Game Designer’s Notes #9: Cooperative games

Courtesy of Amos Kwok

Sometimes trashing your friends repeatedly gets boring, and then you decide to play a cooperative game. You know, where everyone’s on the same team, and the game itself is the enemy.

The reasons for playing cooperative games is obvious, especially if you want to remain friends with everyone around the table at the end of the day. So today, I’m going to discuss the general mechanics of cooperative games.

Firstly, cooperation is key. This might sound like a no-brainer, but it actually isn’t. A good cooperative game makes everyone feel included in the solution. If one player feels left out, or even worse, if one player can carry the whole team to victory without the other players, then obviously, the game will need some changes. Remember, the point of a cooperative game is that everyone works together to win.

Second, it needs to be difficult. As in, really difficult. Because people will only come back to the game if there’s a challenge, and if there’s no challenge, and winning is inevitable, there’s no point to playing. Personally, I would say that a good cooperative game would only allow the players to win 50% of the time. Or maybe 25%. That would be a game I would keep coming back to, because obviously, I wouldn’t have mastered it yet.

Of course, not everyone will have the same skill level, so “difficult” is a little subjective. However, many cooperative games manage to retain their widespread appeal by having several levels of difficulty. Pandemic, the quintessential cooperative game, does just that by having three levels of difficulty: beginner, normal, and expert.

And that, really, is the basics of cooperative games. But like every other game, the benchmark for a good cooperative game is if people want to play again.

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