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July 30, 2005

New Cooperative Games

There's three new games among my collection that I find quite interesting. All feature cooperative play, where all (or all but one) players win or lose as a team.

First is a remake of the classic Arkham Horror. This new version adds the graphical sophistication of modern production and a few rules modifications to create a very familiar game with several (mostly promising) differences. Players take on the role of investigators attempting to fight back the encroaching dark influence of a powerful dark Elder God. In a major change from the original, the game now has a single Elder God picked as the force behind this game's event, with some pervasive mechanical effect (similar, but less all-encompassing, than a similar mechanic in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). In a major upgrade, cards are now used instead of tables to generate random events, which means there are now several new and less predictable events, particularly on the far side of dimensional gates. This game is a bit long (depending on which enemy you face, it can take several hours), as was the original, but it tends to offer considerable options and choices for the players, so it's never boring. Difficult, certainly. But not boring. Not at all. A worthy successor to an already great game.

Shadows Over Camelot offers another take on cooperative play. Here, the players are the knights of the round table, setting off on quests to establish their legend before invasion and betrayal overcome them. The color and style are great, though the play mechanics are a bit simplistic; most quests consist mainly of trying to build and deploy simple sets of numbered cards. Keeping things interesting are a deck of cards which randomly deploy the opposing side and, most uncertainly, the possibility of a traitor. That's right, even though this is a cooperative game, there's a very real chance that one of the knights might actually be working against the rest. This can add significant uncertainty and fun! I've read reviews which suggest that the game suffers a bit from momentum effects, where either a win or a loss is very obvious well before the game is actually done... But lots of games have that "problem", and this one is both very pretty and uniquely strong in its cooperative structure. Certainly worth checking out.

Thirdly, there's Battlestations. This is a bit less of a cooperative game than it is a very mechanical, bare-bones roleplaying game, but just where cooperative boardgames end and RPGs begin is a tricky line to draw. In this game, one player Referees and plays the enemy side while the others each control one crewmember of a spaceship set to a mission. Most interesting here is a mechanics system that allows simultaneous play of ship-to-ship combat, boarding actions, and scientific investigations. Which means much of the game is resource management, with the most important resource being the various skills of the characters. Simple re-roll mechanics allow player characters to be very good at their professional tasks without making it impossible for other characters to assist effectively. Play is achieved on multiple boards, one simple hexes for the ships to move on, the others the ship interiors, made up of square modular rooms, marked where control panels and such can be accessed. This is a very interesting game, and quite open-ended (again, more like an RPG than a boardgame).

Posted by ghoul at July 30, 2005 05:35 PM

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