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Friday, December 8, 2023

December 8, 2023: Board Game Studying: Collaborative Games

[On December 1, 1948, a Connecticut inventor named James Brunot copyrighted a new board game called Scrabble. Like many great games Scrabble has endured and grown ever since, so for the 75th anniversary of that pivotal moment I’ll AmericanStudy it and a handful of other board games. I’d love your thoughts on these, others, and board games over for a competitive yet collaborative crowd-sourced weekend post!]

On the more common form of collaborative board game, and a unique alternative.

Back when I was writing regularly for the excellent Good Men Project, I published a piece on why I found it important when my sons were young to lose to them on purpose (if as subtly as possible) most of the times that we played board games together (which was a lot of the time!). That was over nine years ago, and certainly my perspective has entirely and appropriately changed over time; for many years now, in the far less frequent times we get to board game together in their increasingly busy lives, I’ve greatly enjoyed competing fully with them (and still losing to them quite often and quite happily, natch). But I still try to do so without the most toxic sides of what competition can draw out of any of us, and for that reason among others I have a special place in my heart for a particular genre of board game: collaborative ones, where the players work together to achieve a common goal.

Most of the collaborative games we’ve discovered and enjoyed fit a particular and familiar mold: there’s an external threat that’s drawing ever nearer, and the players have to work together to defeat it before it destroys them. Probably the best-known game of that variety is Pandemic, which we’ve gotten to play a couple times and found very challenging but fun; we’ve also enjoyed the multiple games in the Forbidden series (Desert, Island, Sky, etc.). Most games of this type can be pretty serious and even bleak, though, so we’re particular fans of Munchkin Panic, a collaborative game set in the delightfully silly world of Munchkin card games and featuring such threatening adversaries as the Gelatinous Octohedron and the truly terrifying Potted Plant. After all, if you’re playing a collaborative game of this type there’s a genuine chance that you could all die (otherwise, it wouldn’t be much of a game), and in that case I suppose we’d prefer to die feeling delightfully silly rather than serious and sad.

Because of our (well, definitely my, but I think the boys share it as well) fondness for collaborative games, I’ve also sought out others in the genre, including those that offer a different experience from that most familiar one. And by far the most unique and compelling one that we’ve found is Mysterium, an evocative and haunting game which asks the players to use images in complex ways to communicate with each other and solve a shared puzzle before time runs out. Mysterium’s collaborative gameplay and goals feel quite distinct from the more familiar type, which makes for a fun change of pace for folks like us who enjoy this genre overall. But it’s also just one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen, and there’s something to be said for immersing yourself in an aesthetically attractive and compelling world for those minutes or hours that you’re gaming with friends and loved ones. Meet you all at the gaming table!

Crowd-sourced post this weekend,


PS. So one more time: what do you think? Other games you’d highlight for the weekend post?

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