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<a novref=true text=@key href=pattern-negotiation.html>Negotiation</a>


A situation where the players confer with each other in order to reach an agreement or settlement.

Negotiations in most games are specific modes of play where the players have to agree upon something, for example, bargaining over the exact contents of a trade. The actual Negotiation can be totally uncontrolled by the game system or can be formalized with rules on what kinds of offers can be made, when the offers can be made, and how breaches agreements should be handled.

Example: Diplomacy, the board game, has a specific diplomacy phase during which the players are able to negotiate alliances and coordinate their actions.

Example: The Trading phase of Settlers of Catan allows the player whose turn it is to start Negotiations with other players about the trade. This Negotiation phase can contain offers and counter offers from all the other players as well, but only with the player initiating the trade. Each Negotiation ends when the players have resolved the trade, and the Negotiation phase itself ends when the initiating player declares that it has ended.

Using the pattern

Negotiation can either be motivated by players wanting Resources from other players, wanting players to do or not do specific actions due to Asymmetric Abilities between players, or having to make common decisions regarding Player Decided Results or Shared Resources.

It is usual that Trading and Bidding or other actions that concern voluntary Transfer of Control events have specific bargaining, i. e., Negotiation, phases where the players try to reach an agreement. More complex Collaborative Actions almost require that players are able to negotiate in order to coordinate their actions properly, for example, before agreeing on pursuing Committed Goals. For Player Balance and Game State Overview, some Negotiation is done strictly according to a Turn Taking scheme, which however can cause Downtime.

Negotiation situations also appear when there are Player Defined Goals that are also Mutual Goals, as the players have to reach an agreement about the goal they are trying to reach. Usually, reaching these goals requires agreeing upon and coordinating more complex strategies, which also involves Negotiation. Establishing and maintaining the power structures in Social Organizations, unless they are predefined and immutable, requires that players negotiate. One way of solving Social Dilemmas is to allow players to negotiate their strategies.

Negotiations in games can either be formalized by rules or be handled through Extra-Game Actions. Formalized Negotiations are usually specific modes of play in the game with three distinct phases: initiation, bargaining, and agreement. The rules for the initiation phase have to take three choices into account: first, which of the players can start the negotiation; second, how the participants of the negotiation are determined; and finally, what kinds of negotiations are possible. In games where players can perform hostile actions against each other, Negotiation may be encouraged by having Safe Havens especially for these types of actions, and initiation may start by players entering a certain space in the game. Settlers of Catan illustrates quite well these phases: only the player whose turn it is can initiate the negotiation, all players can participate in it, and only trades of basic Resources are allowed. The nature of the bargaining phase itself depends on the kind of Negotiation, but usually it consists basically of the participants making offers and counter offers, sometimes even threats, and trying to persuade other participants to a certain agreement. It is possible that the player composition of the negotiation changes during this phase. The last phase, how to determine the agreement, has at least the following options: the initiating player decides on the agreement based on the discussion during the negotiation phase; the players agreeing on something end the negotiation by excluding the other players from the negotiation; or a specific Bidding, usually some kind of a voting, phase is used to determine the outcome. The effects of the agreement, of course, depend on the nature of the game itself.

The patterns dealing with information can be used to govern how and what kind of information both the participating and non-participating players get about the different phases of the negotiation. For example, it is possible that the player composition of negotiations are known to all players, using Symmetric Information, but that the terms and agreements are only known to the participating players, using Asymmetric Information.

Player Decided Results, especially Player Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties for Shared Rewards, usually require some possibility for Negotiation and can represent a kind of Overcome goal. The presence of Tiebreakers can make Shared Rewards impossible and thereby close this possibility for Negotiation in games.

Negotiation is by its nature an example of Interruptible Actions as players can end their bargaining. However, Negotiations can also be designed to be Interruptible Actions so that third parties can affect the actions, typically by presenting an alternative bid or a motivation why the bargain is not fair to one part.


Having Negotiation in a game increases Social Interaction unless the form of Negotiation is highly formalized or mediated. Dynamic Alliances, and especially Uncommitted Alliances, usually require Negotiation first to create the Alliance and later on to maintain the Alliance and may require Leaps of Faith. Bluffing to be efficient requires that there are at least some levels of Negotiation in the game while the possibility of Betrayal significantly modulates how Negotiation is conducted and the willingness of players to negotiate.

The skill of Negotiation is one route to Game Mastery in games where Negotiations can have concrete effects on the game state or affect players' choices of goals and tactics (for example by completing Preventing Goals simply by convincing other players not to pursue specific goals they have), and as such Negotiation can be used in Polyathlons to spread the types of skills required.

In games with Game Masters, Negotiation may occur on a meta level to ensure Player Balance, for examplethrough Ability Losses. In Self-Facilitated Games, Negotiation may in a similar fashion be used to decide upon Handicaps.


Instantiates: Leaps of Faith, Player Balance, Transfer of Control, Game Mastery, Extra-Game Actions, Bluffing

Modulates: Bidding, Collaborative Actions, Committed Goals, Trading, Overcome, Handicaps, Dynamic Alliances, Polyathlons, Ability Losses, Mutual Goals, Social Organizations, Player Decided Results, Uncommitted Alliances, Shared Rewards, Player Defined Goals

Instantiated by: Shared Resources, Self-Facilitated Games, Asymmetric Abilities, Game Masters, Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties

Modulated by: Safe Havens, Interruptible Actions, Betrayal, Asymmetric Information, Turn Taking, Game State Overview, Preventing Goals, Symmetric Information

Potentially conflicting with: Downtime, Tiebreakers

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(C) Æliens 04/09/2009

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