A class of games I wonder if exists

So I was thinking about board game design and it occurred to me that there is an interesting class of games which I hadn’t seen any examples of. That is the set of semi-cooperative or cooperative-with-hidden-missions games.

There are pure cooperative games, like Pandemic, and there are cooperative-with-hidden-traitors games like Shadows Over Camelot or Battlestar Galactica, where you’ve got the overt goal that everyone is supposed to be working towards but some of you might be traitors trying to undermine that.

What I’m thinking about though is games where everyone is working towards a common goal but people have hidden missions within that. So the possible outcomes are basically either “you all lose” or “you have all made it through the game. Now score to determine which of you actually wins”.

The “you all lose” scenario needs to be likely enough that you are basically forced to cooperate, but you should all have hidden agendas which mean that your favoured actions while generally positive might not be strictly optimal for the group because they’re designed to further your hidden goals.

Here’s a sketch of a game exhibiting these properties:


Humanity’s first colony on an alien planet has been established. Its governance consists of a president and a council. You are that council. Your goals are:

  1. Get your colony self-sustaining before your limited supplies run out and you all die horribly
  2. Gather enough political influence that when the current president’s term is up you’re elected their successor

At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt five “alliances” cards and must pick three of them. These are groups of people who are prepared to throw certain amount of influence your way if certain conditions are met (there are probably several conditions depending on how happy they are, including a penalty condition where they actively oppose you if that baseline is not met).

Play proceeds through mechanisms I don’t feel like fleshing out right now, but you have to gather resources, build infrastructure, deal with random disaster cards, etc.

The game ends under one of various possible circumstances:

  1. You run out of a critical resource (food, water, medicine, etc) and the colony dies or is thrown into anarchy. You all lose
  2. A sufficiently catastrophic disaster occurs and you do not have the capacity to deal with it. You all lose.
  3. The current president dies (you may be able to hurry this along). An election occurs. The person with the most total influence wins the election and the game.
  4. The current president’s term is up. An election occurs as above.

So while you are all working towards the survival of the colony, exactly how that survival manifests is up to you – if the miners are one of your allies, you might be really interested in promoting heavy industry, whileas if the scientists are on your side you might want to preserve some of that wilderness for research purposes rather than digging it up. On the other hand, if you don’t build those mines you might not have the resources to fix that disaster at the power plant, and it’s a real shame you hadn’t spent more time researching the native biology when that plague hit.

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2 thoughts on “A class of games I wonder if exists

  1. Michael Chermside

    I have been looking for the exact same thing!

    The trouble with games like “Pandemic” is that when played well the optimal strategy is “let the guy who’s best at strategy games tell everyone how to play their turn”… which is boring. The hidden traitors games aren’t really cooperative.

    What I think might be really fascinating would be a game in which the primary objective is a cooperative one, and everyone loses if this is not achieved. Ideally the difficulty would be tuned so that the cooperative goal required some work to achieve, but was almost never out of reach if the players emphasized it. Then there would be secondary objectives and I have been thinking that the secondary objectives could be different. So one player might be trying to build the most widgets while another is trying to get the most votes and a third is trying to eliminate all factories.

    Key to this would be that some of the individual goals would be compatible and others would be incompatible. Undermining goals would need to be easier than achieving them (this would provide players motivation to hide what their goal was and bluff some). The “Illuminati” game illustrates what I mean by possibly-conflicting individual goals: I thought setting this in the context of an overarching cooperative game might prove interesting.

    I have not, however, designed any games following this template. Yet.

  2. Ian Maxwell

    I’m intrigued by this idea! That is, the idea of a game in which one or fewer players win, and playing too antisocially increases the chance that all players lose. The particular manner in which you want to do this is to give players hidden goals, but I wonder if that’s necessary.

    In particular I’d be interested in hearing about a board game modeled after Chicken, where the psychological goal is to convince the other players that you are committed to taking them down with you, so that you don’t actually have to do so. In practice I know people who play Risk like this, promising in advance to wipe out the first player to attack them at any cost. But I think this is an unintended “feature” of that game, and I wonder if the same dynamic would work better in a game that incorporates it deliberately.

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