Game Mechanics Part 2

On May 12th I had the pleasure of joining a great conversation about cooperative games run by
@boardgamehour on twitter.  It got me thinking about how many co-op games I've played recently and just how much I enjoy them.



First, let's see what can fall in to the co-op category.  There are true co-op games where everyone plays together to beat the game, like Castle Panic, Pandemic, and Forbidden Island / Desert.  Then there are "traitor" games where everyone works together until someone turns on the others, like Battle Star Galactica and Betrayal at House on the Hill.  Finally there are team games like The Resistance, MTG Two-Headed Giant, or 1812: The Invasion of Canada. Today I will focus on the true co-op games, because I think the Traitor mechanic deserves a post of its own. 
We'll talk about this some other time.
Co-ops can be great fun. With everyone working together they can be a great way to introduce new gamers to the fun of table top gaming.  Without the pressure to win, or the awkwardness of trying to help the new player without harming your own chances of winning, the new player and the teacher can often have a more fun and relaxed game.
While board games are a social activity already, co-op play tends to emphasise that even more.  When the whole group has to make decisions together, there tends to be more discussion and more interaction than when you're all just out to be #1.
This happens a lot in games like Castle Panic where everyone is equal and the cards and options available are visible to everyone. Similarly in Forbidden Desert / Forbidden Island there is a lot of interaction as you have to coordinate each character's special ability to help the team win. 


Don't be this guy.
Where this becomes a drawback is if your group has an "Alpha Player".  This is a person who takes control of the game and directs everyone else in what they should do. Alpha's can ruin the fun for everyone else, if the other players feel like they are just pawns and have no contribution to the win (or loss).  As one of the more experienced players in some of the groups I play in I am always wary that I can fall in to that Alpha roll, and have to make a conscious effort not to.
 
There are some games that remove the Alpha problem by assigning different tasks or roles to each player, so that one person can't dictate move to the other.  A good example of this is Space Cadets, where everyone has to perform a different task simultaneously, with a real time limit.  They then compare their successes and failures to help further the team towards victory (or defeat).
  
Losing turned out OK for these guys.
 
You may notice I keep mentioning losing... That's because most co-op games are intentionally designed to be quite difficult. If a co-op game can be won every time, a lot of the challenge disappears and it will be abandoned quite quickly.  Based on a completely unscientific survey, most people want co-op games that they only win about 30% of the time.  This keeps the challenge up in the game, and allows for multiple replays before the game gets boring. Publishers know this, and that is why expansions for co-ops tend to be even harder than the original, like the Wizard's Tower add on for Castle Panic.

Favourite co-op game?  Some pro's or con's you think I should have mentioned?  Let me know in the comments.

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