Does Your Board Game Group Have an "Agent of Chaos?"

Board games are developed with the idea that players are going to try to win the game. Revolutionary, I know. When presented with multiple scenarios, it's assumed that a player is going to make the right choice for them. But not every player is a rational actor. Some players are "agents of chaos" -- they act randomly or even counterintuitively to their own goals. That can be difficult to deal with, because it often throws the game itself out of balance. If you often have players who seem to do counterintuitive and random things, you may have agents of chaos around you. 

What is an Agent of Chaos?

An Agent of Chaos is a player who isn't playing to win, but instead to disrupt. They aren't making good choices for themselves; they're making wholely random choices, or they are targeting specific players even at their own expense. Agent of Chaos players have already given up on winning the game, but because they have to continue to make decisions, they may as well make the decisions that make the greatest impact.

When properly played, the Agent of Chaos is actually not a bad addition to a game. Agents of Chaos, when well-meaning, add another random element or adversary. They essentially give up their chance at winning the game in order to make the game more "interesting" to all other players. Agents of Chaos only become frustrating when they are played the incorrect way.

The Good and the Bad Sides to Chaos

A "bad" Agent of Chaos has often divorced themselves from the game because they don't want to play it or they are angry that they are losing. They are acting chaotically not for entertainment's sake, but specifically to frustrate other players. They may target a specific player or they may just pile onto any player who is making a big play. A bad Agent of Chaos will often become a kingmaker. A kingmaker is a player that supports another player on their way to a win. It's considered bad etiquette because the other person wins for a meta reason; because another player is supporting them.

A "good" Agent of Chaos may stop playing the game because they know they can't win. In many victory point games, there's a point where you can get so far behind there is no reasonable way that you can win the game. This Agent of Chaos is still playing the game and potentially still invested in it, but they will not target specific players, and will instead try to pull off interesting things. They may test out a new strategy that doesn't actually get them points, or try to find out a way to cascade certain cards and effects together. They may just play completely randomly.

Some people constantly take on the Agent of Chaos role because they enjoy playing games, but aren't particularly invested in winning. The Agent of Chaos has a bad reputation, because so many people are bad Agents of Chaos. But, though ideally there wouldn't be any Agent of Chaos, a "good" Agent of Chaos isn't the worst thing that can happen to your game. 

Does Your Group Have an Agent of Chaos?

It's worth it to note that an Agent of Chaos happens because of a few specific reasons:

  • The player never actually wanted to play the game.
  • The player would never be able to win the game.
  • The player has no idea how to play the game.

In other words, Agent of Chaos is a dysfunction that occurs when a player is put into the wrong types of games. If someone is always an Agent of Chaos -- well, they might not like playing games. Or they may not have found the type of game that they'd like to play.

Due to the nature of the Agent of Chaos, it's really impossible to counteract them. You have to prevent the issue from occuring at all. Trying to work against them just expends your resources towards them, and many of them like it when other players get frustrated or irritated with them.