You don't play a co-op game


As a reaction to the 'co-op' episode, here is a question I would like to ask all Spiel'ers:

Do you really play a co-op game or does the game plays you?

Let's take one of the 'older' games: Lord of the Rings. It really feels like you have a ton of options: three different tracks to pursuit, cards that can be bought, special abilities,... The game has it all but if you don't rush down the main track and get lucky with the tile draw, you won't make it.

Second example: Pandemic. Again tons of option but uh oh, three black cards in a row and a peacefull and healthy region turns into a plague-infested hell and you lose.

There are some more tactics if there can be a traitor but when looking at another current hit, Battlestar Galactica, it can either be too easy (if the cylons are not bringing in ships) or too heavy (if the cylons are bringing in ships three times in a row).

The game acts as a player but does not follow any strategy. It just spews random bad events at you. You can of course get ready and get yourself in some good defensive positions but since the game is totally random, good game play is not rewarded and sometimes even not possible. It feels like when the game is set and the cards are shuffled, the outcome is already known.

Let's also take a view at Ghost stories. So far this is the only co-op game I really like. And when thinking about it, this is the only co-op game I know where the game actually follows some kind of strategy. The players can choose where to place ghosts (be it within the limits of the rules) or discard them right away if buddha's are in play. This choice, although limited, is of great importance in the game mechanic and in winning the game. If played in the wrong places, the game is brutally harsh but is doable when placed correctly.

What's your idea on this? 


Most of the people I game with seem to be far more random than any of the co-op games listed :-)

Seriously, though, you raise some interesting and valid points.

In many case I enjoy dealing with these random bad events that are flung at me - that's part of the challenge and, actually, that's what makes it a fun and "bonding" experience for the players. Sure, the game is playing you - but can you break out of that and take control of the chaos ?

Having said that, I suspect that these type of co-ops can also wear thin, pretty quickly. Actually I rarely play LotR anymore - but that may be because there are so many better ones out there now. The games are evolvling (or the branch on the great game tree is strengthening).

Perhaps Ghost Stories is the first iteration of the co-op game with some form of AI - where initially random bad event coallesce (sp?) and start to take a logical progression that has to be expertly dealt with by the team. I can't really comment because I have not played it yet.

What is clear is that many co-op games are in their infancy. Where they go next is something which I watch with keen interest. 

But, yes, they are not for everyone.  

In a game with human opponents, the unpredictable element is generated by the actions of the other players.

In a co-op game, the game itself generates that unpredictability.

Does this change the experience of play? I would say yes. But it doesn't mean the game is playing me.

Strategy of the moment is the phrase I like to use when describing the process of playing a co-op game. You constantly have to reevaluate your position in the game and try to make the best decision you can with the information at hand. The very nature of these games means this information will be incomplete. Frustrating? Perhaps for some.  But the framework of an us-against-the-world co-op game falls apart without this structure.

Sometimes the deck may, literally, be stacked against you, true. My fun comes from the crisis management aspect of the game. Trying to take a bad situation and do the best we can to weasel out of it, even if the die is cast and our ultimate fate is sealed.

Co-ops emphasize the process of play, not just winning. I derive great joy from the narrative aspect of these games. I often remember a game session with a valiant attempt to save the village from ghosts or the world from disease even if it ultimately ended in failure. And the prospect of probable defeat makes each victory all the more sweet.

I've heard a variation on the question asked in regard to tragedies in literature. If we already know the outcome of the story, why do we read or watch the play or film? It's the journey, not the destination that matters much more so than knowing the eventual outcome. This might be pushing it a bit too far, but I think the underlying point is solid.

Something in human nature does seem to like commiserating with one another. I don't remember when the last time was that I heard a rumor at work about something good coming down!

Shadows over Camelot is the only true co-op that I have experience with, but we seem to get more of a kick out of losing sometimes than we do winning. People who were suspected traitors when they were in fact loyals with bad cards often get the biggest laughs when reliving the game.

I can imagine a similar shock and awe communal reaction after losing to a streak of punishing cards in one of the games discussed in the co-op episode.

It is indeed through that the journey is more important than the destination. But let me state two recent journeys:

- Battestar Galactica: after the first jump we spend two full rounds without any cylon attack. the occasional skill check was the only fun part for two hours. With both cylons revealed themselves prior to the last jump (we were still in good shape at that point), the game collapse and two rounds later we went from 'pretty good shape' to 'game over'. Quite lame after more than three hours of gameplay.

- Pandemic: 'Game over' after three rounds.  Nothing to do about it. That was fun. Thank God it didn't take too long.

Those are of course examples and everybody can post opposite stories that are equally true and show the other side of the game. The point I want to make is that if I want to sit down for a 3+ hour game, I want to have some sort of certainty that it will be fun.

So let's rephrase my initial statement. Co-op games tend to take some time to play (LotR, BSG, SoC) and due to their random element and how the mechanism works, do not always provide the expected gameplay. The shorter co-op games suffer from the same problem, but it's easier to play 'just one more game'.

Perhaps I should give Pandemic one last try...

I think you just have to go into these games with the proper mind set.  It is true that the deck in Pandemic may be stacked so that you're just not going to win.  You don't know that, though, and the fun is simply doing the best you can.

For me part of the fun is the big swings that can happen.  You think you have everything under control in Pandemic, then that epidemic hits and the top location cards completely screw you over, leaving you scrambling.  I love that; it gets everyone right back in the game.  Or in Battlestar Galactica when you end up with several Cylon ships spawn in and you try to spin up the drives as quickly as possible and take that -3 population loss just to hope you'll live long enough.

Regarding the games playing themselves, I'm not sure I fully agree with that.  A game playing itself implies that the players have no choices to make; you may have the illusion of choice but there's really only one real (or logical) choice to make next.  I'm not sure that's true in something like Pandemic or Battlestar Galactica.  As you have no idea what is coming up next I don't think there's any guaranteed best move.  You can only make decisions based on the knowledge available to you and hope it works out.

I agree that the process of playing a cooperative game is the real fun.  In order to have any replay value they need to be extremely hard so I honestly expect to lose... it makes winning that much more sweet :)  I can fully understand why someone might not enjoy these styles of games but I find they tend to result in lots of memorable moments and great player interaction.

My friendly neighborhood game store just hosted a Pandemic tournament in which each team received identical roles and identically stacked decks of cards.  At the highest difficulty level, all but one team got quickly smacked down. That skillful team though, playing with the exact same "shuffle",  persevered and actually managed to win against six epidemics. If the game had been playing the players rather than the other way round, wouldn't each team have ended up with an identical result?

I am not sure what is cooler - the results, or the idea of a co-op tournament. Not something I would have thought of.

Great info on the tournament. This weekend I played another game of 'Ghost Stories'. Me, with three newbies. And again I was pleasantly surprised by the myriad of choices this game offers.

Perhaps we should give Pandemic and Battlestar Galactica another go with experienced players. Anybody in for a game?

Side remark: there is a free new Wu Feng at the Repos-site: Chuck No-Rice. Great über ghost.

Are we playing in the padded cell? If so, come on over!

Chuck No-Rice is hilarious! Here's a direct link to the Repos pdf with the card & rules.

I've also heard-tell of an expansion called White Moon due out this Fall. No details beyond that...