40 Essential CO-OP Board Games (Best Cooperative tabletop games)
Posted On March 11, 2023
Hey Everyone, in this article we’re looking at 40 essential board games for cooperative play. A few rules before we start: As much as possible, I’ve tried to only include games that are available on retail or on the publisher’s site at the time of publishing. I’ve excluded games that are out-of-print, or kickstarter exclusives. This means there are really great games that you will NOT find in this list. I’ve also removed games that in my opinion play much better solo than with friends. If you’re looking for great SOLO games, I have another article just for that.
I’ve also tried to include a variety of genre, complexity, and gameplay mechanics. As a result I’ve included games that I myself don’t like, but that I DO think belong to a list of “essentials”. This should give you enough variety to play with very different groups of gamers.
Last but not least, this list was also published in video format on YouTube in a series of 4 videos, if that’s more your thing:
Disclaimer: Amazon links on this page are affiliate links. If you purchase through my links, you don’t pay anything extra but I get a small commission. Thanks for your support!
Let’s jump in!
40 – Sub Terra (2017)
Sub Terra is a 1 to 6 players game where you and your friends have to escape from a cave. Each turn is spent revealing the cave around you and survive some of its many dangers, including floods, cave ins, and gas leaks. The game is thematic and exciting.
39 – Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition (2022)
Sentinels of the multiverse is my number 39. OK I know some of you are gonna scream that this one is so far in my ranking, but hear me out: 40 games is not a lot, so ALL the games in this list are good. This is a game where you choose your heroes and collectively fight against a super villain. The game doesn’t rely on any known franchise, but has awesome mechanics, even if I’ll admit I personally prefer its digital version.
Menara is a unique game of stacking and balancing columns as you are building a temple. It’s a very unique and tense game, and if you’ve ever wondered what a cooperative game of Jenga would look like, that’s it right here.
You might also like: You might also like Menara’s expansions, Switch & Signal which is a cooperative game of building train routes, or Men at Work for more dexterity (but that one is not cooperative)
37 – Burgle Bros. (2015)
Burgle Bros is a game where you are a team of robbers trying to pull a heist. The game is very thematic, with each character being a trope of heist movies, and obstacles such as patrolling guards, alarms, or safes to open.
You might also like: People who like Burgle Bros tend to recommend The Search for Planet X, and also of course Burgle Bros 2
36 – The Mind (2018)
The Mind is a bit of a gimmick game but it is sure to impress. You and your team have to play cards in the right order, without any communication. After a few plays it does feel like you’re synchronized at some sort of telepathic level.
You might also like: There aren’t any games really like The Mind out there, but you might want to try Detective Club or Magic Maze for more lightweight cooperative fun.
35 – 5-Minute Dungeon (2017)
5-minute dungeon is a lightweight, fast paced game, where you play as heroes who have to defeat a bunch of random monsters and their boss in a limited time. It plays fast and is a great filler in between more serious games.
You might also like: For more real time cooperative intensity, check out 5-Minute Marvel, Space Alert or FUSE.
34 – Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords (2013)
Pathfinder Card Game might feel a bit too generic around the edges, but it’s still an awesome heroic fantasy campaign game which I would equate to cardboard Diablo. Your characters just get better gear and defeat stronger monsters as you progress through the campaign, which feels awesome. It’s not the most strategic game out there but might work better for your play group than typical dungeon crawlers.
Eldritch Horror is a Lovecraftian cooperative game where you have to fight evil around the globe. The game is fairly difficult and game sessions can last several hours. Reserve it for advanced game groups with a lot of time.
You might also like: I don’t have any recommendation for other games here as I feel Hanabi is pretty unique. Maybe the Mind, but I mentioned it above already.
31 – Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (2016)
Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deck builder with a campaign that spans over the 7 years matching the Harry Potter books. The game uses pictures from the movies which might not be for you, but its a good lightweight legacy game, great for families.
My Number 30 is Castle Panic. The game has several flaws, but it holds a special place in my heart because my son and I have played it a lot. It is a tower defense game and there are not that many of them so I think it deserves its spot on this list, but you’ll want to include the Wizard’s Tower expansion to really spice things up.
Zombicide Black Plague is not the most strategic or balanced series out there, but it is a fun game where you just have to kill Zombies. It’s fun, plays well even with inexperienced gamers, and is such a staple of cooperative board games that I had to include it in this list.
You might also like: There are lots of games you can pick from in the zombicide series, including Marvel Zombies, and you can also look at Massive Darkness, a game with similar mechanics but an added RPG flavor.
28 – Black Orchestra (2016)
Black Orchestra is a game where you and other conspirators attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This is a very thematic game with real historical characters, and a lot of tension were stakes feel high. A very unique game.
Just one is a cooperative party games, and there are not that many of those out there, so it really nicely fills a void. It is a game where you have to collaborate to guess words. Simple and fun, also suitable for families.
Arguably, burncycle doesn’t belong to a list of “essential” cooperative board games, because it is really new, and somewhat niche, but I had to include at least one game by Cheap Theory, and as a fan of Sci-Fi, this is the one I picked. Chip Theory have specialized in great modern cooperative board games, and I feel every collection should have at least one of them.
You might also like: There are only a handful of great cooperative party games, such as Just One which I described above, so this time I have some non cooperative recommendations if you like So clover. Have a look at Detective Club, Picture Perfect, or Cascadia
23 – Return to Dark Tower (2022)
Return to Dark tower is a reboot of an older great game from the 80’s. The game has great table presence with the ominous tower at the center of the board, and it’s a great fantasy adventure cooperative game.
You might also like: For more heroic fantasy, you might want to check Adventure Tactics, Roll Player Adventures, or for more nostalgia, HeroQuest which was recently re-released.
22 – Project: ELITE (2020)
In Project Elite, you are a squad with a mission to stop an alien invasion. This is a combat game, and the twist is that it plays in real time 2 minute rounds. The game is easy to learn, fast paced, and exciting.
Forgotten Waters is a charming game of worker placement and adventure, set in a world quite similar to Pirates of the Caribbean. Each character has a background story and personal objectives they’re trying to fulfill, which adds spice to the game. It appears as just a game of skill checks on the surface, but ends up being tons of fun.
20 – Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (2012)
Legendary remains a staple of cooperative gaming. I hesitated to put it on this list because I know a lot of people prefer it solo, but it plays great with two or three players. It is a deck building game in which your team of super heroes have to defeat a mastermind and their minions. Chaining combos can be super rewarding when you build your deck right.
You might also like: Horrified: American Monsters is of course a great alternative, or look at Back to the Future: Back in Time and Jaws for other cooperative or semi cooperative games based on popular movies.
18 – Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island (2012)
Robinson Crusoe is too punishing for my taste but I could not leave it out of this list. You play as survivors on an island, and have to deal with making a fire, builder shelter, and accomplish an overall objective while fending the many dangers of the island.
Cooperative party games are fairly rare in this list, but Codenames Duet definitely is one of the best out there. It is a two player game of deduction based on one-word clues. You have to collectively reveal all your agents before you run out of time.
Aeon’s End is a boss battler in which you are powerful mages trying to take down a villain and his minions. This is a cooperative deckbuilder with some nice deck management mechanics that require you to plan ahead.
Nemesis is a game where you have to collectively survive in a spaceship infested with aliens. But your teammates might have their own agenda. Although not based on the actual Alien IP, this is as close as it gets.
You might also like: It might be stretch to call Nemesis an Essential game given its fairly high price, but the Alien movie franchise lends itself well to cooperative board games: Fate of the Nostromo, Legendary Encounters or Another Glorious Day in the Corps might work better than Nemesis for your gaming group.
13 – Pandemic (2008)
Well, you knew it was coming, my number 13 is Pandemic. I can’t imagine a Cooperative board game shelf without this game, in which you have to contain and defeat some viruses across the globe.
Descent: Legends of the Dark is a dungeon crawler which is app-driven so that you don’t need a dungeon master. It is in my opinion a bit less elegant, or more traditional than a game such as Gloomhaven, but still a very solid cooperative campaign game.
You might also like: If you like dungeon crawlers or RPGs with long campaigns, have a look at Journeys in the Dark, Middara, or Oathsworn
11 – The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
The Lord of the Rings The card game, is a deeply strategic game of adventure, deck construction, and combat in Middle Earth. Although you will need a lot of expansions to really appreciate the game, the core box is enough to give you a good idea of the content of the game. It’s regularly getting praises from the community, for good reasons. Game sessions can be a bit long and puzzly, but rewarding.
Mysterium is a very original cooperative game of clue. One player is a ghost sending dreams to the other players, who have to figure out the killer and the murder weapon together by interpreting the dreams. It’s very unique, works with all levels of players, and this is why it’s in the top 10 for me.
You might also like: Because the game is very unique, my best recommendations if you like Mysterium are its expansions but you might also like Obscurio.
9 – MicroMacro: Crime City – Full House (2021)
Another pretty unique game, MicroMacro is like Where’s Waldo with some detective flavor. Not only do you have to find characters in a crowd, you also have to reconstruct a criminal story surrounding them. It’s fun and very original, which is why it is my number 9 in this list.
Paleo is a game of crafting and survivle in the stone age. It is similar to Robinson Crusoe, with simpler rules. The game is very thematic in how it handles the choices you make, their rewards, or its seasons mechanic.
You might also like: Beyond the obvious recommendation of Robinson Crusoe, If you like mammoths, check Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers and Kingdomino Origins (those are not cooperative, though)
7 – Spirit Island (2017)
Spirit Island is a cooperative game in which you have to protect your Island against invaders. Spirit Island has great variable player powers and synergies that make it a strategic mix of Area control and card hand management. Rules are a bit hard to digest initially, and you can expect a typical game to last 2 hours. But it definitely belongs here in the top 10 of essential Cooperative games.
The Unlock series are great adventure games that can be played only once, where you have to solve puzzles and progress in a story. It’s a unique take on the escape room mechanism, and you should try at least one of these or of the Exit series with your gaming group.
You might also like: There are plenty of options to choose from, either from the Unlock or the Exit series, pick one with a theme that works for you!
5 – Arkham Horror: The Card Game (Revised Edition) (2021)
Arkham Horror is another great living card game by fantasy flight. I don’t necessarily appreciate the endless push for new content, but I have to be fair and admit that this is a great game. It has the deck construction mechanics typical of the Fantasy Flight Living card games, with a very solid lovecraftian theme, multi scenario campaigns that are extremely immersive, and strategic gameplay. It can sometimes be punishing but that’s how it is. Definitely one of the best cooperative board games of all time.
The Crew, Mission Deep Sea is a cooperative trick taking game. It is a one of a kind game where you have to work together to find a lost continent. The game comes with multiple missions that create an overall story, which contributes to make the game truly unique. The game works for all play groups and is a guaranteed success.
Definitely a heavier game in this list, Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion is a must have for your cooperative collection. This is a tactical RPG disguised as a dungeon crawler, one of the most elegant games I’ve ever played, thanks to its clever card system, where cards simultaneously represent your attacks, your movement, your initiative, and your health.
You might also like: I put Jaws of the Lion in here, but of course its older brother Gloomhaven is an equally good choice, as well as Frosthaven. You might alo want to try Destinies.
2 – Marvel Champions: The Card Game (2019)
Yes, another card game by Fantasy Flight. I know. But they’re so good! Marvel champions is a cooperative card game, in which you have to fight a villain as Marvel super Heroes. The gameplay is very thematic and fun. Marvel Champions is slightly easier than Arkham Horror and The Lord of the Rings we mentioned before, and has a more lighthearted theme, so depending on your mood this might be the right choice for you. It is my number two and has quickly become a staple of cooperative board games.
And my number one Cooperative board game is: Pandemic Legacy. This is a once in a lifetime experience, in particular if you’ve never played legacy board games before. The game starts as a regular pandemic game, but then…stuff happens, and you’ll spend the rest of the campaign on the edge of your seat.