Co-operative games have become very popular over the last decade. Prior to this there were just a handful of co-operative games, most traditional games were competitive and dependent on the roll of a dice. This strong element of chance, coupled with the inevitable feeling of “unfairness” where there would be only one victor, is probably exemplified in Monopoly. Thankfully there has been a sea-change in game design in our generation and we are almost spoilt for choice as we enjoy the benefits of a co-op game bonanza.
Most co-operative games have you (and your fellow gamers) competing against the game itself. There may be secondary plots and personal goals but the overall premise is that victory is gained for all (or by the team) by working together. It is well established that working on a common goal is more likely bring success if every member can bring their ideas or skills to the table. Two heads can be better than one. This sense of camaraderie and shared fun is what co-op gaming is all about. Sharing the sense of satisfaction when a goal is completed will enhance the enjoyment of any game. But good team working requires good communication. In most co-op games there is a healthy free-flow of ideas and conversation around the table. Depending on game structure each player will have different abilities or roles so this can mitigate from one player dominating the play and discussion.
For novice gamers it can sometimes feel quite daunting to be thrown into a new competitive game where success might depend on learnt strategy and experience. With co-operative games there is the need to work alongside each other and to support the newbies. This is more likely to enhance their gaming experience. Finally, when the game is being packed away this gives chance to reflect on successes (and failures) and to talk through the highs and lows of the campaigns and even consider what might be performed better next time.
In this the first of two features we asked the Zatu team bloggers to express their opinion and to try to answer a simple question. What do you consider your best co-operative game?
Chronicles of Crime according to Kirsty Markham
Chronicles of Crime is an app-based cooperative game in which you, and up to three friends, are trying to solve crimes. There is a tutorial and five full scenarios which come with the base game. Expansions are available too! I enjoy the varied nature of these scenarios. In one you may be hunting a murderer, in another you may be seeking to recover stolen jewels.
The app-based aspect of the game works really smoothly. All you need to do is scan the QR code on each of the cards with your phone to interact with it. You can even look around the crime scene to gain vital clues. The app recognises that there may be several players, giving you multiple opportunities to review the scene for clues. I really like the way the game works. Through the technological aspect of the game, you can have an awful lot of game with very few moving components. The character cards can, and do, show up as different people in different scenarios. The clue cards, which are simply words on cards, encompass a wide range of objects which enable them to be adaptable across the scenarios. The scenarios themselves are very immersive and enjoyable. Points at the end are not just awarded for solving the crime, but also for working out the motive and the method leading to lots of thoughts and discussion.
Overall a great co-op game. We have recently brought the Noir expansion and I cannot wait to give it a go!
Forbidden Desert according to Callum J Price
In my opinion, the best cooperative game is Forbidden Desert. We're massive fans of cooperative games, it's often our go to. Cooperative often has you in conflict with the game, and, in this case, it's the clock counting down until you all dehydrate and perish! Forbidden Desert requires you to work as a team to locate parts of an ancient device, capable of allowing you to escape the treacherous desert and unbearable heat! The game is played on tiles which players flip using actions. Two tiles produce coordinates for a specific part of the ship, which need taking to a hull to build. Also, players have variable powers and are all handy to have. The issue here is that players only get so many actions per turn, and that there is a huge sand storm blasting its way across this desolate wasteland.
Whenever a player ends their turn, the storm moves. This causes sand to pile up and bury potentially valuable tiles and characters alive! Forbidden Desert's storm is a cruel beast, as it gets worse as the game goes on! It's a tricky game to master and one you won't win often. The randomness of the cards determining the storm's movements, coupled with the mystery of the parts' locations, make this a difficult game indeed! Luckily, the game's difficulty can be adjusted. This game forces you to really coordinate and take a group tactical approach to divide and conquer. We've found this to be a perfect choice for younger players, too, as the usefulness of each character makes everyone valuable. It’s a great quality game!
Pandemic: In the Lab according to Nathan Coombs
The original Pandemic game took the gaming world by storm in 2013, and it still remains very popular. It might be considered an entry type game, one that encourages new gamers to dip their toe into the deeper waters of more challenging genres and titles.
Most will be familiar with Pandemic where gamers work together, taking on different roles to save humanity from a number of deadly diseases sweeping across the globe. Using a combination of card drafting, hand management and movement, the diseases need to be contained and cured -hopefully without too many outbreaks and within the time constraints of the game.
In the Lab takes things a step further by adding a level of complexity and interaction. It contains an additional laboratory board as part of the vaccine development phase of saving the world. Extra time and actions are required and rather than just removing disease cubes (as in the standard game). These cubes need to be used directly to generate a vaccine. Everyone can be involved in both disease eradication as well as cure development. There is still the opportunity to tweak the difficulty of the game according to experience. This expansion also adds the dilemma of a team mode where one needs to co-operate (to beat the game and save the population) but not too much in case the other team fulfil their goals first.
The outcome of Pandemic: In the Lab game is far from certain at the start. When you do succeed it is usually by the finest of margins. When you fail then this often leads to a heated discussion about how a different approach might have saved the day. Co-operative games are all about player interaction and that is what Pandemic: In the Lap provides.
Flashpoint: Fire Rescue according to Neil Bunker
Flash Point: Fire Rescue gets Neil’s vote for being the go-to co-op game. But why? It’s fiddly, derivative, wildly random and mechanically clunky. Why would a game like this be on a list of recommendations? The answer is; theme.
Players are a fire crew called to a house fire. You need to rescue the residents before the house collapses. That’s an engaging challenge but it is between player turns that Flash Point comes alive. In that down time rooms fill with smoke, flash fires rage, and explosions rock the single storey suburban dwelling. That would be the chemicals left in the kids’ bedroom.
Yes, the theme does raise questions. Why are so many people in this house? What were they doing with all those chemicals?
It also presents some unique decisions. Shall we save the pets or the people? Would it be more fun smash through the wall or use the door?
In the years since its 2011 release, the Flash Point series has proved hugely popular. A wealth of official expansions sees fires break out in laboratories, garages, submarines, aeroplanes, and tall buildings. Each one more challenging and quirkier than the last – chemical spills, collapsing floors, a rescue dog! Unofficial, fan made expansions, take the action to beach houses, libraries, and even Oktoberfest
Flash Point is the board game equivalent of a cult B movie. A guilty pleasure that doesn’t try to hide its flaws and is loved all the more because of them.
Escape: Curse of the temple according to Thom Newton
Most co-operative games I’ve played have felt like the players are strategically working together to solve some big serious problem that is too big and too serious for any one player to solve alone. Escape: Curse of the temple is not that. Escape is a madcap scramble against the clock to run into a temple, lift an ancient curse and get back out before the temple collapses and closes up again, for good!
Players all start together on the temple entrance tile with a face down stack of possible chambers in front of them. The timer starts and the dice start to roll - all of them, as fast they can be rolled. This game is real time and simultaneous. Players will dart off in all different directions and will get into all kinds of mishaps and traps. Some puzzles will need the dice of more than one adventurer to work together to solve, some traps will leave you waiting for another player to come and fish you back out.
And that is where the co-operation is needed. If everybody gets too engrossed in their own little “Indiana Jones” adventure, the chances are you will all end up triggering something bad and getting stuck in a trap. To become a crack team of treasure hunters you need always to be aware of where your fellow adventurers are, just in case they need you to help them solve a fiendish puzzle, or perhaps pull them out of a pit just before the spiked walls close.
Pandemic: The Cure according to Will Moffat
I didn’t know cooperative games even existed until late 2015 when I heard about a game called Pandemic where all players work as a team to stop infectious diseases spreading around the world – it was all very novel to me and I had to get a copy to find out what it actually felt like to work together against the game itself – it felt great! From there I have littered my board game collection with a good share of cooperative games, including numerous other iterations of the Pandemic franchise such as Pandemic Iberia, Reign of Cthulhu, Rapid Response and the newest release, Hot Zone North America.
My most-played cooperative game of all-time is also my favourite of all my cooperative games, and that is Pandemic: The Cure. This is a dice-based version of Pandemic – it has the exact same theme and feel, it’s just the board is an abstract collection of circular tiles and the diseases are coloured dice drawn from a bag, rather than translucent cubes that are determined by a card draw.
Some cooperative games suffer from an “alpha-gamer” who knows (or thinks they know) what to do and tells others what to do on their turn, effectively playing the game solo and quashing the enjoyment of the others at the table – what Pandemic: The Cure does to combat that is it gives each player their own set of custom dice that they can roll and re-roll to determine their actions – this makes each player feel more invested in their character and the action of rolling these dice yourself helps to ward-off those Alphas!