Many of the best board games are competitive contests, with players trying to one-up everyone else for glory and bragging rights. But not everyone has a competitive spirit. Not everyone wants to trounce their friends and family in their free time. Isn't it better, at least sometimes, to set aside your differences and work towards a common goal? With the cooperative board games below, you can do just that on game night.
Co-op board games come in a wide variety of themes, with levels of complexity that you can find one for players of all ages. Below, we've hand-picked our favorites on the market. For more game night ideas, check out our other roundups, including the best board games for kids and the best two-player board games.
TLDR: Best Co-op Board Games
- Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
- Just One
- Marvel Champions: The Card Game
- The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
- Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
- Exit: The Game
- Arkham Horror: The Card Game
- Spirit Island
- Pandemic Legacy
- The Mind
- Zombicide: Black Plague
- Cthulhu: Death May Die
To call Gloomhaven a fantasy adventure game is technically accurate, but a bit reductive. It tells the story of mercenaries chasing different goals in a changing world, and the legacy they leave behind. Gloomhaven takes the legacy system from Pandemic Legacy and weaves it into an epic fantasy campaign that takes place over generations.
Each hero comes with a personal goal that, when completed, sends the hero into retirement and unlocks new classes and story elements. Upon retiring a hero, you will take control of another, which results in an impressive sense of time progression. The game includes several sealed boxes that are only opened upon reaching certain milestones, which makes Gloomhaven a game with a grand scale that is unmatched in the board game medium.
Exit: The Game (Series)
An escape room in a box, the Exit series of games does a surprisingly good job of simulating the real thing. Players work together to find clues and solve riddles in real time in an effort to complete the scenario. Each scenario tells you to bring some pens and a pair of scissors because you’ll be permanently modifying your game throughout the session, making these games a one-and-done experience.
There are many different scenarios available for purchase, with titles like The Secret Lab, The Abandoned Cabin, The Sinister Mansion, The Forgotten Island, The Mysterious Museum, and a lot more. Priced at around $15 each (and usually cheaper on Amazon), the Exit series is an ideal replacement for a night at the movies.
At first glance, this game of stone-age survival doesn’t look anything special. You create a deck of cards for the scenario you want to play and distribute them between the players. Then you take it in turns to flip a card from your pile and face the challenges thereon with the skills and stone tools available to your tiny tribe. The magic happens when tribes come together, pooling their resources to overcome one tough encounter, but doing so loses them the chance to interact with the other tribe’s card. All at once, this mirrors a real slice of stone-age life, agonizing over passing up opportunities in order to secure an important prize, while giving players real emergent cooperation in how much they choose to aid each other. The survival narrative and variety of scenarios are just the icing on the rock cake.
Pandemic put cooperative games on the map, and for good reason. Much of the genre’s hallmark mechanics originated here, from action point allocation to player roles with unique abilities. It also spawned a bevy of expansions and spinoffs, but Pandemic Legacy is the best and more revolutionary take on the virus-eradicating co-op game.
It takes the core rules of Pandemic and stretches them into a campaign-length adventure played out over several sessions as you race to cure disease and prevent epidemics. This version introduces permanence as a mechanic, as the rules force you to rip up cards, sticker the board and alter the physical components in other ways as things (inevitably) don’t go your way. The only potential drawback is that you must play with the same players each session, but because the game is so good everyone will be eager to jump back in.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island is a daunting and dark game, but players willing to wade through the sea of iconography, hefty rulebook and stifling theme will be rewarded with a satisfying survival simulation that rewards communication and teamwork. Based on the 1719 novel, players take on the role of survivors of a shipwreck that are must work together to gather food, build shelters, stave off attacks and explore the island. The combination of different scenarios and player characters ensure good replayability, while the survival mechanics do a fantastic job of selling the theme.
A lot of games on this list are, to a greater or lesser extent, strategy affairs. But cooperation is a great mechanic to use in party games too, and Just One tops the list. All the players bar one get to see a clue, and they have to write down a word related to that clue. Then all the clues get revealed to the remaining player who has to guess the original word. Sounds too simple, except the catch is that if any of the clues are the same they get wiped, leaving the guesser far less to work with. It’s an ingenious idea that leaves players caught in an uncertain vice over just how obscure they cant get away with being, while still being worried they might be the victim of doublethink.
Marvel Champions: The Card Game
This is a “Living Card Game”, which means it’s kind of collectable, like Magic: The Gathering, but there’s no random element. You just buy sets and expansions knowing what cards are in each. And unlike a lot of LCG's, deck building is easy because it’s modular, seeing players pick fixed sets of cards to create decks for their hero and the villain you’re all working against. The meat of play features some classic concepts like dual-use cards alongside novel ideas like each player being able to flip from their hero to their alter-ego, with different abilities and hand sizes. This sets up some really interesting combo-based play where you pull off cinematic moves as you work together to thwart the villain’s schemes and save the day.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
You likely know trick-taking games from long time classics like Whist and Bridge. The Crew: Mission Deep Sea cleverly repurposes the concept into a cooperative game through the use of missions, demanding that certain players win tricks of particular types. So you might have to win a trick containing a yellow one, for example, or two consecutive tricks or even no tricks at all. This would be easy if you could show each other your cards, so your communication is limited to one card for the entire hand, recasting the game as a strategic puzzle with plenty of tension as you wait to see whether having to follow suit will tease out a critical card or fail the mission. Fast, fun and with fifty varied undersea missions, this is a pearl of a design. This game earned a spot on our best family board games list as well.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most enduring fictional characters of all time, and for good reason. Watching him solve a seemingly impossible mystery with all the confidence and bravado of a stage actor has been a favorite pastime of generations of book readers and television watchers.
With Consulting Detective, you finally get the chance to step into the shoes of Holmes and test your own deduction skills in a series of nonlinear mysteries. What makes the game great is how it refuses to hold your hand; each mystery presents a short setup and then sets you loose on London, leaving you to visit notable locations, interview suspects, and make educated accusations. Be warned, however, that these mysteries are tough, and may make you question your intelligence on more than one occasion.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
If your co-op group could use an eldritch touch, get Arkham Horror: The Card Game to the table. In this cooperative card game, players take on the role of detectives who are investigating various supernatural occurrences within HP Lovecraft’s world of cosmic horror. It’s a scenario-based experience with each mission at the mercy of an arcane Mythos, a set of conditions that must be met lest the investigators succumb to insanity.
Arkham Horror features customizable decks that are built around each investigator’s special abilities, and most scenarios can play out over a handful of sessions, lending a feeling of progression to the game. As you investigate new location cards, gather clues, and fight monsters, your detective will amass weaknesses that can hinder future games which, thematically, illustrate the mental toll of dealing with arcane horrors.
Protect your island from a vicious mob of colonizers in this heavy co-op experience. Players are spirits of the land, and must use their unique powers to fend off settlers. Every turn, you’ll play a card from your deck of powers. Matching a card’s element with the element of the spirit usually grants a bonus effect, meaning that careful planning is necessary.
As the game goes on, the colonists will inevitably spread and ravage the land, making Spirit Island a race against the clock. They’re predictable, though, and if you plan efficiently you can head them off before they do too much damage. Players’ cards combo off of each other nicely, too, and there are few things in tabletop gaming as satisfying as eliminating a host of settlers in one fell swoop. Spirit Island is substantially more complex than other games of this style (Pandemic, Forbidden Island, etc.), making it an ideal choice for those seeking a meatier co-op experience. This game can also be found on our list of the best board games for adults.
How well do you know your friends? The Mind asks this very question, and forces you to answer without a word. In this mind-bending experimental game, players must play cards from their hands to a common pile in ascending order, from smallest to largest. The deck contains the numbers 1 to 100, and the cards are dealt randomly each round. So, if you carry a 12 and another player has a 34, you must play your card to the center of the table before they do. The trick, though, is that nobody is allowed to talk.
The Mind is a tense game about body language and eye contact. Communicating what numbers are in your hand without speaking is as difficult as it sounds, and inevitably you’ll miss your window more than once. Your hand gets larger the longer the game goes on, too, and soon you’ll be sweating as you wait for the opportune moment to slap down that 52 or 71. It’s a bold design, and a game experience that you won’t soon forget.
Hanabi is a cooperative card game where players attempt to build a magnificent fireworks display by playing cards in rows numbered 1 through 5 in matching colors. The hook is that you cannot see the cards in your hand, but the other players can. On your turn, you can either play a card from your hand in hopes that it’s the proper number and color, or you can give a clue to another player about the cards in their hand. Cooperative in every sense of the word, Hanabi relies almost entirely on your communication and memory skills, which can be rewarding or frustrating depending on your outlook. Just be prepared for arguments when you inevitably play the incorrect card from your hand even after you’ve been explicitly (or so your partners claim) told what you’re holding.
Zombicide: Black Plague
Who doesn’t like to bond over some good old fashioned zombie slaying? Zombicide is a cooperative survival game where players work together to complete scenarios. The Black Plague version puts a fantastical spin on the original game, and drops players into the role of paladins, magicians, and knights to take down the evil necromancers responsible for the zombie outbreak.
You’ll pick up new weapons like crossbows and swords, explore a citadel crawling with the undead, and take on several missions in this dungeon-crawling adventure. It’s a tense and thematically-refreshing take on the tried and true zombie formula with surprisingly easy-to-learn rules.
Cthulhu: Death May Die
Cooperative games where you try and save the world from some deranged monstrosity out of the work of arch-racist HP Lovecraft are ten a penny. What makes Cthulhu: Death May Die stand out isn’t just the beautifully horrible miniatures in the box but the way it integrates help and harm. In order to gain new skills, your characters have to also lose some of their sanity, resulting in a clever balance of tactical trade-offs while encouraging you to come up with daring gameplay plans that deliberately expose yourselves to danger. The resulting reel of cinematic action-horror moments doesn’t feel much like Lovecraft but it is a ton of fun.