The longer a player or a group of players works within a space in isolation, the harder it becomes for teams to fully reintegrate… and it’s often better for players to stick to the space that they intimately know.
The problem becomes more pronounced over time. It’s barely noticeable if the teams are only split up for a few minutes. When teams spend half of the game split, it becomes an annoyance. When teams spend more than 3 quarters of the game split, it can be downright irritating, even if no one has the language to vocalize it.
When a player enters a space that has already been thoroughly searched and solved, that player has three options:
- Start playing normally and “find” a ton of stuff that’s already been found or solved. This usually leads to exchanges along the lines of, “hey… did y’all see this little trap door?” A teammate who has been in space from the beginning will have to stop and explain that it’s been found and used.
- Stop the entire game while teammates catch one another up on what’s been found, solved, and what still requires the team’s attention.
- Stay put. Nobody crosses the boundaries and everyone sticks with the content that they already know intimately.
We had been feeling this problem for years, and only started to put our finger on what was going on last year after playing The Order at I Survived The Room. Prior to identifying it, under circumstances like this, we would just say something like, “Hey… I think it’s easier for me to just solve this.” Which is a polite way of saying, “You don’t know what’s going on and you’re in the way.”
Our Dominant Strategy
When faced with a challenge like this, if we’re choosing to play efficiently, we usually stick to the spaces that we have mastery over, even when free to roam.
The pro is that we maintain efficiency. The con is that everyone kind of misses out. Another potential con is that we could really use person A’s skill set in space B and we’re avoiding that situation.
Regardless of what we choose to do, it usually feels like a bit of a wash because getting up to speed on someone else’s mostly solved section of a game is tedious.
It can be challenging to follow this strategy when the spaces are really different from one another. If the other space looks really inviting, as players, we have to go against our instincts to follow this efficiency strategy.
If we instead take the time to fully explore another teammate’s space, some players invariably feel like they drew the short straw, and they would have preferred to spend the majority of their time in the other space, the one the group deems more fun or more exciting.
Mitigating the Regrouping Problem
There are a few ways that we’ve thought of to prevent this problem from emerging:
- Limit the amount of time that teams spend split up. This is a problem that becomes increasingly pronounced with time.
- Once the teams regroup, push them forward into a new space. If the previous spaces aren’t really relevant, then it’s a nonissue.
- Make all of the puzzles within the split-team portion joint solves, so that seeing the other space feels more like seeing what you’ve already participated in, rather than something new that demands exploration.
- Don’t bring the team together. If you want split-team gameplay, keep it split the entire time.
The regrouping problem isn’t a gamebreaker, but it can be a late-game momentum killer… which is less than ideal for both players and game designers. Teams should be excited to regroup. That momentum plays a crucial part in building the right vibe for any given moment of a game.