One of the more interesting things for me over the course of Cooperation Month has been the fact that, honestly, I’m not that big on cooperative board games. I like competitive games. I like competing and beating other people.
That isn’t to say I don’t like cooperative gaming. Quite the contrary. I have a love of it. It was part of the reason I adored League of Legends (and the concept of MOBAs) in general so much: they forced a very high level of cooperation if you wanted to excel. I found Left 4 Dead quite fun for similar reasons. Thus it has proven somewhat… odd to me that I’ve had trouble finding cooperative board games that I really like. Over the last couple weeks, though, I think I’ve worked it out a little bit. To put it simply, my taste in cooperative gaming is just very specific, which means that the range of game I truly love are going to be fairly narrow.
So, without further ado, why don’t we talk a little about what I think is important in cooperative games? Keep in mind, this is strictly about what I think is important. Your opinions may vary.
This is going to be a bit rambling, so please, bear with me.
A cooperative game needs to be tough.
Contrary to what most anyone who has played games with me thinks, I actually like losing. At least, I like losing cooperative games. I feel like if I’m not able to lose at the game, I don’t really feel challenged. And a game that is no longer challenging is usually a game I lose interest in.
Of course, the question of difficulty is, in and of itself, a complex one. A game where you had to roll 20 on a 20-sided die 10 times in a row would certainly be difficult and you’d definitely lose it quite a bit. Obviously that isn’t a very fun game, though. So, no, I’m not a huge fan of games that screws you purely because of randomness. Randomness playing a part in things is fine, but there needs to be the ability to mitigate randomness at some cost to the player or the game needs to require an above average amount of bad luck for it to be the main reason you lost. Actually, this kind of deserves its own point, so let me return to it in a moment.
Of course, I don’t think every game needs to be ball-busting hard. Or rather, I don’t think every game needs to start out as ball-busting hard. Cooperative games should definitely feature ways to scale the game as players and groups become more familiar with it. As I stated above, a game that is no longer challenging is a game that is no longer interesting to me. Scaling difficulty options provide easy ways to make the game challenging enough for experienced players without completely overwhelming new players.
2. Solvability (the lack thereof)
This ties into the above, but is a particularly egregious example that annoys me.
I really hate games that can be “solved.” That is to say, I don’t like games that have a singular optimal solution that can be applied whenever playing to result in a win. Even if the game remains challenging, I just don’t find it interesting if Player 1 always does A, Player 2 always does B, etc, etc. Just doesn’t do it for me. Once you solve a puzzle, it isn’t really engaging anymore. The challenge was in solving it. Once you know how to complete it, you’re just going through the motions.
Which is why I think randomness needs to be present in all cooperative games.
3. Randomness (in the flow of the game)
To avert issues of solvability, I think randomness is important. Of course, as noted above, dependency on randomness (die rolls for problem solving) is an issue. No, where I think randomness shines best is in game flow.
Ghost Stories is an awesome example of this done right. Everything about he game’s flow is random, forcing players to continuously reassess what they are doing. While there are (probably) strategies that are good for any situation, the game necessitates that you make your decisions on a turn-by-turn basis. One game could see you sitting with the board in an ideal position for the way the ghosts show up, while another could have you scrambling every turn to deal with disparate threats with the cemetery in the center.
I suppose this all also ties into the fact that I like tactical (that is to say, importance is weighted to individual actions) rather then strategic (the weighting is to your overall gameplan) gameplay. Which, itself, ties to the next point.
4. Individual Achievement
This is kind of an odd one, but, honestly, the issue of the game being played as a group or a group of individuals is a big problem to me. I’m not a huge fan of cooperative games where every player’s turn is actually played by everyone. Obviously I don’t mind that everyone contributes to an individual’s actions (discussing what they should do, etc), but I have some issues when the players become cogs in a machine, I guess.
I dunno, this is actually a really tough thing to articulate.
It is just something to do with the feeling of the game, and I think it plays heavily into the argument of tactics vs strategy. I favor games where there turn by turn decisions are more important, which naturally favor the opportunity for it to feel like you, as an individual, are doing something.
Does that make sense?
So What Does That Amount To?
Some inane, rambling mostly.
Also the fact that I still think Ghost Stories is totally awesome.