Board games are currently in a time of renaissance. People around the world are realizing the best way to get people to talk, to challenge and to have fun together is around a board game. Cooperative games allow everyone to work together to beat the game. Does this take out the competitive element? Does working together make things easy or challenging?
"Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off." - Franklin D. Roosevelt
Pandemic was published in 2007 and since then has been the most popular and well known cooperative board game. This game turns players into a group of international doctors trying to cure the spread of diseases around the world. The game board is a map of the world. The theme turns people into saviors of the world, a last stand against total destruction. This brings people together to work on a common goal.
This game has given me such incredible moments of team work and decision making. I can still remember when our team decided to abandon an epidemic in South America and head off to Asia to cure the last disease. We won the game but I still remember how we caused thousands to die to do it. Fantastic thematic game for anyone who wants to travel the world.
Some games can use this mechanic to tell a story. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective has players act as London detectives in an Arthur Conan Doyle novel. Players are lead through a series of 10 cases to investigate murders and other criminal activities. Players quickly take on the role of detectives as they piece together clues to find suspects. T.I.M.E. Stories has players prevent temporal faults and paradoxes by travelling through time. These games use scripted formats to ensure there is little randomness in a game and each play gives quality enjoyment. This is akin to reading an interactive book.
Difficulty can be hard to balance as some groups work better than others. Forbidden Island has a group of explorers find treasure on a sinking island. Each player is given a specific role and using every player correctly can be problematic. The components here are beautifully made allowing people to easily immerse themselves in game play. Ghost Stories is a cooperative game where Taoist monks must defend a village from a legion of ghosts. This is challenging where victory is rare but when it happens players feel like they truly worked together. I would definitely recommend this for people who work really well together.
As cooperative games have become more popular elements have come into other games. Dead of Winter has players work together to fend off waves of zombies. However each player is also given a hidden objective which may go against the group. This dynamic brings people together but makes them wary of other players. Although this not a cooperative game, this element adds a lot to the game.
Hanabi has boiled cooperation down to its simplest. This is easily my favourite cooperative game. Players are given a hand of cards to create a beautiful fireworks display. The trick here is they cannot see their own cards and must rely on team mates to tell them what their cards are. Can you understand subtle hints by other players? Do you trust your instinct or depend on logic? A fantastic game where you spend most of your time working together to help others understand their hand of cards.
Being part of a team can be a struggle. The games above face this issue by restricting players to certain decisions. This forces players to work together as a team to complete the objective. The best games try to block a single person from completely controlling everything and instead encourages everyone to play their part. Try adding cooperation to a game you play to see if it adds value, e.g., Chess, Trivial Pursuit, Risk, Splendor, Munchkin