The Best True Cooperative Board Games - Co-Op, Work Together and Beat the Game - Everyone Wins or Everyone Loses

I love playing board games! It doesn't matter if it is the classic games like Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble or Aggravation or the newer games like Ticket to Ride or Dominion. They are all a blast!

Board games are the perfect answer for that day during summer break when the kids get bored or when you have family and friends visit for a nice evening. It creates a playful atmosphere and encourages conversation - the makings of a delightful night!

There is a downside to these times, though. Someone in the group is usually a bit more competitive than everyone else, and it can certainly become annoying and might even put a damper on the visit. There is a solution by playing cooperative board games.

Recommended Way to Use this Article

I recommend that you review the premise of the games listed below and then read the linked rules. Some of the rules are quite complex and much more suitable for older children or adults. Watching the videos will help you determine if the game is what you are interested in playing.

Favorite Game?

What is Your Favorite Cooperative Game?

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What is a True Cooperative Board Game?

We are all used to playing games where one person is the winner and everyone else loses. The person who ends the game with the most money, the highest score or the most cards wins. These games encourage competition amongst the players and there is certainly a time and place for that!

There is a fairly new sub genre called "Cooperative Board Games" or "Cooperative Strategy Games." With these games, the players must all work together as a team to beat the challenge posed. More easily, this category can be defined by the statement "We all win together or we all lose together."

Important Note: For the purposes of this article, I excluded the pseudo-cooperative games where one player is revealed to be a "spy" or a "traitor." With these games, most of the players are a team but one person is operating against the others in secret. These are also called "One versus Many" games. The games shown below are the true cooperative board games.

Awards

  • Winner, 2009 International Board Game - Australia
  • Finalist, Spiele Des Jahres Award
  • Finalist, Finnish Game of the Year
  • Winner, Origins Award for Best Board Game

Pandemic - An Award Winning Co-op Board Game
Pandemic - An Award Winning Co-op Board Game | Source

Pandemic

  • 2 - 5 Players
  • 60 minute play time
  • 10 years old minimum age

Summary: Players must work together to find cure for diseases that threaten the survival of mankind. Players assume a role on the Disease Control Team and use their particular strengths to help the team keep the outbreaks under control. Build research stations, treat outbreaks and ultimately seek the cure for the four disease outbreaks.

This game is scalable and can be played at three different difficulty levels. You and your friends will serve in the role of a medic, a researcher, an operations expert and a scientist. Each job has a specific set of skills that must be capitalized upon if you hope to save the world from widespread diseases.

Rules: From Zmangames.com

Caves and Claws

  • 1 - 4 players
  • 20 minutes play time
  • 6+ minimum age recommended

The players work together as a team of archaeologists to venture into the jungle to find ancient artifacts. Create paths, search for treasure and return alive! Be careful of the obstacles. You may have to use the remedies found in your knapsack!

This game is great for younger kids. It teaches cooperation and they will love the adventure. As your children get a little older, consider using modified rules to make the game more challenging.

Awards

  • Mensa Select
  • 2010 Dice Tower Award
  • FamilyFun Magazine Toy of the Year
  • Creative Child Magazine Game of the Year
  • 2011 Spiel Des Jahres Finalist

Forbidden Island Review

Forbidden Island

  • 2 - 4 Players
  • 30 minute play time
  • 10 years old minimum age

The Archean empire protected four mighty treasures from falling into the hands of evil people. Those treasures were rumored to allow the Archeans to control water, earth, wind and fire. Players will need to work as a team to achieve the goals of the game.

Unfortunately, this adventure is fraught with peril. The Archeans knew that people would come looking for these precious treasures. If one is removed, the island will start to sink! Can your team recover the Crystal of Fire, Statue of the Wind, the Ocean's Chalice and the Earth Stone before the island sinks into the depths of the ocean?

Rules: Forbidden Island Instructions

My Family's Favorite!

This is my family's favorite game. We all can work together and plot out the winning strategy. We have made it a bit more difficult and raised the water level to start the game - towards the final few plays, the water is definitely coming in fast and furious! It adds some fun stress as the game nears its end!

Helpful Hint: Helicopter Lift

One of the Treasure Cards is a Helicopter Lift. The card reads "Move one or more pawns on the same tile to any other tile."

When we first started playing the game, we read that to mean you could only use that card IF the other player was on the same tile as you were. That sure did make the game VERY hard.

After doing some research on their website, the point of the card was to allow you to lift one player (or more if they are ALL on the SAME tile) to any other space on the board. Those other players do not have to be on the same tile as the person who played the card, but you cannot send the helicopter to pick up multiple players from multiple tiles.

The island cards are laid out!  Can you collect the treasures?
The island cards are laid out! Can you collect the treasures? | Source

Castle Panic Review

Awards

  • 2010 Origins Award Nominee
  • 2011 GeekDad's Best Board Game in the "Most Monsters" Category
  • 2011 Top 100 Traditional Board Games from Games Magazine
  • 2010 Golden Geek Family Board Game Nominee

Castle Panic - A Fun Cooperative Strategy Game
Castle Panic - A Fun Cooperative Strategy Game | Source

Castle Panic

  • 1- 6 Players (4+ recommended)
  • 60 minute play time
  • 10 years old minimum age

You and your friends are protecting a castle from invading hordes of monsters. They are attacking the walls and the castle towers. Players must work together to protect the castle. Without cooperation, the game will be lost.

This game can be played in three variations: Standard, Co-op, and Overlord. The Co-op ruleset is the pure cooperative strategy game where all monster trophies are added to the monster discard pile instead of being kept by the player.

Solitaire: One player can play this game with slight tweaks to the rules. Of course, it is much more fun to play with friends!

Rules: Castle Panic Instructions

Modified Rules

You have to love games where rules can be tweaked to adjust the game play. There are three variations included for this one:

  1. A Man's Home is his Castle: Each player is assigned a tower of their own. If that tower is lost to the invading monsters, that player is out of the game. This is not really in the spirit of cooperative gaming, but it may appeal to some.
  2. Dwindling Resources: Want even more of a challenge? Each time the deck is shuffled, remove one brick and one mortar card.
  3. Under Construction: How will you defend the towers with no walls? Begin the game with the walls - they better start building quickly!

Expansion Pack

The Wizard's Tower is an expansion pack that brings new challenges including a Wizard's Tower and allows the ability to attack monsters using fire!

Lord of the Rings Board Game

  • 2 - 5 players
  • 60 minutes game play
  • 12 years old minimum age

Based on the wonderful books by J. R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, the Board Game, requires the players to work together as a fellowship to seek out and destroy the Ring before the evil Sauron reaches it.

This game is a bit complex. I do not recommend it for younger children. At the beginning of each turn, the active player draws a story tile. Once the story requires a movement, the player advances and performs the required activity.

Watch out for the Ring's Influence and Sauron's Will - you do not want to be consumed by the forces of evil!

As with other cooperative strategy games, there are rule variants that allow the players to create new challenges. It can be turned into a competitive game where players keep their rune cards face down until the end of the game. If the Ring is successfully destroyed, the player with the highest points will be celebrated in Hobbit Lore for eternity!

Rules: Lord of the Rings Instructions

Awards

  • 2006 Golden Geek Best Gamer's Board Game Nominee
  • 2007 Tric Trac Nominee

Arkham Horror Setup

Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight Games

  • 1 - 8 players
  • 2 - 4 hours required
  • 12+ minimum age recommendation

If you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, and the Cthulhu mythos in particular, then this game absolutely must be included in your collection.

The players must work as a team to close all of the dimensional gates around Arkham, Massachusetts before the mysterious creature awakens. If the team is unsuccessful, the Ancient One will destroy the players and the entire town is guaranteed to be destroyed!

As players move throughout the city, they must either fight or evade monsters and collect clues in order to stop the mythos.

The game may be won in one of three ways:

  1. Closing all the Gates
  2. Sealing the Gate with six elder sign tokens
  3. Banish the Ancient One - It is possible that the Ancient One will awaken, but if the investigators defeat it, it will be banished "beyond space and time."

Rules: Arkham Horror Instructions

The Ghost Stories board, cards and pieces.
The Ghost Stories board, cards and pieces.

Ghost Stories Review

Awards

  • 2008 The Dice Tower Awards - Best Game Designer Nominee
  • 2008 The Dice Tower Awards - Best Game Artwork Nominee

Ghost Stories by Repos Production

  • 1 - 4 players
  • 60 minutes game time
  • 12+ minimum age recommended

The goal of the game is to destroy the ghosts, protect the villages and destroy the incarnation of Wu-Feng. Be careful as the villages may be haunted.

Each players' turn consists of two phases: the Yin and the Yang. During the Yin phase, the ghosts will either "Haunt" or "Torment." During the Yang phase, the player may move, request help from a villager, attempt an exorcism or place a Buddha.

Lose all your Qi, and the Taoist dies. Fortunately, you can still communicate with other players and help them. If you are really lucky, your character may be resurrected with a Cemetery tile.

There are four levels of play: Initiation, Normal, Nightmare and Hell (just charming, isn't it?)

This game can be played as a solitaire, but the adjustment to the rules are found in the appendix of the instruction manual.

Rules: Ghost Stories Instructions

Red November Review

Red November by Fantasy Flight Games

  • 3 - 8 players
  • 1 -2 hours of game play
  • 12+ minimum age recommended

So, there you are, minding your own business on a gnomish submarine when ***BAM!*** tragedy strikes. You and your gnomish sailors are struggling to stop the numerous tragedies threatening the sub. Fires are raging, the hull is leaking and vital systems are failing. Make sure you protect the nuclear missile too! Work together with your friends to keep everyone alive!

There are two innovative features of this game. The first is that it is not turn-based. Instead, the player who is furthest back on the time-track plays next. Second, grog plays a factor to help players gain the bravery to enter a burning room and repair items better! Who doesn't love drunk gnomes on a sinking submarine?

The Oxygen, Heat and Pressure tracks will add stress to the game! If any of those categories gets maxed out, the players lose. Make sure to manage that well by working together.

There are alternative rulesets for this game as well to stop players from dying. Called "Less Deadly Dying," the player whose gnome perished must turn in all of his cards, rolls the dice to determine a new, random room and begins play as a new gnome.

There are also two additional rulesets that will make the game even more challenging. Have fun and find the game play that is right for you.

Rules: Red November Instructions

Fire Rescue Review

Flash Point Fire Rescue by Indie Boards and Cards

  • 1 - 6 players
  • Age requirements vary as there are rulesets for different age groups
  • 30 minutes play time

I am a huge fan of those eclectic, out-of-the-ordinary games. This certainly falls into that category!

A 911 call comes in and you and your team are dispatched to a burning building. If you don't operate as a team, the building will burn down and lives will be lost. Each player controls a firefighter that can put out a fire, chop through a wall and carry a victim to safety.

Three things happen during each turn: First, the player spends action points chopping down walls, moving or extinguishing fires. Second, advance the fire. Lastly, the player replenishes the Person of Interest marker.

There are four levels of difficulty: Family, Recruit, Veteran and Heroic. One of those will meet your requirements.

Rules: Flash Point Fire Rescue Instructions

Space Alert - Protect the ship as a team!  Will you all win?
Space Alert - Protect the ship as a team! Will you all win? | Source

Space Alert Review

Awards

  • 2009 Spiel des Jahres - Special Award New World
  • 2009 International Gamers Awards - Nominee
  • 2009 Board Game Geek - Most Innovative Game
  • 2008 The Dice Tower Awards - Most Innovative Game

Space Alert by Rio Grande Games

  • 1 - 5 players
  • 13+ minimum age recommended
  • 30 minutes play time

You and your teammates are space explorers and are sent through hyperspace to search a dangerous part of the galaxy. It only takes 10 minutes to map a sector and if you survive, valuable data is retrieved for mankind. If not, it's game over!

This board game is unique in that a key contributor is the included CDs that come with the game. The CDs will play in the background and give instructions throughout the game. On the off chance that you cannot play a CD, one player is designated a timekeeper and will follow the script on the sector cards at the right time.

Players will choose the role of Captain, Chief of Security, or Communications Officer and will protect the ship from common and serious internal and external threats. Be careful if the communication system drops offline - the players won't be allowed to talk to each other until service is restored!

In addition to normal gameplay, there is an alternate ruleset for an exploration campaign where the damage to the ship is cumulative and carries forward to each new sector.

There are modifications to the rules to allow you to play solo.

Rules: Space Alert Instructions

More by this Author


What is Your Favorite Cooperative Game? 9 comments

Irob profile image

Irob 4 years ago from St. Charles

HAve to give one of these a try on a small scale, our normal family game nights aren't too cooperative LOL


GinnyLee profile image

GinnyLee 4 years ago from Arlington, VA Author

Irob, my hyper-competitive friends really put a downer on our game nights. When the smack talk started over a game of Scrabble, I realized that it was time to change the dynamics. These coop games really helped.


Wise fool profile image

Wise fool 4 years ago from Colorado

There's also a table top version of Dungeons and Dragons that is co-operative. I've never played these games but would like to try. I enjoy games that let new players have a chance to be in the game instead feeling like cannon fodder.


William157 profile image

William157 4 years ago from Southern California

This is an excellent list of games. I've played Pandemic, but I really want to play Ghost Stories. Unfortunately it's unavailable on Amazon.

You really made an effort to collect the links, images and information for this hub. I'm impressed!


Tim 4 years ago

There is another game out there that is similar in some ways to Pandemic, but the thematic differences coupled with the ability to fail at purging a territory of bad guys makes it a different experience. It is called Defenders of the Realm, and it has an expansion where all the generals attacking your city are dragons if the original game gets too easy for you


zuz 3 years ago

Pandemic is my favourite, but I've yet to play ghost stories. You might want to give Hanabi a shot (it's a coop card game though, not a board game.) Can be kind of tough to find, but worth it. And apparently there's a version that comes bundled with a different (though competitive) game.


ilikegames profile image

ilikegames 2 years ago from Australia

I really love the idea of co-op board games, I'm in the same situation as you. I have a few really competitive friends that ruin most of the more traditional games.


toptengamer profile image

toptengamer 2 years ago from The Game

We play Pandemic quite a lot as well. With my kids I like treasure island.


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 17 months ago from Arizona

I'm not a huge fan of coop games. It tends to be my husband telling me what we are going to do, and then we do it lol. Not too cooperative if you ask me :) However, my nine year old son has taken an interest. Mice and Mystics is his current favorite.

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