Cooperative boardgames, as the name suggests, are games that emphasise players working together towards a common goal rather than in competition with each other. Although they’ve been around for a while, it’s only since the early 2000s that cooperative games have increased in popularity.
Cooperative games can be broken down into two broad categories: fully cooperative games, and semi-cooperative games. In fully cooperative games the goal is to beat the game itself, and players often take on specific roles in the game where the right mix of skills will help achieve victory. In many cooperative games players are also working against the clock, where winning or losing rests on collecting enough tokens or scoring enough points in a given number of rounds. Semi-cooperative games feature many of these elements, but may still include a level of competition between players, or a phase in the game where players are at cross purposes to each other.
If you like playing in a team or gain satisfaction from solving complicated puzzles, cooperative games might be for you. Fans of cooperative games also enjoy the social play aspect that these games foster.
Of course many people play games exactly because they enjoy friendly competition. As everyone knows, it’s always fun to win against your friends! If you are a highly competitive person, cooperative games may not appeal to you. But don’t be fooled. Just because a game is cooperative doesn’t mean it’s easy. Many cooperative games feature fiendishly difficult game systems that require much skill, dedication and multiple plays to defeat.
Cooperative games are still on the rise in the world of boardgames. From desert islands to haunted houses to global epidemics, cooperative games put players in a huge variety of exciting situations. Who knows where they will take us next? Here’s a few of the better known cooperative games to get you started.
Fully Cooperative Games
Elder Sign (2011)
Based on the horror stories of American pulp writer H.P. Lovecraft, in Elder Sign players must find enough magically powerful Elder Sign tokens hidden inside Arkham Museum to prevent one of the Great Old Ones – alien beings of great power and evil – from breaking through into our universe. Although set-up can take a while and players need to keep track of a fairly complicated game system, once it’s up and running Elder Sign is a fast-moving and exciting game of chance and tactical decision-making.
This is probably the most popular and best-known cooperative game in the world at the moment. In Pandemic, players must attempt to stop outbreaks of four highly contagious diseases from going global. Players choose characters with specific skill sets based on the types of experts that would combat such an epidemic in real life, including Scientist, Operations Manager and Quarantines Specialist. The game has been praised for its realism and attention to detail, and has been studied as a non-computer based model of distributive computational thinking. Pandemic has also spawned a number of expansion packs and spin off games.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island (2012)
Created by Polish games designer Ignacy Trzewiczek, Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island has gained a reputation as a gamer’s game. Shipwrecked on a desert island, players must work together to survive by finding food and water and building shelter. However, as they explore their new home they realise they may not be alone, and that the island is harbouring a deadly secret. With multiple scenarios and playing times often going over 3 hours, Robinson Crusoe is an immersive game experience but one that is probably not best suited for casual players or novices.
Arkham Horror (1987)
Arkham Horror was one of the earliest cooperative games to find widespread popularity. First released in 1987, it was designed by games fan Richard Launius, who set out to make a boardgame based on the classic Lovecraftian role-playing game, Call of Cthulhu. Retaining the cooperative gameplay of the original roleplaying game, in Arkham Horror players work together to investigate supernatural occurrences in the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts. Famed for its complexity and long playing time, the similarities with Elder Sign are not coincidental. After Fantasy Flight Games gained the rights to Arkham Horror in 2004, Elder Sign was developed as a faster-moving, more streamlined version of this game.
Betrayal at House on the Hill (2005)
Betrayal at House on the Hill starts off as a cooperative game with players exploring a haunted house one room at a time, uncovering terrible sights and encountering supernatural presences. However, with each room explored they edge ever close to uncovering a terrible secret – one of their number is a traitor, with plans to lure the others to their doom. Once the traitor is revealed the game takes on a very different feel as the surviving explorers battle to the death against the traitor and their minions. A fun game to play in groups of 3-5, though the spooky themes mean Betrayal at House on the Hill may not be a suitable game for families.
Letters from Whitechapel (2009)
A game of strategy and bluff, in Letters from Whitechapel one player has the dubious honour of playing notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper, while the other players must work together as the London police to stop Jack before he commits his grisly murders. Letters from Whitechapel is a fan favourite for its suspenseful play and meticulously designed components, including a large game board depicting London’s East End in historic detail.
Shadows Over Camelot (2005)
In Shadows Over Camelot, players work together as the Knights of the Round Table to protect Camelot from its enemies by completing quests such as defeating the Black Knight or finding the Holy Grail. But players must also choose one out of three evil actions per turn, thus endangering themselves and the entire realm. Even worse, one of the Knights may in fact be a secret traitor, waiting for the right moment to strike against King Arthur …
Descent: Journey into the Dark (2005)
Descent: Journeys in the Dark plays a bit like an old fashioned “dungeon crawl” from classic role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, except that the role of the impartial “dungeon master” is now taken by an evil Overlord. The other players choose characters with different skills and strengths to explore the Overlord’s dungeon and attempt to seize its treasure, while the Overlord’s objective is simply to stop the adventurers at all costs and by any means necessary.