So, this has sort of been touched on while I was playing Ghost Stories, but there is another side to cooperative games. A dark, sinister side of which very few are privy to. A side which many should fear to see, for seeing it is a sign that the end of days has arrived.
Okay, maybe I’m being a little overly dramatic.
What I wanted to talk briefly about today was the fact that, ironically, many cooperative board games also double as solo games. Hell, some probably play better as solo games. Which is kind of funny. I mean here we are talking about games to play with other people and we inevitably peel off into the idea of playing them by yourself!
It makes sense, though. Most “true” cooperative games (that is to say ones without opportunity for betrayal or the like) have fully open player information (Yggdrasil, Arkham Horror, Ghost Stories, Space Hulk, 12 Realms, etc) and, well, when you have fully open information? There really isn’t anything stopping you from playing the game by yourself! Aside from possibly a bit of complexity in managing that many things alone and the shame and indignity of playing a board game by yourself.
I kid, I kid.
Anyhow, the reason for this is that, for the most part, board games present cerebral challenges, not physical ones. It doesn’t matter whether the game gives you four characters to play as or one: there is no particular reason you can’t handle them all. Aside from the gameplay differences, the differences between playing 1 Monk and 4 Monks in Ghost Stories, for example, are minimal. You can run as many investigators as you want in Arkham without a problem!
Of course, this isn’t fully true. There are a few games (Space Alert, Space Cadets, based on what I’ve heard at least) that, for various reasons (simultaneous action, time limits, etc), can’t be played solo.
Still, the vast majority of true solo games are an entirely cerebral experience where you simply make a series of in sequence decisions. They are, in a sense, puzzles. Of course, ideally, they aren’t true puzzles and instead things that resemble puzzles with pieces that move and change without warning, forcing you to keep changing the picture on the fly. And that’s fun. That’s fun with your friends and that’s fun by yourself.
I will never hate a game that gives me more opportunities to play it.
The fact that it is fully possible to play most cooperative games alone does contribute to one of their leading issues, though: the domineering player.
See, the fact that one player can manage to play the game all alone means that, in a group, one player can manage to play the game all alone! Unlike a competitive game, everyone is working towards the same goal. Everyone should be on the exact same page. And thus, rather then everyone playing their own characters or whatever, everyone plays everyone’s character. And if you disagree with the main strategy/aren’t as good as the rest of the group/are naturally a bit quiet/etc, it is quite likely that you won’t actually get to “play” the game.
You’ll just move your piece wherever people tell you and sit quietly until the next opportunity when everyone will tell you how to play your turn.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with a game where this is possible. I had positive enough things to say about Yggdrasil and that game is rife with opportunities to bully other players into taking specific actions and, when played as a group, actual decisions were largely made by agreement from the group. That’s fine. It does work at times. But it is a concern for people.
There are a few different ways to mitigate the “follow the leader” issue, though. For example:
1. A game that provides a sort of critical mass of decisions/multiple viable paths on every turn is naturally resilient to this sort of thing. While the group can discuss various options, this leaves a lot more room for individual players to make their own choices on their turns.
2. A game with time restrictions, similarly, is tough to fully control other players since there is limited time for discussion. Inevitably a consensus won’t be able to be reached in time, allowing the player to truly have the final say. This effect is doubled if multiple players need to do things all at once.
So what’s the point of all this?
Well, the first two games I discussed this month were games that very much fell into the category of games that could be played solo and could be eaten up by domineering players. A lot of the games I’ve considered discussing this month were. But our playgroup finally got its hands on something a little different.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t come in until today, so I wasn’t able to officially release it on Wednesday Night Gaming’s normal day. I’m only going to be able to play it today. Since the last official Wednesday Night Gaming of Cooperation Month is being reserved for something else special, but I really want to talk about this game, we shall have a second, special edition of Wednesday Night Gaming this week!
So, put your ship on red alert, raise the shield to maximum, accelerate to warp 9, and get out your tea!
I’m playing Space Cadets tonight.