Tag Archives: Pandemic Legacy: Season 2

Boardgames in the News: Cooperation and the “Alpha Gamer Problem”

Competition is one of the main characteristics people associate with board games, however, in the modern world of Euro games, this is no longer true.  Firstly, one of the primary qualities of Euro games is the lack of “direct interaction”.  This means that although there is competition, it is difficult for players to be “nasty” to each other.  This is an important aspect of modern gaming as it takes away the aggressive element and makes them more inclusive, particularly for families.  These games still have winners and losers though, and while everyone likes winning, nobody likes losing and some people really, really hate it.  This is where “cooperative games” come in:  instead of players competing against each other, everyone works as a team, trying to beat the game.

Pandemic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

There are now hundreds of cooperative games available, but although the first of these date back to the 1960s, the explosion really happened about ten years ago following the release of Pandemic.  Designed by Matt Leacock, Pandemic is a very accessible game where players are disease-fighting specialists whose mission is to treat disease hot-spots while researching cures for the four plagues before they get out of hand.  The game board features the major global population centres and on their turn, each player can travel between cities, treat infection, discover a cure, or build a research facility. The clever part of the game is the two decks of cards that drive it.  The first of these enables players to travel and treat infection, but also contains Epidemic cards that accelerate and intensify the diseases’ activity. The second deck controls the “normal” spread of the infections, with players drawing a set number of these, that increases when Epidemic cards are drawn.

Pandemic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Since Pandemic, a large number of cooperative games have been published, including Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky, all of which use cards in a similar way to Pandemic to increase the threat.  All of these have been designed by Matt Leacock and have a very similar feel, though a different theme.  There have also been a number of variations on the Pandemic game which retain the original theme, including the well-regarded Pandemic Legacy titles which change the feel a lot.  Other similar games by different designers include Ghost Stories, Freedom: The Underground Railroad and Flash Point: Fire Rescue, each with a different theme, but with changes to the mechanism (Flash Point for example uses dice instead of cards) and varying degrees of difficulty (Ghost stories played with four is supposed to be one of the most challenging games of its type to win).

Forbidden Island
– Image by BGG contributor DLCrie

Not all cooperative games are family friendly and accessible.  Arkham Horror is set in the H.P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulu mythos.  Each player is a resident of or visitor to the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusets during the 1920s and takes the roll of a character ranging from a gangster to a college professor.  The players discover a nefarious cult attempting to awaken a great evil, and, to prevent an invasion from other realms, they must seal off access to Arkham.  To survive, players must equip themselves with all manner of weapons, and spells, while searching for clues to aid them in their mission.  The game has a substantial rule set and the games are epic experiences which take four to five hours to complete (and are therefore not for the faint-hearted).

Arkham Horror
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While there is plenty of variety available with cooperative games, there are two often cited problems.  Firstly, many players find that cooperative games lack “something”.  In reality, this is largely just a matter of taste, in the same way that some gamers feel that “Euro Games” lack something when compared with highly random dice-heavy games with player elimination.  Perhaps a more fundamental issue is that of the so-called “alpha gamer”. This is where one player effectively becomes the general, and tells everyone else what to do.  This problem arises because most cooperative games are essentially puzzles that can be solved by one player.  Some games designers have tried to fix this issue by adding hidden information, usually in the form of cards, and a rule that players cannot share such knowledge.  Simply instructing players not to share knowledge is much easier said than done, however, as even a slight inflection in the voice or a change of expression can give away a lot of information.

Hanabi
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

In 2013, a very simple, yet clever card game called Hanabi won the Spiel des Jahres.  The idea is that instead of every player looking at the front of their hand of cards and showing the backs to all the other players, hands are held the other way so that each player can’t see their own cards, but can see everyone else’s.  In principle this means players can discuss what a player should do, but a lot of information can be given away accidentally.  For this reason, the best, most intense games of Hanabi are played in near total silence and stony faced.  This is actually extremely hard to do, which is why for many, The Game, a similar cooperative card game nominated for the Spiel des Jares in 2015 has proved to have more longevity.  This is because players can discuss anything they like as long as they never give away specific number information.

Shadows over Camelot
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

One of the early cooperative games was Shadows over Camelot, which is a hand-management and deduction-based board game where players are knights of the Round Table collaborating to overcome quests like the search for the Holy Grail.  In order to get round the “alpha gamer” problem Shadows over Camelot introduced a traitor mechanic.  At the start of the game, players are given a Loyalty Card, one of which says “Traitor”.  The player that draws the Traitor card then tries to sabotage the efforts of the Loyal Company.  Initially the Traitor hides within the Company, so players have to be very careful about what information they disclose as the Traitor could use it against them.  Worse, players have to be very careful about what information they believe as it could be given by the Traitor in an effort to mislead.

Shadows over Camelot
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Initially, the Traitor acts as one of the loyal knights, but as suspicions mount, players can accuse others of being a traitor.  If outed, the Traitor’s actions become more limited, but potentially more devastating.  Stacking the deck in different ways can be used to introduce different levels of doubt.  For example, four players drawing from eight Loyalty Cards including one traitor, are unlikely to to have a traitor, but the possibility is just enough to keep people on their toes; at the other extreme, if there are no excess cards a traitor is guaranteed.  One of the problems with the hidden traitor in Shadows over Camelot though, is that it doesn’t scale well with the number of players: seven knights playing against one traitor are still likely to win, whereas three knights are always going to struggle.

Lord of the Rings
– Image by BGG contributor fubar awol

In Shadows over Camelot, the scaling problem was fixed with the Merlin’s Company expansion, which introduced a possible second traitor.  Expansions also arguably improved one of the most intense, cooperative games, Lord of the Rings.  This twenty year old game follows the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, with players taking on the roles of the hobbits.  It is also a card driven game, which players lose if the ring-bearer is overcome by Sauron, or win if the Ring is destroyed by throwing it into the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. The Friends & Foes and Battlefields expansions add complexity and variety, while the Sauron expansion introduces a semi-cooperative element with someone actively playing the Dark Lord.

Lord of the Rings
– Image by BGG contributor takras

The semi-cooperative, “one versus many” style of game is not new, indeed it was the core mechanism of the winner of the 1983 Spiel des Jahres Award, Scotland Yard.  A staple of many charity shops, this is still a popular family game that still holds up more than thirty years later.  Although modifying the cooperative nature solves the “alpha gamer” problem, it doesn’t fix the other problem:  if one player is significantly weaker than others, everyone suffers.  This is issue inherent in any team game: the team is only as strong as its weakest link, however, it is a particular problem when the weak player is the Traitor.  This is actually a problem in any game where one player has a pivotal role though; Codenames, for example, can be a truly awful experience if the wrong person gets the job of “Spy Master”.

Scotland Yard
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Despite the issues associated with cooperative and semi-cooperative games, they continue to be very popular.  In the recent years, The Game and Hanabi have featured strongly in the Spiel des Jahres awards and nominees, while the top two games in the BoardGameGeek ranking, Gloomhaven and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, both feature cooperative play as well.  With epic campaign games like Kingdom: Death Monster and The 7th Continent continuing to build on and develop the mechanism, cooperative games are clearly here to stay, even if they aren’t suitable for every group.

Kingdom Death: Monster
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Boardgames in the News: Does “More Mainstream” = “Less Friendly”?

Modern board gaming has always been a very inclusive and friendly hobby, if niche.  For example, people attending conventions often carry games home for friends, but more surprisingly, they also often carry games for complete strangers.  This can require trust from either or both parties: sometimes it is the “mule” who pays for the goods, sometimes items are preordered and paid for in advance and then collected by the “mule” and posted on.  Similarly trusting are those that take part in the “Maths Trades“.  These are multi-person trades which happen in a loop with everyone receiving a game from one person and giving a game to somebody different.  Obviously if one person fails to honour their part of the deal, the whole thing breaks down.  Yet these things happen on a huge scale with hundreds of people participating, and although there are occasionally problems, most people are very happy with the result and take part again and again.

M.U.L.E.
– Image from lautapelit.fi

As the hobby grows, the first signs of change are perhaps becoming visible.  For example, earlier this year voting for the Deutscher Spiele Prize was closed four days early due to attempted vote-rigging.  It seems an online video blogger claimed he had a special deal with the publishers of one of the games in the running, KLONG! (aka Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure), Schwerkraft Verlag.  He posted a video syaing that if the game won the award, he and all the followers of his YouTube Channel would get a promo card for the game.  Schwerkraft denied any involvement, but around a hundred votes were cancelled (about half of which only placed the one game) and other people were unable to vote at all because voting was stopped prematurely.  The organisers of the Deutscher Spiele Prize say Azul‘s position at the top was never in doubt and KLONG! would not have won in any case.  It might have improved on its eventual seventh place though, perhaps threatening the positions of Heaven & Ale and Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 (which finished in fifth and sixth respectively).

Ludicreations at Essen 2016
– Image from kickstarter.com

Perhaps this could be seen merely as a gamer trying to game the system, but whatever, it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.  More serious was the series of thefts from stalls that occurred at Essen this year.  It was not the first time money had been taken from a stand—famously, at Essen in 2016, Ludicreations had a cash box stolen, containing about €3,500.  R&R Games were also robbed that day, but the Ludicreations theft is known more widely thanks to their response.  Such a loss can be very significant for a small company, so inspired by the theft, they designed a game called Steal this Game and launched it on KickStarter, raising over $50,000.  This year the fair grew and so did the thefts.  Six companies fell victim this time, Artipia Games, FoldedSpace, Greenbrier Games, Gotha Games, Hub Games and Japanime Games.  Reportedly, the thieves got away with a total over €20,000, but not without loss themselves as staff on the Artipia stand (ironically demoing their new game A Thief’s Fortune) realised what was happening.  Although they weren’t quick enough to stop the theft, they succeeded in detaining one of the decoys.

Essen 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

There is no suggestion these crimes were carried out by boardgamers, in fact, the Police have said that they were a professional team.  Two people distracted the cashier by bombarding them with questions and a third then swiped the cash-box.  Efforts are now underway to recoup the losses which were mostly uninsured.  Japanime Games are collecting donations, while Artipia Games have launched a KickStarter campaign for five promo cards.  Attention has also turned to trying to prevent the same thing happening next year.  There have been calls for more vendors to take card payments, however that is not without its problems.  This was amply demonstrated at the UK Games Expo this year which coincided with a Europe-wide Visa systems failure leaving many gamers unable to pay for their purchases.  There is also a question mark over whether the infrastructure available at the Messe would be able support everyone moving to card transactions at such a bug fair with such a large commercial component.  For these reasons, Merz Verlag (the company who run Spiel) are focussing on increasing security and making it much more visible.  Conversation is still on-going and it remains to be seen how much these changes will alter the feel of the show.  One thing is clear, however, the wider world has discovered our little hobby and that brings some unpleasant consequences.

Essen 2018
– Image from spiel-messe.com

Deutscher Spiele Preis – 2018

This week the The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize list was announced with first prize going to Azul.  Typically the Deutsche Spiele Preis rewards a slightly heavier game than the the Spiel des Jahres awards, but for the first time since Dominion in 2009, one game took both awards.  This year we haven’t played many of the games on either list, but our first game of Azul was shortly after it’s release at Essen last year and our local groups have played the spots off it since.  So, it is no surprise to us that it has been recognised by both the Spiel des Jahres Jury and the voters from the industry’s stores, magazines, professionals and game clubs, as well as taking the French award at Cannes, the As d’Or and the Origins “Best Family Game of the Year”.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Other games that featured on the top ten list included the winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres award, Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg (currently only available in German) and one of the runners-up, Heaven & AleThe Mind, which received a nomination for the Spiel des Jahres Award, also featured in the top ten, as did the inevitable Pandemic Legacy: Season 2.  Other than Azul, the only game we’ve played is Altiplano, and that squeaked in at number ten, but Rajas of the Ganges and Clans of Caledonia may feature in the not too far distant future.  The Deutscher Spiele Preis for Best Children’s game went to Memoarrr!.  The prizes will be awarded at the International Spieltage, Essen.

Azul
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor Vacabck

Spiel des Jahres Winners – 2018

The 2018 winner of the coveted German Game of the Year or Spiel des Jahres award is Azul.  This has been a very popular game within the group and to us has been the stand-out game this year since Essen.  It is very easy to teach with a surprising amount of depth and is beautifully produced, making it a game we are always happy to play.  The Kennerspiel des Jahres was awarded at the same time.  This honours more challenging games and this year was awarded to Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg.  So far this has only been released in German, so we have not been able to play it yet.  In addition, there was a special award for for Pandemic Legacy: Season 2, which the jury felt was the benchmark against which all other legacy games should be judged.  The Kinderspiel des Jahres award was announced last month and went to Funkelschatz (aka Dragon’s Breath) which is dexterity gem collecting game.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2018

Almost every time we’ve played Azul, the topic of conversation has moved on to the Spiel des Jahres and how it would be a travesty if it did not receive at least a nomination. It was with this in mind that we read the Spiel des Jahres nominations when they were announced this morning.  There are three nominees in each of the three awards:  a children’s game award (Kinderspiel des Jahres), the “Advanced” or “Expert” Kennerspiel des Jahres, and the main Spiel des Jahres (often interpreted as the “Family Game” award).  In addition, for the first time since 2010, there is also a special award for Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 by Matt Leacock & Rob Daviau, reflecting Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 that were all nominated, but failed to win a prize, and have had a significant influence on cooperative and legacy games as a whole.  The other nominees are:

  • Kinderspiel des Jahres
    Kinderspiel des Jahres 2018Emojito! by Urtis Šulinskas
    Funkelschatz (aka Dragon’s Breath) by Lena & Günter Burkhardt
    Panic Mansion (aka Shaky Manor) by Asger Harding Granerud & Daniel Skjold Pedersen
  • Spiel des Jahres
    Spiel des Jahres 2018Azul by Michael Kiesling
    Luxor by Rüdiger Dorn
    The Mind by Wolfgang Warsch

Firstly, more than half of the nominees were designed by either Wolfgang Warsch, or Michael Kiesling, so huge congratulations to them.  In our view, Azul richly deserves it’s nomination and it would be no surprise if it ultimately wins the award.  Of the other two nominations for the “red pöppel”, The Mind has received quite a lot of attention, and is a bit like a cross between Hanabi and The Game (both of which have been acknowledged by the Jury in the past, in 2013 and 2015 respectively).  Luxor has a good pedigree as it is designed by Rüdiger Dorn (also designer of The Traders of Genoa, Goa, Istanbul, and one of our group favourites, Las Vegas), but it is a bit more of an unknown as it has only just come out.  Usually the Kennerspiel Prize winners are a good fit to our group, but this year they are also largely unknown to us, so there is clearly a lot to discover before the winners are announced in Berlin on 23rd July (Kinderspiel des Jahres winners will be announced in Hamburg on 11th June).

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de