The text for Meeples Together was finalized in July 2018, but we’ve continued to play new co-ops and team games since, including Abandon Planet (2017), AuZtralia (2018), Betrayal Legacy (2018), Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig (2018), Just One (2018), The Ninth World (2018), Pandemic: Iberia (2016), Pandemic: Rising Tide (2017), and Sprawlopolis (2018). No surprise, we’ve continued to learn new things about co-op play from these new games; this apocrypha is thus our first article that directly complements the content of Meeples Together with new concepts.
We choose today for this first release of this first Apocrypha, because it’s also the on-sale date for print copies of Meeples Together. If your FLGS doesn’t already have copies on their shelves, ask them to order some!
Much of Meeples Togethers focuses on challenge machinery: the cogs and gears that keep players on their toes by opposing them in a constantly changing and surprising way. What follows are three new parts for that machinery.
The Anti-cooperative Cue (p. 98)
A cooperative cue is the strong foundation of any cooperative system (see p. 84). It’s a way for players to get into the mindset of cooperation through a special phase or actions that require them to allocate resources, make a decision together, or in some other way engage in cooperative activity.
The opposite exists as well: an anti-cooperative cue, which encourages players to be greedy, selfish, or otherwise to succumb to anti-cooperative incentives. This sort of uncooperative cue works well in cooperative games because, of course, cooperation is mostly easy (but see pp. 288-291), while getting players not to cooperate is part of what drives the challenge in any co-op game.
An anti-cooperative cue basically tells players that being selfish is a viable option in the game. It most frequently does so by giving players the opportunity to be either selfish or selfless when making a choice. Shadows over Camelot was one of the first games to offer this sort of cue, with cards like “Piety” — which allows the player to gain 3 Life Points, or all the knights to gain 1. However, its choices were ultimately too simplistic: players always took the selfless choice. The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game has offered better examples of anti-cooperative cues of this type in recent, villainous class decks, such as Goblins Burn!, Goblins Fight!, and the Hells Vengeance decks. The “Blessing of the Gobs” card offers one of the best examples: players can use it to take a random card out of the game timer and add it to their deck. The selfish gain is obvious and immediate (a card for the player’s deck, which might be very good) while the selfish loss is vague and distant (one less turn to finish the game, sometime far in the future), which makes the selfish choice more likely and the anti-cooperative cue more meaningful.
The strongest sort of anti-cooperative cue may be an action that is always selfish, leaving the players with the choice of whether to take it or not. By not having a “good” or “evil” choice, these actions avoid the overt dichotomy found in those earlier anti-cooperative cues. Instead, players are faced with the option of taking the action or wasting it — and that can feel a lot worse than just taking a weak “good” action instead of a powerful “evil” one.
The Scoring Timer (p. 109)
Some co-op games take a short step beyond the simplistic timer (see p. 109), but still maintain a minimalistic challenge system by instead using a scoring timer. This is a timer that determines when the game ends, but the players aren’t just trying to complete a small number of goals in that time period. Instead, they’re guaranteed to play the full length of the game, and they’re trying to score as many points as they can during that time period. Their ultimate success will be determined by how many points they scored vy the end of the game.
Sprawlopolis shows how this mechanism can work and be meaningfully different from a non-scoring timer. After 15 rounds of play (during which all the city cards are played), the players then calculate their group score based on eight different criteria. A few elements make the game’s scoring timer mechanism different than the more simplistic timer found in other co-op games. First, the players are required to play out the full game, and their score may increase or decrease with each card play. Second, the complexity of the scoring creates tension because the players don’t know for sure if they won or lost until the final tally.
The co-op version of The Ninth World uses a different mechanic to create tension. Its scores are constantly totaled up, and shown on its fold-out scoreboard. The tension comes from the fact that the players have to reach certain cut-offs at certain points in the game: if they ever fall behind, they lose.
The Random Activation (p. 112)
A random activation is a variant of a standard activation pattern such as a time-based activation (see pp. 109-111) or a response-based activation (see pp. 111-112), but here the challenge system might activate or not. Lord of the Rings offers a few examples where either a good effect, no effect, or a bad effect can happen: when the players draw a tile or when they roll a die. Technically, you could say that the challenge system is only activated when the bad effect occurs.
However, a more complete example of a random activation can be found in Matt Leacock’s Thunderbirds. When the dice are ruled for rescue attempts, the Hood can move from 0-2 spaces. Similarly, the Hood can advance 0-1 spaces during the Disaster phase. The challenge machinery only activates when the Hood reaches certain spaces. Thus, the Hood’s activation of challenge machinery is a second-order result of the time that is passing or the actions that are occurring, and more importantly it’s a random one based on die-roll or card-draw results.