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The letdown of an explicit or implicit agreement with another agent.

Games can put players can be put in situations where promises to, or the expectations of, other players can be broken. These acts of Betrayal often cause friction between players, and therefore players betraying other players usually have a strong incentive to do so. This may be due to individual gains received by the Betrayal, hidden loyalties, differences in player positions in the game, revenge for previous injustices, or situations where the game forces players to choose which players they will betray.


The negotiation game So Long Sucker by John Nash requires players to provide help to other players to achieve captures, with only the promise of future help as collateral.

The board game Diplomacy requires players to enter alliances with other players in the struggle over Europe, but betraying agreements can be the only way to break deadlocks or achieve supremacy. In this game Betrayal is optional, while in the game Intrigue the game mechanics often cause situations where players have committed them to several deals which later turn out to be incompatible and thus forcing players to Betrayal each other. Other board games that rely on volatile alliances include Junta and Illuminati.

While being a Cylon in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game most often requires players to be secret about how one is "betraying" the human race, game in which the Ionian Nebula option of the Exodus Expansion is used lets them setup traps in the form of lying about which trauma tokens they place at specific locations.

The Left 4 Dead series is an example of how players can betray each other due to concerns of individual gains. In these games, players can received achievements for completing campaigns but only those making it to an escape vehicle gets the achievements. Not risking their own safety to try and rescue fallen comrades is very likely to be perceived as a form of Betrayal, given that a typical campaign takes about an hour to play.

The above examples don't cast players explicitly as traitors that will betray the others. This however is done in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game and Pandemic when using the expansion On the Brink. For these games a minority of the players are traitors, but in the roleplaying game Paranoia all players are traitors but for different reasons and in conflict with each other.

Using the pattern

Betrayal requires that players have some goal whose completion is dependent on other players' actions, even if the goals may be Player-Defined Goals and the commitment may only be a promise (and even one consisting only of non-interference). It also typically assumes an amount of Imperfect Information or Uncertainty of Information. A variant is if players can have some type of agreement to not hinder each other in reaching goals but those goals are actually Interferable Goals so that Betrayal can happen.

On a general level, Betrayal requires establishing a Symbiotic Player Relations - or at least the perception of one - and then introduce possibilities of gaining more from betraying one's "partners" than cooperating with them (a classical example of this is the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma game). There are several ways to increase the sense of Betrayal. A first is to make the Betrayal relate to a Committed Goal rather than Optional one. A second is to place the players in Factions or Mutual Goals, and then make use of Traitors. This shows how Betrayal also can be applied on Non-Player Characters either as the ones betraying or the ones being betrayed, and this makes Dedicated Game Facilitators necessary. A third is to have the possibility of Anonymous Actions so that players may not be sure if they actually have been betrayed or not, and can possibly be stringed along so they are betrayed multiple times. When Traitors are used, in may be worth considering if they should be able to set up Traps since being the victim of one is a sure way to have been betrayed. The possibility to make Surprise Attacks are often used with Betrayal to make the act of betraying more significant (examples of this can usually be found in game instances of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game). Games where players can Beat the Leader have a potential for Betrayal in that players may turn again those they have previously collaborated with when these appear to be the leaders.

Creating Social Dilemmas between group and Individual Rewards is another way to at least make the choice of Betrayal emotionally relevant. Less severe cases of Betrayal can happen in Collaborative Actions (e.g. attacks in Illuminati) and in situations of Delayed Reciprocity such as Player Decided Distributions (e.g. Intrigue) or Trading with Delayed Effects. Games supporting Altruistic Actions let players set themselves up to being betrayed if they expect a Delayed Reciprocity. The impact of Betrayal can also be lessened in games which have Inherent Mistrust, something which may be impossible to avoid if the knowledge that Traitors exist are part of Strategic Planning.

When Betrayal depends on players coming to an voluntary agreement, this is a form of Temporary Alliance and requires that players can participate in Negotiation (this is exemplified by the gameplay of Diplomacy). For the type of Negotiation necessary to be possible, it is required that Roleplaying or at least Bluffing is possible, and the concealment of planned Betrayals is often the basis for much of the enjoyment of the game. Those Alliances that do not require investments, i.e. Uncommitted Alliances, may make it easier to commit Betrayals but at the same time lessen the impact of them. An example is where Tied Results can be perceived and Rewards are distributed evenly: in these cases, players may negotiate to have a Tied Result in order to use their Resources and efforts in other parts of the game but have the possibility of Betrayal to gain the whole Reward for themselves.

While the actual way of committing Betrayal can be any some are worth mention. First, not performing an action (which can be seen as a form of No-Ops) can break promises of Delayed Reciprocity. Second, given the social cost of Betrayal, they tend only to be done when large Rewards are provided, e.g. winning games or being able to perform powerful Combos. Finally, Gossip can be used to betray others by passing sensitive information to those that should not have it.

For games with Cooperation, Betrayal can be added to not only make for more Challenging Gameplay, but also more Complex Gameplay. For the Betrayal to not only be a once only Irreversible Event there however needs to be possible to perform Anonymous Actions.

Interface Aspects

Betrayal has to come as a Surprise for those who are betrayed, or it loses much of its emotional impact. This requires that players are not fully aware of players actions. This can be achieved, for example, by having Delayed Reciprocity or Delayed Effects for Collaborative Actions (see for example the resolution of crises in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game) or, when players are involved, using Asymmetric Information about their actions.

Narrative Aspects

Betrayal is one of the classic themes that can be used to create interesting situations in Narration Structures and specifically Role Reversal and Surprise events, and game designers can explicitly design for Betrayal as part of Predetermined Story Structures. The interplay of trust and deceit is a way to achieve Emotional Engrossment as Betrayal will almost inevitably create strong emotions in both parties involved.


The plan to commit Betrayal is a Secret Goal and the possibility of this in a game shows that a it has Player Unpredictability. It introduces a level of PvP gameplay in games even if this may be only that players have to consider the possibility of other players acting against them. Letting players have the opportunity to betray gives them a form of Player Decided Results and a Risk/Reward choice, maybe requiring Roleplaying if the Betrayal takes some time to setup (as is typically for Traitors). In fact, without the presence of Anonymous Actions the Betrayal is a Irreversible Event that can only happen once. For players that know that they can be betrayed, the presence of the pattern in a game gives Anticipation and Tension to the gameplay, even more so for games with Cooperation, Parties or Teams even though at the cost of lessening their presence. As is the case with Bluffing, even the perceived possibility of Betrayal can increase Social Interaction between players and require them to take Leap of Faith. In these cases, the heightened Tension is due to the players trying to find out what the other players' true intentions are. Since Betrayal can require players to take on a specific role, successfully executing a betrayal can provide an experience of Role Fulfillment.

Betrayal can be used to create more Challenging Gameplay (using the bio-terrorist from the On the Brink expansion to Pandemic is an example of this), but works badly with Casual Gameplay since it can require players to depend on other players. Having to consider Betrayal also makes for more Complex Gameplay.

When Betrayal is not built upon a Social Dilemma it often created one instead. Betrayals are of course also a natural source for Surprises, Exceptional Events, and Conflicts; unless all players need to do it, choosing to commit a Betrayal is choosing to take on a certain Social Role.

Betrayal is a source of Emotional Engrossment in games, and this can lead to Ragequitting since being the subject of it can be a strong negative experience.


Can Instantiate

Asymmetric Information, Bluffing, Challenging Gameplay, Conflicts, Exceptional Events, Emotional Engrossment, Irreversible Events, Leap of Faith, Player Unpredictability, Predetermined Story Structures, PvP, Ragequitting, Risk/Reward, Roleplaying, Role Fulfillment, Role Reversal, Secret Goals, Social Dilemmas, Social Interaction, Social Roles, Surprises, Tension

with Cooperation or Teams

Complex Gameplay, Tension

Can Modulate

Anticipation, Committed Goals, Collaborative Actions, Cooperation, Factions, Inherent Mistrust, Mutual Goals, Narration Structures, Non-Player Characters, Parties, Teams, Temporary Alliances, Uncommitted Alliances

Can Be Instantiated By

Altruistic Actions, Beat the Leader, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Delayed Reciprocity, Gossip, Imperfect Information, Interferable Goals, Negotiation, Social Dilemmas, Surprise Attacks, Symbiotic Player Relations, Traitors, Traps, Uncertainty of Information

Delayed Effects together with Collaborative Actions or Trading

Can Be Modulated By

Anonymous Actions

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Casual Gameplay, Cooperation, Parties, Teams


An updated version of the pattern Betrayal that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.