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Mechanics in Cooperative Games

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Captain Clegg
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I like coop games and in a discussion with a gamer friend of mine, we disagreed on their merits. Essentially he said all coop games are basically luck. No real strategy involved. So I looked at the mechanics in the more popular ones out there, BSG and Pandemic, and found that yeah, one can look at them in that way. Maybe because only one mechanic is used, drawing cards and doing whatever you can with them. So my question is, are there any other mechanics that one could use in a coop game that people have been thinking about?

ReneWiersma
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In cooperative games players

In cooperative games players try to defeat the game, which acts as a seperate entity and works against the players. In boardgames you cannot have a complex AI as in videogames, so the game creates events on which players must act through randomizing means, such as dice, cards, spinners, tiles, whatever. If there were no randomization it would not be a game, it would be a puzzle, and this would diminish its replayability.

Just because copperative games are driven by randomizing mechanics doesn't mean they cannot be strategic. In Pandemic, for example, you have plenty of strategic choices to make: where and when to place a laboratory, whether to create an antidote, or solve an immediate crisis, etc. The most optimal path of choices is not always clear, and this makes it a game rather than a puzzle.

doho123
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I'd suggest that you also

I'd suggest that you also look at Ghost Stories and Red November. Ghost Stories uses a little bit of everything, and Red November is (from what I can tell) "use more action points for better dice rolls".

Ultimately, all games come down to some level of resource management, whether they are cards, tokens, or random chance elements.

Jackhalfaprayer
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I've been rolling around the

I've been rolling around the concept of a semi-cooperative game (that is we can all lose together, but only one of us can win) and one thing I've been wanting to build in is a game that responds to the players actions. So if the players pull ahead, the game gets more bad-guys, dice, or what ever. This keeps the narrative tension up as well as (hopefully) makes the game feel more like an opponent rather than just a set of semi-random card turns and dice rolls.

larienna
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I also thought of making an

I also thought of making an cooperative investigation game. To realised that it would be easier to play with a game master ( who play the bad guys) to keep track of all the hidden information that the players should not know. So it will be turned in a semi cooperative game like fury of dracula.

fecundity
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Jackhalfaprayer wrote:I've

Jackhalfaprayer wrote:
I've been rolling around the concept of a semi-cooperative game (that is we can all lose together, but only one of us can win) and...

I am not sure that a game like that will end up being semi-cooperative, rather than backbiting.

The incentive structure seems to work like this: A player wants to do as well as possible. The best she can do is win, so she wants that. But there may come a time when she realizes she probably won't win. What's best for her now?

She can cooperate (so that someone else wins) or defect (so that everyone loses). Cooperation means that she still loses, but the winner does better. Defection means that no one does better than she does; she ties for first and last simultaneously. So she should defect.

Now, you may balance the game so that every player has a chance of winning. That's hard to do. Even if you get it right, a player may misjudge and think they have no chance of winning. The structure gives that player rational incentives to grief and make everyone lose.

That said: I wrote a game like this. It needs more playtesting, but I suspect it may succumb to griefing.

InvisibleJon
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A few means of guiding board game adversaries.

Captain Clegg wrote:
Essentially he said all coop games are basically luck. No real strategy involved. So I looked at the mechanics in the more popular ones out there, BSG and Pandemic, and found that yeah, one can look at them in that way. Maybe because only one mechanic is used, drawing cards and doing whatever you can with them.
If I understand you correctly, you're saying that most, if not all, co-op games you're familiar with use a deck of cards as the primary "driver" for the adversarial events in the game.
Captain Clegg wrote:
So my question is, are there any other mechanics that one could use in a coop game that people have been thinking about?
I'm assuming that you're asking if there are other ways to drive adversarial events. Sure there are...
* Dice rolls (and other random number generators)
- Cross-index player rolls for movement or success with a chart.
- Make rolls on a table of events.
* Player success & behavior
- Have the game trigger specific behaviors based on where the players are in the game.
* Alternating rewarded human control
- Periodically, a player controls the adversary. The controller gets an inordinately high reward for doing well with the adversary.
* Nomograms
- A while ago, another poster talked about the use of task-specific charts as a means of creating rich A.I. behaviors in board games, and we tried applying it to one of my co-op games: Space Monster: www.invisible-city.com/play/507/

Oh! Look at the time. Gotta go!

Michael C
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I agree with the unseen

I agree with the unseen one...

One of my oldest and most enjoyable game designs is essentially a co-operative/solo game called BUGHUNT, in which players take on the roles of squaddies going down a giant ant warren and making like 'Alien' on their mutant bug abdomens.

The game has 3 basic drivers:
1. A pack of 'Bug' cards which bring different types of bugs into play.
2. A Bug Reaction Chart, in which the bugs move and react according to their type & situation, cross referenced against a die roll.
3. A dice-based combat system which is deliberately skewed in favour of randomly spraying the hive passage with machine-gun fire whilst screaming: "Eat hot lead, you disgusting alien wierdo!" (though this can have the unfortunate side-effect of catching your squadmates in the crossfire). I should say here that I wanted it to 'feel' like the abortive squad mission in the hive of 'Aliens'.

While there is reasonable amount of luck involved, survival is dependent on canny tactics - knowing when to start firing (and thus increase the hive's Alert level); setting up fields of fire in the passageways; and most importantly, knowing when to bug out.

For a commercial card-driven co-op game which does require good strategic play to win, you need look no further than the genius Reiner's 'Lord of the Rings' game. Sure, there is a certain luck of the cards element to it (as there is with any card-driven game), but it's the WAY you play and the way you co-operate with the other players to maximise the group hand that determines how well or how badly you do.

Jon commented:
* Alternating rewarded human control
- Periodically, a player controls the adversary. The controller gets an inordinately high reward for doing well with the adversary.

This reminds me of an old Victory Games solo-game called 'The Pelopponesian War'. Essentially, the player was constantly battling against himself, as he switched sides dependent on how well he was doing. It gave the game an absolutely authetic feel of the turning tides of that war - and also made it almost as interminable to play as the real war was to fight.

Ah, the swings and roundabouts of game design. What makes a good simulation does not necessarily make for a good game. But I think what makes for a good solo/co-operative game is a challenging system that is satisfyingly difficult to beat.

M<

brisingre
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BSG and Backbiting

I'd submit that BSG isn't really cooperative. I've played it twice, and there was only one segment where there were no Cylons. That segment sucked epicly. It was No. Fun. At. All. BSG is a bluffing and political game. Cooperation is an element, but it's not any fun when there's no traitor.

As far as preventing backbiting, I've had a game like this in the bash doc (I keep a big list of undeveloped ideas) for a couple of months now. My thoughts on preventing backbiting were to make it so you only needed a bit of cooperation to win. I thought to make people form teams, race other teams to the end of the game while trying to make sure they personally ended in better shape than anyone else there, so when everyone gets to the last room and there's the giant fight over who gets out first they can win it. If everybody doesn't lose if somebody turns griefer, you don't get so many griefers. The other thought I had was to eliminate people who are doing poorly. Player death is a regular occurrence, but it's not permanent unless you die (to put it simply) twice in a row. The game is set in a big nasty trapped building, (a la SAW and no end of other similar stories,) and a team will be given endless opportunities to butcher opposing players, and will often have to sacrifice team-mates to complete an objective and open a door. Players come back with a cripple token, which they can remove at a handful of med-station thingies. A cripple token makes you move at half speed (a real problem in a race) and if you die with one, you are dead for good. A cripple with no team can do a very limited amount of damage to the other players, moving at half speed with no support. A cripple with a team will not grief, because they can still win, and it's in the team's interest to get that player to a med-station, because until they do the cripple is slowing them down. The only player who can't plausibly win is a dead player, and they can't do squat, because they are dead, so you get no griefing there. If a team is losing by a fair margin, they'll probably try to kill off the other team rather than catch up, but that's half the point, so no problems there.

Quote:
{Death}

This forms a giant lethal maze, full of traps. Think SAW. However, only one player can win, and most doors require more than one player to activate. After ten minutes per player, REAL TIME, everybody dies. A player who is eliminated restarts at the center, but they get a crippling token, reducing movement to one. There are devices to remove these, but they are, again, cooperatively activated. You cannot win with one of these. If you die with one, you are eliminated.

PVP combat is supported, but it is minimalistic. Most combat must take place via trap.

The board is procedurally generated. Anybody who walks through a door draws a tile, rotates it to suit themselves, and places it on the other side of the door. Doors phase through walls. Open is open. If a door is locked from both sides BEFORE it is opened, it needs to be opened from both.

No sealing the board entirely. Redraw octos, pick another tile. Whatever it takes.

There's only one exit room. Only the first one out wins.

Doors are opened by a system of logic gates, with your normal floor switches and levers to give starting inputs, along with True and False gates. Floor switches (buttons) swap their state when a person passes over them. Levers change state when a person passes over them and wants them to. These have default states, as well as "preferred" states. A button can be normal (default position unless it is recieving input) sticky (default position until it recieves input, will stay there until it recieves other input) and locking (default position until it recieves input, can never be reversed.) Levers have the same thing. I dunno what the iconography is like. Each gate also has varieties (including the IS gate, which is just a line in it's normal form.) Normal will recalculate truth constantly. Sticky gates come in true and false varieties. Sticky gates, once they reach their desired input, are stuck that way. They have optional reset pins.

Links are omnipresent. Logic diagrams that don't end in doors or traps end in ocatagonal slots. These are either white (input) or black (output). They are filled when the tile is placed. If an input is true, the output with the same color (if it's on the board) is true. If it's false, it'se false. Effectively a long-distance IS gate. There aren't sticky ones, just put a sticky IS on one end of it.

There are 'Kill some sucker' traps. Whoever is in the "control" space when it's activated can choose the victim.

backstabby goodness!

I copied that directly from the doc. Thought it could use a bit more explanation. I've more-or-less given up on the real-time element, because real-time elements are kind of irritating, and the cripple tokens behave as I described before the quote, because they are too nasty in the original notes.

Strangelander
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Cutthroat Caverns

Check out Cutthroat Caverns. The tagline is "Without teamwork, you will never survive. Without betrayal, you’ll never win." Bookshelf Games did a video review, sounded pretty well balanced.

ElMarko
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This brings up what I don't

This brings up what I don't like about Pandemic as I've played it. It is basically a solitaire game dressed up to look multi-player.. Having taken the word of the person who owned the copy we allowed people to announce what was in their hands. In other games where the rules try to limit what information players are allowed to share it goes on anyway through excessive hinting and convoluted statements. When everyones interest are the same there is no one to object to rules violations that work in the players interest.

This is why you need traitors, preferably more than one.

SiddGames
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Disagree About Pandemic

I don't agree that Pandemic is a solitaire game. It's a puzzle to be solved by a team of players. The intro game recommends that players play with their hands open, but the regular rules require closed hands with open discussion. I find this works very well at "forcing" constant communication among the players as plans are forumlated, because it takes some mental effort to remember every single card each person has. I've played numerous games where different people come up with an alternate, better way to do something, contributing to the winning of the game. In a solitaire game, you have only yourself to rely upon.

Now, granted, Pandemic is susceptible to a single dominant player playing what is essentially solitaire, as are other cooperative games. I think traitors can address that, but that's as much a social problem as it is one of game design, isn't it? One could argue that any game, coop or not, can be ruined by a "bad" player.

marston
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Cooperative Games

I realize that you posted this nearly a year ago - but I have an old game by Sid Sackson called Kohle, Kies & Knete (I'm the Boss) that required cooperative play in order to be successful. It essentially is a negotiation game. Maybe not exactly what you were thinking - but I've always found it to be one of the most interesting games ever designed.

Dralius
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not quite

marston wrote:
I realize that you posted this nearly a year ago - but I have an old game by Sid Sackson called Kohle, Kies & Knete (I'm the Boss) that required cooperative play in order to be successful. It essentially is a negotiation game. Maybe not exactly what you were thinking - but I've always found it to be one of the most interesting games ever designed.

I have played I'm the Boss a few times and i wouldn't exactly say we were being cooperative.

You average deal was the boss trying to get one person in on the deal so it would go through and one or more others promising to break the deal unless they got a cut.

BTW-It's a Great Game

sedjtroll
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Solitaire by Committee

I have thought about this type of thing (Cooperative genre) a lot, and have posted some thoughts on my game design blog in the past. I think that a lot of the current coop games out there are in a category which I call Solitaire By Committee. I believe the whole point of that category of game is for the game to be playable by only 1 person, but rather than play solitaire, you're supposed to discuss your options with your teammates and come to a consensus as to what the best course of action is, then do that. So just as the name implies, the game is solitaire, but the decisions are made by committee.

One down side to this is that one dominant, stubborn, or loud player can simply take everyone else's turn for them, which can be no fun for some players. The best solution to this is probably to not play SbC games with such a dominant alpha-player if it doesn't suit your groups play style. That type of player will simply want to know all the information, then make all the decisions - either because he's good at it, or because he thinks he is. That's just the nature of that type of player.

Another complaint about SbC games is that they're not really cooperative. A friend of mine refers to those games as "Collaborative" games, not "Cooperative." A truly cooperative game would involve players making their own decisions, but their incentive would be a winning result for the whole team. It's a very elusive thing, and as yet I have not seen a game on th market which is truly cooperative.

I HAVE seen a variety of SbC games, each with a gimmick which works to alleviate some of the alleged problems with a Solitaire by Committee game...

Space Alert has a timer, so it's extremely difficult to micromanage everybody else's turn. You simply don't have time.

Pandemic and Lord of the Rings make you hide your cards so that you have to talk to your friends in order to come to the best course of action.

Ghost Stories takes no steps whatsoever to dissuade a player from playing the whole game by themselves.

Shadows over Camelot has a traitor, so if you listen to one player too much, it might turn out they're not on your team.

Battlestar Galactica straight up tells you that several players are not on your team, so you need to be careful who's advice you listen to.

Red November has some mechanism whereby any player can turn into a traitor - I'm not familiar with that game so I don't really know how it works.

I have put some thought into making a truly cooperative game, and as yet I haven't come up with much. The best I've got is that the game could have 2 phases - a Strategy Session in which the team discusses their strategy - this would play out like a standard SbC game - and could be dominated by an alpha player; followed by an Individual session in which each player would play their own little mini-game, the result of which would feed back into the main strategic goal of the game.

An example a friend and I came up with the other night was that maybe each mini-game is different, in one case you're trying to find your way through uncharted territory to some location, and your mini-game involves taking cards with paths on them and trying to line them up in a way that you can navigate from one end to the other. Another player may be trying to hack into a computer, so his mini-game involves some sort of solo codebreaking mechanism. A third player is having some sort of fight with a character in the game, so his mini-game involves sorting a set of cards and playing them on top of each other in such a way that his icons come out on top more often than the opponents' icons. All these mini-games would be played simultaneously with a short (1 minute?) timer.

One thing I think would be really neat is if the min-games were related in such a way that one player could get to a point in their mini-game where they need input from another player, and the other player responds with "just a sec, I've almost got it!"

SiddGames
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Some good observations about

Some good observations about "collaboration" vs "cooperation." I like the ideas you threw out. Now it's got me thinking -- something based on the "real world" where cooperation must exist.

I might tinker with a game in which players are members of a tribe or commune and each is responsible for a different facet of life: hunter, farmer, miner, lumberjack, carpenter, smith, etc. They each do their own job as best they see fit, but the results of their efforts affect the overall prosperity of the collective. To make it more interesting, it would be nice if there was some way to give each player multiple, competing responsibilities. For example, the hunter can concentrate on game (for food), game (for furs or skins), or protecting the village from attack or dangerous animals. The other players might demand those -- they all need food, but the builder needs skins for huts, but the farmer is losing sheep to roaming wolves, etc. So they aren't just each optimizing their own actions, but must take into account the needs/demands of the village / other players...

And I'm off!

EDIT: to be clear, this type of game could still be done by committee, but what's the fun of that? Perhaps even add explicit communication rules. Perhaps each player can declare one "need" each round at the village council. "I need furs." "I need wood."

Hm, that makes me think of Settlers of Catan. Maybe each player produces their own goods via their role and then trading occurs afterward. I just recently played M.U.L.E. again for the first time in a long time; this makes me think of having individual scores as well as a group score, but that's always tough to balance.

jwarrend
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Solitaire by committee

Seth, if I take your point to its logical conclusion, it seems that any coop game where a player's moves are visible to the other players and where players are not expressly forbidden from table talk is by definition "Solitaire by committee" because there is at least the theoretical possibility that one dominant player could boss the other players around.

I quite like the solution you propose, of having players doing things simultaneously, effectively "hiding" their positions from each other. And the real-time element could make for an interesting and lively game, as you suggest.

Another "solution" could be to simply hide the players' positions from each other in some way. For example, picture a game that was played like Scotland Yard, but everyone is on the same side and there's some advantage to deducing where the other players are so you can show up to help them, etc.

A third "solution" is to forbid table talk. Simple enough, but boring. How about instead, imposing a consequence on table talk? Envision a game where players are trying to complete some mission, but the adversary has spies that listen to them. Picture this: there is a microphone in the center of the board, and every time the players talk, the microphone records them and a computer uses the information that it gleans from their conversation to influence the way it plays against them. For example, if they say "let's attack the power generator", the computer opponent deploys guards to the power station to protect it.

Ok, so obviously, that's absurd and likely way beyond what the technology can do currently. But how could game mechanics approximate or emulate an idea like this, where there's a price or consequence to table talk?

To me, this could be the most interesting solution to the "SBC" problem of all, as the bossy, boorish player who just can't resist telling everyone else how to move will actively be shouted down by the other players, as his constant "suggestions" will incur costs and penalties for the other players; it would therefore actively discourage the very thing you dislike, rather than simply making it difficult or illegal.

-Jeff

sedjtroll
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jwarrend wrote:Seth, if I

jwarrend wrote:
Seth, if I take your point to its logical conclusion, it seems that any coop game where a player's moves are visible to the other players and where players are not expressly forbidden from table talk is by definition "Solitaire by committee" because there is at least the theoretical possibility that one dominant player could boss the other players around.

Correct, hence the problem :)

I think this is why it's proven so hard to find a way to make a coop board game that 1 person couldn't just play for themselves.

Quote:
A third "solution" is to forbid table talk. Simple enough, but boring. How about instead, imposing a consequence on table talk? Envision a game where players are trying to complete some mission, but the adversary has spies that listen to them. Picture this: there is a microphone in the center of the board, and every time the players talk, the microphone records them and a computer uses the information that it gleans from their conversation to influence the way it plays against them. For example, if they say "let's attack the power generator", the computer opponent deploys guards to the power station to protect it.

The microphone example is amusnig, and would be cool - but maybe that can be approximated by simply telling the players "if you mention a location on the board in any capacity, you have to place an "enemy unit" there"

"Enemy units" might be face down chits, many of which contain baddies, maybe some of which are blank, and maybe a few of which are actually good. The idea might be that the players NEED to discuss their plans somewhat, but the more they do, the more defensy (but perhaps the more lucrative) the talked about locations will be.

Couple that with some simultaneous action selection when it comes time to actually resolve things, so a player can either go with the plan, or audible to another course of action instead - maybe that would be interesting!

jwarrend
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Bugged

Another idea along similar lines, although probably harder to execute, could be that each round, one player is "bugged" by the enemy, so his conversations are overheard and/or his actions are tailed by the enemy. Maybe the game has a mechanic where players need to take composite actions -- ie they must work together to get through a locked door or something -- but being in the same spot as the "bugged" player incurs some risk/consequence; and, you don't actually know who the bugged player is. It's, I suppose, a variant on the traitor concept. Maybe the bugged player changes at various points during the game.

bielie
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Survivor reality TV

The reality show Survivor is the ultimate Coop game. You are in a team and must form alliances but you must ultimately defeat your own team members and allies in order to win.

Remember that a large part of fun in entertainment comes from suspense (especially in narrative entertainment, like books and movies), and suspense comes from conflict. Puzzles have suspense because there is conflict between the solver and the puzzle designer. Solitaire games are often randomly generated puzzles, and are only re playable as long as the variety of of puzzles it can generate does not run out. The same with coop games, where all the players band together against the game. For this reason I don't like pure coop games where there is no conflict between players. (Not talking about RPG's here, thats a different story.) BSG works because of the suspense and conflict created by the traitors.

Conflict breeds suspense breeds fun.

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