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Cooperative games with the need for individuality

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simons
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Recently, the thought went through my head of trying to design a cooperative game. My problem with cooperative games (something I’ve heard voiced by others), is that it feels too much like “multi-player solitaire.” The games I’ve played, well, it always felt like the best players sit around and tell the weaker players what to do (and if they don’t, it’s counterproductive). Really, it feels like there is little difference between a 5 player game, and a single player controlling 5 characters.

What have other games done to fix this? How can you make a game that is cooperative, but still makes individuality important? How do you make a cooperative game that doesn’t work if one player controls everything?

Simon

bluesea
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I've always like partnership

I've always liked partnership games. You still get a good sense of cooperation and a feeling of being on a *team*, but without some of the negatives you wrote about. I think partnership games are a great way to introduce a game to new players as well. Put one experienced player on each team for a few games, and sure they may be driving for those games. But then put the newbies on a team together and then it's sink or swim!

In one of my 'abbozzo' games, players play on two or three teams of two. But each player has a secret victory condition. So to win the game you must first win a team (partnership) victory. Then to win individual or ultimate victory you must have better met your secret victory condition. You can never win ultimate victory, no matter how much you crushed your secret victory condition, unless you also take the partnership victory.

In another game I finished that was cooperative, all players played on the same team and played for a team victory. If there was a team victory, the players counted up there various VPs to see who was the overall leader. I really like this because in order to get individual victory you must first ensure team victory. So it was a fine balance (a good tension) between helping the team...but not too much.

JB
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When I was GMing D&D, I would

When I was GMing D&D, I would make giving detailed instructions to a party member a standard action. I think the best way to deal with the instruction problem is to deal with it specifically in the rules. The number of rules fixes is infinite and well depend on the theme of your game. I'll list some examples:

No talking about the game (other than basic rules info)
You can only coordinate if your planes are within six inches of eachother. (We used this for wings of war)
You can only make plans before each turn (before all the info is known.)
Every player has a secret stats or powers. (It's much more realistic for two players to think they're strong but not know who has a 5 and who has a 6.)

Just think of your theme.
How would these guys communicate?
Is there a way to innerupt the communication?
How fast are turns supposed to be? (In D&D the stardard answer was six seconds, not enough time for tactical disscussion, but enough for "Use the fireball")
How much do the teamates know about eachother, or are willing to share personal details?

Hope that helps.

simons
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Both neat ideas, but a couple

Both neat ideas, but a couple problems with each:

(I guess as background, part of my inspiration was watching the guy talk about developing Pandemic, and how he wanted a “wife friendly game”)

First, bluesea, I really like some of these ideas. The only problem is that they are not really “everyone wins together” sort of games. I think I might need to use that idea in the future, but it’s not quite what I’m going for here.

JB, another good idea, thank you, although again, I worry that in an easily accessible to everyone game, I’d worry about “the first rule of Game X is that you don’t talk about Game X.” Although again, it is a really interesting concept (one that I might need to try if given the appropriate theme).

Any other thoughts out there? The only other idea I’ve heard of is the Betrail at Haunted Hill or (I’d can’t remember, some sort of King Arthur game), where one person is secretly evil.

Maybe a better question to ask is what games out there do this really well, and how do they pull it off?

Simon

JB
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I've played Betrail. It's

I've played Betrail. It's about exploring a haunted house and its fun. When the traitor is revealed, the heros go off in one corner and the traitor goes off in another, both to plan and learn the special rules. One problem our group encounter is no one ever had a grasp of all the rules. So all rules problems had to be resolved after the game when they no longer mattered. That game was pretty wife friendly, unless she became the traitor. But agian that relied on the secrecy of not wanting to reveal the Hero's secrets.

I don't think it's possible to create a co-operative game where people don't order eachother around unless you create at least a little information gap. I mean think about it. If you know everything I know, and you understand the strategy better then I do, then I'll ask you what to do. However, If I'm not allowed to tell you what weapon I drew this turn, then you may understand the strategy better then me, but you can't know my options. It would help me if I knew the theme of your game.

And two more things to consider:
The "normals" usually like it when they are free to discuss music or movies or whatnot when it's not their turn.

If you need to explain the game more than once, how accesible is it really?

InvisibleJon
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Three ideas...

simons wrote:
It feels like there is little difference between a 5 player game, and a single player controlling 5 characters.

What have other games done to fix this? How can you make a game that is cooperative, but still makes individuality important? How do you make a cooperative game that doesn’t work if one player controls everything?

Ideas:

(A) Make the game too complex for one player to hold in their head at once, but simple enough that each player can understand what's allocated to him or her. I have a co-operative game coming out soon and I tired to simulate a five-person playtest. I managed to make it through eight turns before my brain totally melted, and it took me way longer than eight turns of a five-player game would have. Incidentally, the game plays fine solitaire – the complexity scales with the number of players.

(B) A variant of (A): Time the game so that players have a limited amount of time to "lock in" what they're doing. If one player tries to boss everyone around, the team will fail. Collaboration becomes essential.

(C) Have "leadership control" pass around from player to player. When one player is the leader, the other players may not speak unless spoken to and can only answer yes or no. Every response you give the leader costs you important energy points, so you don't want to talk to the leader too much or you can't use your cool special powers.

passionado
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Cooperative games with the need for individuality

Hi there, I'm a german design student currently working on my final thesis [which is designing a card game :)]. I kind of asked the same question to myself concerning the game I'm working on. Maybe you have a look at the card game bang! (wikipedia)

It's a great game concept: Every player represents a western character, such as the sheriff, the outlaw, etc. Every player has different winning conditions and therefore must cooperate with another player of the same "team", except he doesn't know really who is who. The only person known is the sheriff, so everything groups around this guy: some try to kill him while others (the deputy) defend him: In bang, you can "shoot" at people with a bang card, and also safe hitpoints by giving a beer. There are more nice things about this game, have a look @wiki :)

ReneWiersma
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How do you make sure that is

How do you make sure that is a true cooperative game one player doesn't dominate everything? This is a very interesting question. Different coop games have different solutions, but in the end I think this is a problem that isn't 100% fixable. If you have one dominant player, and the other players are easily intimidated, then there's not much you can do about it.

Lord of the Rings tries to fix that by giving the players cards in their hands, which they are not allowed to show to eachother. However, they are still allowed to say to eachother what they have in their hands. This may seem a bit artificial (and it is), but at the very least it makes sure that each player has to communicate with (speak to) other players. It is still possible for one player to bully the others, though.

I guess what it comes down to is that coop games are very much group dependend. In a "good" group, a coop game may work group, while in another group it goes over like a lead balloon.

The best you can do, I think, is to give each player some individual, hidden information or resources (like cards in hand), and just enough information per "character" so that it is easy for one player to keep track of his own stuff, but just too hard to keep track of all of the other player's stuff too, so that communication and cooperation becomes important.

simpson
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Quote:How can you make a game

Quote:
How can you make a game that is cooperative, but still makes individuality important? How do you make a cooperative game that doesn’t work if one player controls everything?

The symptom of player control comes from micromanagement (particularly the need to control the situation with the information at the time). As a designer, you can control it by hidden information or releasing information in a timely fashion. Since its dealing with behavior on the "player" level rather than the "character" level, the game designer needs to control what the player knows so that his meta-game actions don't effect characters.

simpson

Mitchell Allen
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Cooperative Games

Two quick thoughts:

1. Sporting games rely on cooperation, but the individual athleticism is very important. Games like basketball emphasize cooperation more so than show-boating (The equivalent of bossing everyone around)

2. Create an obstacle that is NOT another player: time-limit, appearance of a specific card, etc. Each player tries to further the overall goal of the game (Beat the clock, complete the tasks before the whammy pops up). Design the game so that individual efforts never quite reach the pinnacle. Eventually, veteran players will realize that they must work with each other.

These two ideas, taken together, remove the solitaire aspect of cooperative games. Whether you need to incoorporate both into a single game, I'm not sure...

Cheers,

Mitch

ZHeMeSoR
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bingo!

Exactly right on Simpson! It's not the game nearly as much as the players, and I like the suggestions that Mitch had too. Examine ways to "funnel" the energies of the players, you can never totally control them, so don't try, just add elements that direct. I'm of course not sure with the details of your game. However, I know when I go paint balling ( weird comparison, I know ) we keep the newbies kinda in the middle of our "formations", so that if we get flanked by a vet from the other team, it's not just easy kills, and the newbies get to kinda see how the vets play, cause they are partnered up with them. If somebody in paintball tries to be a hot shot and just charge over for the flag or whatever, then there is always a vet to take shots at them. (someone hides by the flag or something like that) Anyway, there is nothing you can exactly do about that, they just learn by getting nailed with a flurry of paintballs, so to speak. Master pain is a good teacher! I say use him.

InvisibleJon
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Did I make an answer like this before?

simons wrote:
How can you make a game that is cooperative, but still makes individuality important? How do you make a cooperative game that doesn’t work if one player controls everything?
I'm designing a co-op game right now where players decide if they're staying together or splitting into teams at the start of each turn. If players stay together, they're safer, stronger, and have all of their combined resources to bring to bear against any obstacles. However, they're slower; they don't advance very far toward the endgame. If players split into two or more teams, they cover more ground, but each team only has access to the resources within that team. Also, the encounters aren't any weaker - they're still scaled for the number of players playing the game, not the number of players in the team.

How does this address Simons' original question?

1) Each player has special powers and their own resources. This encourages a sense of individuality, and encourages players to barter and swap during play to optimize their characters.

2) The rules explicitly encourage team decision-making during exploration.

3) With each player having several special powers and resources, and the encounters requiring different combinations of resources with different results, there are enough variables that no one player can keep track of them at the same time.

4) Similarly, there are mini-encounters where each player is simultaneously doing his or her own thing. You're making your own decisions to ensure your own well-being. You really don't want to place responsibility for your safety in someone else's hands... This reluctance, combined with the simultaneous nature of the activity, thwarts attempts to consolidate the decision-making with one person.

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