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Subject: CO-OP Game Design Thoughts rss

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Forrest & Ryan Driskel
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Recently, I been taking walks and trying to figure out the mechanisms behind a game involving the following factors, which I deem necessary to achieve an amazing coop board game.

All players win or lose, collectively
This is not a traitor game. This is not a semi-coop.

Players need to be able to discuss game strategy during the game.
Games are a social event and we should not just be able to communicate, we should be encouraged to. I enjoy Hanabi but it can be hard to stay within the rules on talking, accidents happen. Or even worse would be the hidden card element of Pandemic or Shadows over Camelot - which just serve to obfuscate the game state. "I can only help you a little more than the smallest amount" - stop wasting my time and just say you have a 1 card, or, if you can tell me, and have no reason to lie ... just show me the dang card!

Its not possible for one player to play the game for everyone.
Cooperation is not equal to loss of control. A real life QB does not get to control how fast a players runs, when he puts up his hands, when to juke, etc. Its the micromanagement of other players that is a problem.

All players need to be given interesting choices.
Related to, but not quite the same as above, some games allow players to let themselves be QB'd. Just ask everyone else what to do. Players simply execute the what the group advises down to every minute detail, which does not result in an exciting experience for some players (Hello Flash Point: Fire Rescue). Pretend you're an adventurer in Arkham, and a monster ambushes you! Are you going to call up your friends and say: "Hey, I've got this ugly monster about to eat my leg. Will we be better off if I use my shotgun or kill him off with my last one-time-use rune?" - The only game I've seen implement something to combat this is Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game with its "Instinct" cards, however they're a fairly minor part of the game.

The outcome of real cooperation is often a result of the weakest player, NOT the strongest. However, a strong player should be able to attempt to compensate for a weak player, at an expense. In too many coop games, the strong player just tells the weak what to do. Instead, there could be some sort of mechanism for helping a player who is not doing as well.

Players have information they DON'T want to share.
This is probably the most difficult item to approach. Are you cooperating if you're hiding information? Do all cooperative games have to be FULL cooperation? Most real world group feats are NOT full cooperation, just enough to succeed. Most of us have additional motives beside seeing an effort to completion. We might be embarrassed of them, and don't really want others to know.

For example, Jim, Susie, Bob and Jon are all working through a maze. They decide they need to split up. Susie has a crush on Jim, so she wants to go with Jim. Jon has an Axe, and that's an obvious help to Jim. It might disappoint Susie if they don't let her go with Jim, but she would be devastated if everyone found out about her crush!

Players don't outright lose just because dice hate them.
Two of the more interesting coops I know, Arkham Horror and Ghost Stories can go sour VERY fast if you have a poor roll. I understand that a completely non-random game is probably going to be a solvable puzzle, but its just not satisfying for everyone to lose because the guy with 90% odds didn't roll any black. Make recovery more difficult? Fine, but not outright lose on a die roll.

--------------------------------------------------------

So, what can we do about this? Some of these thoughts almost seem completely contradictory! How can players talk about the game, but not be told what to do at every move?

I have some thoughts, but I'm still working them out into a presentable form. I figured I would pose this as a challenge to anyone on BGG who wishes to accept!
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Jeremy Lennert
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Vanish wrote:
All players win or lose, collectively

Players need to be able to discuss game strategy during the game.

Players have information they DON'T want to share.

I don't think these are compatible--at least, not without compromising the spirit of at least one of them.

Theoretically, having access to more information is often advantageous, and never a disadvantage (I suppose in real terms players can be overwhelmed at some point, but that point varies widely between players, and if inducing information overload in your players is an actual design goal then I probably don't want to play your game). If you can be sure that none of the other players will intentionally act against your interests, then you want them to to have every advantage possible. So, if there are no costs or limits on communication, then you might as well share everything.

Your example with Susie's crush posits a situation where keeping someone ignorant is itself a goal. However, ignorance is a spectrum, not a switch, and there's no objective way to measure it (at least not if the subject has an incentive to play dumb), so I don't think that can be used as an actual game rule. I also think it's interesting to note that your example also involves the players having conflicting goals (Jim's ideal outcome is for Jon to pair with him, Susie's ideal outcome is if she pairs with him: conflict of interest).


You can get kind of vaguely close if you weaken one of your goals:
All players win or lose together...but some players win more than others
Players can talk to each other...but only at certain times, or only about certain things, or they have to pay a resource whenever they want to talk.

But I think the strong versions of those goals are fundamentally contradictory.


Vanish wrote:
Its not possible for one player to play the game for everyone.

This seems to imply either that no single player has access to all information (which appears to conflict with your open communication goal) or that the game is not purely a matter of information--there's some element of dexterity or timing or something where your execution, and not just your decision, affects the outcome. (And thus, a single player can't take on extra responsibilities without degrading his performance.)

I think that's an interesting avenue to explore, but I'd hesitate to say it's a requirement for an amazing game...


Vanish wrote:
All players need to be given interesting choices.
Related to, but not quite the same as above, some games allow players to let themselves be QB'd.

"It is theoretically possible for someone to allow themselves to be QB'd" sounds exactly the same as "it is possible for one player to play for everyone" to me. If you can QB someone with their consent, then you can QB everyone as long as they all consent; if you can't QB someone even with their consent, then you can't QB. I don't see what distinction you're trying to draw.


Vanish wrote:
The outcome of real cooperation is often a result of the weakest player, NOT the strongest. However, a strong player should be able to attempt to compensate for a weak player, at an expense.

Those sentences seem contradictory to me: if the behavior of the strongest player matters, then the outcome is not determined by the weakest player, but by some function that combines the performance of multiple players.

If you mean that one person can't quarterback and control the other "players", this seems to be another duplication of the same point. If you mean that one person can't single-handedly win the game even when not controlling the other players, then sure, but that's such a trivial goal that you'd have to go way out of your way to fail it. I'd be hard-pressed to name a single co-op game where you could win even with your theoretical allies actively opposing you.


Vanish wrote:
Players don't outright lose just because dice hate them.

So, with theoretical perfect play, the win rate must be exactly 100%? I doubt that's actually the ideal, at least for most players; even if it is, I think it's highly doubtful that it's an important goal: most players are not going to play perfectly anyway, and even if they did most probably don't greatly care whether their win rate is 100% compared to, say, 98%.

I think there are several related but more-nuanced goals that might be better:

It's not over til it's over: if it ever becomes impossible to change the outcome of the game, the game ends instantly; you don't need to play another 10 rounds to confirm an outcome that can no longer be changed. (This applies both when the game becomes unwinnable and when the game becomes unlosable.)

Skill matters: skillful players win a noticeably larger percentage of their games than clueless ones. (Hard to define an exact threshold, though.)

Diffuse stakes: No single event has an unduly large impact on the game's outcome; it takes a long streak of good/bad luck to overcome a consistent pattern of bad/good player choices, and vice versa. (Again, hard to define a threshold.)
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Ricky Dang
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Idunno, what about Plaid Hat's Dead of Winter? Everyone must work together to survive, but everyone also has a secret agenda to do in order to win. They have a co-op mode, so maybe you could look into that?
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Brian Compter
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Vanish wrote:

:star: Players have information they DON'T want to share.


How about a system where players are dealt cards that indicate information on the victory condition. That information CAN be made public but doing so
causes a secondary effect that makes the game harder.

So you have a situation where you try to reveal just enough information to help your team without making it so hard that the goal is impossible.


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Brook Gentlestream
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NeoGenesisX wrote:
Idunno, what about Plaid Hat's Dead of Winter? Everyone must work together to survive, but everyone also has a secret agenda to do in order to win. They have a co-op mode, so maybe you could look into that?


This has been my thoughts on Co-ops for awhile now. Dead of Winter, you say? I'll have to check it out.
 
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Paul Wagner
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Some thoughts on a few of your points.

Quote:
Players have information they DON'T want to share.


How about this? Players are dealt certain cards (Instinct cards) at the beginning of the game (Double attack! Crushing blow! Extra carry! Super searcher!) but they aren't allowed to show anyone else their cards. But along with these good cards they also have to deal themselves two bad cards from another deck(Cowardice -- run from battle! Klutz! -- drop/break whatever you were carrying.) And they have to use all their bad cards before they can draw new ones, good or bad. Plus, there could be game repercussions for some bad cards -- if you are teamed with one particular person and run from the fight, that person will NEVER team up with you again! Or perhaps that person from now on fights at -1 attack (if accompanied by you) as he/she won't go all out on offense as they're afraid you might run again.

And I think there are some games where certain players synergize -- A Touch of Evil, maybe? Something along the lines of, if you are the Constable, and someone else is a Deputy, then... extra attacks or something. What about BAD synergy? You pair up two youngsters, and hormones get in the way of them effectively scouting/ scrounging/ completing a task. What about ex-spouses? Affairs-gone-sour? Secret bigot/racist/religiously intolerant person? You could also make that card dependent too, and unrevealed.


Quote:
Players don't outright lose just because dice hate them.


Agreed, but I don't think that's the die's fault, it's the game designer's fault. There are SO MANY ways to get around this while still insuring variability/randomness in the game. Some ideas:

a.) Take the Ace through Six cards of all four suits from a standard deck of playing cards and mix 'em. Draw cards instead of roll the die. When you get to the last card, re-shuffle the deck. Still random, but you won't be able to draw/roll six sixes or six ones in a row, EVER. PLUS you can have some character's special ability be "foresight" or "planning" or "omen-reading" or "divine intervention" or "sixth sense", and they get to peek at the card before it is drawn (but perhaps only a certain number of times the entire game.) Or what the heck, draw two cards -- use one, discard the other.

b.) Roll two dice, use one, discard the other. Or roll a die, ignore the first result, roll again, but you MUST take the second roll.

c.) Roll MULTIPLE die and then assign one each die to an active character. The die rolls could represent potential actions they can take, including searching, healing, fighting, building, etc. Every new turn someone new is the person who decides how the dice are assigned.

OR you could roll 1/2 the multiple dice you need for that turn -- and the second half you need is generated by being the opposite of half you rolled! If you roll three sixes, then the second half generated is three ones! That way rolling VERY GOOD means you also have to deal with some VERY BAD numbers at the same time! But of course, the reverse is also true -- roll three TERRIBLE dice and get their opposite number as the other three generated numbers!

d.) Roll multiple dice and take the average.

e.) Roll multiple dice and consult a chart -- 3 ones = very bad; 3 sixes = very good; everything else is somewhere in-between.

f.) roll custom dice. Two sides might say, 3 combat/3 movement, another two sides 2 combat/4 movement, the last two sides 4 combat/2 movement. With custom die you can make it be whatever you want.

g.) Try to limit (or seriously, do away with) the idea/game mechanism whereby ONE DIE ROLL results in some HUGE CATASTROPHE/VICTORY (i.e., character death, or game loss/win). A combat should last multiple turns, and the character should be able to see it coming when his wounds start multiplying. He should have the choice of pressing his luck and standing his ground, or retreating. Same thing with game end -- you should have multiple times to try and shore up the "lost cause", rather than "everything from the last three hours of gameplay relies on this one random roll."

You make a game like that, your game really stinks.



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Benj Davis
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The problem I see with information you don't want to share is that either you can't really control the flow of information (see the still ongoing arguments about how much you can say about your hands in Shadows over Camelot or Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game) or it just feels like a dumb restriction that only serves to make the game harder, with no fun upside (Witch of Salem). It's only really bearable in Shadows or Battlestar because they're hidden team games, not cooperative.
If you have secret goals and win or lose separately, the game isn't cooperative.
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we only play Shadows coop - no traitors
we enjoy roleplaying our hands - "I can help you with the grail quest, but only a little" is more fun then just saying I have 1 grail card

I am working on several coop games and my general take is that you should allow players to lose individually but win collectively.

In my superhero game the heroes win if all of the villains are defeated and lose if all of the heroes are defeated. But a heroic hero can sacrifice themself to save the city. Just like in Shadows a knight can take enough wounds to die.

Being able to lose on your own means that a choice that is best for the group may not be best for you individually.

That is just the classic RPG approach to games.
 
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Jake Staines
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Vanish wrote:

How can players talk about the game, but not be told what to do at every move?


I think you have already identified the core of the problem. Between this and "no traitor" you basically have a set of conditions which guarantee that one of the above cannot be true - at least, not all of the time.

(EDIT: there are obviously multiple approaches to mitigating this, like "playing in realtime so nobody has enough time to order other people around as well", but these are mitigations, not eliminations. Someone who thinks/observes fast enough and/or knows the game inside out will still be able to do it, unless you're talking about a game which progresses so fast that normal people won't be able to keep up with it and play properly anyway.)


I have a backburner project that I think I mentioned the last time we had a long discussion about co-op games here, in which each player is a ruler of a border fief in a mediaeval kingdom, playing an individual deck-building game to run their fief, defend themselves against the neighbouring countries, trade, and so on. Each player takes their turn simultaneously, and while people are selecting cards from their hand and choosing which ones to play as actions and which ones to play as money, and placing them on a play-mat to signify their intentions, there's no communication allowed between players. In all other respects the game plays like a straight co-op; if any single territory gets overrun by enemies or starves, the whole team loses, and as part of their turn players can pass cards from their hand to their neighbouring players to help them out.

It mostly manages to eliminate the worst kind of QB behaviour, where the alpha-player dictates every move the other/weaker players make, because at the point that a player makes the most significant decisions of the turn a) they're very explicitly not allowed to talk by the rules and b) at the time they'd be doing so, they're making their own decisions on their own turn and can't easily dictate what everyone else should be doing as well.

On the other hand, it's still possible to push other players around because after the choices of action have been revealed, they're resolved as a group; the weak player may have decided that he wants to spend his entire hand buying military cards, but the other players have every opportunity to 'help' him decide which military cards are best for him at that point, and of course strongly suggest that next turn, should he have the opportunity, he should probably consider buying infrastructure cards or establishing a trade route. The weak player doesn't have to listen to them, but to my mind the problem with co-op alpha players is usually that what they say makes a lot of sense and weak players often recognise that and do genuinely want to do exactly what they're told to do... it's just that doing what you're told isn't as fun an activity as making your own decisions.

It also doesn't really have any kind of information that the players want to keep hidden (unless they are actually cognizant of and worried about and overbearing QB)... but I really don't think that's at all possible in a pure co-op. To be a pure co-op the game has to not have some players winning more than other players, so there's a single goal that everyone is fully committed to... meaning that there's no way to motivate players to hiding information. The more things that are known by the team, the better the chance of getting everything right. I've seen people suggest that you can overcome this by ruling penalties if people's hidden-failure-condition (or whatever) is guessed, but realistically this still suffers from SoC-Syndrome; people will talk 'around' their hidden-failure-condition and other people will guess it, hint at it and take it into consideration without ever talking about it directly in order to avoid the penalty.
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Derek H
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I think you have a good overall set of goals; but they will not all fit together into one game. Here's a more workable mix as two different types:

Game Type I:
All players win or lose, collectively
Players need to be able to discuss game strategy during the game.
All players need to be given interesting choices.

Game Type II:
Its not possible for one player to play the game for everyone.
All players need to be given interesting choices.
The outcome of (apparent) cooperation is often a result of the weakest player, NOT the strongest.
Players have information they DON'T want to share.

(I won't comment on the "dice hate me" part; its a good reason I avoid, if possible, games with dice in them... Roma is the shining exception!)
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Nat Levan
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For two interesting approaches, look into Ticket to Ride Asia. One side of the map has a semi-cooperative mode, where you work together, and share some information, but can't share private information except through your plays on the board. One problem we encountered with that is that one player can tank the game to help a teammate. You need to consider having players always having something productive to do and not being completely out of the running.
VivaJava lets players share info when cooperating, but not directly show their private info, so you can lie. It's one of the few true semi-cooperative games.
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Michael Iachini
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Scrapyardarmory wrote:
Vanish wrote:

Players have information they DON'T want to share.


How about a system where players are dealt cards that indicate information on the victory condition. That information CAN be made public but doing so
causes a secondary effect that makes the game harder.

So you have a situation where you try to reveal just enough information to help your team without making it so hard that the goal is impossible.


This sounds like an idea worth exploring. It might be hard to actually implement, but still worth trying.

For instance, you can have a card called "Get to the chopper" that says "If two or more players are on the helipad at the same time, this card gives you tons of cool stuff. If it is revealed before its condition is met, though, it will give you way less cool stuff when its condition is met."

Players would have the option of revealing their cards, but there is a cost to doing so (decreased rewards). There could also be mechanics in the game that sometimes force cards to be revealed.

The tricky part would be making enough different cards with similar (but not identical) conditions so that a player who behaves in a way that signals that they have a certain card doesn't make it completely obvious to the rest of the players what the card is (that would probably violate the spirit of the card).

The idea of encouraging other players to do certain stuff without outright quarterbacking them or showing them what the payoff is for doing so sounds like it could be a fun co-op element. I'd like to see a design that tries this. I'm curious about whether it can work.

Michael Iachini
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ChaosAndAlchemy wrote:
For instance, you can have a card called "Get to the chopper" that says "If two or more players are on the helipad at the same time, this card gives you tons of cool stuff. If it is revealed before its condition is met, though, it will give you way less cool stuff when its condition is met."

As soon as you give the players an actual incentive to violate the spirit of your rules, enforcement becomes a major pain.

I get less cool stuff if I reveal the card? OK, how about I:

A. Read the entire text of the card aloud, but don't actually show it to anyone
B. Say "something good might happen if 2 people are on the helipad at the same time"
C. Say "Wow, I drew the exact card that Michael used as an example in that forum discussion about co-op games with unshared information."
D. Say "I won't tell anyone whether or not I have card A, but I do not have card B...or card C...or card D..."
E. Say "I think someone should go to the helipad with me now."
F. Say "I think someone should follow my character now."
G. Say "Everyone knows that a goal card exists in this game that rewards having 2 people on the helipad at once, right? OK, just wanted to make sure we all have the same base of information going in...". Keep saying that periodically. Wink.

If there is no one at the table on an opposing team that you're trying to keep in the dark, I don't think it's feasible to prevent an idea from being communicated just by having a list of things that you can't say. Heck, there's an actual game whose entire premise is to communicate a specific idea to your teammates without saying specific words on a forbidden list.

You can forbid ALL communication except for a specific approved list; Hanabi takes that approach. But the OP specifically used Hanabi as a negative example, saying that he didn't want to restrict communication like that. Given that restriction, I don't think this idea is possible.
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Pretend Shadows is a co-op game only. You cannot tell what cards are in your hand but you can reveal the cards and then talk about them. Revealing your hand causes you to draw one from the Progression of Evil deck because you are revealing information that spies take to Morgaine.

You have to decide how much openness is helpful to you or hurts you.
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John "Omega" Williams
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Basically you just say at the start. "Refrain from cheating the system" or somesuch and leave the rest to the players because if they are going to game your game then they will.

"The rules specifically say that I cannot tell the other players what I am doing. But it doesnt define what tell is so I'll just write something down and slip the next player a note..."

etc.

Worry about gameplay rather than worry about players doing weird things with your game while you arent looking.

If your rules read like the download of Robocops directives then you are likely to not garner much good will...
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Jeremy Lennert
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Omega2064 wrote:
Basically you just say at the start. "Refrain from cheating the system" or somesuch and leave the rest to the players because if they are going to game your game then they will.

It's not so much a problem that players can choose to cheat (that's always an option) as that the players can't even tell whether they're cheating or not.

If you deviate in any way from the way you would behave if you did not have that goal card, that could be construed as signaling the other players as to what card you have. And if you don't, then the goal card obviously isn't affecting your play in any way, so why is it even in the game?

In most games, you're expected to do everything you can within the rules in order to win; and if there are a few special cases where the rules aren't 100% clear, that's usually not a big deal because you can probably play roughly as effectively without going there, so you don't have an incentive to go to the exact edge of the rules.

This is a case where the rule about how you can or can't communicate seemingly cannot be made clear--not without adopting one of the extremes of "open information" or Hanabi's "you can't communicate at all except in these specific approved ways", at any rate. Worse, since communication is both the goal and the forbidden activity, something becomes more questionable to precisely the same degree that it is more effective. No matter what strategy you adopt, you could get a slight advantage by doing something slightly more questionable, and there is no point (other than the utter extremes) where you can say "this definitely IS allowed" or "this definitely is NOT allowed".

There is no possible point where everyone will be able to agree that you are following the intent of the rules.
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Correct. Its fine to put in some anti cheating the system rules. But dont obsess over it or go overboard.

An example of a co-op game with hidden agendas is Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel where each team has a secret goal to try and accomplish. But they also meed to work together to survive. Interestingly some of the cards also had double functions. So the players would have to weight if their agenda was worth risking the mission for just to sabotage another team from advancing.

Another game with this feature is RuinsWorld which is straight up co-op vs the game. But each player gets a personal goal they want to accomplish. Here too the players need to weigh goals vs risking the adventure.
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Antistone wrote:

It's not so much a problem that players can choose to cheat (that's always an option) as that the players can't even tell whether they're cheating or not.

If you deviate in any way from the way you would behave if you did not have that goal card, that could be construed as signaling the other players as to what card you have. And if you don't, then the goal card obviously isn't affecting your play in any way, so why is it even in the game?


This, a million times.

Shadows is still the easiest example. If I have a 2, 3, 4 and a 5 in my hand, and the Picts or the Saxons are empty of cards (where you need to play successive cards from 1-5 to defeat them), then I can do most of the work, but I can't start.

As a co-operative game, I need to be able to communicate to my fellow players that someone needs to come over there with me and play the first card... which basically means telling them that I don't have the first card in my hand, which is against the rules. So am I supposed to go over there on my own, and just waste a turn doing nothing as a way of signalling to my team that someone else needs to come over and help, meaning that I then have to waste another turn next time because it's going to take someone's entire turn to get over there and another entire turn to help me? Shadows is hard enough already, so I seriously doubt that this was the intent of the game designers either.

The game is supposed to be co-operative, but every single one of the tasks you have to complete to win rely on playing cards from your hand, and you're not allowed to discuss the cards from your hand with the other players... so by the letter of the rules, you're not allowed to cooperate! It's no wonder that people who play Shadows pretty much always cheat.

(This isn't entirely true, of course, because the rules do allow you to talk about your hand in general terms... it's just that it's pretty much impossible, a lot of the time, to talk about your hand in general terms without the other players knowing pretty much what you have.)
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Antistone wrote:
ChaosAndAlchemy wrote:
For instance, you can have a card called "Get to the chopper" that says "If two or more players are on the helipad at the same time, this card gives you tons of cool stuff. If it is revealed before its condition is met, though, it will give you way less cool stuff when its condition is met."

As soon as you give the players an actual incentive to violate the spirit of your rules, enforcement becomes a major pain.

I get less cool stuff if I reveal the card? OK, how about I:

A. Read the entire text of the card aloud, but don't actually show it to anyone
B. Say "something good might happen if 2 people are on the helipad at the same time"
C. Say "Wow, I drew the exact card that Michael used as an example in that forum discussion about co-op games with unshared information."
D. Say "I won't tell anyone whether or not I have card A, but I do not have card B...or card C...or card D..."
E. Say "I think someone should go to the helipad with me now."
F. Say "I think someone should follow my character now."
G. Say "Everyone knows that a goal card exists in this game that rewards having 2 people on the helipad at once, right? OK, just wanted to make sure we all have the same base of information going in...". Keep saying that periodically. Wink.

If there is no one at the table on an opposing team that you're trying to keep in the dark, I don't think it's feasible to prevent an idea from being communicated just by having a list of things that you can't say. Heck, there's an actual game whose entire premise is to communicate a specific idea to your teammates without saying specific words on a forbidden list.

You can forbid ALL communication except for a specific approved list; Hanabi takes that approach. But the OP specifically used Hanabi as a negative example, saying that he didn't want to restrict communication like that. Given that restriction, I don't think this idea is possible.


Yes. This is why I said I would be interested to see a design that tried this. I don't think it would be easy, but it could possibly work.

The way I envision this mechanic, the rules will say that the spirit of the game is that you can't give anyone any information about your cards except through the actions of your character in the game, not through your own words or gestures, etc. Can players stretch this in the ways you describe? Sure. That would be against the rules, but they can do it. The players would also have the option of just revealing their card any time, accepting the cost of doing so.

Also, in any co-op game the game becomes trivial if the players agree to cheat (flip the cards to face you in Hanabi, decide to ignore an epidemic card in Pandemic, etc.). The question is whether a game like the one I described can be built in a way so that players can successfully play it while choosing not to cheat and without accidentally cheating.

Beats me, but I'd love to see someone give it a shot!

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ChaosAndAlchemy wrote:

The way I envision this mechanic, the rules will say that the spirit of the game is that you can't give anyone any information about your cards except through the actions of your character in the game, not through your own words or gestures, etc. Can players stretch this in the ways you describe? Sure. That would be against the rules, but they can do it.


I think that the point is more that it wouldn't be against the rules, unless your rules are so restrictive as to make the game more or less unplayable.

Stating that the "spirit of the rules" is some way is meaningless, essentially, unless you can write a strict rule which defines it. Players generally behave according to what the rules say, not what they each think that they ought to say. And players will want to be able to talk to each other, and they'll want to be able to discuss tactics and co-operate on the game's objectives. If you are restricting them from talking about anything related to their secret-condition card, that also restricts them from talking about a lot of other stuff to do with the game, which impedes planning, which is bad.

The group decides that two people need to go over to the helipad, one needs to search the factory and one needs to stand guard. Sue has the previously-discussed "get to the chopper" card, but the group suggestion was that she should search the factory because she has the highest search skill. Sue moves last, should she:

a) Say nothing and move towards the helipad on her move, wasting the turn of one other player who's already moving in that direction?

b) Suggest that she'd rather go to the helipad than the factory?

c) Suggest that Bob should search the factory instead, because... well... no reason?

d) Just go to the damn factory and forget the special card?

Option D basically makes the special objective card completely pointless, so you might as well remove them from the game if that's how you want players to behave.

Options B and C are various strengths of talking-about-your-secret-card, so technically against the rules. I'd be curious if you think one of these is different from the other one.

Option A is going to waste a player's turn for no reason other than that you, as the designer, want to make people's secret objectives feel special. This will annoy all of the players around the table, and encourage them to forget your rules and play with option B or C next time, because they're less annoying and therefore more fun.


Worse, what happens if there's some other game reason that Sue might go to the helipad? What if there's an option to search the factory or the helipad, and the rest of the team has suggested that Sue goes to search the factory. Is she allowed, by the letter of your rule, to suggest that she'd rather search the helipad instead? Or is she blocked off from discussing that other viable, non-hidden-condition-related game action specifically because it also benefits her hidden condition to do that?

Worse again, what if another player says "Hey, maybe we should send two people over to the helipad, just in case". Is Sue allowed to volunteer? Is she supposed to assume that the other player means "just in case someone has that one card that gives a big bonus then" and keep quiet to avoid breaking the spirit of the rules, or is she supposed to be able to assume he might mean "just in case there's a random monster attack and the first guy needs help" or something, and speak up? Should the action of another player prevent her from doing or saying something that she otherwise would have been happy to do or say?



I'm not saying that you don't think that you have an answer for these questions, mind. I'm saying that you're going to find it incredibly difficult to explain this answer to players in such a way that everyone understands when they can and when they can't talk about any particular thing that's somehow related to their hidden-condition (and understands the same thing), and that's going to make a lot of them play the game "incorrectly" because they don't understand your thinking the same way you do, which in turn will possibly result in a dramatic difficulty shift.


Wherever you put the dividing line between talking-about-things and not-talking-about-things, players will naturally, innocently and reliably butt right up against that line and push it as far as they believe that they can. Forget about cheating - it's just how people play games. And when the exact position of the line isn't that clear at all, that's going to result in players saying things that other players don't think that they should have said, which - again - is going to annoy people and make your game less fun. The only safe option is to say "no talking at all" or "you can talk about whatever you want", because there's no way anyone could misunderstand that.




(To be clear, I think the hidden-condition option works fine if you have a traitor, because it's just another thing you don't want to talk about in case the traitor might use it against the group and may be willing to act suspiciously in order to get the payout from.)
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Again, I'm not actually working on any game with this mechanism. I'm just saying that I would like to see it from someone else.

As for needing strict rules, I disagree in co-ops. If players want to cheat the spirit or letter of the rules in a co-op, no one is stopping them from doing so. They mutually agree to abide by the letter and spirit of the rules in order to have a fun game.

I get that you believe social realities might make such a game unworkable. I still hope someone tries it so that we can see if that hypothesis is correct. I would like to see that game in action so that I can judge whether it works or not based on actual play at the table.

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ChaosAndAlchemy wrote:
Again, I'm not actually working on any game with this mechanism. I'm just saying that I would like to see it from someone else.

As for needing strict rules, I disagree in co-ops. If players want to cheat the spirit or letter of the rules in a co-op, no one is stopping them from doing so. They mutually agree to abide by the letter and spirit of the rules in order to have a fun game.


I'd like to see a game which manages this myself, but I think it's practically impossible!

The point about strict rules isn't whether or not players want to abide by the spirit of the rules - it's nearly always the case that they do. The point is that players generally have little idea where the boundary between "acceptable" and "not acceptable" lies when games have these anti-communication rules. You need strict rules to make it clear to the players what the designer intended, not as some kind of enforcement.

(And let's be honest - if you can't write what you mean in a strict, formulaic manner, then you probably don't have a very specific idea of it yourself. "I can't tell you what's wrong but I'll know it when I see it" isn't very useful for the players on the other side of the planet playing a game in their second language!)
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I think the point of these "don't say what's in your hand" rules isn't meant JUST as a rule on what can or can't be said during the game to define the limits of co-operation, but was rather meant so that co-operation is role-played and engaged with the theme of the game, rather than just its mechanics.

I noticed this when I saw the Table Top video of Shadows of Camelot. The players didn't just say, "I could use a card" or something like that, but added a tiny bit of roleplaying in their requests, saying things like, "Why yes, my liege, I would be honored by your assistance" or some such thing. It occurred to me then that all my co-op games should be played this way.

I think that's a large part of why players are encouraged to discuss the cards "in general terms" rather than simply say outright what exact card is in your hand.

And if one is designing a co-op with this in mind, I think outright saying that players should roleplay, and perhaps give guidelines and examples would be appropriate and that simply saying "can talk about your hand in general terms" isn't sufficient anymore.

As others have said, from a purely mechanical standpoint, such a rule makes no sense. Combined with an expressed intent of encouraging players to roleplay, and accepting that we can communicate any information so long as there's an attempt to roleplay in theme, the limitation on discussing what's in your hand makes far more sense.

In this case, something like "It would be faster to get to the Helipad. I'm sure I could get one of those choppers working." would be appropriate. Yes, that means you are essentially saying, "I have the helipad card!" But as I said, it's my personal theory that in most cases, the limitation on discussing what's in your hand is more about promoting theme and encouraging interaction than actually trying to specifically limit co-operation.
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While some games do encourage roleplay, all of the "only in general terms" rules I'm familiar with are from games with traitors, and are designed to make it less obvious when the traitor backstabs you.

For example, in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, there's a "skill check" mechanic where players play cards face down into a pile, then you shuffle the cards, reveal them, and count up the total to decide whether the team passes the check. If everyone says things like "I'm playing a green 3 and a blue 4", then anyone who lies about what they're putting in is virtually guaranteed to get caught. So you're supposed to say things like "I'm helping out a little/a lot", which (theoretically) means you can probably tell whether someone lied, but not who.

I like the skill check concept, but I feel the "general terms only" rule is a weakness in the game, and that a sufficiently clever designer could've provided cover for the traitors without needing vague-yet-critically-important rules about how players are supposed to word their strategic communications.
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Back from a weekend off the computer! So much to talk about, where to start?! First with replies to Antistone, since he put together a great response. I'll respond to more later!

Antistone wrote:
Vanish wrote:
All players win or lose, collectively

Players need to be able to discuss game strategy during the game.

Players have information they DON'T want to share.

I don't think these are compatible--at least, not without compromising the spirit of at least one of them.


And that may be why I am struggling to come up with the answer. I still believe it is out there.

Antistone wrote:
Theoretically, having access to more information is often advantageous, and never a disadvantage (I suppose in real terms players can be overwhelmed at some point, but that point varies widely between players, and if inducing information overload in your players is an actual design goal then I probably don't want to play your game). If you can be sure that none of the other players will intentionally act against your interests, then you want them to to have every advantage possible. So, if there are no costs or limits on communication, then you might as well share everything.


I agree, information overload is probably not the final destination. I should also mention that REAL TIME is NOT in my view of the game. Real time works, but its not my vision.

Antistone wrote:
Your example with Susie's crush posits a situation where keeping someone ignorant is itself a goal. However, ignorance is a spectrum, not a switch, and there's no objective way to measure it (at least not if the subject has an incentive to play dumb), so I don't think that can be used as an actual game rule. I also think it's interesting to note that your example also involves the players having conflicting goals (Jim's ideal outcome is for Jon to pair with him, Susie's ideal outcome is if she pairs with him: conflict of interest).


The real world is full of conflicting interests and balancing how to not piss everyone off in a group situation is a common goal in a team. This is what I am trying to model.

Antistone wrote:
Vanish wrote:
Its not possible for one player to play the game for everyone.

This seems to imply either that no single player has access to all information (which appears to conflict with your open communication goal) or that the game is not purely a matter of information--there's some element of dexterity or timing or something where your execution, and not just your decision, affects the outcome. (And thus, a single player can't take on extra responsibilities without degrading his performance.)


I worded the statement about Goal 2 more specifically. I said "game strategy," not "all game decisions." In this case, my thought is that tactical (instant) decisions will be made only by the player involved.

Antistone wrote:
Vanish wrote:
The outcome of real cooperation is often a result of the weakest player, NOT the strongest. However, a strong player should be able to attempt to compensate for a weak player, at an expense.

Those sentences seem contradictory to me: if the behavior of the strongest player matters, then the outcome is not determined by the weakest player, but by some function that combines the performance of multiple players.


If we equate to a real life situation again, let's pretend we're trying to survive on an island. One person is physically weak and they cannot cross a river by themselves. There is one particularly strong player out there who has no trouble crossing that river. If the strong person we're to just push on, they wouldn't have any trouble facing what challenges lie ahead, but the team would be down one person. Their other option is to help the weak player across the river, but it will physically drain the strong as well.

My ideal game mechanics will allow a strong player to weaken their own position in the game to help a weaker ... I am not referring to a strong player helping the weak through advice, but rather physically altering the game state.

Antistone wrote:
Vanish wrote:
Players don't outright lose just because dice hate them.

So, with theoretical perfect play, the win rate must be exactly 100%? I doubt that's actually the ideal, at least for most players; even if it is, I think it's highly doubtful that it's an important goal: most players are not going to play perfectly anyway, and even if they did most probably don't greatly care whether their win rate is 100% compared to, say, 98%.


I never said no random. I just think the battles / skills checks etc should be deterministic, not based on dice. If we take Ghost Stories as an example, there are multiple levels of random: 1.) Which ghosts do you draw and 2.) which dice you roll. I'd rather eliminate the dice rolling part and substitute some sort of CDG Deck (cards with multiple uses) and leave it up to the players to pick the right combination of which cards to play when (Do I use my 4 attack card and suffer 1 damage now in order to save my 5 for when something really ugly comes out?)


Antistone wrote:
I think there are several related but more-nuanced goals that might be better:

It's not over til it's over: if it ever becomes impossible to change the outcome of the game, the game ends instantly; you don't need to play another 10 rounds to confirm an outcome that can no longer be changed. (This applies both when the game becomes unwinnable and when the game becomes unlosable.)

Skill matters: skillful players win a noticeably larger percentage of their games than clueless ones. (Hard to define an exact threshold, though.)

Diffuse stakes: No single event has an unduly large impact on the game's outcome; it takes a long streak of good/bad luck to overcome a consistent pattern of bad/good player choices, and vice versa. (Again, hard to define a threshold.)


Those are all great!
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