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Co-op Case Study: Between Two Cities

Meeples Together (which is nearing the end of its funding on Kickstarter) covers a whole spectrum of cooperative games. “True co-ops” are the heart of the book, but it also discusses traitor games, overlord games, and even the more classic style of team games — because they can all offer interesting design lessons.

Between Two Cities is a great partnership game because it goes beyond simple, static partners and instead forces players to “partially” partner up with two different people with varying goals.

This article has been crossposted from the Meeples Together blog, which focuses exclusively on cooperative game design.

Publisher: Stonemaier Games (2015)
Cooperative Style: Competitive with Partial Partners
Play Style: Card Drafting, Tile Laying


Over several turns of play, each player drafts tiles in order to build the best city possible — or rather, to build the best two cities possible. In Between Two Cities each player is working in cooperation with the two players to either side, and he’ll be scored based on the worst of those two cities, so there’s no shirking either responsibility!

Cooperative System

Between Two Cities is ultimately a competitive game: only one player wins, while everyone else loses. However, it forces cooperation through a clever system of partial partnerships where each player has part of their score linked to a joint city created with another player.

any partial partnership games fail because they allow a player to focus on just one of his partnerships, ultimately consigning the partner that he’s ignoring to almost certain loss. Between Two Cities resolves that issue by scoring the worst of a player’s two cities, only using the score for the better city as a tie-breaker. The result is a game where a player does his best to ensure that his two partnerships are doing equally well.

Though the partnerships in Between Two Cities are both constrained and competitive, they still create real cooperation within the game.

That mainly comes through the building of the cities. After each phase of card drafting, each player ends up with two tiles, and he must decide which to place in each of the two cities. Though a player often know what he wants to do, he also engages in freeform negotiation with both of his partners. This results in cooperative conversation about how to build out the cities … but each of those partners is also trying to ensure a tile placement that best benefits them, not the player’s other partner.

Between Two Cities also has a second, more unusual style of cooperation. When a player is drafting tiles, he can choose to pass specific tiles to his partner that he thinks will benefit their shared city. He may even keep a certain tile to play, while also sending a complementary tile to his partner. This sort of unspoken cooperation avoids the problems that open communication can causes in co-op games, while simultaneously allowing for real cooperation.

No Challenge System Elements. Partial Partnerships.

Expansion & Variants

The Capitals (2017) expansion for Between Two Cities increases the challenge of city building by introducing new ways to score points and new geographic obstacles. (The picture at the top of this post shows the expansion in play.)

Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig (2018) is a brand-new game that mixes together the partnership play of Between Two Cities with the more freeform building and higher complexity of Castles of Mad King Ludwig (2014).

Final Thoughts

Though it’s ultimately a competitive game, Between Two Cities incorporates some great cooperative mechanics by forcing players to work together with two different partners while simultaneously requiring them to make decisions for themselves about both card drafting and tile placement. Between Two Cities also plays very quickly, showing that meaningful cooperation can occur in small, bite-sized bits.

Ben Rosset & Matthew O’Malley

Matthew O’Malley designs games primarily through his own Black Oak Games. Ben Rosset has worked with a number of small publishers. They both are relatively new designers, who got their professional start in 2014. To date, Between Two Cities is their most successful game.

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The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples