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A Look at Cooperative Board Games

When it comes to board games in this house, we have a strong preference for cooperative games. While competition is not a bad thing, cooperating on the path to victory is surprisingly satisfying.

I mean really… how many bad-sport table-flippers do you have to play with before you get tired of the grind of always winning? Share the glory. Win together or fail together, it makes for a great gaming experience. One could even argue that it fosters healthier relationships with friends and family.

With that in mind, here are a few recommended cooperative board games to consider trying out for your next game night.


(2010, ADC Blackfire Entertainment)

Players join forces to recover four artifacts from a remote island that is in the process of sinking into the sea. You have to move fast to travel from card to card (the island is laid out in randomly arranged cards–making each game different!) and use your player’s special abilities to save the artifacts, avoid pitfalls and other hazards, keep parts of the island from sinking too soon, help others save the artifact, or simply save others from certain doom as the island inevitably sinks beneath the waves.

Forbidden Island is a visually stunning game with beautifully printed island tile cards and sturdy player pieces. It’s also surprisingly inexpensive–usually available for under $20 from most retailers–and comes in a sturdy tin box that’s a little smaller than typical board game boxes. Forbidden Island is an ultimately versatile game in different options for island layout, and number of players.

Highly recommended. Easy to play, hard to win. And for even greater challenges, check out its sequel game, Forbidden Desert.

For a bit of gameplay, check out this video from The Games Room:


(2008, Z-Man Games)

Contagion! Disease! Plague! Four highly virulent epidemics have broken out across the world. You and your fellow players take on the roles of various specialists to travel the globe, research diseases, treat the infected, move or build resources, and stop the plagues before they take over the world.

With its global game board and multitude of pieces representing outbreaks, Pandemic might look like an odd version of Risk, but Pandemic plays fast and demands more serious strategy. While it might look slightly intimidating at first, the instructions are well written and there are reference cards explaining the order of actions and turns. Drawn cards determine outbreaks and spreading of the disease, as well as advances and opportunities for the players to work together across the game board. Everyone wins or everyone dies, Pandemic is a great example of the cooperative board game genre.

The game has a high replay value and there have been a number of expansions and spin-offs that are worth checking out as well. Pandemic can be learned in mere minutes as is demonstrated in this video from The Rules Girl:


(2009, Fireside Games)

Castle Panic is a classic “tower defense” game presented as a multi-player cooperative board game. The setup is that you, the players, have built a castle in the middle of a forest which is now under siege for a horde of monsters. It’s up to the players to cooperate with one another to keep the advancing enemies from tearing down castle walls and defense towers. All stand together and win… or all fall and die… together.

Game components include the board, and stand up pieces that make up the castle, pieces representing the monsters, and cards for players to take action with. The strategies aren’t difficult to grasp, even for younger players, making this a great family group game. It’s a popular game which has, unsurprisingly, spawned a bunch of expansions.

For a great play through of Castle Panic, I recommend the Tabletop presentation featuring Wil Wheaton, Yuri Lowenthal, Tara Platt, and Andre the Black Nerd:


(2010, R&R Games)

I like being able to include card games in these lists. Card games travel easily and can be played nearly anywhere. Hanabi, while also including something called “time tokens” is just such a card game–one that lends itself to versatile play space. It’s also unique as it’s a cooperative card game–not something one sees much.

In Hanabi, the goal is lay down series of fireworks using the cards in your hand. The cards come is sets of colors and designs which much be matched and in a series. The twist is that you cannot see the cards you’re holding, but the other players can. During a turn, a player can either describe a card to you by spending a time token, discard, or play a card. The game comes with additional rainbow colored cards for more advanced play.

It sounds more confusing than it is. Once you get the hang of a few hands, the strategies needed to win being to show. For this, I’d recommend watching a YouTube play through.

Of the many available, I’m recommending the one from Tech Geek Gamers. Check ’em out.


(2011, Indie Boards & Cards)

This fun, fast-paced game has players working together to rescue seven of ten victims of a building on fire.

Players have to work together in spending action points to decide whether to extinguish flames, move players/victims/vehicles, and working around structural damage and blocked passageways, opening and closing doors, checking out leads on victims, and more. Not as easy as it sounds. As with an actual raging fire, there’s a lot going on. If seven victims are saved, everyone wins. If four die or the building collapses, everyone loses.

The board is double-sided for variety of play, and their add-ons with the game to make Flash Point: Fire Rescue more challenging such as combustible materials, random setups, and varying difficulty levels.

There are several expansions available as well adding different thematic flavors to fire rescue. That’s a thing.

For a run through of the game, check out the YouTube video from Watch It Played:

These are but five cooperative games I heartily recommend, but there are many others. It’s a genre and style of game that has been growing in popularity over the years. If you’re looking for fun group games, you could also look into Shadows Over Camelot, Legends of Andor, Eldritch Horror, Legendary Encounters, Freedom: Underground Railroad, Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island, Samurai Spirit, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

Ask for recommendations at your Friendly Local Game Store. You could also just Google “cooperative games” and see what comes up.

Do it with a friend.

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