Cooperative board games feature gameplay in which players work together to solve a problem or complete a common objective. These popular board games offer many advantages.
Board games can be loads of fun, but highly competitive games aren’t for everyone.
Perhaps you have children who are still learning how to play nice, or maybe you don’t enjoy playing with sore losers. It could be just that you don’t find intense competition that fun.
Whatever the reason, many people are drawn to cooperative games.
In this article, you’ll read all about cooperative games–what they are, why they’re worth considering, along with some good examples.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.
What Are Cooperative Board Games?
Cooperative games require players to work together to achieve a common goal. In these games, players either win or lose together. Their ability to communicate, help one another, and form a common strategy will determine their success.
What’s a Co-op Game?
Coop is an abbreviation for cooperation, so the term co-op game is synonymous with a cooperative game. Players must work together and win or lose together. You might also see this type of game referred to as a collaborative board game.
What Makes a Game Cooperative?
A game is cooperative if it requires players to work together to achieve a goal. In cooperative games, players win or lose together.
Cooperative games span several game genres. Regardless of age, interest, and experience, there’s a cooperative game for you.
While there are some cooperative games where you divide into teams, they aren’t considered fully cooperative.
What are the Benefits of Cooperative Games?
There are several reasons why you should consider playing cooperative games. Let’s take a look at a few of the benefits that come with cooperative play.
Cooperative games emphasize teamwork.
Cooperative games are structured in a way that emphasizes sharing, encouraging, communication, cooperation, and problem-solving.
Cooperative board games cultivate the desire to work together with others. While competitive games might send the message that “winning is everything,” cooperative games teach players to enjoy camaraderie through direct personal experience.
If one player refuses to cooperate, everyone suffers. In this way, co-op games challenge players to accept the necessity of teamwork.
Cooperative games reduce aggression.
Everyone knows that young children struggle with competitive games. Even some adults have the same problem! But the research backs up this observation.
One notable study in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis studied aggressive and cooperative behaviors in children when playing games.
They found that competitive games increased aggressive behaviors in young kids, such as hitting, kicking, biting, name-calling, threatening, and more.
What’s more? Cooperative games actually reduced these aggressive behaviors. The researchers concluded that cooperative games in preschool could help in the prevention of adult antisocial behavior.
If you would like to increase pro-social skills and cooperative behaviors in your children, introducing them to cooperative games is one (fun) way to do that.
Cooperative games are inclusive.
Player elimination is common in competitive games, meaning players must stop gameplay upon losing. It’s essentially a “last man standing” mechanic.
However, cooperative games don’t eliminate players. If a player makes a misstep, there are typically mechanisms that allow teammates to save the player and continue progress.
This inclusivity allows players who are younger or less skilled to participate, even if their partner or gaming group isn’t at the same age or skill level.
Cooperative games are fun!
Cooperative games offer challenging missions that engage the entire group. If you enjoy battling monsters, defeating common enemies, or solving tough problems, you can use those skills in co-op board games.
A Brief History of Cooperative Gaming
When most people think of board games, they think of competition. But cooperative games have been around for a while.
One of the earliest popularized games was the at-home adaptation of Beat the Clock, which was a television game show in the mid-twentieth century. It was much like the modern game Minute to Win It.
Over the decades, other manufacturers began to create cooperative games. In 1972, Jim Deacove founded Family Pastimes, a company focused exclusively on creating cooperative games.
Cooperative gaming gained popularity in the 1980s, with the release of cult classics like Arkham Horror and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective.
But it was at the turn of the 21st century that this genre really took off. Reiner Knizia published Lord of the Rings, and Matt Leacock designed the smash hit Pandemic. Since then, wildly popular games like Gloomhaven, Spirit Island, and Hanabi have been published.
What’s an Example of a Cooperative Game?
There are loads of cooperative games on the market. I wish I could cover all of them, but I’ll highlight a few popular board games below.
Playing Time: 60-120 minutes
Minimum Age: 14+
Gloomhaven is a cooperative game of tactical combat in a unique, immersive world. Play as a team as you advance through dungeons, fight monsters, discover treasures, and level up.
The story-driven campaigns require strategy and cooperation, and the scenarios adapt as you continue to play. It has excellent character development and branching storylines.
This board game is heavy, both in terms of complexity and actual weight. The rules are not simple and have a significant learning curve. If you’re new to board games, you might want to start with something lighter.
But if you’re an experienced gamer who’s up to the challenge, Gloomhaven is an epic board game that is sure to provide hours of entertainment.
Want to find more games like Gloomhaven? Check out my article on similar board games.
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Minimum Age: 8+
Pandemic was designed by Matt Leacock and published by Z-Man Games. It’s one of my favorite cooperative games. It’s challenging but easy to learn, appeals to a wide audience, and offers a ton of replay value.
In this board game, players act as an elite group of specialists who are trying to save humanity from outbreaks and pandemics.
Cooperation is key in this game. You must work as a team to contain and eradicate diseases from the world population. Each character has different abilities that can help the team, but you must use strategy to defeat the spreading illness. You win or lose together.
Pandemic is suitable for a wide range of ages and experience levels. There’s little in the way of a learning curve. But it is tough to master. The winning percentage is lower than other similar games. But it’s highly entertaining, and it will keep you coming back for more.
Love this board game? Find more games like Pandemic.
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Minimum Age: 10+
A horrible crime was committed at a mansion called Warwick Manor 30 years ago. Now the mansion is haunted by the ghost of the murdered servant. It’s up to a group of psychic investigators to determine what happened.
Mysterium is fully cooperative, with one person acting as the ghost trying to lead the other players to the answer. The ghost can only communicate through visions, which are depicted by cards.
The others must use the clues they’ve been given, along with their own intuition, to work together and figure out the weapon, location, and killer.
This board game has high replay value. With so many different options for weapons and locations, you can play this game over and over. It supports anywhere from 2-7 players.
Mysterium is a game of interactive storytelling, intriguing mystery, and a lot of fun.
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Minimum Age: 10+
Kids will love this cooperative tower-defense game. Castle Panic is a great introduction to cooperative gaming. To win, you must defend your castle from rampaging orcs, trolls, goblins, and a host of monsters.
Each player receives cards that they must use to beat the monsters charging the castle walls. If the monsters reach the walls, they will begin to destroy them. If your team loses all six towers, the game is over.
Castle Panic has straightforward rules that are easy to understand in a matter of minutes. Your child will be able to play without help after learning the basics.
This game is also highly variable, so you can play it over and over again. With customizable difficulty, four player modes, and random monster draws, you won’t get bored.
Castle Panic is sure to be a hit with kids and adults alike. This would make a great game for your next family game night.
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes
Minimum Age: 7+
Last but not least is Stuffed Fables. This is a narrative-driven game that’s great for game nights with friends or families. It’s full of beautiful artwork and imagination.
Each game of Stuffed Fables is played across the pages of a storybook. Players take on the role of a group of stuffed toys sworn to protect the child that loves them.
In this adventure game, a group of stuffies has been drawn into the Fall, a fantastic realm ruled by the Lord of Nightmares. These stuffies must save the child they love from the evil mastermind.
Players roll a color-coded dice to take a variety of actions. The storybook acts as a rule book, story guide, and game board.
Even though this game is supposed to be for children as young as seven, it does have a lengthy playing time. You’ll want to make sure your child can sit for at least an hour before beginning.
Or you might want to spread play out over multiple sessions, with breaks in between.
But anyone who can sit for an hour and wants to draw upon their sense of childlike wonder would enjoy Stuffed Fables.
What’s Semi-Cooperative Game Play?
A semi-cooperative game is one in which all the players work together, except for one. This player might be a secret traitor or take on the role of the villain. The other players attempt to defeat this player and fulfill their objectives.
Another type of semi-cooperative game is when players must work toward a common goal, but each player has their own secret objective. This type of game starts out cooperative, but can quickly turn cutthroat as gameplay advances.
Semi-cooperative games are geared toward teens and adults. They’re ideal for a group where you have one super-competitive person, or if you have someone who is at a much higher skill level than the other players.
That person can take the role of the enemy or traitor, leaving the other players to cooperate.
Notable examples of semi-cooperative games include Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, Shadows Over Camelot, and Betrayal at House on the Hill.
Who Should Play Co-op Games?
Cooperative games are excellent for students. Teachers can use these games in small groups to promote cooperation and communication skills. Parents can also use co-op games to teach their children cooperative behaviors.
In fact, cooperative games have been shown to promote social skills and increase happiness for students who play them. If you have a child who doesn’t do well with intense competition, cooperative games are perfect for them.
But cooperative board games aren’t just for kids. They’re also great for adults who enjoy working together.
If you have a gaming group, you’ll enjoy defeating common enemies and achieving goals together.
Cooperative Games: Final Thoughts
Cooperative games have a lot of value in terms of entertainment and social learning. Promote your kids’ social skills, or just have fun playing a game with friends. A cooperative board game is a great choice for all ages.