New take on game theory offers clues on why we cooperate

Keeping it friendly at the table

Hey Meeps, I have a confession to make. I used to hate board games. Nowadays, anyone who knows me thinks this would be an impossibility. How could someone who owns a board game business ever had hated games? Easy. I’ve played with a lot of cheaters.

I had a childhood friend (let’s call him Greg) who would have me over every few weeks or so for a ‘friendly’ night of games. Greg would invite over 3-4 of his other friends as well and we would engage in 2-3 different games each time we got together. For the first few game nights I had fun. I enjoyed learning the rules and even though I was getting my but kicked there was a sense of achievement each time I played as I came to understand the different mechanics and how to use them to build a strategy. This didn’t last very long, however, because I came to realize that the friends I was playing with were just going easy on me, which Greg flat out told me. That said, it was going to take a lot more than a kick to the ego to stop me from trying to beat them at a game they were better at then I was.

Fast forward a few months later. We were playing the same game but now I was feeling pretty good. My strategy had been on point all night. I could see that in 3-4 more turns I was finally going to win. Having been the loser at the table for the last 8-10 times we had played this game I was ready for a win! Problem was, Greg wasn’t prepared to lose and I didn’t know that yet. I finished my turn and took a quick washroom break. When I came back to the game I noticed, by looking at the board, that the odds seemed to be slightly more stacked in favour of Greg. I quickly looked over the board and realized that the only way he could win the game would be if the other players had helped him get to that point. ” Your turn!” he gloated.

Knowing that there was absolutely no way for me to win this late in the game I played out the last few turns with a complete lack of enthusiasm. As Greg got more and more ahead I kept losing interest, but fearing being called a bad sport I played on. After the game everyone left Greg’s house and went home. One of my other friends that was gaming with us that night lived close to me so we walked home most of the way together. We talked over the highs and lows of the game we had just played recounting all the great and not-so-great moments. “I really thought I was going to win this time!” I told my buddy, which he responded with “You know Greg told us to gang up on you, right?”. There it was. My suspicion confirmed.

That was then, this is now.

Turns out Greg wouldn’t be the last person to ‘cheat’ for the win. As a kid I had seen all kinds of people try to turn the tables in their favour using….unsavory methods. Whether it was taking an extra 500 dollar bill from the bank (Monopoly), sneaking an extra 2 more armies into South America (Risk), or telling me that a yahtzee (umm..Yahtzee) had been thrown on their first toss of the dice just when I happened to take a washroom break, cheaters were just something you had to put up with…and apparently a Jolt Cola-filled bladder. Or so I thought. Enter Dungeons & Dragons…

r/dndmemes - I just realised that the Red Box dragon only has a single derpy unicorn horn. I can't unsee it.Polyhedral Dice Set - Blue Marbled Glitter - Pack Of 7 Polyhedral Dice (7 Die In Set) | Role Playing Game Dice

Now here was my kind of game. 100% cooperative and the person that invited you over to play (the Dungeon Master) wanted you to succeed so that they could bring your character to the next part of the story that they had created. I played D&D for years and even with my good ol’ backstabbing friend Greg (insert rogue joke here). Finally…I realized that there was a sea of games out there that didn’t require you to ‘beat’ another player at the table. With cooperative games you win or lose as a team.

Fast forward 35 years. I’m a dad now and have played hundreds of games. My kids, like all kids, like I was, are competitive. I tell my kids that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose but that never seems to be the words they want to hear when you’re consoling a sobbing 9-year-old girl who’s shouting “I hate my sister and I NEVER want to play with her again!”. It’s not their fault. When you’re as young as they are…as we were, life’s ups and downs have so much more impact on us because life is still so short. Just remember….an hour long game is a long time for someone who thinks it’ll take ‘forever’ until Christmas comes when it’s already Dec 10th. That’s why I swear by cooperative games with my kids.

As promised – Our TOP 5 List of Cooperative Family games

In no particular order here’s our picks for top 5 Cooperative games that, conveniently, you can purchase through our store here.
  1. Forbidden Island – Great gateway to the Forbidden series of games (Forbidden Desert, Forbidden Sky). In this game players take on the roles of fearless adventurers trying to collect four sacred treasures and escape the ruins of a sinking island. Designed by Matt Leacock, the designer of Pandemic, who is the master of cooperative game design. This game is good for 2-4 players and although it is recommended for ages 10 and up it can easily be played as early as 8 years of age.
  2. Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger – Great combination of storytelling and adventure for ages 8 and up. Make risky choices, collect clues, and face challenges as a team. Play again and again to uncover more secrets and more exciting endings! Playtime is about an hour but what makes this game great is the extremely short set up time. Get playing right away!
  3. Mysterium – Remember the game Clue?…time to forget about it. This award winning game keeps all the nuanced elements of a “whodunit” but presents the story through a tableau of beautifully illustrated cards. Players must decode a series dreams represented as pictures to figure out, as a team, where the murder took place, with which weapon, and by whom. This game is truly a favorite in our home. 2-7 players. Ages 10 and up but our 9-year-olds have no trouble with it.
  4. Outfoxed – The team at Department Recreation created a game that deftly combines both elements into a wonderful venue for honing deductive reasoning in a non-competitive environment. As you work together to try and nab the guilty fox, you’ll learn some valuable skills such as estimating probability and paying attention to details, as well as the important role that collaboration plays towards problem-solving. Ages 5 and up but might only be played until age 7 as a child craves more challenge. Truly the best gateway game for young children.
  5. Codenames – Two teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin because that spells game over. It’s a cooperatively competitive party game. Win or lose, it’s fun to figure out the clues. Can’t beat the price for the replayability factor as no game is the same. Game time is 15-20 minutes and it’s perfect for and older family (10+).