Speaking of simple and popular card co-ops from 2015, how about The Game? Based on simplicity of play, it’s somewhat similar to The Grizzled, but whereas The Grizzled was super evocative, The Game is entirely abstract — but still a fun, tense game.
The Game by Steffen Benndorf
Publisher: IDW Games (2015)
Cooperative Style: True Co-Op
Play Style: Card Management
The players each have hands of six to eight cards, numbered from “2” to “99”. They must play them into four columns: two of which are descending, starting from “100”, and two of which are ascending, starting from “1”. Once a card has been played there’s only one way to “back up” in the column: by playing a card exactly ten different in the opposite direction. The ultimate goal is to play all 98 of the cards in the game — or as many as possible.
The core of The Game’s challenge system is a set of rules about what cards can be played to where. These rules are very simple, but they’re a fine example of how rules create the basis of challenges in co-op games.
One additional rule keeps players on their toes by saying when to play those cards: each player must play 1 or 2 cards on his turn. This is what creates the game’s difficult choices. Because players must play something, every turn they have to decide which cards are the least damaging to the overall cooperation. This is a nice variant of a card- or dice-based trigger: players effectively trigger the challenge system themselves when they are forced to play.
Challenge System Mechanics: Turn Activation, Arbitrary Trigger, Decay.
The cooperation of The Game comes from participants playing their cards to the same common area. The idea for this sort of combined cooperative play goes back to at least Lord of the Rings (2000), where players advance group markers, but it remains a relatively rare cooperative mechanic. Hanabi (2010), which is also built around mechanics for the joint play of group cards, is The Game’s closest cousin.
To a certain extent, this sort of combined activity allows for truer cooperation than a more typical adventure-focused cooperative game because there’s less room for players to run off on their own; instead, they must all stay focused on the same cooperative task. The hyperfocus on a single activity can result in a shallower game, but that might be a fair trade-off for the increased cooperation that arises.
The Game could fail as a cooperative activity if players had too much information about the cards they held; it would become too easy to assess the “best” move. As a result, The Game strictly limits communication: players can’t talk about the specific cards that they hold. This type of communication limitation is often more important in a tightly focused co-op like The Game, but it’s often easier to implement too, because of the minimum of game elements. (With that said, in at least of quarter of games of The Game, players seem to get a little overaggressive about what they say, violating at the least the spirit of the limitations, which is a common problem for a limit of this sort.)
The Game is purely an abstract.
Expansions & Variants
The Game: Extreme (2016) adds special rules to some cards, while The Game: Face to Face (2017) is a competitive two-player game.
The Game is a fine example of a tight, simple co-op that’s nonetheless a lot of fun. It shows how uncertainly can arise just as easily from chaotic player interactions as from random card draws and it shows that even simple, abstract choices can be hard to make.
Benndorf is a German designer with just a handful of designs under his belt, dating back to Pescado (2012). They’re all pretty simple abstracts, most of them focused on dice. Benndorf’s Qwixx (2013) was a nominee for the SdJ Game of the Year award in 2013 while The Game (2015) was a nominee for the 2015 SdJ — which is a pretty impressive record for this new designer.