Co-op Board Games - Let's Talk


Let's talk about cooperative board games!

Some topics we can discuss:

  • Do you like co-ops? Why or why not?
  • Whether you like it or not, co-ops are popular and ever present (just take a look at the top 100 games ranked on BGA and BGG). What do you think is the appeal of this genre?
  • Which co-ops do you consider to be "top-tier"? What sets them apart from others? If you don't have a favorite, what do you consider to be the elements of a top co-op game?
  • What was the most memorable moment you've had playing a co-op?

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12 months ago

Some of my absolute worst, worst gaming experiences have been with co-op games. 

But more often then not, they just feel mechanical. Especially if you are playing against a deck of cards. I'm pretty sure in Pandemic, the difference in playing perfectly and poorly is just a 60% chance of winning vs a 30% chance of winning. It's hard to motivate myself to care.

That said, some party games play fine as co-op. Just One is great. I almost never use Team mode in Wavelength. I also enjoy co-op in smaller games that don't overstay their welcome. We really enjoy The Game

Supporter12 months ago

I agree with this.

Premium User12 months ago


Premium User12 months ago

I find I like dungeon crawl type co-ops and dislike most other co-ops. 

The main reasons I don't like a lot of co-ops:

  • Quarterbacking (as others put it) I've been in games where I could either argue with the quarterback and maybe win, or not argue and watch them drive us into the ground. I don't like to have to out-logic people and control the whole game. I also don't enjoy watching someone else do it.
  • Deterministic play. Many co-ops (especially card driven) have the outcome determined by how the game is set up. There is a percentage of the time, that no matter what you do, you will lose. Then there is a percentage, that you don't have to play well at all, to win, Then there is a sliver in the middle (percentage varying on the game) where you might be able to change the outcome on actual decisions you make. 
  • Lack of threat or tension: Many games are just not that interesting playing against a stack of paper.

I find that games like Descent, Star Wars, Stuffed Fables, and Too Many Bones, typically don't suffer from the issues above. Especially one versus many games. BattleStar Galactica is another very interesting co-op that is about the best at the hidden role mechanic (though, it is really long, so that limits how often it can get to the table.) Then there are silly games like The Mind that are co-op, but fill a different space of the genre.

12 months ago

Dungeon crawls usually have a very subtle mechanic - give people a reason to be selfish. Everyone is on the same team, but you want the cool loot. It's just enough motivation to give people agency and remove quarterbacking.

 Gloomhaven does this the best with how picking up coins works. 

Premium User12 months ago

I haven't played Gloomhaven yet. Looking forward to it.

Owner12 months ago

"Playing against a stack of paper" lol 

Partner12 months ago

Co-ops are great, but they are a fascinating social experiment. I've found Americans struggle with them more than people from more collective focused cultures too. The key idea to me is that the goal of the game is to cooperate, to use collective actions and decision making, not necessarily to win. 

If you win, and thats because one person gamed the game and told everyone what to do. That isn't fun for anyone other than the solo gamer who hasn't realized they should be solo gaming.  

Quarterbacking is never a fault in the game design. It is a fault in the people playing it. And i'll fight anyone on that point. 

11 months ago

"Quarterbacking is never a fault in the game design. It is a fault in the people playing it. And i'll fight anyone on that point."

Not true. If the game punishes someone for trying to win that's bad. You can have fun cooperating with many activities. While someone might enjoy the cooperation of not quarterbacking a bad game, they won't enjoy the game itself.

Partner11 months ago

The game doesn't punish people. The social dynamic does. If people feel the need to bully and tell others what to do to "win", that's on them.

I find it staggering how many people blame the inanimate object in the room for behavioral things. 

11 months ago

Let's make sure we are taking about the same thing. Quarterbacking is when one player tells everyone else what to do. If the best chance of winning lies in an experienced player telling all the other players what to do, then either the experienced player must not play their best (which is never fun) or they do play their best and they don't have fun because it feels like they aren't cooperating. Either way the game system has set them up to not have fun. You are focusing on the not fun of the other players when someone quarterbacks (even though it's probably not fun for that player either), but the alternative still results is someone not having fun. (Playing sub-optimally).

Owner12 months ago

I'm not sure where I stand on this honestly. There's always the option for people who struggle with this to work on respecting other people at the table. At the same time, it's still a co-op game and needs people to voice their opinions. I guess at the extreme, you'd either have all players trying to accomplish something on their own without zero cooperation, or one person making all of the decisions. And I feel like the middle ground is quite challenging to achieve while making it fun for everyone, and I think that can be better handled with design.

A parallel I'd draw from is kingmaking, which is much easier to point to as a fault in design. And just like how having too clear of a win condition and being able to track each other's progress can introduce kingmaking, I think quarterbacking can happen when there's too much public info at the table.

Partner12 months ago

"There's always the option for people who struggle with this to work on respecting other people at the table"

No, that's the extent of it. If people can't respect other people while playing, they shouldn't play co-ops. The issue is people who are not good at cooperating still want to play games that require it, when they should really just be playing competitive games or solo. 

Co-ops are about cooperation first, winning second. What alpha dominated co-ops show is a flaw in a social group, not a flaw in the game itself. My group can play any co-op and not have an alpha issue, because we let people play their turns, offer them advice when they ask, and are not hung up on winning or losing.  

Partner12 months ago

I'd also say kingmaking is absolutely a social issue as well. It's very hard to make a game that can't be bent and broken by someone willful. Same with hate drafting, ganging up on the same person in area control games, table flipping, cheating, sulking, depth charging and the myriad of other social problems in gaming. 

They aren't the games fault.  

Owner12 months ago

Interesting, so for a simple example, I'd consider #Santorini to be vulnerable to kingmaking when played at 3p count. And while I agree that some people will take this better and some people will not (which is an issue of its own), I'd say that it's not the optimal player count if you want to avoid a game where you can choose which player could win. I'd personally still play at 3p if needed because I enjoy it and I'll have fun regardless of the results, but I think it'd be fair for someone to not want to play because it's a regular occurrence.

Premium User12 months ago

Quarterbacking is a problem with a game. It stems from the fact some games offer an obvious strongest move for the team and the player. Then everyone who doesn't play the obviously strongest play for everyone is tanking the game for everyone (if the game is difficult enough, of course, but why would you play a game where playing well doesn't matter).

It can be solved in the game, too. Decoupling best team plays from best player plays (ie. what's best for the team is not necessarily best for me) or offering hidden information (the best move is not necessarily known to anyone except the person whose turn it is) both solve the problem. And yes, so does players self-moderating and not offering advice but why play a coop game if you're not going to coordinate your efforts? The whole point of playing coops to me is each player offering a unique view of the situation at the table and their idea of how they'd approach it. Playing coops in silence completely misses the point, IMO. A well-designed coop should make it impossible to quarterback. 

Partner12 months ago

See, this is still a social problem. Quarterbacking only happens when you are focused on winning, not on cooperating. That's a social issue, not a game design issue. I refuse to let people blame a game for their inability to play well with others. 

Premium User12 months ago

I can't agree with that. The goal in coop games is to win, not to cooperate, cooperating is only an ends to that goal. Otherwise we might just be building lego castles since it's just as much cooperation with none of the game limitations.

It's not a social issue to want to win but if cooperating gets in the way of winning then it's a game problem, not a social problem. A well designed coop game will put cooperation and the drive to win in support of each other rather than in opposition. 

Partner12 months ago

It really is a social issue. If people put winning above cooperation, they'll keep getting frustrated at co-ops and their friends. If their need to win causes social friction, that's on them. It is easier to blame the inanimate object that to look critically at ones own social interactions, i get that this is confronting. But after decades of playing co-ops this is my insight. 

People who can't play well with others without strict game rules that enforce it probably should try playing with lego castles for a while to build up their social skills. Or consider a different game that caters to them instead of an open co-op. 

As a random aside, are you American? Because I've found this idea very confronting to other Americans I've discussed it in with in the past as its quite contradictory to societal norms there. A lot less so where i am, so my cultural differences come through in my POV. 

Premium User12 months ago

It really isn't a social issue. If you put cooperation and playing to win as antagonistic goals in your game, it's bad game design in a game that's meant to be played cooperatively. I've seen people who are very competitive quarterbacking heavily in some coops while taking a step back in others. And some of them were very sociable and friendly people so their lack of social skills wasn't a factor. If design can change their behavior then it's not coops they're frustrated at, it's bad design. My decades (well, 2 since Lord of the Rings by Knizia was my first) of co-op board gaming are in stark contrast with yours. 

And no, I'm not American. I've seen similar results in continental Europe, the UK and USA, although the biggest change from quarterbacking to hands off approach I've ever seen was in an American. But it goes beyond cultural differences and deep into good board game design. There are co-op board games like Robinson Crusoe where I've never seen quarterbacking and others, like Pandemic, where there was always at least one quarterbacking player, frequently more. 

Partner12 months ago

Pandemic vs RC though. What's the actual game difference. Both have perfect information, both have characters with specialist skills and limited actions. Why do you think one works for you and one doesn't? 

I'm really struggling to see what mechanically solves one over the other. 

Premium User12 months ago

It decouples the best team play from the best player play. Because each player has individual health which they risk every time they perform each action, an action that's the best for the team and puts you at risk is not necessarily the best player action, which is to play it safely.

Mechanically the difference is small, since you still win or lose together. But psychologically it makes a huge difference because you are responsible for the well-being of your character. Naturally everyone is slightly more protective of their own character than everyone else's. And quarterbackers step take a step back because they can't tell you to sacrifice your character. Personal stakes in the outcomes of individual actions make a huge difference.

Partner12 months ago

All i can think after reading this is you blamed mechanics for bad social dynamics, but then praised mechanics for good ones. 

The likelihood is that its the people, not the game that changed the social dynamic. 

Premium User11 months ago

That would be true if it was different people. Same people playing the two co-op games mentioned are very quarterbacking in one and very hands off in the other. You can call it changing social dynamics if you want, I call it game design which promotes cooperation and think it's a design flaw when a cooperative game doesn't do it. 

11 months ago

I think there may be a little of both at play here.  Social and Design flaws.  But I totally agree that the design of a game can promote or discourage quarterbacking.  For instance while playing The Crew, a cooperative trick taking game, or the Mind, a cooperative card game, there is never quarterbacking.  This is due to the design of the game.  You don't have all the information and you have to play off each other, while working cooperatively to win the game.  While games like Pandemic, where all information is available to everyone, inevitably leads to a quarterback situation (really what we would call a leader in any other social situation and in fact in many games the design is such that there is a leader designated and they have the final say in all decisions).  You can design much of that out of a game though, for instance in the new Wonder Woman game, you start off with face up cards and everyone gets to discuss what they would like to do, seemingly perfect for a quarterback but them you take up a hand of cards that were unseen, even to you, add them to the previous cards and you make the final decision about what to actually play on the turn.  Again this is design driven.  

I also agree that people play a role in how much quarterbacking happens in a game where it is possible to do so.  It would be a little insane to play pandemic with 4 type A personalities.  Everyone trying to control the game.  Having said that I would imagine it would be not a great experience playing a coop game where everyone didn't really contribute ideas, Well do you think we should go to Istanbul.....silence...

The solution lies somewhere between design better games and be nice to each other...

Supporter12 months ago

I can enjoy coops for solo play. But, I tend to not enjoy them as much for multiplayer.

I think the coop genre is experiencing a surge in popularity because we live in a age when political correctness and a desire to not offend are pretty heavy in the cultural zeitgiest.

I think top tier coops are those which have wildly asymetric player powers. Think of #Spirit Island, and their wildly diverse player powers. With a competive game you have to really work hard to balance player powers, in a cooperative game balance, among players, is not nearly as important.

Owner12 months ago

That's an interesting point, and somewhat ironic too because co-op games tend to cause more conflict than others (at least, from the game sessions I've had with my group) haha

Supporter12 months ago

That is a very interesting point.

Supporter12 months ago

I definitely think our culture of everyone's a winner, everyone get's a trophy tends to support people winning and or losing together.  I also agree that if you win or lose together no ones feelers get hurt, which is not something I care about.

Last night I lost a game because of consistently bad dice rolls.  One or two that were even decent would have been the turning point.  But that's the way things go sometimes, and that's okay.

Supporter12 months ago

Amen, people need to learn to "roll with the punches." And, people need to learn that life isn't necessarily fair.