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It’s been and continues to be a rough week, y’all, I dunno what to say. Part of my job is to give you a list of fun, geeky things every month, and it feels weird to do that right now, so close to such fucking devastating tragedy. But I’m going to do my best. I’ll share with you what normally makes me feel happy, my refuge of community in a culture that cares very little about my friends or me: boardgames. It’s a nerdy thing to do. But boardgames are a catalyst for getting people in a room. Eating, drinking, laughing together. Rounding up your queer fam and playing some boardgames might be just what the doctor ordered.
But what to do when you can’t bear the thought of opponents — when you can’t muster up the attitude to crush your friend at a strategy or bluffing game, when you can’t get the meanness up enough for a game of Munchkin? Enter cooperative boardgames: boardgames where some or all of the game relies on playing as a team against the game itself. They’re especially great if you want to host a game night where some people are really good at games and some aren’t gamers — because everyone’s on the same team, no one’s getting beat for not being in the know. Some of these games have individual winners at the end, some don’t, but all allow you to band together for a short time and take on a much more manageable enemy than “hate,” “the patriarchy,” and “the rest of the whole damn world.”
Defend the tower against trolls, orcs and rolling boulders. It’s hard, y’all. I’ve played once and I don’t remember whether we won or lost, but I remember how much discussion there was at the top of each active player’s turn. Each player’s turn consists of drawing a card, then trading a card to another player so that the group can fight the onslaught most effectively. The active player uses a card agains the enemy, and then the enemies advance closer to the tower. AND! Each player draws and places two more monsters at the end of EACH TURN. You do get a wall around the tower, and you will need it. This game has a special place in my heart because we, as people of the internet, spend a lot of time defending our towers against trolls. May you nerds have satisfying success. The game is over when your group defeats ALL THE BAD GUYS.
I’ve played Mysterium a bunch of times — one person gets to be the ghost who, using image cards and nothing else, tries to communicate how she died. The rest of the group plays as psychics trying to interpret those messages before the clock strikes eight and they run out of time. While one person may win MORE than the others if you play with the intuition tokens, in general everyone wins or loses this one as a group — everyone can talk and collaborate to guess who killed the ghost and where and how, except the ghost. Ghost stays silent. This game is by the same people who brought you Dixit, so it’s beautiful. FYI, the play-through I found doesn’t depict the Intuition token aspect of the game.
Forbidden Island & Forbidden Desert
I’ve played Forbidden Island a bunch of times with people who will be doctors and lawyers and it’s still so hard, but it’s really fun. The name of the game is to get the treasure and get off the Island. The catch: the Island is sinking. As you play longer, the Island will sink faster. There are a bunch of ways to lose — if you can no longer get one of the four treasures you need, if the Island sinks, if you can’t get to the helicopter pad to leave. The same designer also made Forbidden Desert, which has a few more catches and isn’t nearly as plunder-y: you’ve crash landed in the desert and you have to repair your airship before the desert kills you. In both games, the environment is dangerous and each player can do different things depending on their role.
Pandemic Legacy & Pandemic
Speaking of Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, the same game designer (Matt Leacock) is responsible for what I believe is the hardest cooperative game out there: Pandemic. Most of us know Pandemic by now — you play as a group of scientists and doctors and the goal is to stop the spread of disease before it grows into a Pandemic. I have never played as part of a group that won this game, which is why I’m so afraid to play Pandemic Legacy EVEN THOUGH the entire game world has been RAVING about it. Pandemic Legacy is actually a series of games that tell a story all together. When your character dies in Pandemic Legacy, you RIP UP THE CARD and that character is out of the series of games FOREVER. When bad shit happens, you put stickers on the board. Everything is permanent and everything counts and it sounds so stressful to me, a person who is very very bad at Pandemic. And this is only season one — season two is in the works. If you’re looking for a longer commitment, say a game a week with the same or similar group, you might consider Pandemic Legacy’s episodic, playable story.
I know I just told y’all about Eldritch Horror not two seconds ago, but there’s something really satisfying about defeating a giant tentacled beast who wants to drive the world to insanity. The name of the game: banish the Ancient One. If the Ancient One awakens, your whole group loses. Banish the creature by solving three mysteries before the doom track runs out. Each player plays a character with variable skill levels in Lore, Influence, Observation, Strength and Will, so each character is good at different stuff. The encounters you undertake have little stories behind them and they’re often funny. I got attacked by rats once. Someone got eaten by a fiend out of nowhere and had to draw a new character. You get the picture.
Flash Point: Fire Rescue
While all of these games are cooperative, many of them (like Eldritch Horror and Castle Panic) do still include violence as part of their goals. I wanted to end on one that’s about rescue and putting out fires. I haven’t played this one, but I want to. Play as different specialists for different action opportunities — move through rooms and open doors, discover points of interest and find people trapped in the fire. Win when you rescue seven people. Lose when you lose four people or when the building collapses.