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Gambit Pileup / Tabletop Games

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  • Most multiplayer strategy board games end up like this; particularly RISK is very prone to them, where Green pretends to be trying to take all of North America, but that's only to catch Blue off their guard so that they can be invaded from the south by Red, who they thought was their ally... But then Red decides to betray Green as well, as they'd rather have Africa for themselves. It can be even more fun if you have a player who is enough of a Magnificent Bastard to pull this off in plain view of the other players! [To one player]: "Go ahead, attack him, I'll back you up". [To player being attacked]: "Don't worry, I'm just lying to him so he'll attack you" [To the first player] " ... or AM I??".
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  • Risk is nothing compared with Diplomacy, which is designed to eliminate chance and rule manipulation in favor of seven players trying to Out Gambit at varying depth and complexity on each other at the same time, making for a mind-blowing maximum potential of a Forty Two Gambit Pileup. Not surprising, since the game is meant to reflect the Real Life Gambit Pileup that led to World War I (see below).
  • The Game of Thrones Board Game is based on the Diplomacy formula. Stark, Baratheon, Lannister, Greyjoy, Tyrell and Martel duke it out and as there can only be one winner you will sooner or later betray someone. Usually it's on the same turn you get tricked and backstabbed by your own acquaintances. And in the end, House Stark wins.
  • Or the 70's board game of Dune. All the factions have different win-conditions, and if a full round goes by without anyone breaking or forming an alliance, the whole thing descends into the War of Assassins.
    • One faction has the special ability to guess the eventual winner and the turn of their victory before the game starts. If they are correct, then right before the game ends, they reveal their prediction and win instead of (not in addition to) the original winner. So do you accept their help? The game is full of stuff like this.
  • Fluxx, a card game where the rules are part of playing the game. There are four types of cards: rules that dictate how the game is played at that particular moment, goals that describe how a player might win, keepers that are usually collected to fulfill a goal, and actions that do things like allow played rules and goals to be revoked. Gameplay is thus a crapshoot involving either attempts to arrive at the current goal, or attempts to change the system. Depending on the goal, winning can be as simple a matter as having ten cards in your hand, to making toast by having the Bread card and the Toaster card. Winning is also a matter of making sure that cards that you play don't immediately benefit another player.
    • Some players positively revel in the Gambit Roulette aspects and play a dizzying array of contradictory and/or complicated rules to cover what they're actually trying to get done.
    • To say nothing of Chrononauts, another game from the same designer. Every player is a time traveler with a home timestream, a mission and the same job: to fix the time stream. So: did that guy just patch a paradox because that patch is part of his timeline, or did he do it to get an extra card, or does he know you need that year "normal"? Did you play an artifact because it's part of your mission, or are you keeping it from him, or do you plan on selling it later? Is he asking for Memos (read: cards that cancel plays; think counterspells in Magic: The Gathering) because he's being honest about the victory he's about to get, or because he's set to Memo your Memo, or because he wants you to waste a Memo on a useless play?
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  • The Old World of Darkness took this almost to the point of parody. The Jyhad in Vampire: The Masquerade is run, depending on your sourcebook, by one of about thirty different sources ranging from Caine to Tzimisce to God, or it may just be a giant practical joke pulled by Malkav through his Hive Mind descendants, or... The New World of Darkness takes a giant step away from this - now there's only a giant chain of conspiracies if the Storyteller says there is.
  • Over the Edge. Get the main book. Look at the chart that shows you haow all the various conspiracies and factions inter-relate. Just look at it. Yeah.
  • The various Board Games and Collectible Card Game versions of Illuminati, by Steve Jackson Games, is the Gambit Pileup as beer and pretzels entertainment. It's inspired by the aforementioned trilogy, so that's not surprising.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Chaos God Tzeentch is unique in that it deliberately creates Gambit Pileups. Being a god of change and fundamental disorder, Tzeentch literally engineers its plots and plans to the point where they will outright conflict with one another. Not only is foiling one plan probably what it wanted you to do all along, but it probably also set in motion different aspects of seventeen other plans at the same time, any of which might in turn be derailing a dozen other plots by Tzeentch. But mostly it just does it purely for the sake of planning, as if any of its plans were to actually succeed it would probably cease to exist.
    • And you have to take into account that in addition to Tzeentch, the Farseers, the Deceiver, and quite possibly the dead-but-dreaming God Emperor of Humankind are all manipulating each other into Gambit Pileups lasting millions of years.
    • The Soul Drinkers chapter were involved in one of these right before their rebellion. An Administratum bureaucrat wanted a space station secured quickly, the Soul Drinkers wanted to reclaim their Chapter's holiest relic, the Adeptus Mechanicus wanted that same relic for back-engineering, and Abraxes, Architect of Fate, Engineer of Time, Daemon Prince of Tzeentch, wanted someone to kill the Daemon Prince Ve'Meth for him — and pretty much everyone was carrying the Idiot Ball in the belief that everyone else was afraid of them. The fact that the Soul Drinkers were shortly declared Excommunicate Traitoris (which includes a shoot-on-sight mandate and the complete deletion of all records pertaining to them) demonstrates how arch-cosmologically it sucks to be in a position where all thirty of the plots are at your expense.
    • The Shira Calpurnia novel Legacy's plot revolves around three separate parties trying to lay claim to an ancient Rogue Trader charter. The associates of its deceased owner want to keep it away from his known blood heir and try to create a fake heir to usurp him. Said blood heir is being essentially railroaded into claiming the charter by his own associates. On top of that, the Ecclesiarchy wants to seize the charter as it was signed by the Emperor and is thus considered a holy relic. Calpurnia, for her part, has to preside over the trial that is supposed to determine who gets the charter.
  • Any given Troubleshooter mission in Paranoia is likely to involve one of these. There's what Friend Computer wants (and sometimes you have two or more rival High Programmers pulling its strings), what any involved Service Groups want (which usually includes making the rest look bad), and what the various Secret Societies want (which could be almost anything)... and any or all of these can change in the course of the mission.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • As a general rule of thumb, any creature that has a lifespan greater than that of an average human being in Eberron is The Chessmaster. You have at least five entire organisations made up entirely of these. They don't get along. At least three of them are practically immortal and pull Gambit Roulette that can take centuries to unfold. One of them exists on another plane of existence where time is greatly slowed relative to the Material Plane, a fact they frequently use to spend weeks planning their next move while only a few hours pass in the real world. And if that's not bad enough, you've got the mortal Magnificent Bastards to deal with, who may not have goals as lofty as complete cosmic domination but are still spinning their dangerous schemes none the less.
    • Planescape: More mysteries than you can shake a stick at, more conspiracies than you can imagine. We have demon lords of all shapes and sizes all plotting against each other and their celestial counterparts. We have the Factions and the Lady of Pain and well, basically everyone is plotting against everyone else, or claiming to manipulate everyone else. The module Faction War is a spectacular example of what happens when these collide...
      • Being a part of Planescape and therefore the D&D meta continuity as a whole, the Blood War falls into this. The specifics vary depending on the edtion, but it's generally the Tana'ri and the Baatezu just want to rip each other's throats out, the Forces of Good are manipulating events so the two sides will destroy each other, the Yugoloths simply want to get paid for what they do, Asmodeus is playing for time so Ahriman can regain his power and Balance trying to keep the war going for eternity and preserve a stalemate (likely as an excuse to achieve their own goals). And that's nothing compared to the amount of Prime Material inhabitants that have likely had their hand in the war in some way or another.
    • Similarly the Ravenloft campaign setting. The Grand Conjuction series ended up in a three-way Gambit Pileup between Azalin, Strahd and Inajira, all of this possibly orchestrated by the mad seer Hyksosa...
    • This is the soul and essence of Forgotten Realms. Everyone and their mother is running all kinds of incredibly complicated plots: Elminster, the Harpers, the Seven Sisters, Zhentil Keep, the Red Wizards, the Shades, the dark elves, etc., etc., etc., up to and including the gods themselves. Ed Greenwood once wrote a little article on how catching Player Characters in crossblunder of several low-end secret societies can be used to liven up a game between bigger plot hooks.
      Laeral: Did you not know? Other places grow corn, or barley, but here in hard-paved Waterdeep, we have healthy crops too. We grow conspiracies. (Silverfall)
    • And that's not even getting into what the more imaginative (and/or sadistic) DM's can pull. "Okay let me get this straight... Our band was hired to stop a massive gang war that was instigated by a group of cultists; but the cultists were just a front by a mafia organization that wanted to weed out competition and then absorb the remainders; the mafia itself is part of an Illuminati-like organization with a total of twelve families, that want to maintain order by controlling all crime; but two of the "families" are actually the intelligence ministers of two separate and opposing kingdoms that want to use the turmoil to take over the world; but one of the REAL crime families knows about this and wants to let them run their game, then kill them and take over the whole thing solo; then throughout all of this there's a necromancer that wants to use the death and chaos as part of a ritual to resurrect a not-quite-dead insane god. Well, it's a good thing we were able to bust it all u—- wait, why is the rogue running into that tomb? And where did the arcane key and sacrificial dagger we got off that crazy necromancer go? .... Oh, Crap!."
  • Shadowrun. You've got the AAA megacorps scheming to consolidate and expand their power, the AA corps scheming to become AAAs, and the governments of the world trying desperately to hold on to whatever power they have left. And then there's the dragons... and the insect spirits... and a million other entities all trying to control everything. And you're a rag-tag group of freelance covert-ops mercenaries caught in the middle of it all, offering your services to the highest bidder. Sound like fun? You don't know the half of it, chummer.
    Harlequin: It's a series of conspiracies, conflicting agendas and petty jealousies, all building upon, feeding upon, and excreting into an unending web of drek that people wade through every day and call it Life. If there was one Dark Lord controlling everything and we could drive a magic sword through his heart to free the world, that would be grand. Such clarity! Such focus! Alas.
  • Mafia / Werewolf is built on this trope. The simplest level of play is a "ignorant majority vs. hidden minority" paranoia game where the minority team switches between killing the opposing team and tricking them into offing themselves. What happens when the moderator starts introducing third-party and double-agent roles? It starts getting epic.
  • Cutthroat Caverns is completely based on this trope. The player with the most prestige still alive at the end wins, so players will try to allow the winning players to die, while still keeping the party strong. When players die, the difficulty of the dungeon stays the same, so players really mess with each other to kill the monsters, while letting the winners' resources run dry.
  • Even outside the normal uses, Magic: The Gathering has a game mode based completely around this. Normally Archenemy is played with one player as an Evil Overlord with a special deck that represents their machinations, and the opponents as a team of regular players. However in the Super Villain Rumble variant, everyone has such a deck.
    • Free-for-all multiplayer Magic is mostly made of this. Regular Magic is mostly about strengthening your board position and wearing down your opponent through whatever method your deck prefers. In multiplayer Magic, it's a lot more political. Can you really trust Player A to keep to his word and finish off Player B, or will he change his mind and gun for you instead? Is the guy playing the combo deck really worried about the burn deck trying to kill him, or is he actually trying to get his life total down low for some reason? Is that guy with seven cards in hand screwed for spells, or is he just waiting until everybody else finishes each other off so he can clean up the mess? In multilplayer, it's almost as important to give the appearance of weakness as it is to strengthen your position, because if you seem too strong, you're just painting a target on yourself.
    • The original Ravnica block's story involved ploys by at least half the Guilds, with special focus on the Dimir and Azorius, to control/conquer/destroy Ravnica. This led to a hilarious scene where Agrus Kos's ghost has infiltrated the Simic to find out how they're tied to Szadek's plans, only for Momir Vig to begin monologuing about his own, completely independent bid for world domination.
  • Four-handed chess, or 4-way chess, is like this, especially if a singles game is being played.
  • A frequent occurrence in Exalted. Schemes by the Yozis, the Deathlords, The Fair Folk, a surprising number of mortals, gods, and Exalts, and the player characters, have a habit of slamming into each other with a noise like a shipment of kitchenware falling down a hill.
  • The BattleTech backstory and novels are built on this trope. Michael Stackpoole's first series, the Warrior Trilogy has at least seven plans going on, interacting and both supporting and interfering with each other, and this is just one single book series out of over 100. Xanatos Speed Chess is almost a political survival trait in this universe.
  • An adventure seed for GURPS Fantasy is expected to spiral into this. It starts with a bunch of inexplicable fires, and as the PCs investigate, they discover too many leads. The local Brotherhood of Fire Mages is having an internal fight, the Thieves' Guild is starting a protection racket, the local Fighter's Guild/fire department is trying to justify its existence (so another protection racket)...
  • The Systems Malfunction universe is rife with this, which is not surprising considering the dozens of competing factions which are constantly scheming against each other. There are even multiple secret shadowy conspiracies attempting to control galactic society, and each other.
  • The Avalon Hill boardgames Third Reich and Advanced Third Reich, when played by experienced wargamers, consist of I Know You Know I Know Xanatos Gambits right up to the moment when the first 2:1 attack, which both sides expect to succeed 97% of the time, inevitably fails. The resulting Gambit Pileup turns the remainder of the game into Xanatos Speed Chess.
  • A common event in Fiasco, given the tendency towards ambitious, not-quite-as-clever-as-they-think-they-are characters. For an example, consider the version played on Tabletop, which had a mid-level director's plan to rip off the Russian mob at a club for the money to make it in Hollywood crash headlong into the owner's plan to burn down said club for the insurance money.


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