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Semi-Cooperative Games

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01 Mar 2024 14:11 #341880 by Shellhead
I was talking to a fellow gamer recently, and said that some of my favorite board games are semi-cooperative. He asked me to clarify what I meant by "semi-cooperative," and that lead to a discussion of which games are actually semi-cooperative. How do you define semi-cooperative games?

In my opinion, a semi-cooperative game allows players to optionally work together and share a victory, but also allows for betrayal of allies and a solo victory. Mere inclusion of a negotiation mechanic doesn't make a game semi-cooperative if only one player can win the game.

Camp Grizzly is definitely a semi-cooperative game. Usually the players work together to escape together, but sometimes some of the players (or even just one) have the necessary items for an escape, but one or more other players are too far away get to the exit in a reasonable amount of time. The game allows the players with the items to escape and leave behind other players. If the group with the items manages to survive their endgame card, they win. If not, that first group loses, and play resumes with the other players.

Saltlands has several modes of play, and one is explicitly defined as semi-cooperative. Players need to collect a set of one or two card types, go to the exit tile, and clear off any raiders before they can escape for the win. In semi-coop mode, players are free to leave behind other players. Like in Camp Grizzly, they might do it because the other players are too far from the exit and time is running out. Or it might be a more deliberate exclusion as payback for an earlier altercation in the game.

I don't consider traitor games to be semi-coop. If there is just one traitor, then it is a one-vs-many game. If there can be two or more traitors, then it is a team-vs-team game, where the membership of the teams is not public knowledge.

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01 Mar 2024 14:31 #341881 by Shellhead
Replied by Shellhead on topic Semi-Cooperative Games
The classic example of a semi-coop game is Dune. Two or three players can form an official though not necessarily permanent alliance and potentially win a joint victory. Other players can form a separate alliance.

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01 Mar 2024 14:43 #341882 by dysjunct
Replied by dysjunct on topic Semi-Cooperative Games
Your definition seems workable to me. Although I don't know that I'd include games with optional alliances or shared victories necessarily. Is Cosmic Encounter a semi-coop?

Camp Grizzly, yes. Hellapagos, yes.

Agree that hidden traitor games are not really, but what about games that don't necessarily have a traitor? E.g. Shadows Over Camelot might end up with only good-aligned players.
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01 Mar 2024 15:23 #341883 by hotseatgames
Replied by hotseatgames on topic Semi-Cooperative Games
I believe a prime example is Nemesis. People are encouraged to work together, despite knowing that some players may not have your best interest at heart.

If a group really wants to work together, they certainly can, but the game allows people to absolutely go for an independent victory. In the non-cooperative mode, you could do everything possible to help another player and they still might not achieve their victory condition.
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01 Mar 2024 22:33 #341885 by n815e
Replied by n815e on topic Semi-Cooperative Games
To me, Republic of Rome was the first semi-coop I played. There can be only one winner of the game, but if the players don’t work together to solve problems to their mutual benefit, the winner is going to be the game rather than the players. In this case, players are force to try to work together on some level to ensure the continuation of Rome, while also scheming and maneuvering to be the dominant faction in the senate (or Dictator for Life).
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02 Mar 2024 09:29 #341886 by Msample
Replied by Msample on topic Semi-Cooperative Games

dysjunct wrote: Your definition seems workable to me. Although I don't know that I'd include games with optional alliances or shared victories necessarily. Is Cosmic Encounter a semi-coop?

Camp Grizzly, yes. Hellapagos, yes.

Agree that hidden traitor games are not really, but what about games that don't necessarily have a traitor? E.g. Shadows Over Camelot might end up with only good-aligned players.


Agreed that games with shared alliances are not co-op or semi co-op games . To me, a game where the table plays against an NPC bot/game are what makes a co-op, semi or not .
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03 Mar 2024 09:14 #341888 by Jackwraith
Replied by Jackwraith on topic Semi-Cooperative Games

n815e wrote: To me, Republic of Rome was the first semi-coop I played. There can be only one winner of the game, but if the players don’t work together to solve problems to their mutual benefit, the winner is going to be the game rather than the players. In this case, players are force to try to work together on some level to ensure the continuation of Rome, while also scheming and maneuvering to be the dominant faction in the senate (or Dictator for Life).


This. I wouldn't include games like Cosmic Encounter or Dune, where incidental and tentative alliances can lead to a shared win because there's nothing in the central design that forces that situation. You can win either of them completely solo, even if it's more difficult. But games like Republic of Rome, John Company, Hellapagos, and Zimby Mojo have it as a basis of their play that you have to cooperate with others around the table in order to have a chance of winning.
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04 Mar 2024 11:09 #341898 by cdennett
Replied by cdennett on topic Semi-Cooperative Games
My definition of semi-coop has always been a game with a single winner, where that winner could be the game itself (IE. everyone loses). As such, most of the games listed above would not fit that definition.

I have never thought of Cosmic Encounter or Dune as semi-coop as those are games with shared victories, the game can never win. Same goes for something like Alcatraz, where you have shifting alliances, but in that case you have a single loser. John Company always has an actual winner, so I don't see it as semi-coop at all (the only incentive you have to keep the company from failing is if you profit from it). I've honestly not considered Camp Grizzly or Hellapagos as semi-coops, as they allowed for shared victory and everyone is working towards the same goal, but in thinking about it I can see the comparison...I almost wonder if we need a "survival" game category for those coop games where not everyone necessarily will win. But it's not uncommon for both CG and Hellapagos to end with everyone winning.

Now, Nemesis, though I've never played it, sounds similar to those survival games except some people will know that they've lost well in advance and can actively tank the game for the rest. That and you have people actively working towards opposite goals, so it's not the same as a survival game. I do consider this a semi-coop, despite the potential for shared victory, so my taxonomy suffers here. But perhaps it's the fact people are working towards different goals changes something unlike Hellapagos or Camp Grizzly.

Hidden traitor games or games with hidden teams (IE. Battlestar Galactica) are not semi-coops, again because someone is going to win the game.

Regardless, if you can't tell, I don't like semi-coop games. The main reason is that as soon as someone decides they can't win, they will actively attempt to ruin the game for everyone else. I'm told there are game groups out there that think someone else winning is better than everyone losing, and I suppose semi-coop works for them. Not me, nor anyone in my group, feels that way. I once told them that those people existed and they looked at me like I'm crazy. If I'm not winning, of course it's a minor victory if no one else wins along with me (making us all equal), and I struggle to see it any other way. It's not much different than being asked to stop the current leader from winning a game when you're decidedly in last place...fuck you, let the second or third place guy do it so I have a chance of possibly moving up. And this idea that you need to make sure no one thinks they are losing is something I've never seen work in practice.

But it's interesting to see the many definitions of semi-coop, and perhaps my standard is too stringent. I still stand by my stance, but now when I hear people say they like semi-coops, I should probably ask them which ones before passing judgment.
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