The best cooperative board games are perfect if you're put off by competitiveness and general hoo-hah around the table. Offering unique challenges that can only be solved together, co-op board games emphasise teamwork rather than a desperate scramble to victory. As it turns out, games night is so much more chill when players aren't trying to screw each other over. Who knew?
The trouble is, there's no shortage of choice. To give you a head-start in finding the best cooperative board games, we've rounded up some favorites right here. You'll find suggestions to suit all age-groups and skill-levels below.
Because the best co-op board games can be expensive, our bargain-hunting software has also been on the lookout for all the discounts it can find. These are updated on a regular basis, so you can be guaranteed the lowest current price.
Best cooperative board games - top 10
If you want the ultimate co-op experience, this is where you should start. Although the theme hits closer to home these days, Pandemic remains one of the best cooperative board games ever made. Defeat is always a possibility here, and victory hinges on your ability to communicate well.
With four deadly diseases having broken out across the globe, your job is to cure and eradicate them before civilization becomes overwhelmed. Unfortunately for us, those illnesses spread faster than you can say "hazmat suit." They also grow more dangerous with each passing turn, so the Pandemic board game quickly turns into a race against time in which every decision counts.
Luckily, the result is a blast from start to finish. With a focus on strategy and coordination, it epitomises good teamwork - you win or lose together. And OK, it's difficult. Yet Pandemic is also engrossing in a way few other co-op board games manage to be. It keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times, leaving us with an excellent group activity or one of the top board games for 2 players.
If you want to make sure everyone stays on the edge of their seat, throw some traitors into the mix. Unfathomable does this to great effect, and the result is good. Monstrously good, you could say.
To be honest, it's also a small miracle. It's a sad fact of life that some board games go out of print, and that's what happened to an excellent Battlestar Galactica tie-in from the 2000s (it's now impossible to find). Luckily, the idea has been given another chance with this spiritual successor. Although it's set in the Arkham Horror universe, Unfathomable keeps hold of the same fantastic gameplay that made Battlestar so awesome.
Basically, most of you are humans trying to steer your passenger ship to safety whilst fending off Deep Ones. The rest of you are 'hybrids' bent on sabotaging the ship in secret. This means that you can't trust anyone. And because teamwork is your only hope of winning, it's a fun Catch 22 to wrestle with.
Playing Horrified is like stepping into a pair of comfy old slippers; it practically creaks under the weight of icons such as Dracula and the Mummy. But that doesn't mean it rests on its laurels. Instead, Horrified backs up the nostalgia with great ideas to keep you coming back for more. In short? It's one of the best cooperative board games on shelves right now and a sound choice if you're hunting down Halloween board games.
Every session sees old-school boogeymen descending on a village with carnage on their mind, and you're the only thing standing in their way. To stop this rampage, you'll have to destroy the monsters before they can feed on any locals. However, that's easier said than done. Each villain has a weakness, and there's a specific strategy to exploiting them (you'll need to destroy all of Dracula's coffins before staking him in the heart, for instance). How do you manage this without leaving innocent people undefended?
The ensuing chaos is memorable. More specifically, Horrified's biggest strength is its love of the 'trolley problem' - a situation where there isn't necessarily a right choice. For example, Dracula might be swooping in to feast on one unlucky villager. At the same time, a Creature from the Black Lagoon has cornered yet more civilians. Because you've only got time to save one, someone's going to die. What do you do? It's a juggling act that gives this co-op board game an edge.
If you fancy yourself as an armchair detective, Mysterium is the stuff of dreams. It's a classic whodunnit in the best possible way, yet there's one key difference - the murder victim is helping you solve their own death.
More specifically, someone plays as a ghost. And not the chatty kind, either. They can only communicate via 'vision' cards, so everyone else must make sense of them in order to track down the killer. And seeing as those cards are deliberately vague when taken out of context, what follows is an engrossing puzzle that'll keep you more than a little busy.
You can't mull the problem over for long, though. Mysterium has a time-limit, after which the ghost fades to nothingness and all hope of justice is lost. This adds pressure to your investigation, and solid teamwork is the only solution. It's a setup which seizes you by the collar and refuses to let go, putting Mysterium amongst the best cooperative board games around.
Roleplaying games are the last word in escapism, but they often bring players back to earth thanks to complicated rules that require a lot of thought. This is where Descent: Legends of the Dark knocks it out of the park. Thanks to a clever companion app that sorts out number-crunching behind the scenes, it leaves you to enjoy the game instead of becoming snarled up in equations that decide whether your attack hits or not.
Here's another way of looking at it; the app acts as a virtual Dungeon Master. Even though it won't replace a good DM running the best tabletop RPGs, it offers a much-needed sense of mystery by dictating enemy placement and deciding what comes next in your story. Descent also provides beautifully illustrated cutscenes with dialogue options that help you define who your characters are beyond their martial abilities. Because these actions have consequences throughout the campaign, Descent often feels more like a video game than anything else.
Fast-paced combat doesn't hurt, of course. Powered by item cards and a fatigue mechanic that sees you juggling abilities, it's breezy without losing depth - particularly due to the fact that it takes place on 3D cardboard terrain with 40 absurdly detailed miniatures.
It's a well-known fact that Star Trek redshirts are doomed, but they're your only chance of survival in The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet. As the franchise's third instalment, it builds on the formula in clever, compelling ways. But don't think you need to have played its predecessors (The Captain is Dead and The Captain is Dead: Lockdown) to enjoy yourself. Thanks to push-your-luck mechanics and a generous amount of depth, this is one of the best cooperative board games from the last few years.
As the name would suggest, the commander of your away-mission has been killed in action (boo). Now you've got to complete their quest and gather alien artefacts before you're overwhelmed by the planet's bug-like inhabitants (yay?). Sadly, those artefacts are hidden deep in bug-infested tunnels (double boo). Want to collect 'em all? You'll need to venture further into enemy territory. In essence, getting out alive requires top-notch tactics.
That's because Dangerous Planet has lots in common with many of the best co-op board games. To begin with, it features a randomised board like the Betrayal franchise. It also becomes increasingly difficult over time, a la Pandemic. Accordingly, making it over the finish-line is a real test of skill that tabletop veterans will adore.
Despite being almost 40 years old, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective still holds its own as a great co-op board game for adults. It's intriguing, engaging, and deeply challenging - perfect for amateur sleuths, in other words.
Casting you as one of the Baker Street Irregulars (a merry group that informs Holmes of everything happening in London), you've got to bust numerous cases wide open before Sherlock himself figures them out. Naturally, this isn't a walk in the park. Seeing as those mysteries feature everything from mummy curses to a murder on the Thames, you'll have to expect the unexpected as well.
The addition of a time-limit keeps players on their toes, and it results in a fantastically collaborative atmosphere as you and your partners rifle through reams of props, clues, and case files that contain the answers you seek. These are tremendously immersive, too - they really suck you into the story.
Biff Tannen is the worst. After stealing Back to the Future's time-traveling DeLorean, he's scattered various items across time and space in the most outrageous case of littering ever. And if we don't put them back where they belong, history is doomed. Cue the music and a lighthearted cooperative board game adventure to save the universe.
As you'd expect, Back to the Future: Dice Through Time draws inspiration from the entire film trilogy. It doesn't waste an iota of that material, either. For starters, the board is split into four eras - 1885, 1955, 1985, and 2015 - that the players must navigate to retrieve every item Biff has stolen. They also have to clear beloved events from the movies (including Marty's skateboard chase around the town square) while watching out for paradoxes that'll end the game if they're not managed. Oh, and two players landing in the same space will have dire consequences thanks to the rule that you should never, ever meet your past or future self. Sound familiar? That's because this is an unabashed love-letter to the franchise.
It's not the really fun bit, though. That honor goes to dice rolls which allow you to jump between time-streams, not to mention a rule where you can 'ripple' dice through time. This allows you to leave dice for another player to use in a different era. Hinging mechanics on such abstract ideas from the trilogy is clever, and it demonstrates how much more there is under the hood than Easter eggs.
In the Jaws board game, you're a monster. A "perfect engine and eating machine", actually. But that's fine by us. Why? Because it knows exactly what makes the 1975 movie special.
In this adaptation, one side plays the hungry great white. Everyone else takes on the film's main characters. You'll then duke it out across two rounds, and it's brutal. The first half takes place across Amity Island with a game of cat and mouse (the shark has to eat as many beach-goers as possible without getting caught, while the land-lubbers must figure out where it'll surface next). The second brings us aboard the good ship Orca for a duel to the death between man and beast.
As such, Jaws is the most accurate - and smartest - adaptation we've played. Besides the first phase being laced with tension that nails the film's atmosphere, it directly impacts the next round. Chow down on lots of innocents as the shark and you'll get bonuses during the final battle. If the humans won round one, on the other hand, they'll get a greater variety of weapons to bludgeon their foe with. This culminates in an anxiety-ridden experience, and Jaws is all the better for it - the shark offers a tangible threat you rarely get in tabletop gaming.
Anyone that loves spooky season will be right at home with Hocus Pocus: The Game. Based on the 1993 Disney movie, it challenges players to banish all three Sanderson sisters by the end of All Hallow's Eve. What follows is a race to concoct your own witch-beating potion, and it's enough of a challenge to deserve its place on any list of the best cooperative board games.
Despite a cute art style, this one doesn't fall under the 'board games for kids' category either. Instead, it upends everything we take for granted about co-op board games - to be precise, you can't communicate with your team. Potions are created by filling your cauldron with ingredient cards of the same color or type, so not talking makes things harder than you'd expect. You can't even show other players which cards you've got in your hand, so it's all too easy for someone to accidentally undo your work.
What follows is a fun perception test, and it's so much more engaging thanks to this twist. It's more satisfying when you eventually win, too; unlike some cooperative board games, there's a tangible sense of achievement when you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. While the journey to that point can be brutal, it never feels unfair.
Cooperative board games - best of the rest
Gloomhaven is the perfect example of a world you can lose yourself in. Actually, its box is like the wardrobe to Narnia; the damn thing is full-to-bursting with tokens and over 1,000 cards. Because your actions in one session carry over to the next, you're also staring down the barrel of an ever-evolving plot with branching possibilities. In a nutshell? It's one of the best cooperative board games for those who love Dungeons and Dragons books.
Taking place in and around the city of Gloomhaven, its adventures will see you tackling contracts and slaying monsters in pursuit of treasure. But you won't use dice to represent those battles. Rather, this game offers a card-based system that's less reliant on chance. The words 'elegant' and 'streamlined' come to mind.
It's a similar story with the narrative. This fantasy tale offers choice and consequence in equal measure, and that's just the start. Indeed, the game is crammed with details that catapult it above and beyond the norm. For example, every set includes secret, unlockable characters and a fold-out map with achievement stickers to chart your journey. How many other co-op board games do that? It's magic, plain and simple.
Board games normally challenge you with conquering territory, but Spirit Island flips that trope on its head. Instead, it asks you to defend those lands from settlers.
Putting you in control of nature spirits that must protect their home from invaders, it's a unique idea reminiscent of god simulator video games like From Dust. These spirits have to pool their resources in order to fight off interlopers, and the land will suffer if you don't oust them fast enough - after entrenching themselves with cities, these settlers will harvest the landscape around them and spread a blight.
The trick to booting them off your island lies in optimising each turn's actions. In addition, combining your spirit's unique abilities with power cards can offer bonuses that may turn the tide. Although this is a lot to think about, the effort is worth your while.
Your goal in Codenames is like a scene from Mission Impossible, minus the gadgets; you must uncover secret agents without collateral damage or incurring the wrath of deadly assassins. It’s a cool concept with a brisk pace to match, and that makes Codenames Duet the perfect co-op board game for those who don’t have much time on their hands.
This version plays out in much the same way as classic Codenames, and that's no bad thing - it was already one of the better board games for families. However, Duet breaks the mold by having you work with other players to reveal all 15 agents on the table. There's no rivalry here, and that's a pleasant change of pace.
In addition, working as a team doesn't lower the difficulty. This is a word game about being clever, efficient, and developing a bond with another person. You’ll need to figure out how they think, how they guess, and how they build relationships with others, so it won't be a breeze if you're playing with a full group of four.
Hanabi throws standard rules out the window; rather than keeping your hand a secret, everyone can see it but you. And the trouble is, they aren't allowed to say what you have. It's one of the most unusual co-op board games out there.
Players take on the role of a firework master who’s messed up their display, and the aim is to reassemble rockets by ordering sets of numbered cards from one to five. Not knowing what you’ve got makes this tricky, obviously, and that’s where Knowledge tokens come in. These tokens are used to reveal something about another player’s hand (e.g. “you have three ones” or "two blues"), but there are only a finite number of them available. This means you've got to try and remember what everyone else has said about your hand, compare it to the cards your teammates are holding, and see if you can figure out what you've got based on all that info. It's a bracing mental workout.
There aren't more than two of most cards either, so any wrong move could spell disaster - get it wrong and it's game over. Hanabi becomes a dangerous balancing act of memory and educated guesswork because of this, putting it alongside the best cooperative board games if you want something different.
Bad news, everyone - it's the end of the world. Cultists have opened a doorway to an alien hellscape, and now transdimensional gods like Cthulhu are about to pour through. Our only chance of stopping them is closing that portal before it's too late. So yeah, sh*t just got real.
Based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Arkham Horror: Final Hour stands apart from other games in the series because the worst has finally happened: the apocalypse has arrived. This raises the stakes considerably, leading to a desperate Hail Mary that's both memorable and thrilling.
Although it's similar to other cooperative board games on this list, Final Hour's gameplay is arguably more creative. Namely, the ritual allowing Elder Gods into our dimension is powered by two of ten possible symbols. The only way to find out what they are is through a process of elimination, hampered by waves of demons that would quite like to eat you. In addition, you can't discuss your strategy ahead of time; you must communicate via 'priority' numbers that players put down one by one. It's a subtle system which ratchets up the pressure.
Co-op board games - FAQ
What is the best co-op board game?
Thanks to its accessibility and focus on coordination, Pandemic (which you can get for roughly $45 at Amazon) is our go-to suggestion when it comes to co-op board games. Besides having incredibly moreish gameplay that'll keep you coming back, it forces you to communicate with your teammates - there's no way of going it alone here, meaning your team has to divide and conquer in order to win.
However, this is obviously subjective - the answer really depends on the kind of experience you're looking for. Want a good party game that lots of people can get involved in? Quiz game Articulate (retailing at around $27 at Amazon) is perfect thanks to straightforward rules and the ability to play with 20 or more people. Would you prefer something more thoughtful for a quiet evening in, on the other hand? It's worth considering Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (available for approximately $58 at Amazon). You can really get your teeth into its mysterious cases, and it's a bit like a tabletop escape room.
What makes a good cooperative board game?
In our opinion, the best cooperative board games don't just revolve around teamwork; they wouldn't work without it. In fact, their core mechanics should be built upon strategies that encourage communication and force players to work as a unit. Pandemic (which can be found for $45-ish at Amazon) is the perfect example - even though you can go solo, it's impossible to win without prioritising threats as a group.
Where will I find co-op board game deals?
Co-op board games can be expensive, but it is possible to find good discounts if you know where to look. You can see our top picks based on region below, or head to our dedicated page of board game deals for individual offers we think are worth your time.
- Amazon: Usually best for board game discounts and variety overall
- Best Buy: Offers surprisingly eclectic deals, including niche hobby games
- Walmart: Excellent for board games aimed at kids or families
- Target: Offers variety and occasional price cuts for hobby games
- Amazon: Traditionally the most reliable for variety and price-cuts
- Very: Solid (if modest) discounts on a wide range of games
- Wayland Games: Great for niche titles and wargames
- John Lewis: Good for classic family board games
If you're preparing for a get-together, don't miss our guide to the very best party board games. Want something a little more traditional, on the other hand? Have a browse through these classic board games.