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E9 | Games | Co-ops, Cool Kids Compete Collaboratively

Cooperative games are easily some of our favorites to talk about as this is our favorite genre of game! In this extra-length episode we taste some booze, take listener-submitted icebreaker questions, talk through the traits and benefits of cooperative games, and offer recommendations of varied complexity to meet your needs. We hope you enjoy what has certainly been one of our favorite episodes to produce!


What's on our Flight (01:02)

  • Dalton’s drinking: Longbranch Kentucky Bourbon. This oaky bourbon, distilled by Wild Turkey in collaboration with Matthew McConaughey (the theme this week is Cooperation after all!), comes across as light and a bit oily at first, but finishes with some nice smokiness that lingers. Not my favorite at this price point, but worth a sample if you get the chance.

  • Nelson's drinking: Lift Off, a West-coast IPA by Daredevil Brewing Company in Indianapolis, IN. Less hoppy than a double or triple IPA, but heavier than a session IPA or similar, this beer is exactly the kind that Nelson would default to if he was instructed to find a non-IPA beer and decided he did not want to. Hypothetically.


What's On Our Table (8:47)


  • Orléans. A neat little bag-builder just outside the BGG top 25. I was VERY bad at this game, but still enjoyed it immensely. There are multiple ways to score victory points, creating multiple facets to the game worth exploring. A great pickup, especially if you tend to enjoy low-interaction engine building games.


  • With summer classes in full swing, many of the games on Nelson's table have been shorter due to time constraints. However, he was recently able to get his favorite game, Terraforming Mars, to the table along with the Prelude expansion, which we feel is one of (if not THE) greatest expansions to a board game of all time. Plus we discuss this response from Stronghold Games to one of our Twitter posts. You will have to decide for yourself what this means!


The icebreaker questions for this episode were listener-submitted (17:26)

From IG user potts_magee

What is the game that you played so much that you got sick of it?

  • Nelson: Dominion, followed closely by Pandemic. Both of which have seen a break from Nelson's table over the last 5 years and are slowly working their way back in!

  • Dalton: Codenames (please, dear reader, please don't hate me). The most beloved party game of all time, but my groups always default to it and I have others I want to try!

From IG user m_cirocco

If had to remove one from your life entirely, what would it be: Books, Board Games, or Alcohol?

  • If forced to choose, we would both remove alcohol. Which makes us feel slightly more comfortable that we are probably not alcoholics! We both agreed that we would not give up board games as we enjoy the community as much. However, if the podcast becomes more boring if we are not drinking, you know who to blame. Please submit responsibly.


Discussion starts at 22:57 in the episode

Cooperative games mark the pinnacle of our Mechanics Exploration series, as this is our favorite genre of game. A cooperative game is distinct from other games in that success is defined by players winning or losing together. This is different from games where not all players work together (e.g. asymmetric, All vs. 1 style games) since there is no scenario where all players win together. Competition and cooperation have trouble sharing space within a board game design. For iconic examples of cooperative games, look to Pandemic (topical, we know) and Lord of the Rings (2000)

It is important to understand the traits that make a cooperative game successful and what can hinder it. We found some excellent reading in "Collaborative Games: Lessons Learned from Board Games" (Jose Zagal, Jochen Rick, Idris Hsi) that we referenced throughout this discussion.

Recipe for Success:

  1. Asymmetry. Each player needs to feel that they are participating on the team, and differing powers and responsibilities foster that feeling for the players.

  2. Individuality. A player must be able to make decisions without the consent of the team. We want to be motivated to discuss our decisions with the team, but do not want to play a game where every action is decided by vote.

  3. Failure. Players must loose if they are selfish and competitive. Additionally, the players must fail (even lose the game!) to justify the reward of winning the game.


  1. Alpha Gamer. Many cooperative teams can become dominated by one player, removing the teamwork that makes cooperative games so fun to play. Complexity, hidden information, and restrictions on communication can all combat this tendency in competitive players. In our games, we find that asking the question "What should I do?" with "Here are some of your options..." allows experienced players to guide newer ones without overwhelming their independence.

  2. Engagement. Competition is a natural method to create engagement for many players, so removing that from a game leaves a hole that the designers must fill with great themes and difficult challenges.

  3. Variety. Again, without competition, the game much find a way to generate replayability once the players have beaten it. Many do this with changing scenarios or modular difficulty.

We love cooperative games as they provide a break to competitive games so that lower-skill gamers have opportunities to win games. Players bond and focus on enjoying time together, which is the real reason we play! These games are great introductions for new players as they protect them from losing due to inexperience. They also allow an experienced player to shield new players from the complexity of many games as much of the game actions can be performed without full explanation to the new player.

At this point, we want to offer our recommendations for cooperative games to look in to, using the system we developed in Episode 7. Our recommendations are listed for low, medium, and high complexity coops to match your specific familiarity and desires. We hope you find something you like!

Recommendations start at 58:17 in the episode

Low Complexity

  • Nelson: The Crew. A cooperative trick-taking game, this game is a great introduction as the mechanics are simple and familiar. With a great theme and multiple scenarios to try, this is an excellent recommendation for a first cooperative game! MEC: M - 6.5, E - 8, C - 5, Overall: 7.1.

  • Dalton: Magic Maze. This game introduces asymmetric player powers in a clean and effective way, encouraging teamwork and preventing alpha-gaming by restricting communication. A fun and quick co-op with plenty of replayability. MEC: M - 7, E - 7.5, C - 5, Overall: 6.6.

Medium Complexity

  • Dalton: Nemesis. Surviving on a dying ship has you fixing systems and fighting aliens in this medium complexity coop. Nemesis introduces enemies acting against you, secret objectives, and maintains asymmetrical player powers, making a great step up from the low complexity recommendations. MEC: M - 8, E - 7, C - 8.5, Overall 7.6.

  • Nelson: Mysterium. One of our favorite cooperative games, Mysterium has the players guessing the person, place, and weapon of a murder, guided by the clues of the victim (a player who can't talk!). This game features stunning artwork and allows experienced players to localize complexity in setup and playing the "ghost" so that new players can focus on their guesswork. MEC: M - 5.5, E - 8, C - 9, Overall 7.1

High Complexity

  • Nelson: Spirit Island. Complexity rules this game, with extreme asymmetry and modularity in difficulty. Spirit Island gives you the power of a local Spirit protecting your native Island from the invasion of an colonizing nation. We cannot recommend this game highly enough for board game connoisseurs for the masterful execution of such a difficult genre. MEC: M - 8, E - 9, C - 9, Overall 8.6

  • Dalton: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island. In case the theme of this game is difficult to ascertain, players wait for rescue after becoming shipwrecked on a Cursed Island. This game features plenty of replayability and challenges players to take risks, offering them safe alternatives that will result in failure if taken too often. MEC: M - 8, E - 9, C - 8.5, Overall 8.6.

Thanks for reading! Let us know what your favorite cooperative game is in the comments!


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