The game competitiveness spectrum

I really enjoy cooperative games: Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, and Hanabi are some of my favorites. But I remember realizing two related facts about competitive games:

  • I’m happier when I’m able to benefit other players as I play, in a kind of semi-cooperative way, even if we’re really competing against each other.
  • Some games definitely make this easier than others.

It makes me think that rather than thinking of some games being cooperative and some being competitive, it can be helpful to put them on a spectrum from SUPER SUPER COOPERATIVE at one end to SUPER SUPER COMPETITIVE at the other. Here are some of the positions along that spectrum, with example games:

SUPER SUPER COOPERATIVE

At this extreme, players are fully cooperative, and the game is designed to help players succeed.

  • Example: jigsaw puzzles.

ORDINARY COOPERATIVE

For this type of game, players cooperate with each other against the game, and all win or lose together.

  • Pandemic
  • The Forbidden series (Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Forbidden Sky)
  • Hanabi
  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle

MOSTLY COOPERATIVE

In this type of game, players cooperate against one or more (possibly secret) defectors.

  • Pandemic: On the Brink expansion with the Bioterrorist role
  • Among Us
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill

MOSTLY COMPETITIVE

For these games, players are mostly trying to accomplish their own goals (racking up points?), but occasionally are hindered (or helped) by other players. For example:

  • Seven Wonders
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Takenoko
  • Lords of Waterdeep

These are games I like to play with a bit of extra-cooperative spirit: “Is anyone planning to take the route from Seattle to Vancouver? I can go around!”

ORDINARY COMPETITIVE

These games have players compete to win, with basically no way to help each other. Players still make progress, though, and it can be satisfying to see how far you got even if you lost. A lot of classic board games fall into this category:

  • Parcheesi
  • Backgammon
  • Scrabble
  • Life

SUPER SUPER COMPETITIVE

In these games, making progress toward your goal is synonymous with keeping others from making progress toward theirs.

  • Monopoly
  • Checkers
  • Chess

These are the classic “zero sum” games in which one person’s success must come with another person’s failure. Not my favorite model for life, even if the games are fun!

How about you? Where do some of your favorite games fall on the spectrum? Have I missed any categories? I’d love to hear in the comments!


3 thoughts on “The game competitiveness spectrum

  1. your class of “mostly cooperative” is my LEAST favorite kind of game. I don’t love super competitive (Dan and I actually agreed before getting married to never EVER play monopoly together again…) but at least I’m not lying about being competitive (I know its not really LYING lying if its part of the game but I just really REALLY hate playing those kind of games)
    Definitely prefer cooperative games!
    Also definitely prefer games that have a strategic component- it drives me CRAZY to play purely luck games like Chutes and Ladders or candy land with the kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed! I’d much rather play together against the game than against my friends. (Although one of my local board-game-playing friends feels exactly the opposite!)

      Have you heard of “Hoot Owl Hoot!”? It’s apparently a cooperative game for really young kids, about on the same level as candyland but with a tiny bit of strategy and a goal everyone is working toward. I haven’t played it (our baby’s, uh, not quite there yet) but it has super high ratings.

      Liked by 1 person

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