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Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Partnership games are appealing to me. A lot of this can be attributed to the "high-five" factor; it's more fun to succeed along with someone else.

However, for a partnership or team game to be successful, there needs to be the ability to cooperate without one person running the show. One night, 6 of us sat down to play a game of Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights, in order to shorten the game length, we decided to play teams. We didn't change the gameplay drastically, so one key strategy was to balance your cards and your partner's cards at the end of your turn so that you stayed below the hand limit.

What ended up happening is that one player (me) on the winning team basically ran the game for both players since the other player was fairly new to C&K. We overran the competition, and it generally wasn't any fun.

In retrospect, it wasn't really a team game because there was no team play. We didn't need to communicate, cooperate, or otherwise by "in sync". These are the aspects of a team game that differentiate them from individual games.

Although I'm speaking from limited exposure to the wealth of existing games, the partnership or team games that I have played (or have otherwise been exposed to) seem to fall primarily into three categories: trick-taking cards games (e.g., Bridge, Euchre, Spades), semi-cooperative games (e.g., Shadows over Camelot, Battlestar Galactica), and party games (e.g., Taboo, Pictionary). I recognize there are  probably more that I don't know about, and I would love to hear about them. Inkognito seems to fall outside these categories, and does interest me. However, it seems that it would have some of the problems I have with semi-cooperative games, which I will describe below.

Unfortunately, these three categories feel a bit stale to me:

I love trick-taking games. However, I find myself more and more wanting to have a richly integrated theme in my games. This is an entirely subjective point, and I couldn't even begin to explain why, except that I find myself enjoying a game more when the actions a more tightly tied to a theme.

Additionally, their mechanics are so similar that I usually don't care whether I play Euchre, Spades, or Rook (or whatever other trick-taking game you want to teach me). But I'm definitely not going to quit a game of Euchre and switch to Spades over some other game.

Party games are fun for a social gathering. I usually don't find them intellectually challenging, and many times the teamwork is more about having a breadth of talents/knowledge than it is about working together.

It's hard for me to complain about semi-cooperative games because I haven't played them. I suppose one reason I avoid them is that they usually contain information that is only known by yourself (or a select few), and require bluffing to play well. Let's put it this way: I don't play poker for (a lot of) money for good reason. Bluffing stresses me out. I prefer games that I can play straight.

All of this generated a design problem for me -- create a game with the following properties:

  • partnerships -- two players playing together as a team with a common goal

  • closed information -- each player has only partial knowledge of the entire game state

  • communication through play, not table talk -- partners can only reveal information to each about their knowledge of the game state through their own play

  • not a trick-taking game -- because there are plenty of these

Initially this design problem led me to explore partnership possibilities in Race for the Galaxy. Following that, I began exploring my own design that centers around actions triggered by set completion as a mechanic. My next two posts will detail these thoughts.


  1. I have put some thought into this topic as well - in my posts I discussed it as looking for a way to do a truly cooperative game, rather than a collaborative one - what I refer to as "Solitaire by Committee."

    You're welcome to check out my posts on the subject - I have not taken the time to figure out how exactly to get these ideas into a game yet. Well, that's not entirely true, but I have yet to get anywhere I like with it.

  2. As you state, 100% cooperative games are difficult to design so that it isn't solitaire with spectators. One of your commenters mentioned a time-pressure element could mitigate that problem by forcing players to focus on their own decisions and not everyone else's. I haven't played Space Alert, but from the description it sounds like Chvatil thought that was a good plan.

    Board games require a certain amount of social understanding between the players. Rules define a lot of these, but there's a lot of "rules" that are understood (e.g., you can't take the board and tip it over). Computer games (mentioned as a good model for coop games) have the advantage of 1) requiring real-time decisions, and 2) restricting players in many more ways than is feasible to mention in a board game rulebook.

    The trick for coop board games is designing enough constraint to prevent one player from running the game, but still allow players to coordinate strategies.