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The best cooperative board games

best cooperative board games
(Image credit: Cool Mini or Not Inc., Fantasy Flight, Lillebud Games, Greater Than Games)

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.

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If you want a more competitive experience, check out our recommendations for the best board games you can play in 2019.

In our modern age of digital distribution, the cost of most analog 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.   

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We've collected a ripe handful of our favorite board games below with some reasons why we like them. If you're looking to dip your toes into some deeper waters however, ou best Warhammer 40K starter sets are a great way to get introduced to the grimdark future of humanity while also painting models.

Best cooperative board games

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1. Pandemic

Curing the world, one block at a time.

Players: 2-4 | Difficulty: Hard | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 45-60 minutes | Age: 8+

 Encourages teamwork
 Superb tension 
Hard

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 flavors 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 you can play some 24 games in your own evolving world.

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2. Mysterium

What Clue would look like... if one of you was a ghost.

Players: 2-7 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 30-45 minutes | Age: 10+

Hilarious
Wonderfully weird
...but perhaps a bit too weird

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: One player’s a ghost and the others are psychics trying to discover who was behind their decades-old murder. No? Good—Mysterium’s probably for you, in that case.

Storming out of Ukraine in 2015, this game was being played untranslated and unlocalized at gaming conventions long before an English edition even made it to the shelves. There’s good reason for that—Mysterium is wonderfully weird. The ‘ghost’ has been unfortunately murdered, and they must tell other players what happened to them using nothing but cards bearing surrealist images. The detective psychics are then on the clock to narrow down their pool of suspects, murder locations, and weapons. It’s a hilarious game of deduction with a dash of creativity, boasting the kind of play that generates more in-jokes thank we can count (though it’s not quite the same, Mysterium is also on Steam).

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3. Betrayal at House on the Hill

The Shining’s long-lost board game baby.

Players: 3-6 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 40-90 minutes | Age: 12+

Very replayable
Multiple scenarios
 Some objectives better than others 

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.

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4. Forbidden Island

Tomb Raider, Myst, and Atlantis lend their DNA to this co-op experience.

Players: 2-4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 30 minutes | Age: 10+

Light version of Pandemic mechanics
Short
Potentially lacks depth

For a lighter version of the Pandemic experience, you should definitely check out Forbidden Island. A race against time to recover artifacts 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 artifacts 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.

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5. Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Cthulu’s calling.

Players: 1-4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 60-120 minutes | Age: 14+

Fast and clever mechanics
Consequences carry from game to game
4 players requires a second deck

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.

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6. Zombicide: Black Plague

Left 4 Dead goes medieval.

Players: 1-6 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 60-180 minutes | Age: 14+

Cool fantasy setting
Fistfuls of dice and zombies
Expensive

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?

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7. Spirit Island

What Godus would be like if it was a board game.

Players: 1-4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 90-120 minutes | Age: 13+

Unique theme
High strategy
Not for haters of micro-management

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 is a game cut from the same cloth as Pandemic, asking players to optimize their turn’s actions in order 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.

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8. Last Night on Earth

Another zombie-battling classic

Players: 2-6 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5-10 minutes | Time to play: 60-90 minutes | Age: 12+

Tongue-in-cheek humor
Multiple objectives
Still a bit expensive

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.

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9. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Players: 1-8 | Difficulty: Hard | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 60-120 minutes | Age: 13+

Cerebral
Immersive props
Really darn hard

Still great nearly 40 years after its release, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective’s latest incarnation (The Thames Murders & Other Cases) deploys the same fun formula as previous editions. This is a difficult cooperative game where players, equipped with newspapers, maps of London, and case files, attempt to solve murders as well as the great pipe-smoking deerstalker enthusiast himself. 

With a unique structure that’s somewhere between interactive fiction and regimented, turn-based board games, time is the players’ real resource. Each action takes more of it, and if you spend too long Holmes will solve the case days before you (I’ve never beaten Sherlock, but I still love this game). It’s really quite hard if you judge yourself by Sherlock's "score," but you can also toss those rules out the window and just try to crack the case as thoroughly as possible. It's much more fun that way.

Consulting Detective is definitely one you can get non-board gamers to enjoy—pretty much anyone who likes mystery TV or detective novels will get on board with this.

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10: Too Many Bones

Gloomhaven but waterproof

Players: 1-4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 15 minutes | Time to play: 60-120 minutes | Age: 12+

Excellent quality of components
Awesome player interaction
Expensive
Lots of rules

Too Many Bones, apart from having simultaneously the funniest and most unfortunate name for a board game, is an excellent cooperative game for 1-4 players (the only downside is, it's expensive). In this game, you and your friends embark on various pre-determined quests to gather loot and slay monsters. Each character you choose has a distinct rule set and role to play. While having a sense of growth attached to your characters and the collective party, unfortunately, every new item or card you get, piles layer upon layer of new rules that you and your friends need to memorize, sullying the experience somewhat.

Apart from the absurd name, the first thing that jumps out at you is the amazing build quality. Besides the scores of weighty poker chips that represent monsters, Too Many Bones has almost too many delicious dice for you to throw around and slot into your character sheets. Perhaps the icing on the extravagant cake here is that all the cards are plastic, making the entire game not only incredibly expensive but also waterproof.

So yeah, this game oozes quality to the point of absurdity, and is remarkably expensive as a result. But if you can afford it and have some friends that aren't shy around complex rules, Too Many Bones is an awesome time to be had with friends who enjoy games the likes of Gloomhaven or the Arkham Horror card game.   

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11. Gloomhaven

Diablo: Tabletop Edition

Players: 1-4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 60-120+ minutes | Age: 12+

Lots of depth
Absolutely massive
Pricey

Our best board games list called this the “gorilla in the room,” and it’s a beast that’s only gotten larger in the months since it first came out. In fact, it’s probably now morphed into a 1,000 lb. monster as its popularity grows. Considering what you get inside the box, that’s oddly appropriate. A mega-huge dungeon crawler with non-linear fantasy campaigns, Gloomhaven offers a persistent, legacy-style element that changes the game world as you play. It has cool miniatures, too. And dungeon tile boards. And cardboard standees.

Okay, it has everything that’s popular in board games right now crammed into that one giant box. However, it’s also driven by a neat combat system that doesn’t rely on just throwing down lots of dice. In fact, we’d argue that it’s the ultimate game for a consistent board game group to play together. Don’t sleep on this one.