Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A flurry of Cooperative games!

No fewer than 6 cooperative games came out recently, and I was anxious to try some of them to see what they're gimmick was, and to see how they tried to make a game where multiple players can (or better, have to) work in concert to win rather than the loudest, most experienced, or bossiest player playing while everyone else watches.

Space Alert has time pressure and hidden cards indicating what players have the possibility of doing, making it hard or impossible for one person to micromanage everyone's turn. That's a step in the right direction, though I'm not sure if Space Alert succeeds - I liked it at first (played it 6 times in a row, training through 1st mission), then later played it once and thought it was horribly boring.

Battlestar Galactica has the traitor mechanism from Shadows over Camelot, and it has it in spades. BSG isn't so much a cooperative game as a team game, maybe that should really be it's own category. In any event, it tries to keep 1 player from playing everyone's turn by stating up front that player could very well be working against you!

Ghost Stories felt like a step backwards in the development of the genre. It makes no attempt to fix what I believe is the biggest failing of most cooperative games (and perhaps, the entire genre) - it's solitaire.

It's not even multiplayer solitaire... one person can just play the game all by themselves. All weekend at BGG.con people were loving the game and talking about how hard it was, but I'm not sure that "hard" should correlate to "chances it's impossible to win, whether you know it or not." Pandemic suffers from that, some games you can't possibly win, but you don't know that until after you play.

So far the cooperative game that I think promotes teamwork the best is Pandemic. Space Alert with a crew that does a better job of communicating (as opposed to everyone shouting out what they can do, which I heard a lot this weekend) might do a better job, but so far I've not seen it. It's odd to say that Pandemic promotes teamwork when people can just turn their hands face up and one player can play the whole game... but in my experience if you don't turn your hand face up, you actually have to talk to your friends to formulate that good plan, and somehow that feels more like teamwork to me.

There are some more cooperative games that I didn't try, such as Red November, whose gimmick I heard was that any player can turn traitor at any time, but if you don't do it right then you lose. I didn't hear much good about Red November. I did play a prototype of a Pandemic expansion - that was pretty cool. There were new roles, some more similar to the old ones than others. Also they added Viral Epidemics - which make one color (at random) worse than the others. When an Epidemic is drawn, it indicates something bad that happens with the viral color. It serves to prioritize the colors differently because even if Yellow isn't as bad off as Black on the board, you have to count each Yellow outbreak twice (for example).

I'm convinced that a real cooperative game, a game in which players are doing they're own thing but are encouraged to cooperate, will require some hidden information that can't be known by all players. I think time pressure will help keep one player from playing for everyone else as well, but there has to be some ability to overlap my task with yours so I can help you if you need me to. Maybe with this flurry of cooperative games on the market I'll attempt to put my vision for that genre together. My chosen theme so far is the TV show 24, where players play CTU agents cooperating to thwart a terrorist plot. Players will be able to utilize Jack Bauer as an NPC, but they are all generic agents, and at a certain point in the game you can find out that you're actually a traitor. If that happens you'll need to bring the game to a close quickly, because if you wait too long, you may turn back into a non-traitor player! It seems to me that kind of thing happened all the time in the first season.

1 comment:

Rick Holzgrafe said...

I agree that hidden information is a must. I would like to see a cooperative game that does not rely on (or even encourage) endless negotiation with other players on what you should do on your own turn. It should not be allowed to reveal your own hidden info, or to suggest what another player should do.

Thematically that might require the players' characters to be in separate "locations", to justify the lack of communication. Messaging another player to request specific action might be a game mechanism, though. (Cell phone call, telegram, or a "scribbled note" left behind to be found later.)

I think this all goes contrary to the kind of gameplay that coop games are meant to promote, though: lots of discussion and verbal interaction among the players. Trouble is, I mostly don't like this kind of play! I hate having to argue with other players over what I should do.