There’s a genre of board game called co-operative, where players have to work together to win the game. With a few exceptions, the games will end with everyone winning or everyone losing. Communication and managing characters who have different strengths are common skills that these games encourage. Some good examples include Pandemic, where you work together to curb the spread of, and cure, global disease, and Yggdrsil, where players are Norse gods fighting off an invading group of monsters.
An interesting element of co-operative games that is not necessarily present in competitive games, is an element of unpredictability. In Pandemic, a deck of cards works to randomly spread disease across the globe, using a very clever shuffling mechanism that elegantly models diseases spreading. In Yggdrsil, cards are used again to decide which monsters advance, and players have to blindly pull Viking tokens out to bags to help in combat. The bags also contain fire giants, which are bad. There are ways to take out some fire giants, or put in extra Vikings, but there’s always a random element. These random elements mean that the game isn’t just a puzzle, and that it can be different every time you play.
In Best Festival Ever, we decided very early on that we wanted the audience to be working together – we don’t want some people to ‘win’ and others to ‘lose’. In that sense, a lot of our games might feel like co-operative games. But at the same time, we don’t want our games to be too unpredictable – we’re trying to demonstrate particular concepts, and we usually want the results of the audience’s decisions to be clear. One our of core ideas is that actions can have unpredicted outcomes, but there’s a difference between an unknown, unpredicted result, and one that happens completely randomly.
We’ve dealt with this a number of ways. We’ve recognised that several of the games we’re creating might be better defined as demonstrations, that it’s not important for people to win, but to recognise the link between the action and the outcome. Other games are more like optimisation puzzles, where you’re trying to create the best solution in a fairly open system. Others are more like skill testers, or mini dexterity games where there’s not a huge amount of intention or strategy in the way you might play them. Sometimes we might feature the farmer, or the local community, as a way of presenting something outside the festival that might have a different goal.
With any luck, the story of the festival will be a compelling enough reason to try to ‘win’ the games.
Does an audience automatically want to win a game? Or does it need to be encouraged?