I have a problem in the world of gaming. Most of the time it’s not too bad, but it can get in the way. I really struggle with competitive games. It’s usually a bigger issue with board games, but it’s true of video games as well. I always prefer to play a cooperative game. I’ve got an awesome board-game collection. I’m thrilled with almost every game my wife and I own. Some games just don’t make it to the table very often though, and the biggest factor in that for me is whether it’s a competitive game or a cooperative game.
I’ve spent some time thinking about why that is. Why do I struggle to play more than half the board games in existence? I think I’ve narrowed it down to six reasons.
1) I’m hyper-competitive
I like to win. I’m not kidding. I really, really, really like to win. When I go into a competitive game, especially a euro-style game, I already have a strategy worked out. Sometimes that strategy is more flexible than others, but regardless, I’ve already planned the game in rough strokes from start to finish. And it often works. I am not the best at most games I play, I don’t compete in tournaments or anything. I do tend to win far more often than I lose.
The problem comes when I make a sub-par move, or don’t consider the optimal strategy. I get really, really angry with myself. I feel like I could have won had I just… It’s not a pleasant feeling.
It’s a feeling that I still get in cooperative games, to some extent. The difference is that my frustration isn’t directed at the success of the other players. Instead, I can stare down the board and root for my friends to make optimal moves and make up for my mistake. I don’t feel guilty for being angry with a friend, and I am instead rooting for my friends to kick some cardboard butt.
2) I can sometimes be a poor sport
I’ve already talked about how mad I get when I make a sub-optimal move, or implement a strategy that isn’t as well thought out as I think it should have been. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to figuratively flip-the-table. A normal table-flip would be to ruin the game for everyone in a blind rage by scattering pieces to the winds and storming out.
My table-flip is far less violent, but no less destructive. I don’t become a king-maker. Instead, since I made one mistake that, in my mind, lost me the game I may as well lose the game. Instead of trying to recover, I put myself in a miserable tail-spin. I try to lose as badly as possible and end the game as quickly as possible. It’s not something I’m proud of.
In my irrational anger I don’t realize that I wear every emotion I have openly. I do not have any kind of poker face. Everyone knows I’m angry, and it ruins the game for them. When I play a cooperative game, my anger is still evident, but no other player feels like it’s directed at them. Instead, I’m able to bolster my team. Because winning the game isn’t solely about my own performance and forcing a tailspin would quite literally ruin the game for everyone, I can often come back from that defeatist place a lot more easily.
3) Cooperative games bring people together
Now that I’ve confessed to the negative sides of my gaming personality, I can talk about why I love playing cooperative games. One of the best things about cooperative games, in my opinion and experience, is that they bring people together. Instead of being in separate silos, vying for a place as top-dog, players work together, strategize, and find the best solutions to the problems the game itself poses.
This kind of game provides a framework where people who think about a problem differently can share ideas. People with different approaches can work together to develop strategies neither alone would ever have considered. My wife and I played Pandemic: Legacy Season 1 three times with different groups. The latter two times we played earnestly, but followed the lead of the other players. Playing with my sister and her husband was a vastly different experience than playing with my friend Thomas, which was in turn entirely different from playing with my cousins. Despite playing the same game, the experiences were different. It’s a powerful thing.
4) Cooperative games are challenging
The very best cooperative games are not a stroll through the park. I love this part of cooperative games. The difficulty of the game doesn’t come from the other players, and knowing your fellow players and the types of decisions they’ll make matters far less. Instead, the game itself presents a challenge for the team to overcome.
I love that feeling I get when we’re playing Mice & Mystics or Zombicide: Black Plague and the enemies are stacking up and it really seems like we’re going to die, but we somehow overcome the challenge. Moments like that make these games a blast, especially since the entire group can gloat over the game together and nobody feels bad. Except perhaps that one die that failed you and is therefore banished to the box.
When a team works together to overcome a difficult obstacle it unites those players, and it makes the game that much more enjoyable. Even my little boy, at 4 years old, loves cooperative games. His type of game is far too simple for adults, but I cannot deny how awesome it is to see him playing Outfoxed and cheering when he rolls his three-of-a-kind, and groaning when the thief gets closer to escaping.
5) Cooperative games are great for beginners
Most of my favorite games have complex rules and a playthrough with a group made up of only beginners can take forever. When some of the players can teach the game, however, that learning time, and the frustration that comes with it is reduced dramatically. That’s even more the case with cooperative games than competitive games. While most competitive games rely on one player knowing something the others don’t, or capitalizing on what one player notices, cooperative games generally advocate the sharing of information. That really means that when you teach a cooperative game, you don’t have to worry about giving away a winning strategy. You want to give away the best possible strategies, because the better your friends do, the better you do!
The ability to share strategy, to communicate on game mechanics and likely consequences of decisions made on a player’s turn, and the team-building nature of cooperative games really makes them ideal for beginners. Even better, there are games like Forbidden Island that can teach beginners the basic mechanisms that lie beneath more complex games, such as Pandemic.
6) Cooperative games are simply fun
Playing a cooperative game isn’t my preference solely because they’re objectively better thancompetitive games. (I know, it’s not true for everyone, so it’s far from objective…sheesh) They’re just plain fun. The ability for your group of friends to win or lose together, to be stuck up against a horde of zombies, the clock, or some other barrier and overcome is so satisfying. And when you fail, despite every effort, you’ve built a memory of gaming with your friends. There isn’t much better than that. Truly.
Life Lesson Learned: Cooperative games are the best. Nope, no arguing it. They’re better than competitive games.
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