- How I turned into a cooperative board gamer
Last week, I posted how in video gaming I prefer the deep single-player experiences, games with rich stories and no social pressure whatsoever. I always thought it’s me, but it was very heartening to see that others echo my sentiment.
I love social gaming. It’s just that video games don’t hit that spot for me. Tabletop RPGs and board games do. Today, I want to talk about a wonderful development in boardgaming that’s totally changed the way I play them and has revitalized my interest in them: cooperative board games.
I love board games but I’m not very good at them. (Incidentally, the same could be said for most video games I play. Maybe I suck?) In competitive board games, which is the vast majority, I prefer games with elements of luck, like…Yahtzee (which technically isn’t a board game), because as soon as we come to heavy strategy games, I’m swimming in deep waters. This is the reason that my SO and I have pretty much given up on 2-player games. She’s a board game genius and wins almost every game. No matter what you play with her, she has an uncanny grasp of strategies. I don’t mind when this happens in a four player game. In fact, we have one friend who’s similarly brilliant and usually gives my SO a run for the money. But if it’s just us two, and she crushes me decisively once again, it’s no fun. At least not for me.
But then I found cooperative games. Games where your goal is not to be better than the other players, but to work together to accomplish a goal. If you haven’t played games like that, they’re fantastic. Some are RPG light and a great introduction to people interested in tabletop RPGs. Some are quick to play. Some of them take hours. Most of them can be played with 2 people, and are maybe even easier to beat this way. I think they’re great fun.
Here’s a run-down of cooperative board games I have played and enjoyed.
Legends of Andor was the first co-op game I played. It’s probably the one my SO likes among the least, and so we haven’t played it in ages, mostly because of its structure. But I am getting ahead of myself. Legends of Andor is an RPG light. You choose a character to play from different classes and follow a campaign of several linked scenarios. Once you have defeated a scenario, you move on in the story. The story is fairly default, with invading hordes of orc-like creatures advancing on the main castle. You have to carefully weigh the scenario objective and the danger of the enemies invading the castle, which effectively makes you lose the game. There’s a time limit as well. The first scenario is very simple, the second adds more elements, and it was by the fourth scenario where all elements came together that we really felt the difficulty. I hope to go back one fine day and actually finish the campaign. The expansion is supposed to be a better story.
Forbidden Island is the first Matt Leacock game we played, the latter being like the godfather of coop games. I picked it up at a bookstore when I last went to the US in 2014. It came in a metal tin that looks fantastic. We played it quite a bit and I find it enjoyable, but it’s the most simple of the Leacock games, in terms of game mechanics. Not as many fascinating ways to die as Forbidden Desert or Pandemic offer, still enough to utterly frustrate some people. After we played this game with my friend Anika, she declared she would never play this shit game again, hah. It’s not a shit game though, we just had bad luck. The objective of this game is to secure four treasures and fly them away in a helicopter before the island consisting of 24 tiles has sunken. Each player draws a job card, e.g. the Engineer, who is really good at using sandbags to keep above water or the pilot who can zip around the island easily and save cornered players surrounded by water. Each round you have a limited amount of actions (move, shore up, pick up treasure) and after that draw treasure cards in hopes of matching four treasure cards in order to secure a treasure. Sometimes you have to trade cards with other players, especially if you are the Messenger. Sometimes you get really unlucky and draw a Waters Rise card, which means the island floods more. Every round you flood a specific amount of island tiles. If a tile gets flooded twice, this part of the island is lost forever. You have to carefully weigh which tiles to shore up, which tiles are safe to drown and use all your abilities and extra special items the treasure deck contains to ultimately win.
Forbidden Desert steps the whole principle up, and is very similar, and yet different. This time, the explorers have crashed their helicopter in the desert and find a mystical flying ship, with four parts missing. It is your task to dig up the missing parts, without succumbing to thirst and without being buried underneath the sands. The different jobs are almost the same compared to Forbidden Island, though this time you don’t have a diver of course, and instead of shoring up tiles, you have the Archaeologist, who is skilled at digging up stuff from underneath dunes. In Forbidden Desert, I find the game board itself more mobile. You have a sand storm theme, and every round you draw sand storm cards to see how many and which tiles will be covered with sand, making the search this much harder. As the wind changes direction all the time, this adds a lot of mobility (and possibly frustration) to the game. When my SO and I first got this game, we easily beat it and thought it was much easier. We’ve played a bunch of four player games since, and haven’t won a single time! It’s always been incredibly close games though. Lots of fun.
Pandemic is what I would consider the crown jewel of the Matt Leacock games. If you have played any of the others, the mechanics are very familiar, but different enough to make this a completely different game. As example, my friend Anika who hates Forbidden Island, really enjoys Pandemic. Go figure. In Pandemic you are not an adventurer but instead a member of a disease control team based in Atlanta. You travel across the world fighting epidemics. Unlike the other two games, there’s an actual board here, no tiles. Again, you have a limited amount of actions and can use them to travel, treat a disease, build a research station or actually cure a disease. You cure them by drawing cards and match 5 cards of the same color. At the same time, diseases spread by infection, and you add more disease cubes to the cities with infections. If a city has an infection if there’s already 3 disease cubes in the city, you have a so-called outbreak, with the disease spreading to every neighboring city. This can lead to really nasty nasty chain reactions and bam, you go from almost winning to losing. There are multiple loss conditions for Pandemic. Too many outbreaks. No more disease cubes available. No more cards available. It’s challenging, and tough, and really really cool. There’s a gazillion expansions for it, and a very cool Legacy version where only the very high price point scares me away (plus the need to have a regular group for it).
That’s all for now, but I will continue this with a follow-up, about 4 more coop games that I had fun playing: Arkham Horror, Elder Sign and Mice and Mystics and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, plus a wishlist of games I want to try. If you have any suggestions, please share!