Best Co-operative Games

There is no “I” in “team”. But there are two in “competitive”, and also the word “me”. Which is also in the “team”, I suppose. Point being, I like to win. I don’t mind losing, as long as I know in my soul I’ve played very well. But if I can win, I will do so at all costs.

It is for this reason that I have yet to play games with my girlfriend’s family, in spite of our being together for nearly two years. Currently, they like me. I don’t want to run the risk of ruining that by revealing to them my authentic self. The closest I came was a game of Snakes and Ladders with her four year old niece, and the only reason that worked is because she is inarguably worse than me. When she found herself tumbling down a particularly long snake, she said “In this round, snakes can go up as well for me.” I knew in that moment I had met my match.

As fun as it can be to single-handedly crush your loved ones, it doesn’t always foster connection between people. The antidote to this? Games where you can work AS a team to complete an objective!! So we all win!! Phew!!

Co-operative games can take many forms. Light and silly party games can help new groups of friends get to know each other, making them perfect for a Freshers Week at Uni or the introduction of a new flatmate. Meanwhile, heavy and involved legacy games with many moving parts that require a more time intensive approach can bring established groups closer together.

Either way, they make for a great addition to anybody’s Kallax, a perfect ice breaker or alternative to the usual “Dan wins again” fare. So here’s a few suggestions of titles you might want to add to your TBP list. (To be played. Is that a thing already? It should be. Well, it is now, because I say so. Told you, competitive.)

Pandemic (and Pandemic: Legacy)

Absolutely had to include this here, even though it might feel like a fairly obvious choice at this stage.

First of all, a game that reinforced the brilliance that a co-operative game can be. Faced with stemming the tide of a global health emergency, players travel the world using their individual skills to build research centres, treat infected and search for a cure. So the team has to find a winning strategy that plays into their individual strengths.

And then elsewhere, the Legacy implementations of the game bring the general concept of the game and give it a narrative arc that spans between 12 and 24 sessions, allowing for major time and emotional investment.
Both versions of the game have been credited with injecting – pun intended – new life into their respective genres, so we would be remiss not to shine a light on them in the name of beginning a collection.

Exit: The Game

While the Escape Room might have been edged out lately by the swift and alarming rise in axe-throwing as a group building exercise that for some reason people feel should take place in a location with a licensed bar, it’s still top of my list for things to do.

The Exit series of games are fantastic selection of titles that recreate the very things that make escape rooms and murder mystery novels so thrilling – puzzle solving, logic and deduction skills in full force.

With a selection of options, from steam trains to laboratories and even enchanted forests, the games come in little boxes at a price of around £15 and provide a lovely bit of that escape room energy without having to leave your flat.

The puzzles and art themselves are brilliantly conceived, with a massive amount of variety across the games meaning you won’t find yourselves using the same old tricks. Some spot the difference, some note taking, and even cutting up the manuals inside. While this means the games often are single-play, they more than make up for that in the quality of what happens during that play.

Daybreak

If playing Pandemic after the past few years isn’t enough for you, and you need even more of a real-world on-the-nose threat to keep you entertained, then might I introduce you to some climate anxiety?!

Daybreak tasks its players with working together to rid the world of carbon in an attempt to stem the rising tides of climate change, quite literally. And while it’s designed by Pandemic creator Matt Leacock, and shares the same social justice angle, it differs in the gameplay and mechanics!

Each player controls a world power – thrilling – and uses their turn to deploy technologies and policies intended to tackle the global carbon levels. Your goal as a collective is to bring the world’s carbon down to net zero. Make the wrong choices and the global temperature will rise while your superpowers fall into crisis, sad face all round. But work smartly and cohesively together, and you’ll save the planet! Hurrah!

I’m quite pleased by the money-where-your-mouth-is approach to the game’s production, with the box filled with entirely renewable components and no plastic whatsoever. Good message, good choices, good game.

 

The Mind

This one is so, so simple, but tremendously entertaining and infuriating in equal measure.

Taking its cue from the classic numbers party game you almost certainly played in high school drama lessons, there’s a deck of cards numbered 1-100. Your goal is to collectively place the cards in your hand down in ascending order. The catch is that, as you go up a level, you’ll have more cards in your hand. So where you start the game with just one card each, as you successfully complete a round you’ll soon find yourself questioning just how confident you are that yours is the next sequential card.

It’s the simplicity here that really makes the game sing for me. Whether you’re a group who know each other inside out, or nervous new friends trying to game each other out, there’s collective joy and collective disappointment aplenty. And while you absolutely want to win, the stakes are so low that you’ll just find yourself giggling, looking around at each other and going “…one more?!” Which is truly the dream.

Dead of Winter

I have a MASSIVE soft spot for Dead of Winter because it was one of the first “proper board games” that entered regular rotation in my life. That’s why I’ll ask you to hold any “Um, actually” thoughts about its inclusion to the end.

You play as folk trapped in a weakened colony of survivors caught up in a zombie outbreak. You’ll have to use your wits and skills to brave the elements – and potential zombie attacks – to gather fuel and supplies to last through what is essentially a siege by the undead.

Speaking to the “bringing people together” aspect I’ve been writing about here, I have so many fond memories of playing the game in my flat, late into the evening. Often we’d have found ourselves having so much fun that we’d finish a game, check the clock and look around at each other before saying “…shall we have a sleepover??” and then carrying on into the small hours.

You get to know the characters playable in the game, such that you end up having favourites, and the artwork involved is so brilliant that the game becomes incredibly immersive.

The only caveat I’ll include here is that, with each player having a secret objective, some of those objectives go against the “co-op” element of the game. But given that you’re sort of collectively on the lookout for people who might be secretly trying to sabotage the main group objective, I’ll let it slide. Just a brilliant, brilliant game.

If you want to pick up any of these games, check if they’re in stock at Zatu. Buying them there supports No Rolls Barred via our affiliate partnership. Read more here.