Board Game Mechanics #4 – Co-operative Play and Auction/Bidding

Last time I posted about how Voting and the use of Modular Boards have influenced some of today’s most popular games. While these mechanics have been found in countless games throughout the years, other mechanics are also being employed in new and refreshing ways like never before. Specifically, this post is going to outline the concepts of Auction/Bidding and Co-operative play in addition to showing how these mechanics affect the games in which they have been implemented.

Co-operative Play:

The concept of board games usually evokes feelings of competition. In fact, for those who are not especially competitive, the idea of playing a board game likely conjures up thoughts of misery and the wasting of one’s time. However, that all changed once co-operative games became more mainstream in gaming circles across the land. The thrill of victory is typically what keeps a lot of gamers coming back for more. Not only should a game be fun to play, but it should also feel fun to win! I never thought that one could have an absolute blast playing what looks like a traditional board game without the inevitable hard feelings that take place after the final victor reigns over those with more futile tactics. This is the problem that Co-operative gameplay solves. Not that competitive games are obsolete in any way. I believe the competition that drives most games into popularity will continue throughout the ages. However, a game’s ultimate goal is entertainment, not competition. This is why co-operative gaming innovates the most basic gaming pillars (competition) and introduces an entirely new way of being entertained.

Pandemic is one of the most popular co-operative games today.
Pandemic is one of the most popular co-operative games today.

Co-operative gameplay is a completely new take on board games, where each player is working together collectively to achieve victory rather than working individually or against one another. While competition is still present in games like Pandemic, the ultimate goal is to beat the game, rather than the other players. In essence, the same adulation of victory or agony of defeat can be felt in both competitive and co-operative games, but you are doing so within the context of going on an epic journey WITH your friends instead of a heated battle AGAINST them. For a lot of non-competitive people, this slight shift can mean the difference between wasting a perfectly good Friday night and having something to look forward to at the end of the week. Whether you’re the most tolerant gamer who loves all games regardless of theme or mechanics, or a hipster gamer who only plays what isn’t mainstream (or only games that are “ironic”), co-operative games are becoming more and more of a staple in today’s gaming scene.


Conversely to the innovative mechanic of co-operative play, auction/bidding is a tried and true system that has been a proven driver in a variety of games. The idea behind this mechanic is for players to “bid” on items they determine they either need or can win more of during the course of the game or round. One of my earlier posts included analyses on Press Your Luck games, and this mechanic follows the same school of thought. The higher you bid, the better the outcome may be if you’re able to hold up your end of the deal. Want to play more conservative? It may be easier to attain what you’re predicting, but it may not be enough to win. Do you really need that resource that’s up for auction? How much are you willing to pay for it relative to your peers? Pay too much and you might be short-handed the rest of the game. Pay too little and you won’t get that vital item you need to further your strategy.

For Sale is a classic auction/bidding game that has maintained its success throughout the years.
For Sale is a classic auction/bidding game that has maintained its success throughout the years.

It can be a daunting task to navigate through the process of perfecting these skills. Because of the learning curve associated with this mechanic, I’ve found that getting better at these types of games is correlated with the amount of time spent playing them. How well did you do when you played your first hand of Spades? I don’t remember mine, but I can guess that it was horrible. Once you get a feel for what is attainable and what’s too aggressive, it’s easier to gauge how much risk you want to take on in order to attain the goal you set. One of the best aspects of using this mechanic is the ability (when bidding) to be successful regardless of what hand you draw. In Spades, for instance, the horrendous hand that the dealer gave you can be turned into 100 points if you play your cards right (literally). Another classic example that uses this mechanic is For Sale. Typically known as a filler game, For Sale does a great job of implementing the bidding/auctioning mechanic within the theme of buying and flipping property in order to sell them again to see who can earn the most money. Like For Sale, most games that use this mechanic tend to be higher on the competition scale. This is because not only can you defeat your opponent by doing well yourself, but winning strategies may also include hurting your opponent by rendering them unable to achieve their goal.

Whether you enjoy the non-competitive aspect of co-operative play, or the traditionally successful mechanic of auction/bidding, both of these characteristics have been used in a wide variety of exceptional games. When paired with an appropriate theme, games that implement either of these characteristics have the potential to appeal to gamers on either end of the competitive spectrum.

Are you the more competitive type that likes to bid your way to victory, or do you like the community that co-operative gameplay builds? Are there any specific mechanics that you want me to cover? Next time I’ll be posting about Hidden Roles and Player Elimination.

Until next time,

2 thoughts on “Board Game Mechanics #4 – Co-operative Play and Auction/Bidding

  1. Great article, Meercat!  It was in the spirit of cooperative play that my colleagues and I created the first 4X Space Game using this mechanic.  We had played TI3 and Eclipse, but the all-out competition which one finds in these games can prove exhausting (and, at times, exhilarating).  But, we wanted to take the genre into a fundamentally different direction, and the response was phenomenal.  If you enjoy 4X space games and want to try the only strategic (cum tactical) and cooperative one, I encourage you to check out TAU CETI: Planetary Crisis.

    Cheers, Joe 

    1. Thanks, Joe! I know that being able to innovate a genre is certainly a monumental task. I’ll have to take a look at TAU CETI: Planetary Crisis when I get a chance!

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