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Co-op-ing your way through lockdown


If someone said to me on Jan 1st 2020 that for a few months this year schools would close, pubs, restaurants, clubs, theatres and bars would all be closed and I’d not be allowed within two metres of anyone bar my partner I wouldn’t have believed them. If they then said that for the most part, everyone in the UK would abide by this for months on end, then I really would have known they were off their rocker.

And yet, here we are. This is not how we are accustomed to living, and it is like living through an endless game of ​Pandemic!​ (which I point blank refuse to even entertain playing until the world is the right way up again) and that is taking a toll on everyone’s mental health. Over the last few months I have turned to boardgames in a BIG way to get me through. They are distracting me, they take up time in an enjoyable and active way rather than scrolling through social media or watching TV, and most importantly there is so much choice of different games that researching the next buy also can take up a lot of time too.

My Journey to Gaming

I have always loved playing board games, I love strategic thinking and being one step ahead of the game. I’m always there for the ride not the win, so you’d think that co-op games would really be my jam. But if I’m honest I never really tried them, I grew up with gin rummy and mancala. Quick, easy to learn, easy to teach and endlessly replayable because that is what my mum liked. Dad desperately wanted me to use my maths brain to be a chess master, but I was happy to play rummy on the daily with anyone with ten mins to spare.

Breaking my Co-op Virginity

When lockdown hit, I first went to TV, just like most of the planet, then as the weather got better we started playing some games, bit of​ Hive!,​ some​ mancala​, some ​Yahtzee​, trouble was there wasn’t enough depth to them to mean I could completely escape from what was going around me. So we ordered a few more games from Zatu, ​King of Tokyo Dark Edition​, ​Everdell​, Takenoko​, and a ​mystery box​. In that mystery box were three game changers for us; a ​dice tray that meant we aren’t constantly fishing about for die on the floor and that irritating noise is gone, 7 Wonders Duel​ which was so so so good, and finally ​Sub Terra​, my first co-op game.

Sub Terra was everything I didn’t realise I needed to feel better whilst the world turned upside down around me. In case anyone hasn’t played ​Sub Terra​, it is a co-operative tile laying, action selection game where your characters are exploring a cave, but you aren’t alone down there. Everything that can kill you tries to, there are floods, cave-ins, gas attacks, horrors chasing you, it has it all. It was immersive, fun and stressful. But unlike in the situation in the real world, it was a situation that we were in control of. And that control of the outcome is exactly what I needed.

The Co-op Floodgates Open

Once I had realized that this was a game style that suited me well during the current times, I went hard into trying new co-op games, all of varying weight and play length so I had an option for most occasions. ​Codenames Duet​ was a great easy one that could be played by the two of
us in real life, but also worked well over video call too. We also branched out into ​Codenames Pictures​. I like the abstract nature of these, although I think my partner found codenames tough in general, and even harder with pictures. Turns out his brain does not do well with clue giving, so we have only won the co-op version a handful of times. Although I think that is a good thing in these current times, you don’t want to easily win every time.

In my mind, quite similar to Codenames Pictures was ​Mysterium​, where one person is a ghost who gives out clues as to who bumped them off, Cluedo style there is a culprit, location and weapon. These clues are abstract pictures full of weird and wonderful thing, sometimes the clues are good, sometimes they steer you totally wrong, and if you play it correctly (we didn’t) you only have a minute to think, but it’s all good fun.

Now for the most part, the games have been quite relaxing, however, the next one we tried was anything but, ​Magic Maze​ is weird as you can’t communicate except by passively aggressively banging a big red pawn in front of someone and you all control all of the pawns. Each person has only a select few actions (the number depends on the number of players), but for example, I could move up escalators, move North and East, my partner could move South and West, and you need to reveal the maze, find the treasure and escape in time. It is chaotic madness, but loads of fun.

The last type of co-op that I have tried recently was co-op deckbuilding. Totally new mechanic to me, always a bit scary looking if I’m honest, but our friends rave about ​Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle​ all the time, although I did think this was likely only because they were absolutely obsessed with Harry Potter. So we thought we would give it a go, and I was surprised that I really enjoyed it. It is a standard deckbuilder really, there is a board and a few tokens, but it teaches you how to play by starting off easy with the first game and then building steadily in difficulty and game length. So that has opened doors to a whole new genre of games I really thought were for the “serious gamers” rather than myself.

How Co-op Helped my Mental Health

Co-operative gaming means you are all working together often as different characters with different skill sets and abilities to defeat the game, for the most part there needs to be discussion, strategic thinking and pulling together. And well I’m a convert, especially in the current situation.

If you are feeling a bit down and out of sorts then try a co-op either virtually (​Mysterium​ or Codenames​) or in real life (Magic Maze or Sub Terra) and give yourself a few hours of escapism puzzling through a situation you can control.