I’m not a competitive person, at least not as far as games go. Call me a simpleton, but I’m usually just happy about having my friends around me to be too bothered with who actually wins a game. Which is good, because quite a few of my friends are fierce competitors, and it can get ugly when someone ends the game before it even really has a chance to begin. Same when someone gets grumpy about falling behind other players. (To my friends reading this: I still love you!)
We all have a friend who’s a sore loser. Or maybe you are that person. (Don’t worry, there’s no judgments here!). It’s understandable. Some of us are just highly competitive! But it can certainly make a game night tough if you want to keep everyone at least moderately happy.
Enter cooperative games.
Instead of pitting everyone against one another, you can work together. It’s also a great way to introduce kids to games, because you can all work together.
Types of Cooperative Games
Not all co-op games are the same. In fact, you may still find some elements of the typical competitive games in some. Here are some of the flavors you’ll typically encounter:
All versus the Game: The goal here is to work together to defeat the obstacles presented by the game itself. You’ll typically have to strategize quite a bit, with everyone playing to their own strengths and abilities to ensure everyone survives and you can complete the objective.
All versus One: I know more than a few people who have no trouble at all with being the villain to everyone else’s hero. If you know someone with the bravado to say “Come at me, bro” and survive, an all-versus-one match could be just the thing.
All versus the Traitor: In this sort of game, everyone starts out on the same side — until an event happens, and someone turns against everyone else. Sometimes you have to figure out who the traitor is, sometimes you just have to survive them.
Teams: Team games are probably the least cooperative of cooperative games because in the end it’s every team for themselves, but it can be a good way to reduce the friction while still keeping that edge of competition and aggression.
8 Best Cooperative Board Games
If you’re looking for something a bit different (or to maybe salvage a friendship or two), why not try our recommendations for the best cooperative board games?
1.Pandemic (All versus the Game)
In this case, you and the other players will have to decide how to best allocate your resources and which actions to take — moving between cities, treating the infected population, researching a cure, and building a research station. Each player has unique abilities to use to their advantage throughout the game, too.
The Pandemic expansions, On the Brink, In the Lab, and State of Emergency, modify the rules to allow an additional player (bringing it from 4 people to 5). They also introduce new characters and events to shake up the gameplay, so you’re not going to get bored with this game any time soon.
Players: 2-4 (5 with expansions) Playtime: 45 minutes Ages: 8+
2. Betrayal At House On The Hill(All versus the Traitor)
In Betrayal at House on the Hill, players work together to explore a magnificent old mansion. Each turn players “build” the house as they uncover its secrets, including frightening spirits and grim omens. The suspense builds as you encounter each horror, until the Haunt is triggered and one player secretly betrays the others. Then, the players must work together to stop the traitor if they want to survive.
While Betrayal at House on the Hill might seem a. like a time investment and b. like it doesn’t have a lot of replay value if you haven’t played before, don’t worry. The game comes with 50 different scenarios. And since you build the house as you go with modular tiles, the experience is never quite the same. It can, however, take up a bit of time, especially for a group of new players (but let’s face it: that’s the case in almost any new game), so you should plan your game night accordingly.
Players: 3-6 Playtime: 60 minutes Ages: 12+
3. Forbidden Desert (All versus the Game)
Forbidden Desert puts players in the harsh desert ruins of an ancient civilization and pits them against the elements. Players must work together to find and then excavate 4 pieces of an ancient flying contraption that is their only means of escape.
Complicating that is a storm that moves around the ruins with each turn, re-covering areas you’ve already excavated. And the storm increases its intensity each time. On top of that, players must avoid the heat of the sun and make sure their water supplies don’t run out.
I like Forbidden Desert because it really does demand strategy. You have to know what resources you have and when to use them for maximum impact, and players have to be willing to help one another out. Otherwise you’ll wind up buried under sand just as you discover where the last piece is. Trust me, I know from experience.
Players: 2-5 Playtime: 45 minutes Ages: 10+
4. Sentinels of the Multiverse (All versus the Game)
If you’re a fan of comic books, Sentinels of the Multiverse is the perfect cooperative card game. It puts players in the shoes of comic book-style superheroes and pits them against both a villain and the environment (both self-run decks). The goal is simple: Stop the villain before every hero is incapacitated.
I LOVE how nerdy this game is, and it’s incredibly fun to play. There’s some pretty familiar character archetypes for those of you who are avid comic book fans, and each one has a slightly different style of play. The fact that there’s no player elimination and that you can still use some of your powers to help the team even if you are incapacitated, is a plus. There are multiple heroes, villains, and environments to choose from so gameplay is never quite the same — especially when you factor in the expansions: Rook City, Infernal Relics, Shattered Timelines, Vengeance, and Wrath of the Cosmos. You can even assemble a team of villains so that you can battle against the ultimate league of evil.
Players: 1-5 Playtime: 30-60 minutes Ages: 8+
5. Flash Point: Fire Rescue (All versus the Game)
Flash Point: Fire Rescue is in no way something that falls in my normal repertoire of board games (I lean heavily toward fantasy and sci-fi). But it’s a brilliantly designed cooperative game, one I think is particularly suited to families with kids. The goal is simple: Put out the fire before the building burns to the ground and lives are lost. It’s an all-versus-the-game situation, which means that everyone has to work together and develop a strategy. Players have several actions they can take — you can put out a fire, chop through a wall, or carry someone to safety, among other choices. You can win the game by rescuing 7 victims — or lose by failing to rescue 4.
What is really cool is that there are multiple difficulty levels. It’s not just “base game + harder variant.” There’s the kid-friendly Family variant, as well as 3 other levels of gameplay: Recruit, Veteran, and Heroic. Recruit level is similar to Family, while Veteran and Heroic escalate in difficulty.
Players: 1-6 Playtime: 45 minutes Ages: 10+
6. The Resistance (All versus the Traitor/Teams)
The Resistance isn’t quite your usual fare for cooperative board games. At its heart, it’s an all-versus-the-traitor game, except that in this case, there are several traitors working together. You could even classify it as a team game, except that only the traitors know who the other traitors are. It’s also designed for up to 10 players, which also makes it a great party game.
In the game, the Resistance must carry out missions to undermine the Empire. Unbeknownst to them, Imperial spies have infiltrated their ranks. The game plays out across several rounds, with a leader nominating players to a team. Everyone then votes on whether to approve the team — and if it isn’t approved, the next leader repeats the process. Once a mission is approved, the team members secretly vote on whether the mission succeeds or fails. The game ends after 3 successes, or 3 failures.
Unlike a lot of the other games on this list, you’re going to have to do a bit of bluffing and deduction, so there’s certainly a competitive element, but you also need to work together, no matter which side you’re on.
There’s also several expansions, including Hostile Intent and Hidden Agenda. A standalone spinoff, The Resistance: Avalon, is set in Camelot. However, it can be combined into the base deck of The Resistance for a twist on gameplay.
Players: 5-10 Playtime: 30 minutes Ages: 13+
7. Eldritch Horror (All versus the Game)
Eldritch Horror is a sort of sequel to an earlier game, Arkham Horror. Both are based on Lovecraftian mythology, so yes, you and your fellow players will be facing off against the Ancient Ones. Eldritch Horror is by far the longest game in this list, with a gameplay of 2 to 4 hours. Players work together to investigate strange phenomena and try to prevent an Ancient One from entering the world — or stopping it once it does. Along the way, players will face dangers that can leave them with injuries both physical and mental, as well as unwelcome debts that must be repaid.
Unlike Arkham Horror and its expansions, which are confined to a single city or a handful of them, Eldritch Horror has a global scale, meaning players travel all over. The gameplay has also been refined for a more streamlined experience — at least in comparison to its predecessor. And don’t forget to pick up the expansions, Forsaken Lore, Mountains of Madness, and Strange Remnants.
Players: 1-8 Playtime: 120-240 minutes Ages: 14+
8. Hanabi (All versus the Game)
I like Hanabi because it’s quite a bit different than the other games on this list. The game has a vaguely Japanese feel: The name comes from the Japanese word for “fireworks” and the idea is that you and your friends are trying to create a pyrotechnics display. To do that, you need to lay down cards in the correct ascending order.
Here’s the catch: You don’t actually know what’s in your hand. Only the other players can see your cards, and it’s up to them to help you figure out not only which cards you have but where they are in your hand. They can give you pieces of information that help you figure out which card is the one you need to play next. But beware, you only have so many tries to get the order right!
One of the appeals of Hanabi is that you really do have to work together. You can’t just have one player go off and do their own thing because they think they know what’s best. It’s also rather like a brain teaser, which I find very engaging.
Players: 2-5 Playtime: 25 minutes Ages: 8+
Your Guide to a Co-op Game Night Menu
So what kind of food do you serve for a co-op game night? I like the idea of something served family style, or a one-pot meal — in other words, something communal. It ties into the theme beautifully, but more importantly, it’s less work for you, and a bit less cleanup. I am also trying to keep things somewhat simple.
Our kitchen generates an uncomfortable amount of heat, which then wafts into the dining room, which makes me loath to turn on the oven when people are over. And most people don’t want to stand over a stove while everyone else plays a game. No, we need simple and quick… Which got me to thinking, and here are my solutions:
Even when the weather is warm, I still like a hot meal. And in the fall and winter, there’s just nothing better. This slow-cooker soup delivers all of that, but all you need to do is add the ingredients to the pot in the morning and let it go for a few hours. You can garnish it with as many or as few toppings as you like.
While we’re on the subject of soups… gazpacho is a tomato-based cold soup from Spain. The Pioneer Woman has a really easy recipe that comes together in less than 30 minutes. Make it ahead of time or pull a friend into the kitchen to help you do the prep! In some places, gazpacho is thickened with bread, but this recipe doesn’t call for that. It doesn’t mean you can’t serve it with a nice crusty bread, though! The Pioneer Woman also grills some shrimp to toss on top. That’s entirely up to you, but it will add some protein, which usually appeases the carnivores in my life.
Now, if you’re brave enough to turn on the oven, or if it’s the dead of winter when you stumble across this post, try a pizza ring. I know, pizza is kind of stereotypical game night food. This recipe uses crescent rolls instead of a dough and you roll it into a ring. Everything pulls apart so it’s easy to serve, and it cooks quick.
The best part is, it’s kind of a no-recipe recipe. How do you like your pie? Mushrooms, green peppers, and olives? Or maybe pepperoni, cream cheese and pineapple? Straight up pepperoni? You can substitute whatever ingredients you want here — just be sure to keep the proportions about the same.
Recipes provided courtesy of Taste of Home magazine. Find more great recipes at www.tasteofhome.com.
I’m always a fan of potlucks, too, because then it cuts down on the amount of work you have to do. Stick to foods you and your friends are comfortable with!
If you don’t want to do a full meal, I always recommend having some snacks for grazing. Why not set up a chocolate fondue? It’s a little bit messier than I would normally like, but…it’s hard to say no to chocolate, marshmallows, strawberries, cookies, pretzels..well, there’s a very long list of things you can dip in chocolate. Even bacon! Food Network has an easy chocolate fondue you can make in a slow cooker.
Co-op games are perfect when you have a highly competitive group of friends or a totally mellow group — or a mix of both! Because these games come in different flavors, there’s truly something for everyone. Some games will take up your entire night, while others you can easily tackle a few different games in one go. Either way, it’s a safe bet there won’t be any table flipping or rage quits.
What are your favorite co-op board games? Did we leave something off the list? What kind of foods do you think tie into a co-op board game night? Let us know in the comments!
Melissa is an independent writer and editor, as well as a board game lover. When she's not creating or perfecting web content, she's usually playing games with her friends or experimenting in the kitchen.