Play against the game, not each other.

This was written for the Games for Educators October 2012 newsletter which can be viewed HERE.

I read an article recently in the Quincy Hearld-Whig written (see HERE) by a guy named Steve whose family was in desperate need of a cooperative game.  In the article he recalled a game of Monopoly where his wife and stepdaughter were “giving” each other properties and when Steve asked what they were doing she said, “Oh, this is how we do it, so everyone has some good ones.  It’s no fun if someone has to lose.”

I’ll admit that I, as well as Steve, found this to be an interesting and perplexing version of Monopoly.  Unlike Steve who thought having a winner and a loser was “like the 11th commandment,” I do think there are times when it’s enjoyable to just play for fun without one winner but in those cases I’d be more inclined to reach for a cooperative game than one where your goal is to bankrupt your opponents.

Back before 1900 there were plenty of “games” that didn’t have a winner or a loser, but were instead intended solely to amuse the players.  One of these games was Parker Brother’s Komical Konversation Kards (1893) where one player would read a question card and another player would draw and read the answer card for a Mad Libs-like game.  Grandma’s Game of Riddles (1887) were cards that had riddles which were read to the group and a score of who answered the most riddles could be kept, but wasn’t necessary.

The idea of playing together for everyone’s enjoyment has been around for a long time but has recently seen a resurgence. Peaceable Kingdom Press has a whole line of cooperative games for kids including Hoot Owl HootFeed the Woozle and Willly’s Wiggly Web.  Spin Master just released its new cooperative family game Volcano Island Countdown and there are plenty of adult games that include cooperative play including PandemicForbidden Island and for real game geeks Arkham Horror, Battlestar Galactica, Castle Panic and many, many more.

The real challenge is that most people don’t realize these games exist.  Maybe that’s because we all seem to think that games must have winners and losers.  In a way cooperative games DO have winners and losers – the game can win when the players don’t succeed in their task, just the players can win when they work together and complete a challenge.

Some games you have on hand in your home can easily be turned into cooperative games.  Can you reach a certain height with your Jenga tower?  Can you fill the Connect 4 board without getting 4 in-a-row? Can you match all of the Memory tiles in less than a certain number of turns?  What about Scrabble? Try removing 15-20 tiles from the game leaving the rest in the bag to play with.  Keep 7 tiles face-up at all times and see if you can use ALL the remaining tiles to make words on the board (it can be hard!).

Finding ways to play against the game instead of against other players is a great way to bring the group or family together.  So whether you purchase a cooperative game or modify a game to be cooperative I hope you shake things up and find fun new ways to play!


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