Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Coop mode

Over the past little while I have been playing a fair number of coop board games, specifically Hanabi and Sentinels of the Multiverse.  I think these are two examples of very good coop board games because they avoid the two major issues coop games have:  One player playing the entire table or the game being very simple and random.  What I have been thinking is that my next board game creation endeavour should be to create a coop game that is superior to Sentinels of the Multiverse.  Hanabi is so simple and excellent that I don't think I can just sit down and build a better version.  Sentinels on the other hand does some things right but it also does a ton of things terribly wrong and I am confident I can build something similar but avoid many of the pitfalls of that game.

One of the things I wish Sentinels did better is limit game length.  While I have played quick games I find that things often begin to drag out in a fairly extreme way.  In the worst case you end up with a couple of players dead and the other players manage to stabilize and take hours to take down the villain a bit at a time.  That can be very frustrating especially from the perspective of a player who has been eliminated and thus has little to contribute.  Initially I liked the idea that a dead player could still do a single small thing from a short list but how it ends up working out is that the player does the exact same single thing each turn.  It ends up locking them into the game without actually letting them play properly, and though it tries to solve player elimination I think it solves that problem badly.  Keeping game length limited is a great idea both because it lets you actually play it when you don't have half a day to spare (are you listening Diplomacy?) and because people like to know what they are committing to when they sit down.

My idea is to make a game themed around going camping, which is certainly due to the challenges I experienced in my camping trip this weekend.  Of course the camping trip the players will experience is going to be much more complicated and tragic than the one I experienced myself.  I expect many bear attacks, hordes of mosquitoes, fights over the marshmallows, and tents that catch on fire.  The basic mechanic I envision is one where each player first either plays a card from their hand or chooses a basic role each turn, and then chooses a terrible event from a short list.  Something along the lines of "Okay, so I play a Marshmallow Stick which makes Marshmallows give +3 food.  Then I guess I have to choose between Raccoon Attack and Downpour."  I like the idea of players getting to choose the terrible things that happen because then they can plan around what is coming up and figure out what sorts of things they can handle at the moment and what simply has to be put off.

In theory the deck of terrible things can be used to limit game length while also providing the challenges the players have to overcome.  The theme can essentially be that the players have to deal with all or at least some very large subset of the problems that exist before the camping trip can be declared over and the score tallied.  I am not entirely certain if it should be possible for the players to lose entirely but I think Hanabi actually works very well in that regard because it usually goes right to the end but there is a chance of losing if you really bone it up.  I am leaning that way at the moment, but until I actually build things more concretely I won't know for sure.  These things have a way of getting away from me and following their own path.

1 comment:

  1. It feels like you'd want to be able to lose completely before you run out of events. If there is some kind of score to tally up at the end, there will be games where you know you've already lost, or that it is almost impossible to win, but you keep playing. Take the problem of playing a game when you know you've lost and multiply it by the entire table. It's probably much better in games like this to simply be wiped out when things go really wrong. I think that also makes for a more exciting finale if its close.