In 1979 celebrated author Roald Dahl wrote, “Life is more fun if you play games.” It’s still true today, no matter how old you are. The ever-expanding board game industry affirms our pursuit of fun.
Cooperative board games inspire your imagination, allowing you to connect with friends and family in a positive way. Full coop board games have participants play against the game, not each other. You may scratch your head, confused by the collaborative mechanic; however, it introduces essential skills and strategies.
What Makes Cooperative Board Games Unique?
Cooperative board games are different than most board games because they emphasize team building interaction over competition between players. To win, everyone must work together to achieve a common goal. The coop board game genre encourages players to use individual talents to benefit the group. By delegating roles and collaborating, you either win or lose as a group. This style game attracts people who appreciate the camaraderie, social aspects of gaming, or are new to the board game hobby.
Since there are so many coop board games, with more coming every week, we curated a list to help you get started on a new adventure. Below are six of the best cooperative board games, from the family-friendly to gaming experience needed.
Best Family Game: Castle Panic
Duration: 40-60 minutes
In Castle Panic, your group has completed building your castle in the woods, when goblins, trolls, and orcs attack. You will need everyone’s cooperation and abilities to hold them off. Can your team defend the castle from a massive angry mob of brigands? If not, all will be lost.
Castle Panic is terrific for families who want an engaging cooperative experience. The rules are easy to understand and explain, so it’s a perfect choice for new gamers and groups of various ages. Castle Panic is entertaining enough to play multiple times. If you get tired of the base game, there are multiple variations and expansions to keep you and your family playing.
- Requires good cooperation
- It’s a relatively quick game, even with four players
- It is a great gateway game and simple to learn
- The game relies on the high luck factor
- Not for advanced gamers interested in complex games
Best Game Based on a Video Game: XCOM: The Board Game
Duration: 60-90 minutes
XCOM: The Board Game, based on the video game series, is a thrilling science-fiction experience where you fight off invading UFOs to save the planet. Your team’s mission is to use their unique abilities to get the job done. Thankfully, you have guidance from the XCOM app. The XCOM app acts as your moderator, adding a real-time mechanic to the game. Not having a player as the moderator allows all players to focus on their chosen roles. Collaboration is the key to victory in this game. If the invading aliens destroy the base, the players lose. Your team needs to complete the primary mission’s objective to win the game, which will not happen without intensive coordination.
Please remember, in the board game, you play as people behind the scenes handling events instead of battling aliens. The XCOM theme is strong throughout, but it’s not a board game version of the video games. It’s a different perspective from the video games, which makes things interesting. XCOM is an ideal choice for players looking for cooperative, innovative, ambitious, science fiction board game.
- The XCOM app will walk you through everything. It also includes music and a timer to add extra ambiance to the game
- The roles are different, but you have to coordinate with each other to win
- It’s a challenging game
- Can be too challenging for beginners
- It’s not as much fun with less than four people – one or two players will have to take on multiple roles, adding to the difficulty level
- Don’t go into it thinking it’s the same as the XCOM video games
Best Narrative-Driven Game: T.I.M.E. Stories
Duration: 90-180 minutes
T.I.M.E. (Tachyon Insertion in Major Events) Stories is a masterful science fiction experience involving traveling to different locations and times. As temporal agents, your mission is to stop evil, prevent paradoxes, and temporal rifts threatening our world.
This is an exciting four-player cooperative board game because everyone on the team explores locations and gathers information. As the game proceeds, you adapt to the changing environment. You start with a limited supply of time units. When depleted, you return to the starting base to restock, adding a little Groundhog Day feel to it.
The first time you play may be confusing, but once you play a few rounds, you will feel comfortable with the rules. T.I.M.E. Stories is for players who enjoy narrative-driven, cooperative board games, with a bit of role-playing on the side.
- An extraordinary storytelling cooperative game
- It’s a unique game that offers a distinct playing experience
- New missions are available as expansions adding various time periods and themes
- Finishing a scenario might take a couple of sessions
- Once you complete the core mission, there is no reason to replay it
Best Investigation Game: Mysterium
Duration: 40-60 minutes
In Mysterium, the ghost tries to lead a team of psychic investigators to their murderer. Each night your group will be met with ghostly visions. Decipher the supernatural messages, collaborate, and solve the mystery.
Mysterium relies on communication between players, their ability to describe things others can’t see, and problem-solving skills. If the mediums have identified the correct murder suspect, then the phantom is free to rest in peace. If time runs out and the mystery at Warwick Manor remains unsolved, the game is over. Play again.
Gamers that enjoy solving murder mysteries with a cooperative team will find this game extremely satisfying, especially if your group is larger than four players, and you want a game playable in an hour.
- It has an excellent supernatural theme and spooky artwork
- Unique and fun cooperative play for more than four players
- Games go by quickly
- High replayability
- There is some wait time for the mediums
- Rules can seem overwhelming at times
Best Fantasy/Adventure Game: Gloomhaven
Duration: 120-180 minutes
Gloomhaven is a cooperative fantasy-themed, campaign-style game. Mercenaries battle their way through branching scenarios, similar to a ‘choose your own adventure’ book. Gloomhaven develops in a legacy format, using stickers placed on the board and cards in envelopes for specific events.
Together, your group will collect treasure while using their skills to clean out dangerous dungeons and menacing ancient ruins. The difficulty level depends on the number of players in your group and their decisions during the battles. This game is not for those who want some quick fun. Gloomhaven is meant to play out over several gaming sessions. It’s intended for fans of persistent cooperative board games with role-playing, and a dungeons and dragons fantasy feel.
- The game uses cards instead of dice for combat action
- Multiple hours of gameplay
- The rules are simple to read and understand
- There are different abilities and play styles
- Different enemy variations keep the game interesting
- Remarkably immersive
- High replayability value
- It’s not for new gamers
- Takes a substantial amount of time to set up and put away
- Can feel long after a while
- The game is packed in a huge and heavy box, not meant to travel
Best Overall Game: Pandemic
Duration: 45-60 minutes
Since Pandemic’s release in 2008, it has been the golden standard for the collaborative board game genre. The same basic mechanics Pandemic introduced over a decade ago are still fundamental today and have prompted many expansions and spin-off games.
The fate of humanity relies on your team of scientists, doctors, and other specialists to stop the virus from spreading before everyone dies. Everyone in Pandemic has a role with specialized skills and different strategies to defeat the game. The game is very complex, and to win, your group must work together and strategize as a team. Although eradicating the virus presents diverse challenges, Pandemic is easy to learn, making it an excellent addition to family game night. It’s perfect for both new and experienced gamers alike.
- The first cooperative board game
- Incredibly entertaining, suspense-driven, and will keep you coming back
- Easy to learn, hard to master
- All team members must work together to achieve victory
- It can be tough to win – the game relies on cooperation and strategy
- Certain components are generic and could be better
Cooperative board games offer many benefits to players such as teamwork, goal setting, collaboration, and communication skills, all in an entertaining package. So grab a couple of board games before you begin your summer vacation and let the good times roll.
No matter what your plans may be for this summer, a staycation or a ‘Griswold style’ road trip will make time for face-to-face family fun and bonding. Winning or losing doesn’t matter, as long as you play as a team.