Getting Started with Cooperative Board Games

Let’s talk about cooperative board games—cause you’ve gotta have friends. These are games where the players compete against the game, not the other players seated at the table. It also happens to be one of your uncle Geekly’s family’s favorite gaming types. That could be due to a lineage of sore losers.

They’re sore losers, not me. No, really. They’re terrible. I have no idea what you’re talking about. No, you’re a stupid, doodoo face, and I don’t want to play with you anymore because you cheat. Cheater!

You don’t have to worry about cheaters as much with cooperative board games, and there are plenty of these games out there. The problem is that some of these games aren’t that good and others are too difficult to get into. Don’t worry. Your uncle Geekly will point you in the right direction of some good beginner cooperative board games.

pandemic

Pandemic

I almost didn’t put this one on the list, but I’m sure tabletop game purists would cry foul if I didn’t. You made a list of great starter cooperative games and you didn’t include Pandemic? Shame!

Calm down. It’s on the list.

Players assume the roles of people trying to stop a global pandemic. The diseases behave like you’d think diseases may behave and that makes sense, since the game’s designer Matt Leacock happens to be a medical doctor. Come to think of it, I could use a physical. There’s a growth I’ve been meaning to have examined. I should give him a call.

Anyway. The game scales extremely well, meaning that it plays just as well at two players as it does at five, and there are varying levels of difficulty. You’ll see this in other Leacock games—spoiler alert: one will show up later on this list—and the inclusion of easier difficulties allows players to start small and go for something more challenging later. The theme is also one people can get behind. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen players name the various diseases, even though these diseases are represented by little more than cubes.

The one gripe I may have about Pandemic is that there can be a tendency for an alpha gamer (a player who tells other players what to do) but give them a few kicks to the cubes and they’ll stop. Pandemic is one of the games that put cooperative games on the map, and it’s easy enough to learn for new gamers.

hanabi

Hanabi

Hanabi is the odd game on this list. It’s a simple card game for folks who don’t want a more complicated game, so it’s easily the most streamlined game here. It also encourages non-verbal communication. It’s like Freddie Mercury once said, give me your body.

Well, maybe not, but body language and positioning cards a certain way in your hand does come into play here. Hanabi uses a deck of cards numbered 1 through 5 in various colors or suits. Players must place these cards in order by suit, but the catch is that each player’s hand of cards is facing away from them, and the other players must give their teammates clues as to what’s in their hand.

Hanabi forces players to create their own language as they’re only able to give simple clues like “this is a 5” or “this card is yellow.” It’s up to the player receiving the information to figure out what was intended. While “this card is a 5” usually means don’t discard it, idiot, because there’s only one 5 of each color in the deck, “this card is yellow” could mean that the card in question plays on the communal play pile or if yellow is already finished (as in the 5 has already been played), “these cards are yellow” could mean that you need to discard those cards and get new ones.

No one can say anything besides short clues about cards in other players hands. I’ve never seen a more tense game where little is said.

forbiddendesert

Forbidden Desert

Yep, Forbidden Desert is the other Matt Leacock game. I also could’ve gone with Forbidden Island here, but it’s kind of a Pandemic light. Forbidden Island is worth the play if Pandemic or Forbidden Desert sound too complicated. Did I mention that Matt Leacock is the king of cooperative board games? Well, if he isn’t, he’s close.

Forbidden Desert adds moving location tiles and sand tiles to bring home the theme of a desert and its shifting sands. Players can lose four or five ways but can only win if they find the parts to an ancient, Jules Verne style flying contraption and escape. Anything is better when you add a steam punk.

Players also have variable powers like they do in Pandemic and these powers are based on occupation, and the flying contraption is one of the best implementations of a toy piece in a board game. I don’t know the last time I placed one of the pieces in the flying contraption. I usually have the task of dismantling. Your uncle Geekly’s a little salty about that.

Like Pandemic, Forbidden Desert is clever and finds a way to make the desert its own character. That’s always a strong point for a game. I can’t wait to see what Leacock’s third game in the trilogy Forbidden Sky will bring. It just came out at GenCon 2018.

Final Thoughts

Even if a cooperative game is more complicated than the ones on this list, it’s easy to teach new players because players join forces to beat the game. Players want their teammates to succeed so a cooperative game is a great place to begin for a new gamer, but the games on this list are very assessible. If you don’t think so, I’ll dump a bucket of cold water on Jim.

Know of any other great beginner cooperative games? Let us know in the comments.

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