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Cooperative Gaming: Arkham Horror, Pandemic, and Forbidden Island

Dear Reader,

My wife and I enjoy playing games.  Too often, though, especially due to our somewhat transient nature, we don’t have a group of people to play with.  As a result, we end up playing a lot of games with only each other.  Now, that’s all well and good, but we’re also both fiercely competitive people, and there have, rarely, been tiffs between us due to games – often games as seemingly innocuous as Scrabble or Scattergories.

Because of this, I have come to prefer cooperative gaming.  We’ve already exhaustively discussed tabletop RPGs as one example of the genre, but my wife’s and my repertoire doesn’t stop there.   We’ve gone in for many different cooperative games, and today I’d like to discuss a few of our favorites.

The first cooperative board game my wife and I ever played was Arkham Horror.  It’s a beast of a game, both complex and complicated, and takes hours to set up and play.  The payoff is well worth it, though; the games themselves, especially if you’re playing with a larger group but even with only two, are often nail-biters that come down to the last few moves.  The mechanics are well balanced enough, it seems, to accommodate for large or small player groups while still escalating the tension of the game at a similar pace.  As is often the case in these games, everything is going swimmingly and no one’s sure what the challenge is until all of a sudden you’re about to lose and only have a few turns to forestall that outcome.

The artistic genre of the game sets it in the Cthulu mythos, with “Great Old Ones” sleeping beneath the quaint town of Arkham.  Each player takes on the storied role of a unique investigator who’s looking into the mysterious occurrences around the town.  Throughout the game, monsters spawn, random events happen (often bad), gear is found, and resources accumulated to hopefully prevent the Great Old One from awakening or, should it awaken, to kill it.  It can get pretty hectic, but in a fun and strategic way, and working together to generate strategies and execute plans which often very nearly fail due to the random encounters provides hours of thoughtful enjoyment.

The game was a blast, and my wife and I (and others) likely spent hundreds of hours playing it over the course of years, but eventually, as we moved into more time-consuming jobs, we decided that we wanted a game that didn’t take so long to set up and break down each time.  Looking around, we decided to give Pandemic a try.  Pandemic puts the players in control of a CDC team trying to stem the global outbreak of four diseases.  The players have unique roles that improve on basic mechanics but have little other “fluff,” unlike the investigators in Arkham Horror with their fleshed out backgrounds, differing gameplay statistics, and detailed art.  While the game has less overt “role playing” involved, though, the mechanics are just as solid, and I’d even go so far to say that they’re more cleanly cut; the game flows better as a game as opposed to a cooperative game/story-creation instrument like Arkham Horror.

After Pandemic, my wife and I found Forbidden Island.  Like the step from Arkham Horror to Pandemic, Forbidden Island is another step towards a simpler and faster game session.  I think Forbidden Island is an excellent game, but its similarity to Pandemic somewhat drained the experience for my wife and I.  In Forbidden Island, you play a team of explorers trying to save four priceless artifacts from sinking into the ocean.  In this tile-based game, individual sections of the island become flooded, then fall into the ocean, and your team has to navigate the tiles while keeping the necessary routes open to rescue the artifacts and escape the island by helicopter before the whole thing sinks.

It’s an enjoyable game, and I’d recommend it to players who prefer a faster gaming experience or have younger kids around who’d want to play.  It’s a great game for talking about teamwork and cooperation, and it’s easier to grasp and understand if you prefer a smaller learning curve.  However, my wife and I ended up preferring Pandemic to Forbidden Island, which now largely collects dust in our gaming cabinet.

Those three games have made up most of my wife’s and my cooperative gaming experience.  They’re all enjoyable and come wholly recommended, and I hope being better aware of the depth, learning curve, and time requirements for each can help you make the best decision for your play group!

Sincerely,

Stubborn (cooperator)

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