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Gaming was borne from competition, some of the earliest games were abstract strategy games like Chess, where the goal is to out-think and outmanoeuvre your opponent. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Modern board games started to explore the cooperative genre in the 1980s with games such as Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective; where you have to work together to solve a mystery, and HeroQuest; one of the earliest dungeon crawlers, heavily inspired by dungeons and dragons. But they were still rare exceptions to the competitive nature of board gaming. The new millennium brought with it Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings, which introduced a lot of the modern cooperative mechanics we see nowadays. Since then there has been an explosion of cooperative games, with board game geek listing 7,511 at time of writing! If only there were a friendly board game café with a tall redhead who could tell you which the good ones were! Without further ado here are some of our favourite cooperative games.
While Lord of the Rings might have brought modern cooperative mechanics to the table, it was the “Forbidden” series that refined it and gave it a friendly face. Forbidden Island is a relatively simple, but by no means easy, cooperative game where you must find and retrieve 4 treasures. The only slight problem being that the island the treasures are on is cursed and begins to sink into the sea the moment you step foot on it! Work together to shore up the coastlines of the island to keep routes open while you explore to find the treasures. Featuring a board that actively shrinks as parts of the island sink away, no two games are ever alike.
Quirky circuits is a programming game in which you must all contribute at least one card a round to input “code” into a variety of robots in order to navigate their surroundings and complete their tasks. The catch being that you aren’t allowed to talk to each other about what you are doing. The cards you play will have basic information on their back such as “move” or “turn”, but no mention of what speed/direction you are doing those things in. There are four different robots, each of which has a series of progressively difficult missions to complete. Each robot also has a quirk in its programming which sometimes makes your life harder than it needs to be. Quirky Circuits is as hilarious when things go wrong as it is rewarding when things go right. Plus the first robot is a Roomba with a cat sat on it, what’s not to love!?
Toy Story Obstacles and Adventures is a follow up to Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. Both games are deckbuilders, games where you start with a hand of not-very-good cards and use those cards to ‘buy’ new cards for your deck that will be shuffled in every time you deck runs out. Following the story of the Toy Story movies and shorts you play as Buzz, Woody, Rex, Bo Peep, and Jessie looking after Andy, and later Bonnie. You have to work together, with many of the cards giving assistance to other players, rather than making your own turn’s more spectacular.
So you died. That sucks. But what sucks more is that your killer is going to get away with it! The rage you feel is enough to keep your spirit alive as a ghost, a ghost that can only communicate via the medium of dreams. Mysterium is a party game and a whodunnit. One player plays as the dearly deceased who must give clues to the other players who act as ‘psychic detectives’. These clues come in the form of incredibly abstract dream cards, which are meant to guide the players to the right murder weapon, murder location and, of course the butler (or whoever else happened to do it this time, but let’s face it, it’s always the butler). Each player has their own set of what, where and who that they have to figure out, but players are free to help each other see patterns in the ghost’s cryptic clues. Ultimately so long as the final answer is found the ghost is avenged and the detectives get paid, everyone wins!
Pandemic is a word that we are all fed up with hearing about, but it is also the name of the most famous modern cooperative game. Players act as medics in a world besieged by four virulent diseases. Each turn you will take four actions to move around the globe, helping the sick where you can and ultimately discovering cures for the four diseases. After that new cities will be infected, with more and more cities being hit each turn as the game progresses. If this all sounds like a bit much then you might want to take a look at the newly released Pandemic Hot Zone, which condenses the game to three diseases that can be cured (or not) in half an hour.
Conversely, if Pandemic isn’t long enough then you always have the option of Pandemic Legacy. When one of the four Pandemic diseases undergoes a nasty mutation, it becomes particularly virulent and dangerous. Pandemic Legacy tells the story of the people who fought to keep this disease at bay and their struggles to find a cure. Taking place over at least 12 games (though for most groups it is around 18) your characters will face real consequences to failure, potentially becoming sick or even dying themselves. But they will also gain experience, becoming even more competent at fighting this plague. Being a ‘legacy’ style game, you will be opening boxes of new content and adding stickers to the board as the game’s story develops, creating a unique experience for your playthrough.
If Pandemic Legacy is one of the heaviest cooperative games around, SOS Dino is one of the lightest. Your mission is to save four dinosaurs from a sudden volcanic eruption. Every turn you’ll draw a lava tile from the bag, creating snaking rivers of lava blocking off sections of the board. You then get the opportunity to move a dinosaur closer towards safety. The more dinosaurs and eggs you save, the more points you earn as a team. For additional difficulty you can add rocks and bushes that block your way, or meteorites that can suddenly land blocking off areas unexpectedly. SOS Dino is a great first entry into cooperative games for younger players.
Escape rooms are a recent craze where you a group of friends get locked in a room (such innocent times) and must solve a series of puzzles to break free. The board gaming world correctly noted that this translated incredibly well into a card game. Unlock and Deckscape are both escape room card games which provide you with a series of puzzles that you must solve in order to progress the game. Best played in a small group of 2-3 each player typically gets a chance to shine as the puzzles need a variety of different mental aptitudes to complete.
Did you think I was going to make a list without singing the praises of Arkham Horror? As an in-depth cooperative Living Card game, Arkham Horror sees you playing as investigators uncovering the mysterious goings on in the Massachusetts city of Arkham. Set in the world of the Cthulhu mythos, these going-ons vary from slightly disturbing to outright horror as you face both human cultists and the horrible many-limbed monstrosities that they manage to summon. Investigators can die from physical injury, or worlse lose their minds due to the reality-warping horrors they have observed. They can also win and save the day… but that is far less likely. Arkham Horror is a story-led game, with chance to make, and regret, the decisions you make along the way.
The current number one game on Board Game Geek, Gloomhaven is a monster of a board game. Coming in a ~10kg box it contains almost 100 scenarios that can be played in an ongoing campaign. Gloomhaven is a dungeon crawler, you play as one of 6 heroes exploring the city of Gloomhaven and the surrounding wildlands. Along the way you’ll fight undead, cultists, demons and drakes as you slowly uncover a sinister force at play. Each character has a lifetime objective, completing it will cause your hero to retire, but also unlocks a new character class that you can add to your party. Gloomhaven is a huge commitment to play, but the good news is a shorter, lighter game is coming soon in Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion, expected to release ~ August.
These were 10 games that proved that working with others can be as fun as thoroughly trouncing them. With everything going on at the moment it’s more important than every for people to pull together and learn to love and respect our differences, be that in sex, gender, race, or ability to work out that one damn puzzle that you’re stuck on in the escape room. Until next time stay safe, stay inside, wash your hands, and have fun!
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