Competition is one of the biggest barriers to getting games to the table, so the best coop board games can get plenty of table time for team play. Not everyone enjoys the struggle for supremacy and, if there are kids involved, a cooperative board game can save tears and tantrums if the group wins and loses together. This guide profiles the cream of the cooperative crop in 2023.
Making for some of the very best board games, the cooperative game format makes it easier to teach rules, as there’s no fear of someone being at a disadvantage because they didn’t understand something. With so much to enjoy it’s no wonder team board games dominate our lists of the best family board games and couples board games.
The best coop board games in 2023 are:
- The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
- Alien: Fate of the Nostromo
- Pandemic Legacy Season 1
- Spirit Island
- Mechs vs Minions
- Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
The Crew rests on a very simple, very clever idea: take the age-old, familiar concept of a trick-taking card game and make it cooperative. Players need to fulfil certain goals, like having a particular player win a particular card in a trick, but they’re only allowed to reveal limited information about their hands.
With an imaginative array of different goals and missions to fulfil that start out simple but ramp up to demanding challenges, The Crew is among the best card games, simple enough for family play and tough enough for veterans.
Not all cooperative games have to be about playing nice. Nemesis is perhaps the ultimate example, an Aliens-inspired survival horror game where each player must both survive and fulfil a secret goal in order to win.
In theory, all the players can emerge victorious, but not all the goals involve helping your fellow players, and some require you to be actively hostile, making this a dream scenario. So, while you’ll need to work together to take down the vicious extraterrestrial predators stalking you and activate the ship’s escape systems, you’ll have to balance that with trying to keep yourself alive and advance your mission to become one of the lucky few.
Alien: Fate of the Nostromo
If the long and complex Nemesis proves too daunting for your group, you can get your Xenomorph fix from the much more approachable Alien: Fate of the Nostromo. Well, as approachable as a face-eating creature from outer space gets, at least.
Playing as members of the crew, you’ll need to scavenge items from the belly of the Nostromo while also gathering scrap to craft new ones like motion trackers and incinerators, trying to fulfil randomly drawn objectives. But beware, as the alien is stalking you through the ship. As well as moving the figure inexorably towards your squishy human characters, it also lays ambush tokens which you can trip serially as you run from the monster, creating cinematic chase sequences.
Check out our Alien Fate of the Nostromo review for the full lowdown.
Often cited as the best game of all time, Gloomhaven‘s epic dungeon crawler campaign has players working together, controlling different characters in a branching narrative. Mechanically, its big novelty is the combination of multi-use action cards that also play a role in turn order and health, giving you lots of meaty decisions to chew over.
Co-operatively, its big novelty is that while players share a win, they find and keep loot individually, meaning everyone is torn between their group goal and empowering their own characters. That gives working together a delicious tension for your group to navigate alongside the brilliance of the card-driven tactical combat and slowly unfolding narrative.
If you don’t have the time or money for the huge big-box edition, consider the excellent, lighter-weight prequel, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, instead.
Pandemic Legacy Season 1
Another game frequently talked about as the best-ever, Pandemic Legacy is also an offshoot of Matt Leacock’s original Pandemic, which kickstarted the modern craze for cooperative games. In both titles, you’re a team of scientists working together to eliminate deadly diseases sweeping the world, a topic that may be a little close to the bone nowadays.
If you can overcome that, the Legacy version adds an ongoing campaign to the clever disease outbreak mechanic of the original – which means not only a thrilling story but physical changes to the game as you play. By the end, your copy will be unique, and personal to your group.
Based on the classic Universal monster films of the 30s and 40s, Horrified won’t be horrifying you any time soon. It is, instead, a great family board game that has you pool resources to protect villagers and hunt down the items needed to banish the monsters for good.
There are six villains included, each with its own special win conditions. They range in complexity from Dracula, where you must smash his coffins before confronting the count, to The Mummy, which requires you to solve a sliding scarab puzzle to weaken him.
This scale of difficulty, together with a choice of how many monsters to confront at once, means the game works as well for seasoned strategy board game fans as it does for rainy weekends with the kids.
In a melange of missions and monster hunting, Spirit Island stands out with its theme of resisting colonial incursions on a pristine island. You and your group take the role of powerful nature spirits who must help the native inhabitants of the island defeat an incoming wave of colonising invaders, intent on subjugating the populace and stripping the land of resources.
This involves choosing power cards from your hand – which must be paid for with energy – and looking for combinations in both their effects and elemental affinities to reduce the costs. Some powers take effect right away, while others play out in the future, forcing you to plan ahead. There’s a lot to learn, but the complexity stops the game from getting stale or from experienced players bossing the others around.
Mechs vs Minions
You may not know it, but Riot Games didn’t just create top battle arena video game League of Legends, it also created Mechs vs Minions, a top cooperative spin-off version for the tabletop. It’s ridiculously overproduced, from the dozens of ink-washed minion miniatures to the metal coins and glittering crystals – but it’s also great fun to play.
Through a series of scenarios, you and your fellow mech pilots must pre-program your moves from a hand of cards, then watch as they play out against an ever-increasing horde of minions following AI routines. It’s an engaging mix of strategy and hilarity as you try your best to plan ahead, then sometimes watch it all come crashing down, your mistakes or minion moves compounding an early error and snowballing into total chaos.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
At first glance, Robinson Crusoe resembles the typical cooperative game format of hunting for resources to complete objectives – in this case, things like food and shelter – before a timer runs out. What makes it special is the brilliant event system, in which some cards are shuffled back into the deck to represent future consequences. A head injury, for example, might reappear later as pernicious recurring headaches.
Together with the threat track, it gives you a real sense of foreshadowing as well as letting you try and prepare or take risks to advance your goals faster. A triumph of both strategy and storytelling, it’s one game you’d love to be stranded on a desert island with.