As anyone who’s played Monopoly with their family will know, board games can be a hot mess of tension and bad tempers. The best cooperative board games get around this by forcing everyone to work as a team. Basically, you win together or not at all.
Even more board games
If you want a more competitive experience, check out our recommendations for the best board games you can play in 2019.
This is a refreshing change that reinvigorates games night, so we’ve pulled together our favorites for you here with a focus on those we think PC gamers in particular will love. Even though our list contains a range of genres and styles, we’ve mostly stuck to those that champion replayability (the best cooperative board games shouldn’t get boring after a few matches, after all). Betrayal at House on the Hill is a great example. With a modular, randomised board and 50 unique scenarios, you get a very different experience each time you play. Gloomhaven is cut from a similar cloth, albeit one that sees you dungeon-delving for loot. Its persistent fantasy world will keep you and your friends going for months on end.
Want more suggestions? Don’t miss our guide to the best board games money can buy.
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+
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.
What Cluedo 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+
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).
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+
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 4 of us and only 2 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.
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+
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.
Players: 1—4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 60—120 minutes | Age: 14+
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. 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 4. With nightmarish horrors threatening to overwhelm the town of Arkham, you’ll want all the help you can get.
Left 4 Dead goes medieval.
Players: 1—6 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 60—180 minutes | Age: 14+
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?
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+
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.
Another zombie-battling classic
Players: 2-6 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5-10 minutes | Time to play: 60-90 minutes | Age: 12+
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.
Elementary, my dear Watson.
Players: 1—8 | Difficulty: Hard | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 60—120 minutes | Age: 13+
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, but it’s 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.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown leaps to tabletop.
Players: 1—4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 60—120 minutes | Age: 13+
Putting you and your friends into command chairs around the XCOM Geoscape, this is a real-time strategy game that sees individuals becoming humanity’s last line of defence against an alien menace. Stepping into roles like command, science, squad leadership, and air command, each of you will have a vital part to play in pushing back those nasty extraterrestrials. In a cool twist, it’s all driven by an app (which is also available on PC, by the way) that deploys aliens and challenges for the players to overcome.
Overall, this is the perfect example of how a board game based on a PC franchise doesn’t have to try and mimic that property blow for blow—instead, it can give you an entirely new experience inside that world.
Diablo: Tabletop Edition
Players: 1—4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 60—120+ minutes | Age: 12+
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 doubled into a 1,000lb monster as its popularity grows. Considering the amount 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.
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