28 February 2015

Co-operative Board Games

A couple of years ago, someone published an article over at cracked.com entitled '6 Board Games That Ruined It For Everyone.' The article describes six of the most well-known board games that suck (I don't necessarily agree with the author that they all suck; I still have a soft spot for Risk, although I will agree that that's better played as a solitaire game on the computer for the same reasons that the author lists for why it sucks). For each, it offers an alternative that does what the listed game tries to do, only better.

Three of the alternatives, I hadn't heard of. The other three are excellent choices. Even the three that are new to me sound like excellent choices. But there's something I think they should have mentioned in this article: co-operative board games.

In most board games, there's a single winner and the rest of the players lose. Some board games use teams, like Pictionary or The Resistance. But in co-operative board games, all the players win or lose together.

There were a few early attempts at co-operative board games, like Scotland Yard, in which one player is Mr X and the rest of the players are on a team trying to defeat him. Even in Betrayal at House on the Hill, it starts out with all players on the same team, but eventually, one person becomes the traitor and it's that-player-against-everyone-else for the rest of the game.

But truly co-operative board games have everybody on the same team for the entire game. To my knowledge, the first game of this type was Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings, released in 2000. The game has players taking on the roles of hobbits in Middle Earth, travelling to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. The random mechanics of the game (dice rolls, drawing cards, and drawing event tiles) present the players with obstacles which they must overcome in order to continue on their quest.

But other co-operative board games have been published since then. Perhaps the most well-known is Pandemic, in which players are medical specialists trying to combat a series of epidemic diseases. They win if they eradicate the diseases before one of several game-losing situations occurs.

I've heard of Forbidden Island (and its spin-off, Forbidden Desert), in which players are trying to find treasures and return to their helicopter before the island sinks into the oceans (or, in Forbidden Desert, to find the pieces of their crashed helicopter and reassemble it so they can escape the desert before they die of dehydration). There's also Ghost Stories, in which players are trying to protect villagers from evil spirits and eventually defeat a 'boss monster' spirit before everyone dies or the boss monster achieves its goals.

A twist on this is co-operative card games, such as Hanabi. In this game, players are expert but lazy fireworks craftsmen, trying to display their prowess by orchestrating an excellent fireworks display despite being drunk and a little careless. The cards represent the numbers 1 through 5 in five different colours, and players must work together to build progressive stacks of the numbers (playing the 1 first, then the 2 on top of that, and so forth) in each colour. The catch is that you can't see the cards you are holding; they're facing away from you so that the other players know what you have, but you don't. On your turn, you can play one of your cards and hope that it will continue one of the stacks; three failed attempts to play a card ends the game. Alternately, you can take one of the clock tokens to give one of the other players a hint as to what cards he holds. There are specific rules about what hints can be given and how, and if you run out of clock tokens, you can't give anyone a hint. You can get a token back by discarding one of your cards, however.

I've even seen a homemade co-operative card game. One of the members of the Tabletop Gaming Club that I've joined has created a game called Boom, in which players are members of the bomb squad attempting to defuse the bomb in a briefcase. The cards are numbered one through nine, and one of those cards is placed in a briefcase. You have to guess which number is in the briefcase, and you can get hints as to which number that is by drawing a card from the stack of numbers that are not in the briefcase (so if you pull a 5, you know that the card in the briefcase is not 5). You have to be careful about how far you're willing to push your luck, though, because in addition to the unused numbers, there's an explosion card in that stack as well. The game ends in victory if a player names a number, opens the briefcase, and finds that number in the case. The game ends in defeat if the named number is not the one in the briefcase, or if the explosion card is drawn.

These are just a couple of the games out there that use co-operative play instead of competitive. But I personally think that such games are a lot of fun. I highly recommend that you try them out! But until next week,

Game on!

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