It has been ages (at least 3 years) since I have been to Essen Spiel, but I was there this year to sign cards for the King of Tokyo expansion. To me the most noteworthy thing was the number of cooperative games – which I suppose was easy to predict would happen after a while given the bias toward non-confrontational games in this market. It seems that almost every vendor was featuring some cooperative game or another. For most they failed to address the most important issue, which I have talked about many times, “How does the design prevents players from playing each others position?” I include here 3 games which did address this, in 3 different and interesting ways:
Escape: the Curse of the Temple: In this game by Kristen Østby players are trying to explore and escape a cursed temple. They are rolling dice that indicate what they can do in real time (the faster you roll, the more you can do). Frequently it is possible to use your dice results to help people in the same room. A soundtrack narrates the 10 minutes of game play. Since you have to roll dice and interpret them there really is no time for people to be managing other peoples positions. The game is fraught with people yelling for particular results and for help from their team mates. I have no idea how replayable it is but I am sure I am pulling it out for every play group at least once.
Shadows over Camelot the Card Game – Designed by the same designers as the base game; Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget, this leverages the technique used in Shadows over Camelot of having a possible traitor (which of course, makes it not entirely a cooperative game.) Additionally it has periods of play where players are not allowed to talk. Restricting communication is an interesting technique that I have used to improve many of my coop game experiences, and it is nice to see it worked into the game design. Some players will be turned off by the fact that this is at its core a memory game, but if you are even a little open to a memory game you should check it out.
Hanabi – This is, for me, the star of the show. Hanabi is incredible, I don’t hesitate in saying that this is the best cooperative board/card game I have ever played. The designer, Antoine Bauza (7-wonders), gave me a copy and played with me one evening, the next day we picked up half a dozen copies for gifts, and the whole following week I played several times a day with my fiance. It works well with 2-4 players – and the key is that it is entirely about restricted communication. Like bridge you must use your plays to communicate the board situation to your partners as efficiently as possible, and like bridge there is a lot of opportunity to create conventions that will help you with that communication – and occasionally get you in trouble. This is a small unassuming game, don’t let it slip through the cracks – you must try it!