There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
Cooperative games get a bad rap, especially when someone is advertising their own game. Most of these complaints fall on the premise that there is something wrong with the players or there is something wrong with the game.
Let’s take the first premise. There is something wrong with the players. In co-op games some players tend to dominate, some are passive, some will mess up the game accidentally, some will do it on purpose, and some will go Weeee! Weeee! Weeee! all the way home. All of these players can be annoying, but let me ask you this, how are these players not annoying in any game. The difference between a competitive game and a co-op game is more a matter of how these people express their personality traits in the game, not a matter of them magically appearing. If you get a controlling jerk in your co-op, odds are that person is a controlling jerk in other games you play, just acting differently. The difference I see here is in the eye of the beholder. In a competitive game, these players cannot influence my game as directly as in a co-op. If I perceive being messed with as negative in a competitive game, I will likely feel that way exponentially in a co-op. So the game does not suck, my perception makes it suck for me.
On to the next point. Winning. High competitiveness and co-op games generally do not go well together. In fact, my experience is that the higher the level of competitiveness in a player, the more likely they are to be the controlling jerk discussed above. Because they want to win and it irks them if they perceive someone as preventing that. A cooperative game is designed around a group win or a group loss. Railing against not having an individual win condition and saying a co-op sucks because of that is missing the point. It shows, once again, a lack of ability to gain perspective outside of one’s own narrow viewpoint of what a game is.
The second premise is that the game is somehow less fun or not any good because of its cooperative nature and/or it needs to be fixed. A cooperative game is a cooperative game. There is no collusion going on about what it is, you know what you are walking into. If you have no interest in a group game, the possibility that you will need to negotiate with other players, be assertive, and even work things out with other players, then it is likely to be a bad experience for you. I am not discounting the fact that and individual cooperative game could be subjectively bad when compared to other co-ops, but co-ops as a whole being bad is just a silly statement.
What about the limited decisions created by the “robot” game? In co-ops the opponent’s actions are determined in some random fashion. The most mechanistic of these games can seem very robotic to some (I’m talking about you pandemic and D&D games). But you cannot claim that it is less mechanistic than a human player. In any game where the decision of a player impacts another, the other is stuck with a puzzle. This person did A, now I have choices of B,C,or D. What do I do? This is no different from the random situations provided by a co-op. I think what frustrates some players is that a robot mechanism in a game is truly random. You can’t try to outguess it like you can a human. Both are puzzles, but having a human opponent allows you to cheat, in a way, if you are good at reading people. You can guess motivations. No such luck from the co-op. It is inscrutable and implacable. Is that a knock against co-ops? Only if you need your puzzles presented to you by a person.
So semi-cooperatives suck because of king making, game sabotage or the one vs. many issue. On this, I have to give a little ground but it is tempered by, once again, perception. I have noticed that in traitor games (Battlestar Galactica), one vs. many games (Descent, Fury of Dracula), and I win or we all lose games(Insula) that there can be a very negative perception issue among players that can ruin a game. It is generally acceptable to win on the many side and much less acceptable to win on the one side. Time and again I have observed this (having been on both sides), the many are very excited and boisterous when they are winning, but their tone darkens when the one is boisterous handing their collective arses to them. I will note that this is a perception issue, and not all groups suffer from this. I just think it is more common than less. In a group vs. one or few situation, the group does not like the one or few messing up their game. They fail at an intuitive level (if not an overt one) to understand that it is the one’s game experience too.
In Summary, co-ops don’t suck, you do. How you approach the game will have the biggest impact on how you play. The enjoyment you get from a co-op game is directly proportional to how much you enjoy navigating social interactions with others and how you prefer your puzzles to be presented to you. In this case, it really is all about you. You get out what you put in.
Stay tuned for my next article on responding to why another type of game does not suck (Except for Killer Bunnies, I won’t defend that one).