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I've played two cooperative strategy games in the past couple weeks, and it highlighted some game design issues for me. Namely that one potential drawback to a cooperative game is that, in the extreme, it can turn into a one player game with many pawns (described on one webpage as "Coop Syndrome"). Eg, Pandemic, which we played yesterday, is a great game: but even though each person is assigned a role, it is basically the whole team making decisions. If in a coop game, someone can go to the bathroom and the rest of the players can take their turn for them, then there isn't enough individuality in the game in my opinion.

So the question for me is how to bring more individuality in? Pandemic's "attempt" at that is to have players hide their cards. But since you are allowed to say what you have, that just seems like an artificial barrier. (and if you're not allowed to talk about what you have, then that would pretty much eliminate the card-trading mechanic). (I kind of wonder what would happen if the only person allowed to talk was the person whose turn it was?)

The other cooperative game I played recently was Betrayal at the House on the Hill (for the first time, despite wanting to play for ages). I liked this solution. Everyone is cooperating to explore the house (I also like games where there's a tile-turn-over to make the world component), but there's incentive to play somewhat selfishly because, hey, maybe you'll end up being the Haunt. I prefer this over the straight traitor games (eg, Shadows over Camelot) because I don't particularly like the stress of lying to people*. Now, in some ways it is a weird hybrid game: cooperative individuality to begin with, followed by one player versus a team of everyone else. But it worked for me in a way that neither pure team games or pure one player versus everyone else** games do.

(aha: a quick google search found other people complaining about "Coop Syndrome": http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/71038/comprehensive-list-of-cooperative-games-with-hidde)

(and now, having gone down the linky rabbit trail, I'm really curious about Space Alert, which at least one boardgamegeek person theorized solves the Coop Syndrome problem)

*For example, Settlers of Catan has two problems in my mind. One is a common problem of long strategy games in that a poor start can doom you to a long game of being in last place (and the games where a poor start doesn't doom you often do it by adding randomness, which isn't satisfying either). The other is that the trading mechanic allows people to win by convincing people to make trades with you even when you're winning (bad for them), or convincing people to take down the leader when you're not winning. When I play with non-MIT gamers, I find that I'm pretty good at this, and then feel vaguely slimy afterwards (whereas when playing with former Assassin Guild types, they're the ones playing mind games). I think I'd feel the same with pure traitor games.

**Eg, Scotland Yard. If I'm Mr. X, I just feel stressed the whole game, if I'm not Mr. X then it _still_ has Coop Syndrome.

Date: 2012-08-12 05:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chenoameg.livejournal.com
We don't bother keeping cards hidden in Pandemic because remembering who has what is exhausting.

Things we do to keep it from being too much one person decides the show.

- (except in the case of dispatcher) only you get to touch your own pawn
- you get to decide when/if to use your special cards

So while we talk about what we want to do, we let the player whose turn it is make the final decision, rather than coming to a consensus about all the actions.

I'm enjoying the cooperative game flashpoint a lot; it seems like it should be just like Pandemic, but it's not.

Date: 2012-08-13 01:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ringrose.livejournal.com
Still, in Pandemic and Flash Point the overriding thing which keeps one person from controlling the game is let everyone play. There was a little coop syndrome when Will Wheaton played Castle Panic.

Date: 2012-08-13 09:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marcusmarcusrc.livejournal.com
Yeah, in all the games I've played the person whose turn it is has veto power over actions, and physically moves their own pawn, which does help keep everyone involved, and I've never yet seen anyone not enjoy a game of Pandemic... but Group Mind can be a strong force, and I feel like there is often someone (usually the newbie at the table) who can get pushed into certain decisions, and often someone who is the micro-optimizer in the crowd, to use to frederickegerman's terminology below.

When a game works well, all 4 people are offering options, and the player moving synthesizes the info, communicates their decision, and then moves. But a game often ends up with 1 or 2 people doing most of the option generating, and then the other players basically pick from the menu of options that have been handed to them. It is important in a game environment, just like work and extracurriculars, to make an effort to listen to and involve the quiet people. (in Saturday's game I was the one with the most experience, and there was one move that I took where the other micro-optimizer and I both agreed, but where the quiet player tentatively offered another option, and we discounted that option... and it turned out the quiet player turned out to be right. I was a little annoyed with myself for that one)

Date: 2012-08-12 08:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shaggy-man.livejournal.com
The fact that you're allowed to say what you have in Pandemic by no means guarantees that communication will take place effectively, at least not on my home planet. People are normally allowed to talk about all sorts of problem-solving that they still manage to screw up.

This is not "artificial" except in the way that all games are artificial; it's simply what the game is about.

Date: 2012-08-13 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marcusmarcusrc.livejournal.com
Hmm. I think there are different types of artificial: let me try an analogy to demonstrate:

Bridge involves taking tricks. The default version of the game requires hiding the trick after it is done. I could imagine some variants
1) base case: play trick, look at trick, hide trick.
2) full visibility: play trick, keep trick face up.
3) pseudo-visibility: play trick, put trick face down, but allow player to ask a referee what's in the trick pile at any time

Now, one could argue that hiding card discards in Bridge is annoying because once the information has been shown to everyone, it should stay public knowledge, but I think that in Bridge, needing to remember what cards have been played adds to the game: it is part of the challenge, it is not artificial. More parallel to the Pandemic case is the distinction between option 2 and 3: 3 allows for all the same information transfer of 2, and at any time, but with what I would call an "artificial" barrier in the same way as hiding Pandemic cards is. Yes, people can get make mistakes because humans are flawed, but once you've chosen to have unlimited table talk in a team game (or unlimited checking the discard pile in a trick-game), then you may as well go all the way and just keep everything up rather than making people repeatedly query the other players (or the discard pile) just because they can sometimes mess up. So the artificial constraint in 1 is fine, the artificial constraint in 3 is not.

I will note that Pandemic explicitly states in the rules that it is ok to look through the discard piles because (and I'm paraphrasing from memory here) "the point is not to have Pandemic be a game of Memory". But the "keep your hand hidden" rule is adding just that. Except not even that, because you _can_ ask people what cards they have, and they can answer, they just can't actually show you.

(I guess maybe what it comes down to is an opinion about "what the game is about": in my opinion, the card-hiding does not add any benefit in either or the two key areas for a game: "improved paint" or "improved strategy". Hidden information only makes sense to me if either people have individual goals, and so might not want to share all info, or if the information is actually hidden and people aren't allowed to communicate it directly so that remembering or divining the info is a skill-based addition to the game)

Date: 2012-08-13 02:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fredrickegerman.livejournal.com
Wait, Settlers is a long strategy game? It takes less time to play than most of the games named above.

I always emphasize about Settlers that the board is mostly a distraction: it's really a game about reasoning about asymmetric resource distribution, and figuring out how to value resources more accurately than your opponents given that they don't want you to know how much the resources are worth to them.

So far the Coop game I've most enjoyed is Forbidden Island. This is the San Juan to Pandemic's Race for the Galaxy: simpler mechanics, faster play. I'm beginning to think that you need fast play to keep coop games viable. As soon as there's time for someone to micro-optimize the game each turn, given the crowds we move in somebody will. The micro-optimizer becomes the de facto solitaire player (at least until two micro-optimizers start arguing).

Space Alert solves this by eliminating analysis / communication time. But games with imposed time pressure have their own problems (and [livejournal.com profile] desireearmfeldt won't play them at all).

Maybe something like Res Publica would work: a game where player communication has to occur in a very stylized fashion. Another great game of figuring out the values of resources to other players, a bit like the Bohnanza games in reverse.

Date: 2012-08-13 09:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marcusmarcusrc.livejournal.com
Hmm. I can approve of stylized communication constraints (for example, I like the bidding mechanism in Bridge). That was where I was trying to go with the idea that only the player whose turn it is can talk. Another possible idea for Pandemic would be that you can only show your hand to someone in the same city: you'd probably need to drop the constraint that you can only trade the card of the city you are on, then. (and then the researcher's ability could change to be that that player would play with their hand open)

And yeah, mentally I think of Settlers as being a longer game than it really is, I should fix that.

Date: 2012-08-14 05:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] doma.livejournal.com
Space Alert solves the coop syndrome problem because there is too much going on in too little time. One person isn't going to be able to do everything solo in ten minutes, so you have to trust the other players to do things on their own. It's an awesome game if you're willing to accept a goal of, "Let's see how we die hilariously this time" instead of, "We should always be able to win this game, given careful thought."

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