These days Shadows Over Camelot routinely leaves the kingdom in shambles, the world is festering with disease and pestilence whenever the CDC leaves us in charge with Pandemic, even the lost treasures of antiquity rarely make it off of the Forbidden Island. Forbidden Island is a kid’s game! It’s for children! I used to think that cooperative games were great for bonding with my fellow gamers, but now they just leave me feeling hollow inside.
I don’t mind losing a game to friends. In fact, it happens all the time. I usually play games with a smart and savvy group and wins are distributed fairly evenly amongst us all. It’s losing to a game mechanic that I hate. And I don’t mean losing a game because of some sort of rule technicality, I mean when the game is actually the winner. Cooperative games have really got me down these days. We just seem to rarely win, and the silent gloating of the victorious game pieces looking up at me is almost more than I can bear. Whether it’s the stack of black cubes surrounding Mumbai and Tehran, or the hordes of siege engines massed in front of the castle makes no difference to me.
Recently four of us were playing Shadows Over Camelot and we were doing really well. We had won the Grail Quest and several others and basically just needed to keep the siege engines at bay until the game ended. Two of our braves knights had returned to Camelot to do battle with the belfries and catapults of our foes, and they got mangled. Not just defeated, but really embarrassed. On three consecutive rolls the enemy rolled an eight (on a d8) and both knights were killed in successive turns. Undermanned, the remaining two were quickly overwhelmed and the kingdom was plunged into darkness. It was heartbreaking. The next time we played we were dead men walking. We didn’t stand a chance. Our fragile mindset, so recently elevated as we were on the cusp of victory, doomed us from the beginning. We overreacted to threats, jumped around the board like novice squires and bickered with one another. We had lost the psychological game to a non-entity, literally something that had no brain or psyche had gotten inside our head.
What I need to do is play more Castle Panic. That game is absurdly easy, maybe that’s why people seem to like it so much. Because they always win. But therein is the problem. If a game doesn’t present much of a challenge for the group than it’s not a very good game, it makes me feel a little bit like a bully. But if it’s too challenging and we just lose all of the time we feel like doormats. True, it does make victory all that much sweeter, but I’m beginning to forget what it tastes like at all.