Each week, our #DesignXDragoons panel will offer their thoughts on a talk about game design, game development, or gameplay.
You’ll see what they have to say, and get a chance to chime in yourself, either in the comments below, or in our forums
This week’s question:
Cooperative games, such as Arkham Horror or Shadows Over Camelot, are becoming more popular with (euro)gamers. Can the cooperative game mechanism work for wargames? Any examples?
David Thompson, (Award-winning!) designer / Undaunted Normandy, Castle Itter, among others
I design most of my wargames as solitaire first and foremost. But I LOVE cooperative games and team games. Recently I completed the design for a game called By Stealth and Sea, which is about Italian human torpedo operators attacking allied ships during the Battle of the Mediterranean in WW2. Because of the structure of the game and the scale — you control three different human torpedoes, each with a two man crew — it makes for a fantastic cooperative experience. Also, my favorite way to play Pavlov’s House is as two-player cooperative, with one player controlling the operational support elements, while the other is responsible for the tactical defense of the building.
John Gorkowski, designer / In The Trenches series, Balance of Powers, plenty of others
Coop mechanics could work for a wargame, but most wargamers prefer the conflict model. Playing against the other guy is a big part of what makes wargames fun.
Pete Bogdasarian, designer / Tank On Tank, Corps Command series
Absolutely. I was playing Ambush Alley as a cooperative ruleset more than a decade ago with each player taking a fireteam against the A.I.-run insurgents. And many umpire-run exercises are simply cooperative games with someone in place to manage the opposition.
To me, the tough challenges with designing a cooperative game are providing enough for the players to do and satisfying the consumer’s value proposition.
Russ Lockwood, developer / Columbia Games
No reason why not, even if wargames mostly presume two sides. The key is getting robust ‘solo’ mechanisms that accommodate multiple players. Sort of, but you need a big game to include lots of players. Back in the 1980s-90s (?), I participated in a massive multiplayer GDW Scorched Earth game. I was one of the Soviet commanders and had a sector of the map of about 20 hexes wide, Valdai Hills area eventually. It was all done by paper snail mail. I received units as reinforcements and submitted my moves to Stavka. They sorted it all out on a master map and coordinated with the Axis players. Then you got the return placements of units that may have been retreated (or eliminated) from combats. There was a newsletter sent out with columns of units and hex locations. Now there’s lots of electronic boardgame simulators (Vassel et al) of various quality and ease of use.
Technically, I suppose that’s not a proper cooperative game of players vs the system (or a RPG-like players vs the GM), but there were enough phone calls that zipped around pleading for reinforcements…and complaining that troops were arbitrarily being taken from you after you submitted your move. We cooperated given the limitations of the day.
After a while, it sort of became pointless to do a move, because Stavka would increasingly grab troops to patch some hole outside your immediate area, rendering your work obsolete. I get that such things were done, but what do you need a player for if Stavka (or OKH) is just going to reposition units anyway?
A better rule would have been that HQs (for both sides) would demand troops be sent back for the next turn. That way, players can use their units as they see fit while high command gets the troops they need to rail away to another front.
I will point out that miniatures games often have multiple players per side for cooperative efforts. Last year, I umpired a ‘Campaign in a Day’ Snappy Nappy miniatures game at SnapCon covering the 1814 campaign with 20 players (each a corp commander) gaming across 14 tables (each 6×4-feet). It ran from roughly 11am to 5pm. Full disclosure – I authored SN and C-in-a-Day have been run for years with 15-20 players, coordinating movements and attacks via 3×5-card messages. We use miniatures, but as the system is a roster system, you can use cardboard counters if you want (like the old System 7). Google Blunders on the Danube blog Snappy Nappy for all the SnapCon events over the years, including OOBs, table layouts, recaps, and downloadable quick reference sheets.
Michael Eckenfels, senior writer/Armchair Dragoons & (newly-minted) developer/Compass Games
If the game is large enough and responsibilities can be evenly distributed, why not? For example, in GMT’s Stalingrad ’42, if you have two players on the German side why not assign one to conquer the Caucasus and one to have a go at Stalingrad? It would add a level of interest in the interaction between the two players as to how best achieve the (pretty much impossible) goal of conquering both in that game. It could lead to bickering too, as to what units should be sent where. When you play something as large as, say, the German side in Stalingrad ’42, and play it alone, you’re removing a ton of elements from the historical representation of that campaign – namely, the human element. It’s very difficult to wrap my mind around how offensives so large could be coordinated so well by so many different individual minds. I’m not saying there should be a human player for each division, as well as corps and army, but that sure would add an interesting factor to the game!
Cooperative Euro-games like Arkham Horror are a totally different breed for wargames, where you represent ONE individual in the game as opposed to entire army groups. Having immediate and direct control over hundreds of thousands of cardboard lives is much more unrealistic, I think, than delving into a haunted mansion to defeat an evil spirit, but that’s just me.
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