Categories

007: Collaborative Board Games

After solving the mystery, our heroes run into a roaming NPC, who desperately needs help finding different models for collaboration in tabletop board games.

Games talked about in this episode:

  • 3:57 Forbidden Desert
  • 5:02 Pandemic
  • 7:01 Castle Panic
  • 12:02 Pokemon Go
  • 13:13 Phasmaphobia
  • 15:26 Ghost Hunters
  • 15:51 Ghost Adventures
  • 19:01 Angry Pug
  • 19:58 Flash Point
  • 21:43 Magic Maze
  • 22:53 Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • 25:48 Last Night on Earth
  • 30:56 Betrayal at House on the Hill

Introductory Guy  

Hello. Welcome to design thinking games, a fantasy and user experience podcast. Each episode, your podcast host, Tim Broadwater and Michael Schofield, will examine the player experience of board games, pen and paper role-playing games, live-action games, mobile games, and video games. You can find every episode, including this one, on your podcatcher of choice, and on the web at designthinkinggames.com.

Tim Broadwater  

I’m excited to talk about my favorite board game genre. And for me, that is collaborative board games. As we’ve talked before, I  specifically look for board games with a very low or quick turnaround to learn the game, they don’t take too long to play — so like 15 minutes to an hour tops — and the games are collaborative, meaning that the players are working together for some type of goal. We all win, or we all die, so to speak. Do you have a preference for collaborative games versus competitive games?

Michael Schofield  

I like team-based games. I really like this idea of a group of people who have to collaborate, or you fail. The failure is poignant because you are playing another group of people. But I guess the other group of actual humans is not really the point. It’s team versus a world. The competitive aspect, I think, is maybe the point where the other human is introduced. But I love it when, frankly, the lack of teamwork, a breakdown in cohesion means failure. And so I think the common theme here is “collaborate or die.” And it’s really that simple. If t breaks down, you fail.

Tim Broadwater  

I’m definitely a fan of collaboration games. I think one of the things that I like about tabletop board games, with this kind of dynamic of collaboration versus competition, is that you’re all face to face, right? You’re not a computer away, and you’re not saying something bad about someone’s mom, and you can’t do anything about it, right? But it makes me think of the different mechanics of collaboration. There’s definitely, like you said, this collaboration or you all die or something bad happens. But there’s also collaboration for the achievement of a goal or treasure, monetary incentive. There’s also collaboration to help others. And I like them all, to be honest. I’ve actually slowly moved away from competitive board games, just because there’s only a couple that I really like. And it’s just because they’re hilarious, and so the competition kind of takes a backseat to it. 

I think a very popular one is the Forbidden Desert or the Forbidden Island games. Are you familiar with those?

Michael Schofield  

Yeah. In fact, I almost got a copy of Forbidden Island for my kid recently, when we ventured from our pandemic lockdown to the comic book store for the first time. It was right there on the shelf. And I know you’re a fan, and so I almost bought it.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, so it’s like Forbidden Island, which is probably, I think, the first one. But essentially, the Island is sinking every round. And you are a collection of people with different skill sets trying to help each other. Someone can swim. Another person is a pilot, another person’s a medic who can help people. And there are only certain things that you can do together. It’s very similar to Pandemic if you’ve ever played Pandemic before.

Michael Schofield  

I think we’ll talk about Pandemic soon. Yeah.

Tim Broadwater  

Yes. It is very much like Pandemic, except instead of the world you’re flying around, where you’re trying to get samples of diseases, and cure them, and stop outbreaks. [In Forbidden Island] you’re all trying to collaborate to get together to get off the Island in one piece. Like Pandemic, and we can just talk about it. I mean, it’s where your characters don’t die, per se. And I think it’s the same thing. Like when the Island sinks, it sinks.

Michael Schofield  

I think they imply death [in Pandemic]. Yeah, with like, when the outbreaks grow large enough, right?

So the conceit of Pandemic is that you are all an assortment of mostly medical experts. But there are different kinds of experts in there. Especially logistical ones or military experts. But you are among the best of the best there. There are a variety of roles that one to four of you can pick. And there is a massive global pandemic that is spreading, and it goes from city to city. 

There are a number of cities linked to Chicago, and if the pandemic gets to a certain density in Chicago, it spreads to the other cities. But I think there’s this I think, implicitly, if you lose, you failed, right? You know. And it’s just one of those things where, you know, what is the end result of a pandemic you’ve failed to stop? And that’s, that’s, that’s kind of how I read it. I look at it bleakly. This is a pre-apocalypse game,

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, I believe that Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Island is like you all escape, or the island sinks. You know, it’s so it’s a timer-based. And then as the tide rises, you know, more Island sinks. I love this genre of game.

So there’s also another one called Castle Panic. Which is the game where you all are defending a tower. In the middle of this, this, you’re kind of at war, I guess. And so you all have different abilities if you’re like a fighter versus someone who’s a ranged elf or a spellcaster, or whatever. But you have different things that are going to help with the oncoming orc / goblin hordes that are like every round, there’s more, there’s more, there’s more, and they keep appearing. You can set up barricades, and you can do certain things, but it is very much that if the tower is completely destroyed and breached everyone loses.

So I think those games have this great kind of, you know, kind of lasso, right, which is like, hey, let’s all play, we all can win together, or we can lose.  But it’s so it kind of emboldens everyone to want to beat the circumstance, instead trying to fight each other, they’re trying to survive this kind of very difficult situation.

Michael Schofield  

There is a challenging aspect too, you know, the sort of teamwork in which, you know, one role is better for a specific job than the others. And I think the conflict comes in, not just from, you know, players, plural, against the world, but also probably internally. Who gets to move forward? Who gets to take this action? Whose strategy is the best?

Tim Broadwater  

Some people don’t like the collaborative games, I think, because there is a lot Table Talk and working together. And I maybe want to do this action, which I think is super cool. And, you know, or it’s something that I think is gonna be effective. But the other person on my team who’s also collaborating with me to avoid drowning may have a suggestion, which is, “Hey, no, why don’t you wait this turn and do this next turn? And that will help us better.” Everyone hates the word “team building,” right? It’s very much that working with other people dynamically, and not having so much ego about it, but just kind of keeping an eye on the prize. There is no me in this, per se, but the importance of us surviving is more important than my particular actions or choices.

Michael Schofield  

I can understand why people hate that kind of stuff, right? It requires a kind of humility, right? Or you get humbled when the rest of the party outvotes you. So there’s a problem there. Collaborative games in which the humans themselves, the players themselves, aren’t prone to collaboration or interested in collaboration, or one is definitely used to leading until someone else has a better character or plan.

But that’s the kind of stuff that I love, this collaborate or die style of game really requires you to face that strategic problem. It’s a people-problem game. The challenge is hard, the game is hard, the math and the mechanics make the game the game, but you really have to participate amd people-manage and be a team for it to work. And that’s why I like, you know, you mentioned that there’s another kind where, like, Hey, you all work together to, like, the better you work together, the better the prize? Those games don’t catch me the same, because I like to win or lose, collaborate or die because it really forces the issue. If you are a bad team, you will lose. And I like that the game forces you to confront that.

Tim Broadwater  

I agree with you. I think what you’re describing is, to me, like Pokemon GO Raids. We’re not technically losing. But like, if we’re not successful, we don’t get a chance at capturing the rare Pokemon. You know that I’m kind of cracked out on Monster Hunter, I love it. Like you go into this timed match, which is like 15 minutes long, your goal was to capture a killer monster to harvest its part to make more weapons and armor to fight even more monsters. But technically speaking, if you lose the match, you maybe lose a little money but you could totally be an asshole and just do what you want to do if you want it to. Unlike a game that I just started playing last year, and I don’t know if you’ve seen, but it’s kind of popular: Phasmaphobia. Have you heard of that?

Michael Schofield  

Oh my gosh, I have. It’s actually been suggested as, like, funny that you mentioned team building earlier as a, like, it’s a leadership exercise was like, let’s go play. I can’t. I can’t say I always want to say like phantasmagoria or something, which I think is like a horror magazine. But I love this idea of Ghost Hunters. I love it. I’ve been dying to play it. I’m an XBot with not a very good PC. I have just been reluctant to fire up these PC games because I’m just assuming that they’re gonna suck for me. Anyway, I want to hear about your experience here because it looks amazing. I know I would love it.

Tim Broadwater  

We’re talking about the game Phasmaphobia, which is the fear of ghosts. Unlike Pokemon GO or Monster Hunter, you don’t get a big payoff. You’re in it for the research. You get a little bit of cash from completing collaborative matches, but there is no incentive to work together apart from seeing if you can uncover the ghost.

Michael Schofield

You just said the word “match.” Is there an end? Do you win?

Tim Broadwater  

Essentially like you log in, and you are in your garage, it’s what’s you’ve turned into your garage into like your this is our ghost hunting, you know kind of garage or T.A.P.S. 

Michael Schofield  

We should reference The Atlanta Paranormal Society:  T.A.P.S. from Ghost Hunters, the show on Syfy, I think, with Jason and Grant, and recently rebooted with just Grant. 

Tim Broadwater  

I’m assuming you’re a fan then.

Michael Schofield  

Oh, my God, I love it. And of course, I love Ghost Adventures with Zak Bagans and his crew because they are so …. Zak Bagans is a goth bro, right? He wears all black. In early episodes, he was wearing those Hot Topic pants that were really baggy with straps between each leg. He’s also jacked. He goes around challenging the demons. Like it’s like, “if you have to enter somebody, enter me!”

Tim Broadwater  

Phantasmagoria is actually the game, and then Phantasm is the movie I’m thinking of. Yeah, that’s a lot of crazy convoluted stuff. But essentially, yes, you start the game, you’re in your T.A.P.S. makeshift garage, and you got like 20 bucks in your pocket. That’s it. And so you’re like, “I can get like an audio recording device, and maybe a flashlight,” you know, and so you can team up with other ghost hunters. You go to these rumored places, like this old farmhouse, this abandoned public school, or this old mental asylum.

You’ve got reports that have come in, and you get, like, literally a manila folder. So you are going in with a team, and you only can bring the equipment you can afford. And so the incentive is really to kind of build a little bit of cash so you can get better equipment to keep grinding and doing the same thing. And if you lose cash or lose money, then it’s just like, you’re kind of, you’re kind of depending on your other ghost hunters to like, “Hey, man, will you let me use your flashlight,” because you’re lame, you know?

And so essentially, you go in, and you have like, these audio recording devices. You have smudge sticks, and you have Ouija boards, and you have UV lights, and temperature raters, like these thermometers, things in your hands and whatever. And you’re trying to pin down where the ghost activity is. Then you’re trying to engage or piss off the ghost, to get it to show itself or move something or turn on the water or whatever. Yeah, and then capture that on film or document it. You’re trying to get evidence. So you’re not doing it for cash, you’re not doing it for parts, you’re not doing it to get evidence to kind of see if you could prove the existence.

Now it is possible to get killed in the game. You can piss off a ghost so much that it literally will attack you. But essentially, all it is in the game means that you’re kind of out of the match.

I don’t know if you follow Angry Pug? Angry Pug is probably one of the more popular Twitch streamers. But if you actually search for, I think “Phasmaphobia Scream,” he comes up. He’s this bearded guy who literally just screams like a girl when it happens, and I think that’s probably one of the most famous video clips out there.

Michael Schofield  

I found it. Amazing.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, so I like, you know, those incentives, there’s like monetary or item incentives, like kind of in that part, the research, but I kind of also like, just to do good.

But if you’ve ever heard of Flashpoint or Sentinels of the Multiverse, yeah, those are games that are where you’re essentially trying to do good. In Flashpoint, you’re a team of EMTs or firefighters, and there’s a building that’s on fire. And you or your team is working together to rescue as many people as before it burns down.

Yeah, you don’t lose. But it’s like, but you maybe didn’t get to save everyone. 

Michael Schofield

It’s really interesting to think about. We have this umbrella category of cooperative or collaborative games. But for me, a lot of it is really driven by that incentive of why you want to collaborate. And one of the things we like about Phasmaphobia is that I want to play this because I love this genre and I want the scares, but I don’t know that it like I have any interest in like working with people there, especially if they’re strangers. I’m sure I would, but the draw wouldn’t be the collaboration part of it.

Something like Flashpoint, which I’ve played, is really cool. But it’s the same thing. It’s like the second tier of severity where you failed to collaborate and so people burned to death.

For me, because my incentive to collaborate, the thrill of collaboration is the inter-party conflict, but it’s the fact that like,we have to make the right bet, and it’s that aspect that really, really, like really appeals to me.

Tim Broadwater

There is. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Magic Maze, either. Magic maze is probably the most frustrating collaborative game. And the reason why is because you can’t talk to each other.

Michael Schofield

Oh, interesting.

Tim Broadwater  

And your nonverbals are limited as well. But Magic Maze is like, you basically pull a heist, someone’s a dwarf, if someone’s an elf, someone’s an orc, or whatever, and you’re trying to get out. But you can’t, you have to work together, but you can’t talk to each other.

So you can point to things. And you know, but you may notice something that someone else doesn’t, and there’s no way to actively tell them. But you have to kind of like, infer that they do something, and then they have to kind of be tuned in enough to do it. And it frustrates people. It really does. 

Michael Schofield

That sounds awful. To be honest. 

Tim Broadwater

I’m not a fan of it. I tried it, and I probably will never play the game again. But if you want to like thinking like ghost hunters and thinking of Phasmaphobia, you know, comic books are huge right now. And if you wanted to be a superhero and play on a superhero team and do that, that’s what Sentinels of the Multiverse does.

I mean, essentially, you have all these decks, and you choose a deck for whatever hero you want. It could be a Batman-like hero, or an alien, or like an Iron Man, hero or something, whatever. But essentially, you have an entire deck for you, and all the other players at the table have a deck for their hero. 

And the difficulty is based on how many players there are. So it’s all scalable. You can have, you know, I think they recommend not having more than six people. But like, essentially, if you have five people to sit down, they choose five heroes that have five corresponding decks, and your difficulties to the power of five.

But then also, there’s a deck for the supervillain that you’re fighting, and then a deck for the environment. And so you kind of keep going around in a circle. And let’s say you’re fighting in the jungle, one of the villains is Omnitron. He’s an artificial intelligence who can create robots and duplicate has, you know, cyborgs or robots that attack you. And so each round, you all can do something, and you can work together as a team or set each other up for these cool moves or help or heal each other. But then the environment could spawn like a rock slide or like a mud pit or like a T Rex. And then the supervillain also has a move.

And it’s very difficult. Like a lot of people don’t win. It’s kind of one of those games to where it’s like it’s kind of like Betrayal at House on the Hill. There’s only like only a 10% chance of winning ever because it’s the villain. Is that difficult?

Michael Schofield  

Yeah, I wasn’t gonna ask like so with like with Sentinels. Can anyone play the villain?

Tim Broadwater  

The villain plays itself. Then the environment, you just pull the top card, and it does what it does.

Michael Schofield  

So, but there is this kind of collaborative type of game which is, you know, given let’s say given five players at the table, for versus one where there is, you know, a betrayer among the party. But I think the idea is there’s this collaboration that is like almost-all versus one because you can have everyone at the party go against, you know, a game villain —  the virus,the burning building, the sinking desert — or you all can have a bad guy sitting at the table.

Tim Broadwater  

Traitor, a traitor? Yeah. Oh, a werewolf or vampire.

Michael Schofield  

I like these games, too, right. And I bust out every Halloween is, there’s this game called like, Last Night on Earth, where you’re a bunch of high school jocks and maybe a cheerleader. I mean, of course, it could be the nerd, or you can be the teacher or the town sheriff who was at the high school for some reason. And there’s a zombie outbreak. And a player plays the zombie. Usually, what happens at least, like on Halloween, we throw like a little party or whatever, and have our adult friends come over and force their kids and our kids like upstairs.

Tim Broadwater  

“Go watch Monster Squad while we play!”

Michael Schofield  

What happens is like, we actually have a bunch of people at the table, we’ll have like five or six. And then like two people can play the zombies. And then the rest can play the heroes. They’re really bad characters who should die in horror games. They’re the dimwit who runs up a half complete ladder, and just gets like stuck up there, you know, so shit like tha, some of them are meant to die. But that’s the idea. 

You have to cooperate. Because the notion is that, oh my god, zombie apocalypse, at the highest school, there’s a truck, there’s only one truck in the parking lot. And for whatever reason, the keys are in the library, and it’s out of gas, and the extra gas is in the storage shed. And some other important part is like over here, like the wrench, for whatever reason, these things are spread apart. And you all have to collaborate and work together to get each piece. And without coming together. You die.

There are tough times of zombies like the duck is really stacked against you.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, that’s, that’s, there are those games, which are basically collaborative because it’s in your best interest. But if you need to cut and run, or like, save yourself, you can do that. And that’s very much what happens with Betrayal at House on the Hill. 

Michael Schofield  

What does a well-designed collaboration game look like? A lot of these have timers, right. So whether or not it’s like a literal timer. In Pandemic, there’s not a timer per se, except that, you know, you draw the wrong card, and the severity of the Pandemic increases until it reads reasons like there are absolute deadly levels. I think the Forbidden games that literally have a timer. And so like, there’s one thing where just like the pressure, the external pressure of time, forces the issue, like for instance, oh my gosh, you have to make a decision. Or you’re all going to take a step back.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, I think communicating that not only the time is counting down, but in Pandemic or in Dead of Winter, it’s getting worse. The Island is sinking each round. So it’s more prompting you to be efficient with your time work together, and make the best choices you can. The other mechanic that I like is that everyone has value and that everyone is important, has a role, and can do multiple things that everyone can do, but then there’s also your unique identifiers or abilities.

Michael Schofield  

I think that’s important. Each person can do four of the same actions, but only this person can do that, and so to pull off the strategy, you have to get that person there. In Last Night on Earth, only the sheriff can really aim the pistol. 

The other thing is like, but many of these games, you also carry some sort of flaw. You have your unique power-up. And you also have a flaw. 

Tim Broadwater  

It creates strength and dependency, not dependency in a negative way. 

Michael Schofield  

It’s a mechanic for like, humility, it’s like, it’s right there in like a number or a stat block.

Tim Broadwater  

You know, Betrayal at House on the Hill. There are four stats in that game. And some people have a great like physical strength body stat to where they can attack and defend, that is not the person that you want to withstand psychic penetration. Because their mind power is not that great, you know. And then, exact to your point, some of that is sometimes balanced with like everyone can do these four actions. However, where is everyone can do it. And it takes two turns, or three turns, or two tokens, or whatever, this person can do it free each round.

So the successful games that have collaboration in them are ones that make that pretty well known. I know, a common thing for a lot of the tabletop board games is like, you will have your own card and it literally just highlights you know what it is the abilities that you can do. And that mechanic is through a lot, not just board games, but then I think video games. There’s a reason why people go like a ranger build, because it’s like range damage, right? It’s your Archer. It is not the tank or the meat shield, that is literally in the battle, you can take the hits. And there’s also kind of the medic or the healer, the cleric, or whatever, who can actually help repair.

So lets all kind of get the role that we want to play. And then let’s figure out how to do this together. The challenge being we can survive or defeat the big bad or save as many people.

Michael Schofield  

I can’t think of an example of where this actually happens, but just, you know, name the elephant, to say the obvious thing here, it’s important that these roles are finite, for instance, you all can’t be the medic. Because you would probably lose. In Dungeons and Dragons, of course, you know, you could have an all cleric party, which is great. But in most of these games, like in Pandemic, it all wouldn’t work if you all were the helicopter pilot, you guys are fucked.

Tim Broadwater  

Here’s a challenge to you, if you’ve never played like Dungeons and Dragons, or a role-playing game, to where you’ve done that before, I’ve done it before, where we were all wizards, or we were all clerics. It changes things. You can’t tank per se. You have to summon something to tank so you can get some spells off, you know, I mean, it’s possible to do it. And I like games that have that amount of bend, right? 

Michael Schofield

It increases the difficulty level in a way.

Tim Broadwater

We have all of our core needs, range damage, crowd control, healing, buffing, but then also melee damage and tanking kind of like all like handled, we have to change it up to where it can work another way, but it’s just going to be different.

Michael Schofield  

Tim, I have a collaborative plea for our listeners to help bolster this team. It would be awesome if we could get folks to leave reviews on their podcatcher-place of choice, specifically like iTunes or Google Play stores, and like, heart, star, favorite this episode (and all of the other episodes). 

What literally every other podcast says that “hey, this really helps us reach new people.” Yo, it totally does; it plays into the algorithm.

Introductory Guy  

Thank you for listening to the design thinking games podcast. To connect with your hosts, Michael or Tim, please go to design thinking games.com where you can request topics, ask questions, or see what else is going on. Until next time, game on

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