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How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

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Hello everyone,

this is the first time I am writing here, so I'll introduce myself first. My name is Petra, I am from Finland in Northern Europe.

At the moment I am studying social services, and as a part of my studies I am doing a practice placement in a human rights organisation, where we are developing an idea for a board game about human rights from a gender perspective. We have lots of ideas for the game and also many aims we hope to reach with it, but there are some issues that are puzzling us, since none of us have any experience in game design.

One of the most tricky things to figure out has been how to encourage co-operation in stead of competition, but still keep the game interesting. Our target group are youngsters, 12- to 16-year-olds, so we really need to keep in mind that the game cannot get get too complicated or boring. However, the whole game is about encouraging co-operation with others and learning to make ethical choices in life. If the game structure is all about competition between individuals, it is contradictory to the message of the game. Of course we could consider playing in teams, but even then the 'us' and 'them' thinking is present.

I am really not very familiar with this forum yet, so it might be that there are lots of resources available but I just don't know where to look for them... or maybe there are not? Anyway, I would really appreciate your ideas and suggestions!


Joined: 12/31/1969
How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

Hello Petra and welcome to the forum.

Cooperative games are a special breed among board games. It's not easy to design a good co-operative game, simply because there aren't many examples of cooperative games to go by. That said, there are a few examples you could look at.

The first one is "Lord of the Rings". This is what I would call a purely cooperative game. The players have to work together as a team to defeat the game itself. The players win or lose collectively.

Mechanically, this game works with a timeline - Sauron advancing towards the poor hobbits on a corruption track - and the players have to reach the last space on the last board, before Sauron reaches them on the corruption track.

A trick used in this game to make it more cooperative and to enforce communication is to give each player a hand of cards, which they may not show to eachother. However, they may discuss what cards they have. This may seem contrived, but it does make players talk to eachother about what they could do, instead of the most strong willed player taking charge and telling others what they should do (although that can still happen).

Another type of cooperation is seen in "Terra". This is not a purely cooperative game, because at the end only one player will win. However, players have to work together to solve several world crises. If they do not work together well enough the crises will escalate and they could all lose together.

It's a minor difference, but it makes for a completely different game. In "Lord of the Rings" there's not really a reason for not cooperating. In "Terra" there are certain situations where it might be better not to cooperate, if you want to win the game.

My personal feeling is that the "Lord of the Rings" type of game works best as a game. While the "Terra" style doesn't work so well as a game mechanic, it makes for an interesting socio-psychological experiment, which might actually be better suited for your goal. What style of game is best suited for your goal, is up to you of course.

Good luck, and if you have any further questions, feel free to ask!

Yogurt's picture
Joined: 01/09/2009
How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

Lord of the Rings is definitely proof that you can have a tense, exciting and yet cooperative game. The key is to give the players something challenging to compete against besides each other, whether it's the clock, a growing pile of loss conditions, or perhaps a list of rankings (in the computer game Civilization, your score is compared to a shameful or glorious historical figure, and the higher rankings are secret until you earn them).

As Tom Vasel has pointed out, the environmental game Terra's problem is that because it allows for individual victories, some people would rather destroy the world than let someone else win. The best variant for Terra I heard was that players must throw money into a pot before the game. If the game ends normally, they get the money back. If the world is destroyed, they have to send the money to an environmental charity. Probably not a good solution for 12 year olds though. :)

If you're not familiar with the above games, be sure to check for rule overviews and pictures.

You have lots of people here who would be happy to brainstorm game ideas for you, if you want to share more of your theme. Which human rights and gender issues are you hoping to focus on?

Tim Mitchell

More about the human rights game

Hi René and Tim,

and thanks for the advice! It is really hard to think of creative solutions when you are not too familiar with different kind of games. I might very well buy Terra and try it out, it seems easily available and not too expensive.

The game planning process is really just beginning now, but I can tell you some general things about it. I am designing it together with a group of people, mostly teachers an other educators. The game is partly based on a textbook on girls' and women's human rights that came out last year. Just today I was writing a seminar paper about the game, I'll post some relevant parts of it here, you can comment or suggest something if you like!

The Human Rights Board Game

The game design group has agreed that the game should consist of different parts: informational, activating, emotional and attitudinal issues should be addressed. The focus has been on developing task or question cards, where central themes have been approached through tasks ranging from small improvisation exercises and coming up with solutions to problematic situations to answering questions about human rights issues. As a basis for these task cards the group has, among other things, used the texbook on girls' and women's human rights, board games that deal with emotional and attitudinal issues and human rights and global education resources.

The primary target group is the age group of lower secondary school pupils, thirteen- to fifteen-year-olds. The game should be suitable for use in schools, but also at confirmation camps, Prometheus camps (politically non-aligned coming-of-age camps without a religious tendency) and in youth work conducted by municipalities and third sector organisations. The team also wanted to emphasise that the game should be played and enjoyed by both girls and boys.

The team outlined a list of aims and objectives. The game should emphasise a gender sensitive human rights perspective. It should be in close connection with the everyday lives of the young people and bring peace education to everyday level, helping young people to learn to resolve conflicts without violence. The game should promote gender sensitive self-knowledge, tolerance and knowledge of societies’ structures. It should also strengthen gender sensitive agency among young people, promote equality and reduce discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, ethinicity, race, disability or age. The game should help to break down myths that maintain inequality, promote knowledge of human rights and help young people see that it is possible to live ethically and succeed at the same time.

For the purposes of the game, I define gender sensitivity as the ability to recognize, understand and consider gender issues as well as socio-cultural factors leading to gender inequality, possibly developing later into a deeper awareness of hidden gender issues and disparities.

There are still many questions about the game that remain open. Will the winner be decided by skill or will an element of luck be involved? Will people play as individuals, in pairs or in groups? How can we encourage people to take action in human rights issues after playing the game? Should the question or task cards be divided into different categories according to the theme (eg. discrimination, equality) or according to the nature of the task?



Joined: 12/31/1969
How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

I think that something along the lines of the Lord of the Rings idea would work well. Maybe a collective race against world corruption and dictatorial governments. Each player could represent a member of a UN type organization aimed at preventing and/or relieving humanitarian disasters and atrocities. I think that for your purposes, it could be a good idea for players to be able to work against each other, just punish them for it.

A game turn could go something like this
1. Determine what disasters or atrocities occur for a turn. Maybe through a card draw or die roll.
2. Players take turns performing "relief actions" from a list of actions or from cards. This could be limited to one action or card per player per turn or it could be that each player can perform multiple actions per turn. The goal would be to collectively provide enough relief to take care of all of the humanitarian issues for that turn. To make it competitive without turning players against each other, try using a point system. Example: 1 point per successful relief action for the player performing the action and bonus points for every player for each disaster / atrocity successfully relieved.

Relief actions could include things like emergency food, medical care, peace keeping troops, world bank loans, etc. As cards, these actions could also have different values assigned to them. I think that cards would work best.

Disaster / atrocity cards could be things like famine, epidemic, earthquake, genocide, etc.

Example turn: An Epidemic, a Civil War, and a Famine have reared their ugly heads. Each issue has a set of requirements to be met collectively by all players to overcome that issue. Each player gets a hand of relief cards to play to help with the disasters / atrocities relief requirements. Say a Civil War requires x points worth of peace keeping troops, x points worth of medical care, and x points worth of food to resolve. Each player would have a chance to play a card to help meet these requirements. Play could continue in rounds until all players have played as many cards as they can to help with the relief efforts.

I need to go now but I will post more on this idea later.


Johan's picture
Joined: 10/05/2008
How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

It also exist other types of cooperative games. There is a line of games called that we can call Dungeon Crawlers. A dungeon crawler is like the early Roll playing games. Go down in the dungeons, kill the monsters and take their treasures. The difference between a Dungeon Crawler and a roll playing game is that the Dungeon Crawler is played on a game board. Normally will a dungeon crawler be played with a GM (Game Master) that controls all monsters, events and traps, but there are also examples of games that not have any GM (as Warhammer quest). Examples of games with GM are Heroquest, D&D Board game and Doom 3.

In this Forum we have Zaigas game Chicago (I had have the privilege to test). In that game all players have one part of the solution and within the rules you have to share your part with the others before the time runs out. This game is a good example on a different cooperate game.

The old WWII solitary game Ambush! can also be played as a cooperative game. A game mechanism handles the Germans, and the player's divides the US forces among them. The game is not the best, but the mechanism is interesting.

We have also some semi cooperative games. If you don't cooperate the game will win. Terra is a good example but also Republic of Rome. In RoR you play fractions in the senate and your goal is to be emperor, but if the player does not cooperate the game will win (in the first part of the game, the game will win 25% of the time with experienced players if they cooperate. If not the game will win 75% of the time).

If you play Advanced Civilisation in a tournament, and have a fixed number of turns, the players has to at least be neutral to each other (if some players start a big War or just let one or two players get way behind, all the players in this game will be behind (normally the score will get you to the final)). You can only trade with players that have something to trade with.

Good cooperate games has something in common:
- You have a threat and you have to cooperate to win.
- The game is stronger than all the players (the players living of the edge).
- The players have a common goal (in a real cooperate game they win or loose together).
- They have a interesting mechanism (that will allowed the players to play the game more then once).

The easiest way to make all but one player try to reach one goal, and the single players job is to stop them.

Good luck with your project

// Johan

Jpwoo's picture
Joined: 03/26/2009
How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

I think that given the type of audiences that you are shooting for you should go with as few rules as possible. Another game you might consider mimicing is Truth or Dare Jenga.

Kids of that age enjoy dexterity games.

The various blocks would have the various other activities, improvisation, question and answer etc, associated with them, and successfully completeing a task would allow them to build the structure upward. This helps the game appeal on several fronts, including a tactile/visual one. So even if you have a player who couldn't care less about gender issues. (something that is likely to happen in a school/camp setting) they will still be involved in the game, and hopefully learn something along the way.

I would certainly avoid games where you roll a die and move a little guy.

Yogurt's picture
Joined: 01/09/2009
How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

Strongly agree with Jpwoo, especially about the rules. You'd want to be able to teach the game in five minutes or less.

How many people should be able to play the game? (I see this is one of your own questions, but it will need to be one of your first decisions.) Board games normally top out at 6, but I think it might be more fun and affordable if you had a game that could handle 16 or 30 players. You might have a room full of deal-making, for example, people running back and forth trying to accomplish different goals.

A game with this many people would be best without a board or markers or dice. Cards and currency could work.

By the way, I was a bit befuddled by some terms. I Googled and learned that "third sector" is what's often called "nonprofit." What does "gender sensitive agency" mean? Is it "I can achieve anything, regardless of my gender and the expectations people put on me?" Been a while since I was in university...

Oh, and you talk about "questions and tasks" as being part of the game. Is this a design goal of your team?

How replayable does the game need to be? Would a person, other than a teacher or facilitator, ever play it more than three times, do you think?

Tim Mitchell

Hedge-o-Matic's picture
Joined: 07/30/2008
How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

Hey, my grandparents were from Finland, so we could be long lost cousins or something! Welcome to the forums!

I've designed a number of group games to be used for educational purposes, and a number of them deal with the role of the individual in larger groups. Each of these games is a freeform negotiation session, without turns or other tight structure. The players all have their goals, and work toward them at all times, with the periodic "administative" phase that updates the global situation. In your case it might be to change the status of various oppressed groups in various nations, for example. These might happen every five minutes or so.

In my experience, cooperation games are most effective when the players really could go their own way, but are constrained by the victory conditions, rather than the rules. In this way, most players play for the common good most of the time, but get as much extra for themselves as they can. This, unfortunately, is the way most real organizations work, and it's just a matter of how much of this "side gain'' the others will allow. Too much, and the real world brands it as corruption.

I think that the conflict between individual gain and the greater good is what makes these games interesting. but I'll admit, it can be a tightrope act to design them.

Keep the gameplay as simple as possible. The interplay between selfishness, the greater good, and trusting others is complex enough without introducing complicated gameplay elements. For instance, I usually have each player gat a limited number of points or tokens to influence events, and these they commit to various causes as they see fit. Everyone needs the help of others to make headway on their problems, and the players spend most of their time trying to convince others that they should be given priority. Every player, of course, sees a given problem as paramount, and percieves the others as less important.

These interactions between competing views make for great discussions afterward, which is the point of these games, rather than a super-duper game as such. As long as your game is fun, engaging, and makes the players connect the game event to the real world, you've done your part.

How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

I agree with many before me who say that the rules should be simple. Otherwise it will be too hard to get people to enjoy playing the game in the first place.

Whatever rules you decide on later, I think that a good way to facilitate post-game player involvment in the real world is to use real life examples in the game. Whether you are playing a mother who was raped and her children kidnapped to serve as foot soldiers in a brutal conflict or a young boy who lost his whole extended family in a massive fire and is taking refuge in a UN camp somewhere, these situations are hammered home when you realize that the stories are true, and that the people you encounter in the little world of the board game really live.

Probably the best way to take the point and make sure that it sticks is to choose stories of people who were in serious trouble but thanks to help from other people were able to rise above the challenges that life threw them and have a happy ending. Conversely, you could include examples of real people who struggled, suffered, and died tragically who COULD have been helped but weren't.

Just some thoughts on content, sorry not much for gameplay at the moment!


Zzzzz's picture
Joined: 06/20/2008
How to encourage co-operation instead of competition?

I agree with screech..., that you might want to consider some form of real life influence on the game. To me it seems like the best way to build actual interest.

What I might consider would be a murder-mystery dinner party style game. This style of game is largely based on Acting mechanic, which oddly enough I have been posting about recently. It allows for large group interaction since you can use as many people as needed to act out the actual event, while the rest attempt to uncover what is being acted out. One hard issue about this style of game is the lack of interest to actually act out something in front of other people. Not to mention, I am not sure what human rights type of material you are trying to promote and if the conent that you are trying to promote would be morally "OK" for students to actually act out. (obviously there are things that school frown upon so content would need to be suitable for the environment)

This might be a direction for your game idea, since you could have teachers or educators direct half of a class, for instance, to act out a real life human rights event, while the other students and observers could attempt to solve what they are trying to portray.

Beyond this style of game, you could always attempt to build games that target specific topics of human rights. But I think the difficult part of doing this would be to make it interesting enough to promote interest after the game play.

Actually to think about it, interest in general might be that hardest item to resolve with this game. From what I remember, kids in school dont care to play games that deal with "learning". So you might really need to focus on what would be appealing to your target audience. Figure out what types of games the target audience would be interested in playing.

Not sure I helped you much, but best of luck,


Hi everyone,

and thanks for all the ideas! I think many of them could be used, if not for this board game then for other human rights or global education activities. We are trying to come up with new ways of working all the time and for example the 'acting out' type of game could work really well with a more organised setting.

However, one of the things important in this game (which I seem to have not mentioned here, sorry!) is that it should be possible to play it without the presence of an adult. It is likely that there will be an adult present, but we would like the game to also work without supervision. This, of course, means simple rules and a game structure that is interesting enough to keep people focused on it voluntarily. The main target group is teenagers, so the game should not be very difficult, but not too simple, either.

We really have not decided yet on the amount of people who should be able to play the game. For classroom use, you could think that a maximum amount of participating people would be good, but on the other hand we'd like to address some personal and emotional issues in the game, so maybe very many participants is not a very good idea?

Tim was asking some things about the terms I was using. In Finland 'third sector' stands for non-profit or non-governmental. Gender sensitive agency, a monster term I created by direct translation from Finnish, means being aware of gender issues and taking action against possible discrimination, whether it be against yourself or some other person.

We have not really thought that the game would be role playing but that you would play the game as yourself. However, I think that it could really work with at least part of the questions if you'd have to relate to the situation of another individual or be restrained by their situation. Do you think it would be possible to combine these two, answering personal questions as yourself, moving around the board as a fictional character?

I liked the idea about the tactile and visual part, building something together. Do you know if it is expensive to make games with parts that work like that?

The question or task cards have been a key feature in the game design so far, we actually started with them and not with thinking about the game structure. The cards contain questions like: 'Many young people are unhappy with the way the look. Name 1-6 things in your appearance that you are happy with.' or 'what is the most common place where a woman encounters violence? a) street b) workplace c) home (the right answer: c).' These cards have been developed when thinking about a board and an individual player moving a little guy. However, I think that you could use these cards in another type of game, too? I'm afraid that in the structure we have been using he game has the danger of becoming a bit boring, or very competitive.

I think we really have not thought too much about the replayability, either. Our focus so far has really been on the content and not the form, which I think has not been too clever. The more replayability the better, I think. We really want to make the game interesting, otherwise there is no point making it!

I have really been impressed by the amount of ideas here. Just keep them coming! :)


PS. Oh, and hello to my long lost cousin!

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