Pointless co-operation (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

Staunch competitive players may feel that co-operative games are a bit pointless. After all, it makes more sense if there is only one winner, rather than several, or so their reasoning might go. However, even if you love co-operative games and even if you prefer them to competitive games, there are some games where you don’t feel like you’re achieving anything – and that might feel pointless to you. In this article, I want to look at this in a little more detail.

The article was inspired by my mum, who asked me what the point of The Crew was. It’s not like every player tries to win for themselves, but everyone plays together to complete the current mission. I’ve grown up with trick-taking games and all of them were competitive ones. Well, not quite. Actually, all of the ones I’ve played in my teenage years and as a young adult were actually semi-co-operative. In Skat, a three-player trick-taking game, two people play against one. In Doppelkopf, there are two teams of two players each. So, you’re often playing co-operatively with another player and you have to play accordingly, sometimes giving your partner cards, so that you score higher as a team than the other player or players.

However, ultimately, there is ever only one winner. You play Skat and Doppelkopf over a number of rounds and after each round, players will score a number of points, maybe even losing points, depending on the game. Sometimes you decide the number of rounds in advance, but more often than not, you just keep playing until the evening draws to an end or your lunch break is over or there is some other reason you stop. At that point, the player with the most points wins. Consequently, both games are actually competitive games.

Winning Together

So, if you’ve grown up with trick-taking games, then The Crew will feel a bit weird and maybe a bit pointless. You just keep playing and either proceed to the next mission, if you win, or replay the same mission, if you, as a team, fail. Sure, technically there are points. You can record how many attempts you needed to complete each mission and you can compare your scores with other groups of players, but in reality, you just play because you enjoy the challenge and the increasing difficulty of the missions. You enjoy The Crew because you have to think a bit differently from other trick-taking games, even though all your experience with trick-taking games comes into play and you’ll be better at this game if you know trick-taking games well.

I love The Crew, as you are able to see in my review of the game, but even I can see why my mum asked what the point of the game was. It’s not like you’re really working towards a goal, other than to complete the fifty missions the game has to offer. Theoretically, you could keep playing and many people do, picking missions they enjoyed and playing them several times.

Other co-operative games are different in that respect.

In Pandemic, for example, there is a defined end to the game. You either find cures for every disease and win or the deck or cubes run out and you lose. There is a clear target and you feel like you achieved something when the game ends – or maybe you feel you could have achieved more, if you had just had another round to win the game.

In Sleeping Gods, you explore a rich and detailed world, almost aimlessly, but even though there is no clear target, you have plenty of things to do and tasks to fulfil that you feel you’re achieving something as you play. You feel terrible when you have to return to a harbour to heal your crew, because the last battle didn’t go in your favour. There is a sense of a story arch that ends when your event deck runs out.

So, I think the fact that The Crew can basically be played forever and ever, even though there is a limit of 50 missions, makes it feel pointless.

Learning Trick-Taking

There is something else to consider though. One reason why I love The Crew is that it teaches people trick-taking games. If you’ve never played one, you won’t be familiar with terms like “trump cards” or mechanisms like “following suit” or concepts like “being ‘long’ in one suit” or “emptying your hand of a suit”. As you play the game together, co-operatively, you learn about these things. For beginners, that’s the point, or at least one of the points, of The Crew – and when you become more experienced, the game does become more pointless in that sense.

That is not to say that The Crew isn’t fun for experienced trick-taking players or that it doesn’t offer a challenge to them. So it’s not actually pointless, of course. It’s fun to play a game together as a family or with friends, even if you’re not achieving anything within the game. I loved playing The Crew with my parents and they enjoyed learning to use their experience and change their approach so that we, as a team, would complete a mission successfully.

“Pointless” Games Are Fun

In fact, sometimes it’s more fun to play a “pointless” game, because you don’t have to think so much about the game, so you can focus on the social element a lot more. You have the brain space to talk with the people around the table in a meaningful way and you can really listen. The game almost fades into the background and is just an excuse to sit together and be together.

So, pointless games definitely aren’t a bad thing.

How About You?

Now I wonder what you think about co-operative games. Do you enjoy them? Do you prefer them to competitive games? Have you ever played a co-operative game that felt a bit pointless, in the way I discuss in this article? Which game was it? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Increased Cooperation – the popularity of cooperative games (Topic Discussion)

I always used to be very much a competitive player. Pitting my wit against other people was my thing. I would usually lose games and still do, but it was always a lot of fun. Cooperative games really only came into my life when our daughter was young enough to play games with us that weren’t just roll-and-move. I remember our first game of Forbidden Island, which we all really enjoyed and played many times since. So in this article, I want to explore why cooperative games have become so popular in recent years.

From Competition to Collaboration

Cooperative games are clearly quite different to competitive ones. The gaming experience is quite different between them. Instead of pitting players against each other in some form of a race for victory, cooperative games allow players to team up and try to achieve a shared objective. Rather than fighting each other, people play against the game itself. Everyone has to work together and collaboratively to achieve success.

There are many types of cooperative games available now. Many of you will be familiar with escape-room-style games, where you try to solve a series of puzzles. In a similar vein are murder mystery games. The game that, in my mind, has really cemented the concept of cooperative games in our hobby is Pandemic, where everyone tries to battle a global virus outbreak while also working on finding a cure. Most recently, I’ve played Castle Panic, where you battle against a seemingly never-ending horde of orcs, goblins and other creatures.

So there is a lot of choice, but whatever it is that you like, cooperative games shift the dynamics from competition to collaboration. Cooperative games create a sense of unity and camaraderie. You have to strategize together and pool the group’s skills and abilities.

Fostering Connection and Social Bonds

The emphasis in cooperative games on teamwork promotes a cooperative spirit, encouraging players to support and uplift each other, fostering a positive and inclusive gaming experience. If done well, cooperative games have the ability to foster meaningful connections and strengthen social bonds among players. Unlike competitive games, where winning is all that matters and sometimes people end up being lost in their own thoughts, cooperative games prioritize communication, cooperation and shared decision-making.

A great cooperative game encourages players to actively listen to one another and collaborate on finding solutions. Cooperative games work in similar ways to party games. They allow everyone around the table to get a better understanding of each other’s strengths, weaknesses and general character. As a group, you will become closer. The shared victories and defeats experienced throughout the game build a sense of shared history and camaraderie.

Cooperative games can also promote inclusivity and accessibility. The collaborative nature of these games encourages everyone to actively participate, regardless of their skill level or gaming experience. Everyone contributes their strengths and as a team, everyone can help each other. Cooperative games can also nurture a sense of agency and empowerment. Each player has a vital role to play in the team’s success. Their contributions are valued and recognized, which fosters a sense of ownership and agency. It empowers players to take an active role and shape the game’s outcome. So while you’re working as a team, everyone also can get a sense of personal achievement.

the Pandemic game board with a number of components in the foreground and the game box in the background
Pandemic can encourage collaboration in the face of adversity

From Collaboration to Quarterbacking

At the same time, there is always the risk of one player taking over a cooperative game. It’s in the nature of these games to give everyone a voice, but at the same time, it’s also very easy for one person to overrule everyone else. When one player is more knowledgeable or their specific skillset is particularly useful in the game, they might feel and quite rightly so, that they know best. The rest of the group may willingly defer most of the decision making to them. At this point, the cooperative game becomes a solo game.

Some cooperative games try to prevent this by limiting the publicly available information, limiting the types and amount of communication possible, overloading players with information or a large decision space so that they have no choice but to focus on their turn only or by some other means. If done well, these cooperative games can still work really well, but they often start to stray away from a collaborative experience into the realms of a multi-player solitaire game with a common goal.

Therefore I think it’s up to the group of players to choose the game that’s right for them and their character mix. Additionally, alpha players, who like to take over a game, should learn to hold back and give everyone a voice and allow them to make their own decisions. There are also games that are semi-cooperative, which can be a better fit for some groups. Ultimately though, some groups just don’t suit cooperative games and that is absolutely fine. Not every game is for everyone.

Embracing the Cooperative Gaming Experience

However, I have really started to love cooperative games. I know that some of my friends don’t like these types of games and that is fine. At the same time, cooperative games played with the right group create an amazing experience. By shifting the focus from competition to collaboration, these games create a unique space for fostering connection and promoting inclusivity. Whether you’re embarking on an epic quest, solving a challenging puzzle or saving the world together, cooperative board games offer an immersive and rewarding experience that transcends individual victories.

What About You?

So what about you? Have you ever played a cooperative game before? How was it? Do you like them? If you’ve never played a cooperative game before, would you be willing to try one? If not, what’s stopping you? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. It would be great to hear what you have to say about this genre of games.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Main Music:
Out of the Skies, Under the Earth by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Source: http://chriszabriskie.com/reappear/
Artist: http://chriszabriskie.com/