Cooperative games are a perennial favourite at Cards or Die events. I enjoy them and I wonder whether there's something easier about playing a co-op with a stranger than playing a competitive game. There's certainly an amount of awkwardness in playing games like Coup or Skull where you need to lie to win! Games where in order to win you need to completely destroy your opponent definitely have less of a friendly vibe.
The object of a co-operative game is that you work as a team to defeat some external force. All for one and one for all - if one dies you all die! Usually each person has their own special ability that they contribute to the team and it is by using those abilities prudently and strategising as team that you can triumph. At Cards or Die, I'm all about including everyone and getting people to connect with others. Co-operative games are perfect for that: brilliant for team building, for groups where someone struggles with losing and ensuring that everyone in the group is given equal status. I have built up quite a collection but here I'm just going to look at three very different styles of game within the co-op genre.
In Forbidden Desert you are stranded adventurers who must recover the scattered parts of a legendary flying machine and escape the Desert in order to win. But it's never that straightforward, is it? The wind blows, the land shifts, the sands deepen, water runs low and the sun beats down. And any or all of these things can kill you.
The board is set out with a gap in the middle and when the wind blows, the tiles shift and sand builds up on them. This restricts your movement and if you run out of sand to place then you lose.
Each player starts with a water reserve which they must keep an eye on throughout the game. You can not run out of water. Cards like sun beats down will reduce your water if you are in an exposed place.
Every time you draw a Sun Beats Down card you also move the Sand Storm meter up one. This means you must turn over more cards which increases the danger. If you reach the skull and crossbones marker then, you've guessed it, you're dead.
It's not all bad news...
Special actions allow each character to complete bonus actions like sharing water, move in different ways or move others to safety.
In addition, you can gain equipment tiles which allow you to blast sand out of your path or airlift people to safety.
There are tunnels where you can shelter from the Sun and wells where you can replenish your flask.
The flying machine is very tactile and lovely. If you can just find all the pieces and get it going....
There is a lot to consider in this game and a variety of ways to strategise yourselves to safety or to certain death. We have lost many, many times but still we come back for more. Sometimes straight after we've played!
If you've already played Forbidden Island - it's more complex than that but less complex than their new offering: Forbidden Sky.
What have we learnt?
If you must wander about in the desert, take a shelter and some water.
Big Book of Madness
Big Book of Madness is one of the more complex games on the Cards or Die Menu. You are aspiring magicians and in your quest to master more spells, and unlike actual students, you ventured to the library and opened the Big Book of Madness. This can only end well! It turns out The Big Book of Madness contains not only spells but hideous creatures which you must now battle. You can quickly learn spells from the library but be quick. If you don't learn fast enough you will go mad! (And lose the game).
Madness cards. Each player has their own deck of cards and over the rounds you must strengthen your deck of and try to avoid weakening it with madness cards. (It is partly a deck builder). Madness cards are added if you run out of cards or as a result of monster attacks.
If you fail to defeat a monster it makes it increasingly difficult to defeat subsequent monsters. This can be disheartening if it happens early on in the game.
The good news
As well as each player possessing a special ability, players can also play cards in a 'support' slot which means that other players are able to use that card.
You can add to your collection of spells and as it is co-operative by learning spells you are strengthening the group and giving yourselves more options when deciding how to tackle the monsters.
The illustrations are gorgeous - you can slowly go mad whilst admiring the art.
As with Forbidden Desert, by starting the tracker in different places you can increase the difficulty level once you have mastered the basic game.
What have we learnt?
Don't open books. Hang on, no. Don't go in libraries? If you all work together you can defeat all evil and save the world. Yes, that's better - let's go with that.
Time 90 minutes
Age 14+ (Younger players can definitely cope with this)
And then we held hands...
I bought this as a wedding present for some friends before I realised the premise behind the game. It is a game about two people and their failing relationship! About the least appropriate wedding gift in the world! That aside, I now have my own copy and find it both challenging and enjoyable. To be honest the game plays well as an abstract and you don't need to worry too much about the theme. But then I would say that. Well, that's the dangers covered!
Grounds for Divorce
The game is played in silence - or at least, you may not discuss the game.
You must both reach the centre space on consecutive turns.
If a player can not move into a clear space on their turn then you lose.
You must also both end the game emotionally balanced, indicated by a stone placed on a scale- you must both be on 0 at the end.
If you love Dixit this may appeal as it is a very visual game.
In actual fact you are using the colours (emotions) on the cards to plan a sequence of moves.
Triumphing in a game that requires observation and perhaps some intuition is very rewarding.
Much like Magic Maze (also played in silence) there is not room for one person to dominate and just instruct the other. This can be a downside in co-operative gaming where one person assumes a leadership role which involves them directing everyone else. Thankfully, this is not a common occurrence and if you know someone like that then this would be a great gift for them. (Not as a wedding gift though).
There is room to increase the difficulty level if you are still speaking to each other after your first attempts.
So, What have we learnt?
Communication is important but silence is importanter.
Always read a full review and description of a gift before buying it.
If you enjoy cooperative games you might want to also check out Sub Terra, Magic Maze, Escape from the Curse of The Temple, Assembly, Forbidden Island, Pandemic, Outfoxed. All of these games are in the Cards or Die collection. If you want to make sure they are in the bag, get in touch and request them at an event near you.