Saturday, October 7, 2017

GJJ Games Review - CO-OP: the co-op game - By ReTurn from Subroutine LLC

CO-OP: the co-op game
Designer: Richard T Saunders
Publisher: ReTurn from Subroutine LLC
1-5p | 45-60m | 12+
GJJ Games Review - CO-OP: the co-op game - By ReTurn from Subroutine LLC
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CO-OP: the co-op game came to me to review via the Everything Board Games Network!  Check them out for more awesome reviews!

Game Overview:
CO-OP: the co-op game is one of a slew of games that have been recently that use a game mechanic as part of the game's name and theme.  I've also played Deck Building the Deck-Building Game, and even started designing my own Worker Placement the Worker Placement Game.  About two years ago Greater than Games ran a contest for designers to come up with a [Game Mechanic] the [Game Mechanic] Game.  They had over 80 entries and ended up publishing at least one of them.  But there were a ton of other great games that came out of that contest, too, one of which was CO-OP: the co-op game.  CO-OP: the co-op game successfully funded its own Kickstarter campaign in December 2016 and was shipped out to backers in February of this year.  They sold out of their print run in June, but you might still be able to find a copy or two in some of the game stores in Arizona, where ReTurn from Subroutine LLC is located.  If there's enough interest there may be a second print run, so read on to learn more about CO-OP: the co-op game and see if it's something you'd be interested in!

In CO-OP: the co-op game 1-5 players work together to try and save their small co-op store from being taken over by Mondo Mart, the big grocery chain moving into town.  Each character is either a Hippie (more concerned about feeling great and helping customers) or a Bizzie (more concerned about the money and logistics of running a business).  Players must cooperate to balance product sales with stocking the shelves, all while keeping everyone feeling pretty groovy.

Components & Packaging:
Many times when I get prototype games sent to me they're printed at The Game Crafter.  This is great for prototypes, but published games feel a bit lacking when they're printed at The Game Crafter.  The box is thinner, the cards aren't quite as nice, and the other components are a bit cheaper than what you'd expect from a published game.  On top of that, the expense is a lot more.  These are usually acceptable trade-offs for getting a small number of decent quality prototypes printed quickly, but don't make for a great first impression for a published game.

CO-OP: the co-op game was printed at The Game Crafter, which explains why funding to fulfillment was only about two months.  However, with that speed came reduced quality.  That said, I'm always happy with the quality at The Game Crafter for prototypes and there's nothing about the production quality that affects the gameplay.
Between the very basic artwork and prototype quality components, there's nothing in CO-OP: the co-op game
that will 'wow' you.
The artwork in CO-OP: the co-op game is mostly a mixture of clipart illustrations and stock photos.  Graphic design on the cards is about as simple as you can get, and the artwork that is custom for the game is basic cartoon characters.  The artwork doesn't really feel cohesive, with a mix of cartoons, clipart, photos, vector graphics, and CGI it feels like it was pieces together from Google image searches.  The flavor text on the cards as well as some subtle jokes, keep the cards interesting and fun, but don't really add to the visual flair.
It may be just clipart, but it is used to effectively push the game's humor.
Overall, the component quality of CO-OP: the co-o game is just adequate.  The game is playable, but no one will be wowed by the components or artwork.  There are some funny jokes hidden in the artwork (like the Tofu Turkey, and the Tofu Cornish Hen that use the same image, just a smaller version for the Cornish Hen), but that's more to do with the theme and humor in the game than the component quality.

Score: 4/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
The rules are very thorough.  Almost too much.  The rule book is pretty dense and has a lot of superfluous information that probably could be cut out to make understanding things a bit easier.  That said, the game is really pretty simple.
The rulebook will greet you with walls and walls of text - 16 pages worth!  The setup alone covers over four pages and
this photo of the game all laid out is the only graphic in the book.
Setup takes a while, just because everything is done with cards.  A simple board would be a huge help for setup, even just to indicate where each type of card should go.  The rule book does do a good job of guiding you step-by-step through the setup and includes photos of the game laid out.  The snapshots look a bit unprofessional, but it really helps to see the game laid out.
That's a lot to set up.  A board could take care of a lot of the fiddliness.
CO-OP: the co-op game is essentially a cooperative worker-placement game, with four different locations that players can visit each round.  A game consists of playing through a certain number of days while the players try to sell enough items and increase the 'vibe' of each character to a point where they can save their co-op from being taken over by MondoMart.  Each 'day' is broken up into three phases: Stuff Happens, Players' Turn, and End of Day Maintenance.

In the Stuff Happens phase a Happenings card is revealed.  This is usually a penalty or obstacle that affects the players for that day, and occasionally in the future, too, if the problem isn't resolved.  Sometimes the Happenings card does nothing, sometimes it's pretty situational, and occasionally it's something that can be avoided by doing something silly in real life.  Usually though the Happenings card is a problem that must be overcome or something that prevents certain actions from being taken.
These are usually bad news, but occasionally they're not too bad, or maybe even good.
The Players' Turn phase is the core of the game play.  Players decide together the order that each will take a turn.  Each player moves their character pawn to one of four locations to take the appropriate action there.
On your turn you can Frolic to increase your Vibe, Meditate to gain more Groove cards, Work to sell Goods, or
Cooperate to get other various benefits.
If you move to the Storefront you can Work, which means you can play a Groove card from your hand.  Groove cards are beneficial and come in four types: Instagroove is a one-time benefit, Continuous Groove is an ability that remains active for the remainder of the game, Distributor lets you purchase Goods to add to your warehouse, and Customer lets you sell Goods from your store to gain some money.  After you play a card you can draw a card, but some abilities let you play additional cards, so sometimes you'll find your hand getting smaller.
Groove cards are good, but sometimes better for specific characters or in certain situations.
If you Meditate at the Yoga Studio you get to draw new Groove cards.  You can draw two Groove cards normally, but if you don't have any Groove cards in your hand, or if you first discard a Groove card, you can draw three.  You have a hand limit of five cards though, so you may have to discard back down to five cards.

You can also go Frolic in the Park.  This will let you increase your Vibe, which must be elevated to Groovy or Awesome for all players before the end of the game.  However, you can only get your Vibe to Okay by Frolicing, unless you have a special ability (like Sunshine Freespirit's ability to increase other players' Vibe above Okay when she Frolics in the Park - yes, many jokes ensued from this ability).
When Sunshine Freespirit frolics she does it through inspirational dance, or at least that's what she calls it...
Finally, in each game there will be three opportunities for players to Cooperate.  These are various activities, like a Car Wash, Drum Circle, or Warehouse Run that require two or more players to work together on.

After each player has taken an action the End of Day Maintenance round begins.  Each player takes back their character pawn and the Happenings card for the current day is flipped (as long as it doesn't have ongoing effects).  If it was Friday you'll also get to move some Goods from the Warehouse to the Store.  Finally you'll move on to the next day.  Eventually you'll get to the Game End card, which signifies the last day in the game.  At the end of that day you'll check to see if you saved the Co-op from MondoMart by accomplishing the goals in the scenario that you're playing.
There are actually four different scenarios (six with the mini expansion).  So instead of trying to save the co-op you
might be trying to save your kidnapped friend, or running a fundraiser.
The game mechanics aren't difficult at all, and despite there being a lot of cards, setup doesn't take too long after you've done it a few times.  I do wish the rulebook had a more professional layout, and more graphics with less text, but it's acceptable and, like I said, it covers just about everything.  I don't recall ever finding anything significantly confusing that wasn't explained in the rules.

Score: 6/10 x2

Unfortunately the gameplay itself is pretty ho-hum.  The mechanics work well, but there are few interesting decisions.  We felt that there was usually an obvious choice for each player and limited opportunity to explore various strategies. Occasionally we had some good discussions on the sequence that we should play cards, who should work and who should take other actions, or how we were going to match customers with the products they'd want, but overall I felt that the cards we were randomly dealt affected our decisions more than our decisions affected the gameplay.
There are a LOT of different Groove and Happenings cards, so it's nearly impossible to plan.  You may get what you need, you may not  With so many different cards you can't make predictions or play probabilities.
The biggest hurdles in the game seemed to be not having the best Groove cards to do what we wanted.  While this did drive us to consider alternate strategies to accomplish our goals, it also highlighted the randomness in the game.  In one game I played nearly all the customers we got weren't co-op members, so we were losing vibes a lot, but in the next game every customer was a co-op member, so keeping the vibe up wasn't a problem.  You'll also need cards that let you get more products into the store, and if they don't come up you just can't do much.  We always felt that our decisions were eclipsed by just the luck of the cards.
While every turn felt like we had decisions to make, more often than not they felt like
decisions on how to mitigate the luck (good or bad) best.
We also found that a number of cards are very situational.  There are cards that give penalties or benefits for just specific characters (which may not even be in the game) and cards that take effect only when certain other cards are in play.  With 90 Groove cards and 54 Happenings cards there's enough randomness where holding on to one of those situational cards is more of a gamble than a strategy.  Maybe it'll pay off, but it feels like luck, not planning when it does.

CO-OP: the co-op game is also very alpha-player prone.  Because there aren't many tough decisions there's not a whole lot of discussion needed.  So if one player is faster at identifying the optimal move it's very easy for that player to drive the game.  When I tried playing with my sons they had very little involvement, which they were fine with since the theme didn't really interest them and that meant they had more time to act like goofs.  When I played with my game group there was a bit more cooperation, but there was usually an obvious choice, so still very little discussion.
It's real easy for the game to become a solo game with one player making all the decisions since
the hands are open and there is no set turn order.
Where the game does shine is with the theme, and I'll go into this more below.

Score: 6/10 x3

I really didn't feel that there was much here to make me want to play multiple times.  I had fun playing the game, but most of that came from the theme and silliness that arose from the game flavor, not because it was a very compelling game.  If I found someone who wanted to play I wouldn't really turn down a game, but it's not something I'd suggest or pull out on my own to play.
Lots of silliness and jokes keep the game fresh for two or three plays, but after that there's not much
game to keep the interest up, even with six scenarios.
Score: 3/10 x1

General Fun:
Even though the gameplay felt random and not too engaging, we still had a ton of fun playing CO-OP: the co-op game.  But this came mostly from the theme and flavor.  The game is packed with hippie/health nut/new age humor.  From the silly products that you can sell (like recycled crayons that are edible, free range avocados, tie-dye underpants, or a Nixon bumper sticker) to the crazy Groove cards (everyone gains a Vibe when Stevie Ray Hendrix and Thankful Fish play a concert together, or negate a Happenings card if everyone sings a catchy tune together), the cards will keep you laughing.  They work best if you play in-character, too.  We found ourselves making all sorts of our own hippie jokes, laughing at the cards, and just generally having a good time while we played.  Our kids were over in the corner playing Rock Band and learning Clash songs while the dads were singing Age of Aquarius at the other end of our FLGS.  I'm not sure who was having more fun!
A number of the cards encourage you to sing, thumb wrestle, and do other silly things.
That said, the humor in this type of game really depends on the players and how willing they are to get a bit silly.  It's also the type of humor that can run out after you've gone through all the cards a time or two.  Fortunately there are more than enough cards to keep things fresh for at least three plays.  There might even be too many cards, especially the Happenings cards.  With 54 in the deck and only 14 used in a 2 player game (maybe a few more since there are some Groove cards that can let you extend the game a bit), you're going to have a drastically different mix of Happenings every game.  This will make it tougher to plan for and adds to the randomness.  I do wish there were more Goods cards though, since those are the funniest.
I'll take an 8-track of Thankful Fish and a Recycled Water to go.  No, not the yellow Recycled Water, the other one...
Score: 7/10 x2

Overall Value:
Wow, is this game expensive for what it is.  But that's what happens when it's printed on demand at The Game Crafter.  As I said above, The Game Crafter is great for prototypes, but it's not really economical for a bigger print run.  CO-OP: the co-op game can be bought from the ReTurn from Subroutine website for $39.99 plus $7.20 shipping (it was $28 + $6 on Kickstarter).  For a game that is less than 200 standard cards, a few jumbo sized cards (3.5" x 5.5"), and a few other pawns and bits, $40 is a lot of money.  I'd expect this to be closer to $25, maybe even less, given the low quality of the artwork.  However, the first print run is sold out (except for maybe a few game stores in Arizona), so there's a chance that they may do a second print run and maybe it'll be cheaper?  I don't know...
Maybe this card is what makes the game so expensive...
Score: 2/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
CO-OP: the co-op game has a ton of fun flavor and theme.  I had a lot of fun playing with my family and friends, especially when players got into the hippie character mindset.  However, the gameplay felt dull and random and the price is outrageous for the component quality.
The game is funny, and there are even a number of meta moments, but it's not enough to save the CO-OP.
CO-OP: the co-op game might be good for you if you really like cooperative games or have a soft spot for the theme, but unfortunately I can't recommend it based on just it's gameplay or it's value.  Although we all had fun with it, after just a few playthroughs it's overstayed its welcome with my game group.  That doesn't necessarily mean it's not a game for you though.  So if you're still interested, be sure to check out ReTurn from Subroutine's website and let them know you'd like to get your hands on a copy!

Overall Score: 53/100

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GJJ Games Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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