The Jaded Gamer

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CO2 Second Chance - Why can't I be bothered to try it again?

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
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yadda yadda, all the below are just initial opinions etc etc. I've been away from the blog for a long while but I don't think the below is a very good review, so it comes here.

EDIT: I suggest that for a view on the development of one's relationship with the game from a more experienced player you check out Jacob's comment below


So I got this game because of theme and table presence and on paper it should have worked for me. I love a co-op, I secretly love a meaty Euro and the combination could work well. I greatly enjoyed the Gallerist by Lacerda before (though few of my regular opponents do) so the signs were great!


However, I played it three times and found it... not that great. So much so that I have thought "I should really decide if I am keeping it... but I can't face setting it up".

I have finally worked out why I am so ambivalent

It's entirely down to the most important part, the gas mechanic that gives the game its name, not giving the players any agency at all. I'd assume this is because this was never originally intended as a Co-Op AI at all, but as the "everyone loses" condition in the competitive version of the game.

I think it needed more work in converting the style across.


So, most co-op games have a very basic AI that you are playing against.

Pandemic, for example, features a very clever system where you are given a preview of hotspots before they become unsolvable and therefore players can prioritise where they will run to at any time, and you can play the odds somewhat on each round.

Arkham Horror has a completely arbitrary AI. Things appear randomly and you need to set yourself up in such a way as to adapt to new challenges or to ensure you have something already that can deal with whatever comes along.

However, CO2 fails to do either of these things and is instead a type of co-op game I just can't get into.

Things you need to know about why this is if you don't know the game.

The game itself is really interesting - get as many points as you can by meeting demand for power as much as you can using green plants in a very engaging abstracted economic management thing. If you don't meet the demand, continents will build horrid CO2 emitting plants on their own. these will drive up the CO2 concentration which will make you lose the game if you can't reduce it enough (by spending points)

I would assume, by the way, that your points represent the impact of your green plants and this is why you can move it back, but the principle of this is kind of non-intuitive.

I like the main part of the game an awful lot, though I feel the action economy means you don't get to do enough throughout the game for it to feel truly satisfying, this is truly subjective. I just want more of the pretty bits on the board!

You can also gain points by moving up on the income tracks and sitting yourself/yourselves in particular places (as income). Yeah, you have the option to take this as money instead but you will seldom want to.

This is because the "AI" in this game is based around wiping points off your score. You lose when the points drop below zero. Some of this you have control over - there are a bunch of things you are supposed to achieve as quickly as possible... and if you fail to do them (and you can't do them all quickly) they cost you points.

You also need to overcome the single worst part of the design - the power demands of the places you didn't build a plant this turn. Given the ingenious nature of the rest of the game, it is bizarre that this is just a random chit pull and it seems possible, rules as written, to play as perfect a first decade as you can and still lose immediately - I have never got beyond turn 2, though I can see ways through - I would need lucky chit pulls to ensure I got there.

Edit: These chits, by the way, can be 20, 30 or 40 in value. The higher, the worse.So it's entirely possible for identical play to result in a twice as bad situation, and you can do nothing about this except score as many points as you can; which you would do anyway!

The issue of agency

My problem here isn't actually that you can play perfectly and still lose when there are lots of co-ops that have such a dynamic, but rather than there is no feeling of agency in this outcome for me.

Pandemic's odds mitigation AI is superb at giving you agency. Even if you lose because you bet the wrong way in a 50/50 odds situation (i.e. there's two possible places that could add the eighth epidemic etc) you at least made that decision.

Arkham's totally random card pulls and outcomes are frequent and relatively low impact in and of themselves. Generally you have a chance to do something about it, or if you haven't you probably had a pretty harsh game already. I certainly have very rarely felt I had absolutely no control over the game's outcome, or at least... I felt I had as much control over the outcome as expected from a deck of cards and some dice. I had agency, small and illusory as it can be in AH, EH and MoM.

CO2, however, doesn't feel like this to me. It's not a dice chucker, it's a euro abstraction of something, so why do you have absolutely no control over the pulls from the chit deck? There isn't a way to affect the distribution of chits, see what is coming up, nor to change their value.

You simply draw a bunch of random ones and hope that your points are high enough to avoid losing. I feel agency in dealing with the demands and with scoring points (which is all public information stuff), but how many I actually need to spend at the end of a turn is completely out of my knowledge or control - and in many situations there is literally nothing I can do or could have done if I draw, say, nothing but 40s out of the chit pile for the first two turns.


Now, there are plenty of games with a single flaw in them that I still like - but here we are talking about the win/loss condition and the most important interaction (for me) in all co-op games; feeling you having some say in the way the situation develops.

There are ways to do difficulty effectively and having the game be hard because of random draws is not a particularly effective one. This issue has been addressed in forum posts and semi-official setup variants, but again why does the whole mechanism feel so incomplete and unsatisfying when it defines (and names) the whole game?

In taking the approach it has, the game paints a pretty bleak future for the planet. Good point, sure, but hardly a fun way to build a co-operative experience.

Anyway, that's my tuppence worth
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