This probably never happens at your house, but work with me for a minute, if you would.
Suppose that two of your children raced against each other somehow. They both want to win the race, but obviously, that can't happen.
Instead, by the end of the race, we get a first-place winner, along with the “first loser.” While the winner celebrates and gloats, the newly-renamed second- place winner may feel somewhat slighted by the new nickname.
That's competition in action among kids. There's nothing inherently wrong with competition, but I would argue that there's nothing wrong with doing something every now and then where trying to beat your fellow players isn't at the heart of the activity.
Luckily, many Euro-style board games turn competition on its head by using indirect competition, where how well you do in a game doesn't have anything to do with how well someone else does.
In a game with indirect competition, everybody around the table can play hard against each other and score mega-points on the scoring track. Heck, you might all think that you're winning the game, at least until the end when the final victory point tally reveals who actually landed on top.
That's the beauty of an indirect competition game: We can be against each other, but I can still root for you when you make a great move.
A cooperative game, on the other hand, pits all of the players against the game itself, usually in a life-or-death fight to overcome the odds and succeed as a team.
That last phrase - “as a team” - is the key thing that sets apart cooperative games from the rest of the game world. You either win as a group or lose as a group. If you go off individually, all you can do is lose. Well, you lose and the rest of the team loses, so I guess you're not really alone after all. Except that you are, because you caused the loss.
Right. Moving along...
Cooperative games used to live in a corner by themselves because nobody really understood what they were or how they worked. All of that changed a few years ago, when a whole crop of modern cooperative games appeared on the scene.
These new cooperative games focus on player interaction along with a strong story that ties the game experience together.
Matching games by age
If you have kids younger than seven years old, take a look at the cooperative games from Peaceable Kingdom (www.peaceablekingdom.com). Several of their games were a surprising hit at my house. In particular, look at “Hoot Owl Hoot!” and “Lost Puppies.” (Okay, and they're really, really cute, too. That has to count for something.)
As the kids get a year or two older, try Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert from Gamewright Games, and their older brother, Pandemic from Z-Man Games. These games add more action and challenge to cooperative play.
In the first two titles, you and your team attempt to save a group of artifacts from destruction - oh, and you're saving yourselves at the same time. In Pandemic, the stakes are higher because now you're saving the world.
If you have teens, tweens, or really energetic 9 and 10 year olds, then Escape by Queen Games could be the best match of all.
Escape a tremendously action-packed and thrilling (and kinda loud) dice rolling game that plays like the first 10 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Your team starts in the middle of a mysterious temple, and has to explore their way out.
Sounds easy, right? Well, you only have 10 minutes to do it. The game includes a CD with multiple soundtrack timers to both set the mood and amp up the challenge. Escape comes highly - and loudly - recommended from my house to yours!