The best cooperative board games are all about winning with friends. Sharing in the glory of a collective victory is all the sweeter with a group, so the best co-op board games are all about bringing you and your buddies together to overcome insurmountable odds. While that may not always result in victory, the challenge is what makes the trial worthwhile.
When we’re looking at cooperative board games to recommend (and play ourselves), we ideally want something with a reasonable amount of replay value. A perfect game should feel like a unique experience each time you open the box, even if you’re playing with the same people.
In our modern age of digital distribution, the cost of most analogue games can make them a bit of a tough sell, and a large part of that price tag comes from the manufacturing of honest-to-goodness physical components. So it makes sense that these bits and bobs you’ve paid for should feel good in your hand and look good without feeling cheap. The right components don’t always have to be immaculately painted curio pieces in the case of the X-wing miniatures game, but should at the very least be evocative of the theme that the game is trying to sell you.
Cooperative doesn’t always have to mean fully cooperative. Some of our picks will have teams of people working against each other, or will occasionally have a designated omnipotent overlord that the rest of your friends will be tasked with thwarting.
We’ve collected a ripe handful of our favourite cooperative board games below with some reasons why we like them. If you’re looking to dip your toes into some deeper waters; however, our favourite Warhammer 40K starter sets are a great way to get introduced to the grimdark future of humanity while also painting models.
An undisputed classic of cooperative gaming, Pandemic’s battle against a worldwide outbreak isn’t going anywhere any time soon—and thank goodness for that. This is a masterpiece of prioritization, communication, teamwork, and thinking up clever solutions to problems before you all die. Horribly, I might add. This game is brilliant, but it’s also damn hard.
Various diseases have broken out across the globe, and your only aim is to cure them. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done; although each character has a special ability to help their team, each turn brings more infections with it, the occasional epidemic, and a general sense of “oh crap, we’re screwed” as you race against the clock.
Better still, there are several flavours of Pandemic available now. Pandemic: Iberia is a great twist on the original game with a new map, historical setting, and fresh diseases to fight.
Meanwhile, Pandemic: Legacy is the long-term version. It’s a game that has you fighting disease in an evolving campaign that sees cities annihilated, characters killed, and deadly infections given permanent (probably silly) names. It’s now in a second season so that you can play some 24 games in your own evolving world.
It’d all been going so well. Our team was working like clockwork to explore the house, we’d gathered up many useful items for use on our quest, and then a dirty great bird swooped down and carried the mansion away. After recovering from our surprise, we were informed that the goal was now simple: we had to escape via parachutes hidden in the attic. Easy, right? Unfortunately not. You see, there were four of us and only two parachutes. Bummer.
This is Betrayal at House on the Hill at its best: Bizarre, surprising, and gripping in equal measure. With randomly-selected scenarios and a modular board that results in different settings each time you play, it’s genuinely tense. You never know what’s coming next or whether you’ll survive it. Better still, it usually pits one set of players against an unexpected traitor. Tactics become essential, and communication is even more so. If you haven’t tried this one yet, we can’t recommend it enough.
For a lighter version of the Pandemic experience, you should definitely check out Forbidden Island. A race against time to recover artefacts on a sinking island, it uses the same kind of mechanics but in a simpler, faster fashion. As a team of intrepid explorers, you must embark on a do-or-die quest together to snatch up as much loot as you can before it’s lost beneath the waves.
Players shore up the island with sandbags as they dash from place to place (snagging artefacts as they go) before taking their ill-gotten gains to a waiting helicopter, but they’ll need to coordinate if they want to succeed—you win or lose together. Collaborative, strategic thinking forms the backbone of this Forbidden Island, and its short run-time makes it easy to squeeze in before or after a bigger game.
The Ancient Ones stir, seeking a way to breach our world—and if you can’t tell already, that’s hella bad news. Luckily, you’re there to stop them. A fast, clever, and mechanically sound adaptation of the long-in-the-tooth Arkham Horror, this living card game is a darling of tabletop gamers, and it’s not hard to see why.
Players create custom card decks to unravel dastardly mysteries and defeat monsters torn from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, and the consequences of each game run on into the next. While it has the same roleplaying-lite experience of the original Arkham Horror, the tension as you draw cards and move each turn is far more palpable. That’s particularly true because each deck represents your character. They contain any equipment, talents, and harmful flaws that you’ll work to overcome in successive sessions.
The core set plays with 1-2 people, but combining two core sets ups the maximum player count to four. With nightmarish horrors threatening to overwhelm the town of Arkham, you’ll want all the help you can get.
Big box o’ miniatures Zombicide never really took off with me until Black Plague was unleashed upon the world. For whatever reason, slapping a medieval fantasy theme replete with necromancers and the pox was enough for me to suddenly care about the popular zombie-fighting franchise. Well, that and three years of iterative development over the original.
This is a miniatures game at its best. It’s all about wading through hordes of zombies, throwing fistfuls of dice to represent you bludgeoning them to (un)death, and making tactical choices. Oh, and you can throw bottles of dragon bile like molotov cocktails. What’s not to like?
Where many board games cast players as explorers or colonizers, Spirit Island takes a different tack altogether. You instead take on the role of powerful magic spirits defending their island’s native people against violent occupiers. This game is cut from the same cloth as Pandemic, asking players to optimize their turn’s actions to take down these unwanted invaders.
Although it’s a complex game and definitely falls under the banner of ‘high strategy,’ asymmetric player roles really cinch it thematically: a fire spirit races across the map in blazing trails where an earth spirit is slow yet nearly impossible to dislodge.
A game in much the same vein as Zombicide, Last Night on Earth pits you against legions of undead as they shamble after your brains. Luckily, it’s not as serious as this makes out. You play as ridiculous movie cliches and battle through equally daft event cards.
The majority of you control the survivors, and another is in charge of the game’s zombie army. Unfortunately—and as is only right—there’s far more of them than there is of you. With a random objective to complete before the night is out, you and your allies will spend your time fighting through and exploring a modular board that makes the game different each time.