Skip to Content

Dilemma: Player 'Death' in a Co-op Game

8 replies [Last post]
jtop
jtop's picture
Offline
Joined: 06/21/2010

I've recently been running my cooperative 'survival horror' style game though some play testing. The players are playing against the board and I do not expect them to win every time.

Now, the comment I get every session is, "There's nothing to do when my character dies." I, of course, take their note gladly but have been ignoring it as I continue to refine the game. I believe it is fully within the theme of the game.

The game is relatively short running 45min-1hr in length. Player characters tend to start dying half way through the game. When they win, the majority of the players will get to the end. (or they all die if the cooperation is lacking)

There is a very small chance that a dead character will return to the game given a lucky random card draw. When it does happen, the players get really excited and love how it fits the theme and story.

Games like Risk, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, most multi-player war games, etc. have a history of dropping players as the game progresses (sometimes hours before the game concludes!).

So, how important is it to keep all players active in the game through to the end in a cooperative game? If the game is short enough should I even worry about the note?

Thanks in advance for your input!

ilta
ilta's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/05/2008
If you're getting the note it

If you're getting the note it means that players are thinking/concerned/upset about it, short time or not, other games or not. Obviously the other players don't care (or don't care overmuch) that player elimination is an accepted element in other game genres, or that the playtime is short. They're upset that they aren't able to do anything for as much as half of their play sessions, and if you choose to ignore this note now don't expect it to go away when/if the game is published. Indeed, expect a note like that to derail your chances of success, either in finding a publisher or in selling the game directly to the public.

You mention that players can come back into the game through a lucky card draw. Without knowing anything else about the game, this strikes me as the worst possible situation for an eliminated player. At least when I'm kicked out of Risk, I know I'm done, so I can go play something else, or read, or watch TV. But here, if you're eliminated, you can't just walk away and do something else, because you might luck out and get back in the game. But there's nothing you can do to make this happen! You just have to wait, and hope. Not my idea of fun, even if the payoff, when it occurs, is epic.

I'd look at Arkham Horror as a great example of how to handle death in a co-op. During the main part of the game, where the players are spending most of their time, if one of their stats drops to 0 they get sent to either the hospital or the asylum, where they can recover that stat. Then they're back in the game (albeit having lost precious time). During the final boss fight, which occupies the last few minutes of the game, dead players die for real, and there's no coming back, but by then they're in so deep that they won't leave the table until the whole party has been killed or the Big Bad has been vanquished (either will happen within 5 or 10 minutes).

Another source of inspiration is Red November. Here, if a character dies (which could happen as early as five minutes in), he loses all his stuff, but under the "less deadly dying" optional rule a new character then magically crawls out of the woodwork for the player to take over. Again, you want a penalty for dying, but if you can keep the player in the game, so much the better. And because the rule is optional, players can opt to play without that rule and "die" for real (interestingly, I've never seen a group that opted for this).

If I sound overly strident here it's because I'm providing a counterpoint to your already-expressed thoughts that player elimination with 20-30 minutes left to go isn't a bug at all, but a feature. Without knowing more about your game it's impossible to say for certain who's right here, but my instincts say that when you're receiving a note so consistently ("every session"), it's worth more than a little serious consideration.

CloudBuster
Offline
Joined: 04/14/2009
Here's another option...

Besides having the player come back (either as another character or as the same player, but with reduced stats), you could have dead players come back as the enemies of the players that are still alive. For instance, in a zombie game, I can see dead players come back as zombies and now they're attacking the people that used to be their allies. Perhaps there's an option for a serum or antidote, so if a player wants to, they can be cured and join the humans again?

Just some thoughts to ponder.

Ignoring the comments that players don't want to sit around while the rest of the game is going on is not a good idea. You should definitely build in some type of mechanic that allows players to return somehow.

-CB-

Cattlemark
Offline
Joined: 07/11/2010
I'd suggest refining the

I'd suggest refining the mechanics to make player death one of the ways of losing. This forces the players to act on behalf of the other players, perhaps even more so than they currently do.

Unsure of the exact way your game is, but if it uses HP, having cards/events that allow a player to heal other players would be an example. Maybe the card event that brings the player back in your current game more or less "re-vitalizes" a downed (but still acting) player in a re-design. A downed player may be limited by what they are able to do in the game (move less spaces, draw less cards, use less cards, etc.) A downed player becomes an assisting spectre, becomes imprisoned in a room and needs to be released...there are tons of options for having the "unsuccessful" players still be involved.

I'd back what others are saying, that complaints about player uninvolvement won't go away and will weaken the overall success of the game in the long run. Especially if you have plans to prototype and submit for competition or publishing. If its you and your friends, and planned to be free/PnP, then make the game how you want it to be.

Louard
Louard's picture
Offline
Joined: 02/09/2010
Personal taste

My personal opinion is that eliminating players is bad. Why hand a player a perfectly good reason to walk away from your game, quite possibly with a sour taste?

To echo previous comments, if your testers tell you something, always take it to heart.. If it comes up more than once, then serious consideration (read: immediate action) must be given.

I also really like the idea of having any player's death signify defeat while offsetting this with opportunities for healing, and a possible 'downed' or partially incapacitated state.

jtop
jtop's picture
Offline
Joined: 06/21/2010
Good suggestions

Thanks for your comments.

It did feel like I was doing a disservice to the testers by ignoring the 'death' issue.

Sounds like I'll be looking into the following options:

1) Dead Characters work against the group (possibly ending the game sooner).

2) Players start a new character when one dies. Possibly tweak the game to be "semi-cooperative" and allow characters to be "Left behind" in the endgame.

3) Make it easier for players to help each other. (currently they need to be in the same location to use health kits, transfer weapons, etc.)

4) Make the game a little less lethal to the characters. (reduce damage received, make health kits more powerful, add more good stuff)

5) Incap instead of killing characters.

Thanks again!

ilta
ilta's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/05/2008
I LOVE the idea that players

I LOVE the idea that players can be left behind in the end game. As long as that part of the game is short it should be really fun -- "we have to go back for Timmy!" "screw him, get to the chopper!" "guys? come baaaaaccccck" (a horde of zombies descends on Timmy).

Just make sure that the endgame is short, and the players can go down fighting, and they'll stay satisfied that their "story" got told.

Cattlemark
Offline
Joined: 07/11/2010
On options 2 & 3

jtop wrote:

2) Players start a new character when one dies. Possibly tweak the game to be "semi-cooperative" and allow characters to be "Left behind" in the endgame.

This can work as well. Old character (guessing a class more along a "Hero") does actually die. Maybe the new character falls into a different class of player character: "Survivor" or "Victim" or however the terminology would work. These are the shell-shocked characters you'd find in a horror/disaster situation that may not be completely helpful due to the situation, but can provide a good boost or help from time to time. Game-wise, you could say the "Hero" died to save the new player's new character, the "Survivor". Survivor/Victims are "unable to die" because the enemies are swarming the other player's "Hero" characters, and the Survivor goes and hides or something. Still have the game end with all player deaths because they are now all Survivors and are unable to fight their way out of the situation without a leading Hero.

Your "come back to life" card that the players currently find enjoyable to draw can still be used, as the seemingly dead Hero comes barging into the room/building alive. The Survivor the player created could still be around, in-game tagging along behind the resurrected Hero (and perhaps gives some bonuses?). If the Hero dies again, the Survivor is still there and ready for the next turn.

jtop wrote:

3) Make it easier for players to help each other. (currently they need to be in the same location to use health kits, transfer weapons, etc.)

An option here if you like this mechanic (and I do), and again, not sure of your game-play. If your meaning location is the same as "one space" on the board, perhaps segment the board so you have areas that are considered the same location.

jtop
jtop's picture
Offline
Joined: 06/21/2010
UPDATE

Changes that work!

I've done additional play testing and in the end I've added variants to the rules to address the issues with player death.

1) Incapacitated rules have been added for the 'starter game'. Players are able to return to the game after reaching a first aid station. The board elements also have lowered stats for an introductory take on the game.

2) I added rules for an expert game, or 'realism mode', for people who want to play with the original game difficulty. (in fact, there are now five levels of play for players to choose from)

Thanks for all your help! Testers like the variants. No more complaints about dying early!

Syndicate content


forum | by Dr. Radut