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Letters - June, 2005

Jacob Lee: You wrote: "I suppose the nearest thing to a hit was Louis XIV to which I had the same reaction as I have to most Alea games—I respect it but do not personally enjoy it."

You can't just say something like that and not support it. (I trust you played a full game of it?) I've been waiting for this one for quite some time as Rio Grande Games continually pushes back the release date. I would be happy to see a review—even a negative one—of Louis XIV next month. Thanks.

GGA: Yes, I played a complete game (two, in fact) but it's unlikely that I'll be writing a complete review. I didn't really enjoy the times I did play and so I'm not looking to play it any further. There are some games in which two or three playings would be sufficient to write a review, but Louis XIV isn't one of them. It's sufficiently complex and involved that a few cursory playings are not enough to be able to review it with any sort of authority.

Steven Pedlow: I'm writing about Carol Rifka Brunt's Raising Gamers 2.0 Just Say No to Cooperative Games. I don't feel that her title is fair. She mentions two cooperative games Harvest Time and the Knizia's excellent Lord of the Rings. 50% excellent seems like a good record! Cooperative games can be good or bad, just like competitive games. Some people don't like any cooperative games... I can understand that. If the author's point was just to not play cooperative games with kids, I don't agree.

Maybe the problem with the cooperative Harvest Time is that it is just not that interesting a game. I assume the overall goal is to get everything planted and harvested in time; everyone wins or loses. I am open to the idea it would be a better game if there were not individual plots to take care of first. The point of a cooperative game is that everyone wins or loses... together. I have only played two Family Pastimes games, and I enjoyed them both. I have played Amazing Illusions with kids (10 and 7) and we had a decent time trying to do all 12 magic tricks and get all three magicians on stage. I admit that most of the time, there were "best" moves, but we were a team (and the kids had a harder time seeing the best moves), so we discussed quite a few. This game is not for everyone, but I enjoyed playing it with just my wife, too (harder version). S.O.S. is not a kid-friendly game; the gameplay involves choosing who to save from a sinking cruise ship. It's almost as much philosophy as game. But our "score" is how many people we can save. I happen to enjoy cooperative and competitive games just as I enjoy cooperative (soccer) and individual (golf) sports. They have to be "good" games, though.

The author states that "good" cooperative games have a balance of self-interest with a common goal. I would not consider Republic of Rome (try to selfishly lead Rome but if everyone is "too" selfish, the barbarians take over—everyone loses!) a cooperative game. In my opinion, Lord of the Rings is not a good game because you are trying to balance your lives with destroying the Ring; it is a good game because you have fun trying to defeat Sauron together. I do not consider it a personal loss if I die but the Ring is destroyed; I'm sure others do. In summary, I don't think you should avoid cooperative games with kids unless you (or they) don't like them; they're just fine (if they're good!).

Jim Deacove: The article saying no to co-operative games, particularly my co-operative games, needs an answer. My themes are based on real-life experiences such as planting and harvesting a garden, making a sandcastle and so on. Just as our family finds doing these activities more rewarding and enjoyable when we work together instead of against each other, so do we find playing games based on such themes more rewarding and enjoyable when we help and share. Helping and sharing doesn't have to be construed as "nicey-nicey" and avoiding "self-interest" at all, whether in real life or game life. In a co-operative game, a player soon realizes that helping someone else is, in the final analysis, definitely in your own self-interest. But the articles you published center on playing games with children and I urge your readers who do take the time to play games with children to examine the arguments put forth by Carol and see the flip side, because my own experience as well as that of thousands of other co-operative game players find it more fun and challenging rather than less fun. Where's the fun in beating a kid at Candyland? Where's the fun in losing to a kid at Candyland?

Patrick Laffey: Just a comment on Carol's article on raising gamers. Her comment about cooperative games is very broad, although I do agree with her comments on Harvest Time. I think that if she had played Max (the cat) or S.O.S., both are cooperative games by the same company, she might change her mind. Briefly, in Max the object is to get three animals to their nest before the cat catches them. Here there are a few options each turn that the adult can use as a platform with young children to teach how to examine a problem looking for a solutions, and then letting the child decide on which option to take. This is a good game to introduce young children (if they can count to two they can play the game) to games, and it is also a challenging game for them to play solo. Instead of having the TV baby-sit them while you make supper, put the game on the table in the kitchen and the children can play (with some little input from the adult) by themselves while you prepare supper or some other task that is beyond a 2 to 4 year old's ability to help with; they will ask for advice.

The second game I mentioned, S.O.S., is for teens or older. It raises a dilemma that small children would be uncomfortable with, but I think challenges teens and adults and does encourage conversion. In general there are good challenging cooperative games and there are duds (my feeling is that there are more duds than good ones, and that is probably why most people stay away from cooperative games.) Maybe someone should do a study of what is out there and create a report on the best and ones to avoid.

David Cronkite: I was thrilled to read Carol Rifka Brunt's excellent article on Cooperative games and I completely agree with her. I have two children and a wife who uses concensus and conflict resolution in her work. Together we've played a few cooperative games from Family Pastimes, especially since their home office is an hour away (lots of their games appear in local thrift stores).

While I certainly don't begrudge anyone playing cooperative games, I simply do not agree with the rationale. The need for competitive and/or violent video games has been tackled by Gerard Jones in his excellent book, Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. Jones' premise is that fantasy play allows kids to work out issues of power and fear in a healthy way. Cooperative games shine with the younger set who may find competitive games too strenuous.

Competitive games, sometimes cynically called, "predatory games", can poke around the darker rooms in our imagination. Some of us fear the imagination because it can be scary, violent, unpredictable, ugly. Religions have a long history of suppressing imagination. Exploring the twists and turns of the imagination is potentially liberating and psychologically healthy. James Hillman, the Jungian psychologist who studied with Carl Jung, writes eloquently about the "soul" which is rich with fantasy images. Hillman contrasts soul with "spirit" which allies itself with images of pureness, rightness, oneness, virtue, and asceticism, among others. I equate competitive games with soul and educational and upright cooperative games (more the intent than the execution) with spirit. Think of the phrase "soul food" and the images it conjours: rich, spicy, down to earth, possibly not good for your arteries. Rock and roll is good for the soul, new age music is good for the spirit (so they say). Competitive games and the role-playing, mindless anilhilation that can accompany them are good for the soul in the most profound way.

I suspect the cooperative/competitive issue is a matter of degree. Cooperative games engage a group in competition with the game itself, not with each other. The justification for cooperative games as I understand it, is the dislike of competition with other humans. A competitive game asks the players to cooperate in competing with each other. I happen to find the latter more enjoyable as long as everyone knows they're playing a game. I dislike gamers who take it too seriously, forgetting the fun factor, and become aggressive. Competition is different than naked aggression and although one can breed the other, the world would be a poorer place without competition. It's the spice, isn't it? We all have our preferences for spicy foods; I guess cooperative types prefer their games "mild", whereas competitive types prefer "spicy".

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