘suggestions’, but I think the general idea behind the correction is something that should be considered.

    Sorry for the tl;dr (I should really be studying)

  8. mountainmage says:

    I’m taking Game Theory in college and I just sent this to my professor! I’ll post what he thinks of it if he replies. :D

  9. Zaq says:

    What if there was a little more psychological strategery involved?

    The coalitions could be specific items or categories chosen by whosever turn it is (Ex: Coalitions “hamburger”, “hot dog”, “steak”, “shrimp”, and “coitis interuptis”). The largest coalition would still win the points.

    However, if the person who chose the categories is a member of the largest coalition, each of them loses a point, and the person whose turn it is receives a point. You could call this person the “mole”. The mole’s objective is to creative an inconspicuously favorable coalition so that people are inclined to join it with him. All others must read the mole’s mind and try not to join his coalition while also joining the largest coalition.

    But I guess this could also be played by drawing five Apples to Apples cards :/

  10. uhmmm says:

    Your game ends if players select coalitions with equal probability. This is a dangerous assumption that may lead to an unending game.

    Bill (above) points this out, however it does not require collusion at all, merely an expectation by the majority of players that most players have even a microscopic preference for “A” over all the other letters and “B” over all the other letters except “A”.

    An example:

    Rounds one through ten: all players choose “A”.

    The constraint in the second sentence under “Winning” now applies.

    Round eleven: all players choose “B”.
    Round twelve: all players choose “A”.
    Round thirteen: all players choose “B”.

    The game continues until someone deserts.

    How about a modified step 3:

    If a coaltion is formed by all players, no points are awarded.

    Otherwise, if a coalition is formed by all but one player, a point is awarded to that one player.

    Otherwise, if one coalition has more members than any other, a point is awarded to each member of that coalition.

    Otherwise, no points are awarded.

    A different “Winning” might help:

    The first player to reach ten points wins.

    If awarding points under “Step 3″ results in more than one player reaching ten points in that round, no points are awarded in that round. Players who would have been awarded a point in that round must join a different coalition in the next round.

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