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Are cooperative games really puzzle?

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

I have heard a lot of comments where people say that cooperative games are like puzzle where you play against a system and that those games are not real games where you play against a real player.

Now I was wondering, what is the fondamental difference if there was a real player making the choice. For example, take "Shadows over camelot", compare the regular game where the black cards are played randomly, vs an alternate game where a player would have a hand of 5 black cards and choose which card to play.

What are the differences?

Sure, when using a real player as a villain, there could be more forward planning. He could set aside some cards, to try to push finish certain quest in priority to others. Maybe that could be the element that make the system feel less like a system. But that player can make errors and bad decisions too, so the advantage that a player could make better decision could be negated if he makes error.

In both games, the card play is the same, 1 black card is played each turn. The only difference is that one is random, and the other is not. Randomness implies that you will not always get the best card play, but sub-optimal card play is also possible when playing against a player. On the other hand, it could be possible that randomness creates a cardplay as good as a player.

Personally, I think the difference is psychological. Because if you have a real player as opponent, you can taunt him, you can try to mind read him, etc. But that does not change the game play. In fact I suspect (hypothesis) that playing against a player villain that simply put the top card drawn from the deck by assuming that he is actually making a choice would still give the players the feeling of not playing against a system even if they actually are.

That could be something worth experimenting.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
How I see things

As long as there is hidden information. I don't think of a game as a puzzle.
The same goes for when human interaction can cause the system to respond in a certain way. Other human interaction could anticipate this, but has no complete control over it.

While some argue that chess is a puzzle. Even there, you have hidden information. Namely the human interaction of your opponent.

If you can somehow channel this into the "AI". Together with randomized hidden information. The game is certainly no puzzle. No matter what the co-op will be and how the AI is controlled.

If you only have hidden information in the form of randomness. Then you have still a game if human interaction is able to try to anticipate. But as cards or other resources are drained. It will become more of a puzzle.

Joined: 11/19/2012
It's all the silliness that

It's all the silliness that people go into regarding definitions of "Game". As far as I'm concerned it's semantics and there is no real difference.

The problem with an "AI" opponent is that it is predictable to some degree. Even with random cards, you know which events will eventually come and can plan for it. This means that after multiple plays you can develop a strategy that wins most games.

Having a human player can lead to a more dynamic experience. Human's can plan ahead, try the unexpected, read your body language and learn across multiple games. This is a different experience to an AI.

But from the gameplay standpoint, there really isn't a fundamental difference except in games that rely on human behaviors. If you continually played against different players with a similar level of skill your likely to have the same issues as facing the AI.

Past that, "Game" is one of the words that people argue about to sound smart rather than accept that it's personal opinion. It's the same with the "Games are Art" debate... people argue for the sake of arguing.

My definition is "Game's have a win/loss condition". This puts a video game like Bioshock or Grand Theft Auto into a strange place of "Not-A-Game" to me... but I still like them and respect anyone who defines differently.

Joined: 07/03/2013
Experience vs physical components

This debate keeps coming up throughout the interwebs, and while I think that it has valid points, overall, it's really an indicator of where someone's at in learning about Game Design.

Simply put - games are more than their physical components. Instead, a game designer should aim to make an experience, which is an intangible, difficult-to-describe thing that is distinct from the physical components and mechanics that the designer put in place.

Example: Pandemic is a game that can be played solo as a puzzle, knowing that there's a certain probability for certain cards to come up at a given time. I've played over 100 games of Pandemic in my life, and I can assert that I've pretty much got it solved (as best one can given the random things that come up). However, that doesn't prevent it from being an experience that I enjoy with my wife and friends. The tension rises throughout the game, the stakes in different regions of the world continues to climb, and the life-or-death decisions still are weighty (partially because I don't always tell people what I think). It's still an experience that I can enjoy with my friends and family, and it hits the table on a regular basis because the game is one of those rare few that's more than its rules and components - there's a sense of story to it, there's a feeling of having a role to play, and of having power to do awesome things that help the team. That's why it's a game that doesn't die.

Try to step away from thinking about mechanics as the end-all of game design but instead focus on the experience that you want the players to feel, and see if you can generate that in playtests. that's how you'll know if you have a successful co-op game.

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009
Fundamental to design

From a design standpoint, the difference between puzzle and game is not silly or mere "semantics", it is fundamental to what you're doing.

By definition, a puzzle is something with an always-correct solution. This is expected in puzzles, you solve it, you're done (you "beat the game").. It is poison in games, where it's called a Dominant Strategy, something to be avoided.

Most of the things we call games have elements of both. Randomness can ameliorate the puzzle aspect. Pandemic is a puzzle, such that one player I know guarantees a victory unless one of three or four cards comes out early. Randomness reduces the certainty, but is still predictable. In games there are many strategies that are almost certainly bad, and occasionally there are moves that are certainly the best.

Most Euro-style games are puzzles, but often include more than one always-correct solution (known as "multiple paths to victory"). There is some interference between solutions, so that there isn't a single dominant strategy.

Most single-player games (including video) are predominantly puzzles, because the programming is predictable. Many video games allow "speed runs", where someone who has solved the puzzle can play through the game in 5 to 10 minutes rather than the many hours it took before it was solved. If you "beat the game" you're saying you solved the puzzle.

Chess is a pure puzzle, but too complex for humans to solve. It has been proved that the outcome of a perfectly-played chess game is always the same. This applies to virtually any two player perfect-information game. The uncertainty about human intention does NOT matter, Game Theory assumes a perfect opponent. You can try to read the oppnent's intentions, but at that point you're relying on their incompetence, in effect. But as soon as you have at least three players, that uncertainty matters a great deal.

Parallel competitions are cases where the player who best executes the solution to the puzzle outdoes everyone else. Parallel competition is my term for what people call multiplayer solitare, where you can do nothing to interfere with other players. Many Olympic sports, e.g., where a the competitors know what needs to be done, but some can do it better owing to their athleticism and training. Or a hot-dog eating contest. Or many things we typically call board games.

You're most unlikely to have a puzzle when there are at least three players who interact directly and frequently with one another.

You could make an argument that a big differentiator between a puzzle and a game is that in a puzzle you don't interact with the other (human) player(s), while in games you do. But that's a separate topic.

So from a design point of view, are you designing an always-correct solution (or solutions) into your "game", or trying to avoid that? It makes a great deal of difference. And makes a great deal of difference to the player "experience" and to the longevity of the game. People can play a 4-5 hour game like my Britannia more than five hundred times because there is no solution. Other "games" are "played out" in a few plays because there is an obvious solution.

Tabletop co-ops (without a traitor, and then it isn't a co-op game it's a traitor game) are fundamentally puzzles, but you can add elements that ameliorate that, such as randomness and chaos.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Hmm! It's like if at it's

Hmm! It's like if at it's fundamental states, games where puzzles. Then you could add various elements to the game to unpuzzle-ify the game:

- More players
- More interaction
- Randomness
- etc

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Chess is the ultimate puzzle in the making

I don't think that more players will add "more game" to a game. If the game itself is a puzzle.

But if players create new puzzle parts that are unforeseen by their opponent. Then I think that you could consider these "puzzles" as games.

Chess is one of those games that are always confusing in that regard.
Sure it is the ultimate puzzle if you think about it. But every next step is "random" or better yet, decided by your opponent. The "puzzle" becomes more complex with each step.

It is up to the players to make these steps. But it is the skill to make the puzzle harder to solve. And it takes skill to solve the puzzle.

This "skill" that players require, is what I think, makes chess a game. Not a puzzle.
Sure, the positions are limited. But this limit lays well beyond a human lifetime. Henceforth, always a new way to create new puzzle parts for your opponent to solve. But in the mean time, you need to create new puzzle parts yourself.

If players decide how the puzzle looks like for other players. And that is considered to be a game. Then more players will add more game. For me, it is the same, 1 or an infinite amount of opponents. As long as they are my opponent instead of the design, it is a game. So in a sense, more interaction. Regardless of the "game" being a "puzzle" in design.

I don't know if I got my message across regarding this subject.

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