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Subject: Co-ops -- Better when you're losing? rss

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Pete Lane
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I agree 100%... part of the thrill of the fight is the uphill battle with friends... if you know how to drive a tank to mow down the rocks flying at you, then you're just faking it.

 
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Yes, I've had way more fun losing in Pandemic than winning! The struggle is the fun part for sure. Winning often feels like a let down, but when we lose, we want to play again! I think losing is the most fun, although just barely squeaking out a win is pretty fun too.
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I think there are two situations where the game is the most amount of fun. In the first situation, whether you've won or lost doesn't matter, because the game was so close that it could have gone either way. This is the type of game that keeps you on your toes the whole thing, and you can't let your guard down even once.

This happened twice over last weekend. We played a 5 player game of Red November, and we were barely keeping the 3 hazard tracks down as well as barely fixing the timed events. We got down to the final few minutes before rescue and we were desperately trying to get to the missile room for the final timed event before we were saved. We all had to work together to reflow and pump water due to the numerous amount of flooded rooms in our way. We had one player that was able to make the attempt to save us all, and it turned out that he would have exactly 1 minute to do it. So he rolled the die, and with only a 10% chance at success...he failed. And the sub exploded. But the game was great because we made it that far due to some well played and risky decisions.

We also played a 4 player game of pandemic. We had two turns left due to running out of cards to draw. We only needed one last cure, and I was the scientist with three of the four cards needed. The dispatcher was ahead of me and had a card to give me. Unfortunately, she could only reach me if she had 5 actions instead of 4. Then I would have used my 4 actions to get to a building and make the cure. So we made it that far to have to lose due to being a single action short. But it made the game very exciting.

I think the second type of game that makes it most fun are the games that destroy you most of the way through the game, and then you are able to turn it around at the end and get the upper hand.

In a game of Arkham Horror two nights ago with the King in Yellow expansion, we were just getting battered. Eventually one investigator sealed one gate and the three other investigators had the clues to go in and seal three more. In my gate, I fought a monster with 7 dice and couldn't get the 2 hits I needed. I ended up using all 5 of my clues and I still missed! So I was sent to Lost-in-Time-and-Space which means I wouldn't even get to close my gate. Another investigator in their gate had an encounter where he had to give up a tome or lose all his clues. Well he had no tome, so he lost his clues which meant he wouldn't be sealing his gate.

After I returned, I got a spell that would allow us to rearrange the top 3 cards of the mythos deck. I couldn't cast it because my lore score was too low. But another investigator could. Which meant if we could prevent new gates from opening, and we hurried and closed the gates that were there, we could win by closing all gates on the board. So the spell was successfully used twice while the other three of us jumped in and made it through our gates and we all successfully closed. We thought the game was over for sure but pulled it off at the end. Made for a very exciting time!

I do agree that having the win handed to you can be very boring. But I also think that getting destroyed the whole game only to lose is also disappointing since it makes you feel you had absolutely no impact on anything that happened. There has to be some ups and downs in there so that your emotions and thought processes can go on a more exciting ride.
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J. Jefferson
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I think the best co-op game is the one that you lose in the last turn--you had a chance to win, kept it close for the entire game, then in the end it comes so close ... but just doesn't work out.

Gah, just writing that makes me want to pull out Ghost Stories.
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Chris Ferejohn
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The most fun I've ever had with a co-op was with Space Alert. I had two sessions where we played about 4-5 times in a row, and lost (sometimes narrowly, sometimes not) every time, and then *finally* squeeked out a win in the last game. Co-ops have to be hard (without being impossible) to be fun.
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I can see how some people would like losing during most of the game to keep it interesting. However, I don't see how losing the game a lot would be fun, especially since the point is to win.

I like to keep things in control and win by a large margin. I think throwing a difficult struggle in the mix makes things interesting, but for the most part I'm not a huge fan of the tension that everyone else seems to enjoy.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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Drew1365 wrote:

My experience -- and I'm wondering if this is common -- is that these co-op games are a lot more fun when you're losing badly and every turn is a struggle for victory, barely keeping a lid on the game-engine chaos.


Yes!

Jefforama wrote:
I think the best co-op game is the one that you lose in the last turn--you had a chance to win, kept it close for the entire game, then in the end it comes so close ... but just doesn't work out.


Yes!

I enjoy Pandemic and Forbidden Island a lot when that happens ... and the kids I play with (ages 3 to 6) really think I'm weird when I get happy over the loss.

Strangely, I'm not yet at that point with Space Hulk: Death Angel. Maybe the randomness of the die rolls still bites at me, and makes me think that losing in that game is just a rather cruel twist of fate.

In Pandemic and Forbidden Island, you're challenged by "well ... what could we have done differently?" and the random elements are not as glaringly obvious as that scary die roll.
 
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Steve Duff
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I'm with DoomTurtle. Winning or losing is irrelevant, it's how close it is that matters.

A close, tense win is massively more enjoyable than a massive blowout loss. A close loss is massively better than an easy win.
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Paul S
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Agreed here too.

And +1 for Arkham Horror. Striving against the odds to win is an amazingly tense experience; but winning by closing or sealing gates is comparatively anticlimactic.
 
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Jack Smith
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I agree. One things I like about Arkham Horror is the multitude of ways you can up the difficulty with ease. I think this is how it remains so popular. Its' also a reason I would not buy a game such as Shadow over Camelot as it does not have the same flexibility.
 
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I think the key to any co-op is difficulty. They fun is in facing insurmountable odds together.

If the game is totally broken and just crushes you, then that's no fun. And a breezy victory is just dull.

Arkham Horror is great for this. Even Pandemic can turn on a dime and plunge you from "I think we've got this" to a near unwinnable turn of events and back again.
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James Fung
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My take on co-op games is that, rather than being games in the usual sense of players trying to outplay each other to victory, they are actually puzzles people are trying to solve together. Puzzles that are too easy are trivial and boring. Puzzles that are impossible are just frustrating. Puzzles where you feel you've almost got it make you want to keep going.

So what I feel is the hardest balancing act in designing a co-op game is giving players actions which make a difference (if player actions were immaterial, then you don't need a player) but not so powerful that they win easily, and also in choosing between their various actions, one is not clearly so much better than the others that what to do is obvious.
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Wanda Davies
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I know you wanted to keep Battlestar out of it, but numerous plays has illustrated the idea you're talking about. Whenever the Cylon does nothing and the crisises are manageable, the game is dull.
Ghost Stories is the co-op that I've found fits the notion most aptly- great game for the masochistic pleasure of getting your patoodle kicked.
Princess is one of the few co-ops that's actually more fun if the group is not getting demolished- an exception that proves the rule?
 
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J Fitzpatrick
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The we're-going-to-lose vibe definitely makes a game enjoyable.

The first time I played Witch of Salem with my wife we essentially one the game by a single turn; had either one of us screwed up our end-game strategy the game would have been a wash on the final turn. Definitely made the game memorable and ensured it would come back to the table.
 
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If you're clearing cubes effortlessly in Pandemic and winning, you're doing it WRONG!
Even when we're doing well in Pandemic, we're only a round from getting owned.
A cooperative game is ONLY enjoyable if it has the extreme potential of owning everyone. That's the whole point: YOU-VS-the board. And nobody gets excited about playing kickball against the fat kid in phy-ed. "Easy out!" snore (I only know this because I WAS the fat kid!)
So if you don't enjoy a cooperative game it's because the game is too easy. If the game is published for sale, there is a very large change the game is too easy because you're doing something wrong.
 
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jumbit
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Co-ops have to be exactly the same as solitaire games. If you can win frequently, there's no point in playing. It's just that in co-op games, you're all playing together against the system instead of playing one person against the system. Otherwise it's functionally alike. Consider a game like We Must Tell the Emperor, there is something like a 3% chance of military victory. This is necessary to enhance the replay value. If the chance were 10%, a certain section of players would throw the game away as too easy.

I don't know...I really don't agree with co-op games as they currently exist. They encourage player cheating and fobbing of dice rolls as there's no adversarial relationship to keep things fair. What, are you really going to call another player out, when he called a die cocked, rerolled it, and got a positive result? When the only alternative is a negative result where all of the players don't progress? I'm sure there's room for co-op games to exist, but in their current incarnation they are entirely too much like solitaire games.
 
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jumbit wrote:

I don't know...I really don't agree with co-op games as they currently exist. They encourage player cheating and fobbing of dice rolls as there's no adversarial relationship to keep things fair. What, are you really going to call another player out, when he called a die cocked, rerolled it, and got a positive result? When the only alternative is a negative result where all of the players don't progress? I'm sure there's room for co-op games to exist, but in their current incarnation they are entirely too much like solitaire games.


I'd call them out in a heart beat. Cheating is cheating is cheating. In co-ops and regular games cheating the system is going to ruin the rush of winning, devalue the actions of the group as a whole and generally sour the experience. If someone cheats in any game, I don't invite them back (and you know, that's a rule I've never had to say or enforce).

We play a lot of space alert - and it's a game where there's always a strong temptation to say "oh damn I meant to press A not B, can I just switch it now?" but 99% of the fun we have is finding out how pressing B instead of A causing the entire ship to get obliterated (or to find out, shockingly, that it wasn't disastrous and we barely escaped).

And this thread is exactly why I think Space Alert is so great, the game thrives on tension. Time pressure, chaos, seemingly insurmountable odds... and just when you think you got it right, Jack went left instead of right and the Planetoid hits you and shears the ship in half. At the end of every game hearts are racing, adrenaline is rushing and everyone looks at the clock and we all say "one more" (and this carries on until someone passes out).
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p55carroll
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jumbit wrote:
Co-ops have to be exactly the same as solitaire games. If you can win frequently, there's no point in playing. It's just that in co-op games, you're all playing together against the system instead of playing one person against the system. Otherwise it's functionally alike. Consider a game like We Must Tell the Emperor, there is something like a 3% chance of military victory. This is necessary to enhance the replay value. If the chance were 10%, a certain section of players would throw the game away as too easy.

I don't know...I really don't agree with co-op games as they currently exist. They encourage player cheating and fobbing of dice rolls as there's no adversarial relationship to keep things fair. What, are you really going to call another player out, when he called a die cocked, rerolled it, and got a positive result? When the only alternative is a negative result where all of the players don't progress? I'm sure there's room for co-op games to exist, but in their current incarnation they are entirely too much like solitaire games.

Until I saw this post, I was just going to flippantly answer the OP's question by saying, If I ever win one of these games, I'll let you know.

But now I have to partly disagree with the post quoted above.

I agree that co-op games are akin to solitaire. In fact, any co-op game can be played solo (and IMO be just as good a game, with all the same decision making and tension and everything). On the flip side, any solitaire game can be played cooperatively: just make joint decisions or have players take turns making the moves.

What I disagree with is "If you can win frequently, there's no point in playing." I play a lot of solitaire, and IMO it should, ideally, always be possible to win. Nothing is more maddening than being SOL from the get-go just because the cards are stacked against you. It's worse if that's the case and you have no way of knowing it. Then you're stuck trying to do the impossible for who knows how many turns before the harsh truth finally becomes clear. Grrrr! angry

But while it should always be possible to win, it should rarely be easy. Part of the fun is working at it. So, the game system ought to put up a good measure of resistance. It should make you think a bit and figure your way out of some tight spots.

The problem is that some players are smarter or more skilled than others. What's too easy for one person is terribly difficult for another. If the game affords just the right amount of challenge to the average player, the brighter players will be bored with it, and the dimmer players will find it frustrating.

I don't know how a game designer would adjust for that in a co-op game. In solitaire, it's just a matter of finding the game you're comfortable with--one that makes you think but doesn't give you headaches.

Beyond that, there's often a lot more to a game than just the challenge. There's the theme, for example. When I play Lord of the Rings, I'm enjoying the story all over again; my imagination is engaged, and I'm interested in the characters, the settings, the encounters. I don't mentally strip away all that "chrome" and treat the game as a sterile mathematical endeavor. If a player really likes the HP Lovecraft stories, that's a good reason to choose Arkham Horror over the other co-op games.

Also, certain specific game mechanics appeal more to some people than others. I've heard Arkham Horror dismissed as nothing but an embellished version of Whack-a-Mole. But others like the mechanics of AH.

If you love the theme and the game mechanics and other things about a game, there's plenty of "point in playing" even "if you can win frequently."

Still, it's nice if you don't win too frequently for your liking--or too infrequently.
 
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Quote:
I don't know how a game designer would adjust for that in a co-op game.

PANDEMIC increases the difficulty by simply allowing players to insert extra EPIDEMICS, using VIRULENT Strain, and adding negative effects to EPIDEMICS.
To me, this is the perfect coop, something with enough flexibility you can make it as difficult or as easy as you want it.
Is it always possible to win? In theory, but the cards are so randomized
it's hard to tell.
Since, as I've already expressed, I enjoy getting my behind handed to me in a coop, I'd probably play this anyway. But I agree with you, a game SHOULD always be win-able, just VERY VERY difficult.
 
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jumbit
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Well, see, this is where we disagree. Unfortunately, the current crop of co-op games are simply multiplayer solitaire. At some point, someone will publish a game that truly gives the "multiplayer puzzle solving" experience, at which point it will win multiple gaming awards.

However, co-op gaming is still in its "Tactics II" phase, and is entirely immature. Solitaire games are getting pretty good. Eventually, we will end up with the boardgame version of Nethack, which is essentially a machine that tries to kill the player on every turn. The player is allowed a set of tools by the system, and it is up to the player to use those tools correctly to evade death. This leads to a rewarding experience where the player feels exalted by using the game's own rules against it. Heck, you should feel so...after all, the game is actively trying to kill you!

The ideal co-op would include victory conditions such that the players should work together to reach a common goal, but that some players can do better than others. And WITHOUT the traitor mechanic, that is just weak. I can see that there are fun games out there with traitors, but those games are NOT co-op. It's a hack to try to make the co-op theme work. "Traitor" games are separate category IMHO. When you play against the system, you're playing against the system, no exceptions.

I'm just not seeing any encouragement for players of a co-op system to call out bad dice rolls or outright cheating. After all, in a co-op game, all the players win by positive results. In other words, "roll five dice to see if something happens." If nothing happens, then all players lose, and does anyone have a motivation to say anything? This relies on each player's honor, and we all know that's a sorry ideal upon which to play a game. Adversariality is entirely reliable method for preventing malfeasance. When the only adversary is the game, things change.
 
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jumbit wrote:
I'm just not seeing any encouragement for players of a co-op system to call out bad dice rolls or outright cheating. After all, in a co-op game, all the players win by positive results. In other words, "roll five dice to see if something happens." If nothing happens, then all players lose, and does anyone have a motivation to say anything? This relies on each player's honor, and we all know that's a sorry ideal upon which to play a game. Adversariality is entirely reliable method for preventing malfeasance. When the only adversary is the game, things change.


The motivation and encouragement to call out cheating against the system is to beat the system as it was intended to be played. I play Arkham, Defenders of the Realm, Red November, Castle Ravenloft, etc. and will call out anybody I'm playing with if they try to cheat.

If a player has a bunch of dice in their hand, and as they shake, one rolls out, I'll have them re-roll it with the rest. It's especially obvious they didn't mean to roll it yet when they go to grab it and then pull back quickly to see what it is first.

If players don't have a motivation to keep bad die rolls, then why are they rolling dice in the first place? If they want to continue on with the game with no consequences no matter what the die shows, then why are they rolling in the first place? And at that point, why are they even playing?

I think people have a little more integrity than that. When I say I won a game, I want it to be because I legitimately won, not because I came close and decided to fudge some results. My ego isn't so huge that I need to pretend I won in order to give it a boost.
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Wanda Davies
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On cheating at co-ops:
If you aren't playing by the rules of the game, you aren't playing playing the game. If you cheat and win the game, you have won nothing except whatever game you made up.
Cheating at co-ops reminds me of certain D&D players (generally younger) back in the day who would boast of their +5 Holy Vorpal Anti-Dragon Missile sword and the awesome abilities of their level 70 wizard who wielded it. These victories are meaningless. That said, I can see how it can be fun to go around and do well with very little effort, but it's a different kind of fun, and definitely not something to boast about.
 
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DoomTurtle wrote:
My ego isn't so huge that I need to pretend I won in order to give it a boost.

There are people out there who don't think like you. Are you man enough to construct a game system that eliminates this motivation? I haven't seen such a system yet. Your only motivation appears to be honor, which we can all agree is a silly, outdated right-wing "virtue".

There is simply no motivation which requires players of a co-op game to rigidly enforce the rules. Therefore, there will always be the possibility of mutually agreed cheating against the system. An adversarial game places the players at cross purposes, and any player that does not enforce his own interests will lose.

Like it or not, co-ops as they exist today do not provide a motivation for players to enforce negative results. Other than "honor" *snicker* *guffaw* *laugh out loud* This is why I say that co-op games exist at the level of Tactics II in the 50s. They are simply immature, and it will take another 5-10 years for co-op games to produce a PanzerBlitz.
 
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jumbit wrote:
At some point, someone will publish a game that truly gives the "multiplayer puzzle solving" experience, at which point it will win multiple gaming awards.

That makes me picture something with a strong RPG element--where each player rolls up a unique character and must then use that character's skill set (and probably some secret information, at first known only to that character, as well) to first locate and join with his comrades and then help them make their difficult way to victory. On that path toward victory, some traps will affect only certain kinds of characters, and some tools will be accessible only to certain characters. And it will be up to players to work out who does what when, with an aim to optimizing the situation to everyone's advantage.

Quote:
I'm just not seeing any encouragement for players of a co-op system to call out bad dice rolls or outright cheating. After all, in a co-op game, all the players win by positive results. ... This relies on each player's honor, and we all know that's a sorry ideal upon which to play a game. Adversariality is entirely reliable method for preventing malfeasance. When the only adversary is the game, things change.

IMHO, the true adversary--in any kind of game--is always oneself.

That's patently clear in solitaire. The game system isn't even a living, breathing entity; it's just a mechanism. The player is challenging himself. The AI can't win; only the player can win or lose.

In a two-player or multiplayer game, it's really the same. Each player wins or loses individually. You can buy into the illusion that someone else beat you, or that you beat someone else; but the only meaningful outcome, ultimately, is that you yourself won or lost. And even that is only meaningful insofar as it measures all that you put into the game: your intelligence, skill, discipline, attentiveness, and so forth.

If you cheat--in any game of any kind--it's exactly like cheating at solitaire. That is, you're cheating yourself. You're unjustly altering the marker on the scoreboard so that it gives you a false report--tells you that you won, when you really lost. That marker on the scoreboard means nothing in and of itself. But if you don't cheat, the marker should indicate how much you put into the game--and how lucky you were, if there were randomizers.

Randomizers (dice, spinners, etc.) mix things up and make the scoreboard marker less reliable. But in the long run, the law of probability makes things even out. So, in a game with randomizers, a single win or loss doesn't mean much, but your long-term win-loss record still does (if you don't cheat, that is).

Cheating arises from misunderstanding what game playing is all about. It comes from placing false value on trivia while being blinded to what's of real value.

What ought to discourage cheating is a love of truth and justice. If someone is lacking in that, I don't want to associate with him at all, much less play a game with him.
 
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jumbit wrote:

There are people out there who don't think like you. Are you man enough to construct a game system that eliminates this motivation? I haven't seen such a system yet. Your only motivation appears to be honor, which we can all agree is a silly, outdated right-wing "virtue".


Plenty of non co-op games make enforcing rules difficult, anything with hidden information or secretive mechanics. Do you mandate that in every game of Small World every player must show to you how much VP they take form the box to ensure it correlates with their claimed VP earnings? We sure don't.

The discussion of cheating comes up often in the design forums, and there and here I stand by the opinion that as a game designer you should be aware of its possibility but do not shackle your game because you're worried about the theoretical cheater. Game groups will handle that problem internally.

You play games to have fun. If someone you play with cheats (and that undercuts the fun) then don't play with them. If you can't handle the temptation to not cheat then don't play games where cheating is possible.
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