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How hard should a co-op game be?

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Dralius
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I’m working on my first full on co-op game. For the majority of its development the game was way too easy. In fact you had to screw up badly to lose.

I have slowly increased the difficulty to the point where the last three tests have resulted in a loss, one midgame, and two coming close to winning.

Co-op games run the gambit from those that you can win almost every time to ones that even experienced players struggle to eke out a win.

This is a game that rarely goes over 45 min. How many loses would you endure before giving up if you can regularly get close?

DifferentName
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Some thoughts

If it's a game with multiple levels/scenarios, having some easy ones included would be good to give players a chance to learn the game and get a taste for victory before it gets too tough.

After that, I'd say the ideal feeling after playing a coop game would be that you just barely won. Winning, but with some challenge. I think the trouble with some Co-op games is that when you win it felt like there was no challenge at all, and when you lose it feels like there was nothing you could have done about it. This kind of loss is the worst when there's too much randomness in the game, and when there's a large penalty for losing, like having to start the same level again instead of progressing to the next one.

However, It really depends on the game, and what is fun about it. Roguelike video games (like FTL) come to mind, where you may lose over and over, but you get better as you play over and over. The fun of those games is in the journey and the challenge, without needing to ever win. With a game like that, winning really feels like an accomplishment. Although I haven't played a ton of co-op games, I haven't played a board game that gave me this feeling yet, just frustration that the dice didn't go my way.

McTeddy
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I see this topic pop up all

I see this topic pop up all the time and the answers usually range from 50% win/loss to 1 win per 3 games. Honestly though, I'd put far more focus into making sure the game just plays well win or lose.

One of the major problems with coop games is that they usually have an "Ideal Strategy" or are "Too Random for players to matter". Even worse... a game can fall into different categories for different players.

Just make sure alot of people test the game, and judge it on whether they enjoyed the experience.

Dralius
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I do have quite a bit of

I do have quite a bit of testing left to do. The game can be played with 1 to 7 players. I have only tested with 1, 2, & 3 so far. I don't perceive any major issue with the upper player range but you never know until you test it.

RyanRay
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When I think of co-op games I

When I think of co-op games I really enjoy, the game is designed in a way that the cards could be stacked against you (unintentionally) to lose, but you normally have a strong chance to still win.

I once played a game of Pandemic where we got 2 epidemics on one person's turn (which is VERY unlikely, knowing how the deck is stacked) and lost immediately. There is NO way we could have won that game. On the flip side, I usually win a little over half of the Pandemic games I play with friends.

You also may have the designer's lens of knowing how the game works, so perhaps give it to some playtesters and DON'T SAY ANYTHING during the play. No hints, no clues, nothing. This will also reveal if the game is "solvable" (something you don't want).

James Allen
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Let Players Adjust The Difficulty

I've dealt with this by adding optional objectives that increase the value of a win (if the player's ultimately do win). So imagine your game having gold, silver, and bronze victories. Then try to balance it so that: 1) if the random elements of game go as badly as possible for players, it would be impossible to win unless you forgo the gold and silver objectives; and 2) if the random elements go completely in the player's favour, they can win and complete all the silver and gold objectives every time. The game then becomes not a function of objective difficulty, but a function of how well the players read where the random elements are going. The trick is designing the game so that this is obvious to the players, so when they lose they blame themselves (and in return, have a sense that they can improve) instead of the game (a hopelessly insurmountable obstacle).

KeeperoftheGate
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Win Loss Ratio

As a designer and publisher with a co-op game (for 1-7 players no less), I'll tell you that it's critical that the game be hard enough to kick a player's teeth in the first time. If we're teaming up against a mindless game, it should beat us round 1. If I can beat a co-op game the first time, or at least do so easily within the suggested play time, then I won't play it again. Undead Viking agrees.

Regarding testing at the higher levels.... test it! Make sure it scales to the # of players. If it doesn't you have a problem. Several co-op games are impossible with 2 people; balanced with 3 or 4; and a joke at 5+. If it doesn't scale, that's ok, just make it a 3-4 player game (or the suggested number for balance).

If you have any questions, visit my Advice Columns at http://bit.ly/KickstarterAdviceColumnsonBGDF or drop me a PM, etc.

John Wrot!
Gate Keeper Games

anonymousmagic
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With good cooperative games,

With good cooperative games, the odds are against you and you can only win with good communication and great team work. Just look at Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Hanabi.

Having an easier option for beginners is great; co-op games usually have a scale of difficulty. Hanabi has different amount of discs, Pandemic and Forbidden Island have different amounts of "Waters Rise!" and "Outbreak" cards depending on the difficulty.

So when asked, how hard should a co-op game be is "VERY HARD".

devaloki
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Make it HARD default. But

Make it HARD default. But also add different difficulty modes!

larienna
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First ask yourself what is

First ask yourself what is the impact of luck and skills on your game. Did the player win because there were experienced with the game, or did they lose because they were bad lucky.

I think solo/coop game difficulty should be adjustable through various scenario or by adding advanced optional rules. If skill is important, than skilled player will eventually need more challenge, this is where you beef up the difficulty.

If it's much more dependent on luck, there you could have a random combination that is very hard or impossible to solve. Maybe having the game too hard is a bad idea.

Zag24
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Levels of success

One approach that I think works is to have different levels of success. You might have one goal that represents "You didn't win, but your sacrifice was not in vain. You weakened the villain enough that the world goes on, and maybe the next band of heroes can defeat him." This should be reasonably easy (but still not a gimme).

Another goal might be, "You win, but the trauma of your injuries and losses will haunt you for the rest of your days." This should be challenging enough that players should have made some distinctly clever moves/combinations, and not simply avoided errors.

The final goal is, "Victory! You have vanquished the threat to the world and you are lauded as conquering heroes!" This should be very hard, requiring flawless play and better than average luck.

larienna
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Could similar to a score

Could similar to a score where you want to score better every game, but that would work better with a solitaire game as you try to exceed your own limits.

pelle
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Definitely hard enough the

Definitely hard enough the first time that you realize the game is a challenge and that when you eventually manage to win you have achieved something.

Not difficult because of random events though. It is no fun to play a game over and over just waiting for the right sequence of cards or die rolls to come up, even though you have solved the game a long time ago and knows how to play. It should be difficult to figure out the winning strategy, and once it has been figured out the player(s) should win the game with a very high probability. It is no fun when you know you have a great plan, but that it will only let you win with 33 % chance anyway.

Having many different scenarios is a huge plus because then it is OK if each scenario can be figured out on the first or second attempt, as there is plenty of replay value from just switching to new scenarios. A game with only a single scenario I think must be a lot more difficult, so that you need many replays to figure it out. Or that there is so much random variation in what story the game is telling that every time it feels like playing a new scenario and that you have a fair chance of winning.

larienna
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Many people say solitaire and

Many people say solitaire and coop is like a puzzle, once it is solved you are done.

But would there be a way to not make it a puzzle that once it's solve it's done?

If player experience is important to the game then I imagine that having different scenario or added difficulty rules would be essential for the more experienced players to stay challenged.

Else I would say that randomness could be used to make sure that the game does no feel solved. But again too much randomness and you get in a situation where the puzzle cannot be solved.

Any other ideas?

Is there a way to make the game feel less like a puzzle? Maybe story based games that are more thematic would feel less like a puzzle.

pelle
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Most solitaire games feel

Most solitaire games feel like puzzles, but they don't have to.

Ambush! does not feel like a puzzle, because each scenario ("mission") is a scripted adventure that plays out much like playing a RPG. You play it for the story, to accumulate experience points to improve your squad to prepare for the next mission. Playing the same scenario many times would be like a very bad puzzle because you already know mostly what will happen and where the hidden enemy units are, and what the story is (except there is a bit of random variation between replays).

Fields of Fire is very random, so even playing the same scenario again always makes it feel like a new game, with new challenges. The terrain is created for each play by drawing cards and placing as a grid, so the map never looks the same, and also enemy units are created randomly from a list of 10 possibilities in each scenario, so even if you replay the same scenario many times you will never see the same combination of enemies. It will be like a new puzzle every time, and you will never solve the game.

Then there are games that are very random, but still don't feel like a new scenario every time. Even if I draw cards from a deck to see what happens next, if I feel like I have already figured out a good plan to win the game, I just feel like I have solved the puzzle and just wait for the right combination of cards to show up.

Guess it is very subjective. It might be that in eg Fields of Fire I set up the map before I start playing, so I generate a puzzle, and then I start thinking about how to solve it, but in other games I start from the same starting point and I know what events are in the deck so it feels like the same scenario, even if the generated story will be different depending on what order I draw the cards. I have to make up my mind early what strategy to use, and if I have already figured out a good strategy that is what I will do, whereas in Fields of Fire I will study the map and then try to think of a strategy, and that strategy will probably not be similar to the strategy I tried to use last time I played.

larienna
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I am currently working on

I am currently working on some sort of sandbox solo game.

I think what will make the game not feel like a puzzle is the fact that the player can decide which objectives they want to fulfill and try new objectives from a game to another.

Else results combat are random, plus random encounter in an RPG style element would change the story and coud give some opportunities to certain type of game play than others.

Markus Hagenauer
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I´d say beginners should have

I´d say beginners should have at least a 30% chance to win the first (or maybe the second, as the first is for learning) game.
Loosing more than 5 games in a row might be frustrating and a lot of people will not try for a 6th time (maybe besides they see that they came closer to winning every time they tried).

And on the other hand, even expierienced players should not win much more than every second game as always winning is boring too. So if expierinece makes the players significantly more likely to win, different "levels" will be necessary.

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