Cooperative games

As part of the board game renaissance that’s occurring right now, there has been huge interest in cooperative games. BoardGameGeek lists nearly 3½ thousand of them. These are games in which the players are not competing with one another for the highest score or to be the last alive: they share a goal, and the game is won or lost as a group.

But most of these games are not actually cooperative at all. If you’ve played Pandemic or Forbidden Island, you’ve almost certainly heard one player say something like “so if you go to Kinshasa on your turn and cure the infection there, then I can move here and build a research station, then on the next turn we can move here and here and then we’ll prevent the outbreak.” That is not cooperative play. That is a single-player game with an audience.

So let me tell you about Hanabi.

Hanabi is a truly cooperative game, in that the players actually have to cooperate in order to play. You’ll notice in the image above that the players are holding their cards facing away from them. That’s so every player can see every other player’s cards, but not their own. This beautifully simple mechanic is what forces cooperation to occur: you can’t play any of your cards until someone else tells you something about them. There’s no way any one player can drive the game by themselves, because nobody has all the information.

I know of very few board games with this property. Space Alert is the only other one that comes to mind (from our hero Vlaada Chvátil, no less). Battlestar Galactica also qualifies. The Road kind of qualifies, if you consider killing your friends and eating them to be “cooperation”. If you know of others, please tell me about them!

(As a side note, Quinns writes that Hanabi is “in practice a game where you win by following additional rules which the smartest player invents between games.” Some quarterbackers just want to see the world burn.)

Show Comments