With the season of goodwill upon us, it seems now is a suitable occasion to discuss a type of gaming that has become a bit of a favourite of mine. Especially as it avoids some of the problems of playing with naturally competitive people (of which I can fully admit I am one). I talk about cooperative games.
A cooperative game pits the players against the game itself, which will throw out challenges to stop the players completing their required tasks. The challenges vary from game to game, but the important part is ensuring the team, rather than the individual, achieves its goals. It challenges the players to ensure that what they are thinking of doing will contribute towards the overall objective.
As I discussed a few weeks ago, I first came across cooperative gaming with Heroquest, although I would have not recognised it as such at the time. And Heroquest is not a pure cooperative style, as although there is a team of players working together, there is still the antagonistic Evil Wizard player trying to stop you. This is the style copied by many dungeon crawler games giving control of the monsters to a single player. The Rio Grande’s Mousquetaires du Roy also plays in a similar fashion with a player controlling the scheming Milady de Winter. Other cooperative games feature a ‘traitor’ mechanic, a player secretly working against the others. However, I would incorporate those into a sub-genre by themselves which I will discuss at a later time.
Having played games that can end up in recrimination and annoyance in other players (Munchkin – I am looking at you), the feeling of a cooperative game sets it apart. Competitive games are still enjoyable to me, but I enjoy the feeling that a cooperative game is an intellectual puzzle to be cracked by the players. Yes – you can still get annoyed, normally when that card gets turned just at the wrong time to mess up your carefully laid out plans (Forbidden Desert did that to my wife and I just last night when we were a single move away from winning). However, your frustration is not concentrated on another player (unless they do something really stupid …)
I also find it a nice way to bring people into a game, as someone unfamiliar with the rules can be given proper guidance. There is no risk that an unscrupulous player could cause them to make a mistake and mess up their game at the start (hopefully there is no one in your gaming group of that nature). I find my children join me in these games and we can properly experience the game together, rather than us trying to get one over. An appropriately aged cooperative game is great for kids, especially if one of them get upset at not winning.
However, this guidance must not go too far. A drawback of the cooperative game is the ‘alpha player’ – the individual who knows the game so well that they will instruct other players exactly what to do at all times. There can be a logic behind their reasoning and unless the rules say specifically, tactical discussion is a necessary part of most of these games. However, tactics are very different to direction and the second the game becomes a process of following a single person’s thought pattern, it stops being fun for the other players. It is vital to remember as a fellow player that although you are allowed to throw in your own ideas, when the other person’s turn is in progress sometimes it’s just a good idea to shut up and let them get on with it.
If you have not had the opportunity to enjoy a proper co-operative game, I’d recommend you get out there and try one – even if just to give you a new perspective on board games that you have probably never encountered before. The change of pace from your regular competitive gaming can be very enjoyable and like me, you may be able to experience an entirely new way of playing. I’d recommend either Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert as a good starting point – both are not very difficult, not that expensive to buy and relatively easy to get hold of. Beyond that Board Game Geek is an excellent resource for finding the type of game you may enjoy.
Until next time …