Holiday Board Game Gift Guide: 5 Great Cooperative Games

andrewasm chatCooperative games can be, ironically, polarizing.  There are some gamers who simply don’t enjoy them – either because they don’t allow for fun competition between players or because of the dreaded ‘Alpha/Quarterback’ player issue, where someone’s idea of ‘fun’ is to tell everyone what they ‘must’ do on their turn.

jessasm chatJess:  We just call those folks ‘Jerks’

andrewasm chatAndrew:  Actually, we don’t even bother calling those folks at all.

However, for plenty of us, a good cooperative game can be amazing; you and your team, stacked up against the arrayed powers of the dreaded Board, trying to win despite the game’s often unbalanced difficulty – so exciting!  We love co-op games around here (except for Josh, we recently learned), so we compiled a list of 5 really solid games that you might want to get for someone with a group of gamers who play well together!


Pandemic

  • Publisher: Z-Man Games
  • # of Players:  1-4 (5 with expansions)

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This one is obvious, given the roaring success of last year’s Pandemic Legacy, but basically every flavor of Pandemic is worth checking out.  The quick top-down summary is that there are 4 simultaneous disease outbreaks all over the world and players must work together to contain and cure these illnesses before global resources get exhausted or the sicknesses spread too far and destroy the global population.  Its dark subject matter is tempered by glossy, abstract component design, and the tension of each round only ramps up over time.

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People with no experience with Pandemic can’t go wrong with the base game, but each expansion adds a little something unique.  Pandemic: The Cure is a dice-driven variant and plays a little faster (we love it), but for folks who know and love Pandemic, you simply must experience the tremendous, sublime experience that is Pandemic: Legacy.


Ghost Stories

  • Publisher: Asmodee
  • # of Players:  1-4 (5 with expansions)

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This one’s a doozie.  1-4 players will take on the roles of Taoist priests who are defending a village from waves of oncoming ghosts.  The goal of the game is for the players to protect the village long enough to burn through the phantasmal army until they reveal the final ghost, an incarnation of the dreaded Wu-Feng, and only by banishing that demonic spirit will the players win.  Each of the 4 priests is unique and combat is quite simple – handled through specially-colored dice (and mitigated through the use of tokens) – and each village tile provides a unique action, all of which can be strategically useful in the village’s defense.

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Be warned, though – like many co-ops, Ghost Stories has teeth and it won’t hesitate to unceremoniously end your struggles all at once.  But if you enjoy a bit of an uphil battle and plenty of tense dice rolling, not only is Ghost Stories a game for your group, but it also has a couple of expansions – one of which (Black Secret) actually adds a 5th player…in the form of Wu-Feng himself…


Descent: Journeys In The Dark (2nd Edition)

  • Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
  • # of Players:  2-5

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As longtime roleplayers, we took to Descent quite easily – amazing minis, tons of expansions, easy, accessible rules, and lots of fun scenarios.  However, recently Fantasy Flight released an app that turns Descent from my favorite ‘1-vs-many’ game into one of my favorite co-op games.  Now using the app to manage the enemies’ turns, a full party of allies can explore dungeons, fight dragons, and scavenge the landscape for treasure and magic.

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The app even lets you play in campaign format, managing inventory, funds, and details between and during the game.  With all that fantastic gameplay still present and now fully cooperative (if you want it to be), Descent is a meaty investment that will easily pay for itself in good times for all.


Mechs Vs Minions

  • Publisher: Riot Games
  • # of Players:  1-4
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Finally, a giant box that justifies itself with tons of content and an awesome insert

Launched by the hugely successful not-at-all-boardgame-related Riot Games, Mechs Vs Minions, like so many IP-branded games, could easily have been over-hyped, under-developed trash (sorry, but, yeah).  Fortunately for fans of board games and MOBAs alike, this League of Legends tie-in co-op is more than just gorgeous (and it is gorgeous) – Mechs Vs Minions is a genuinely fun, hilariously frustrating game of card drafting and programmatic actions.  Players will pilot their mechs which can only execute commands in sequence – the sequences you’ll build each turn through card drafting.  Whether you’re stomping on enemies or trying to deliver a payload before it explodes, there is a lot of really great opportunities to strategize as a team and carefully plan out your turns…at least, until the real-time hourglass gets involved…

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Though it sold out pretty decisively, Mechs Vs Minions is destined for a quick turnaround on its next printing, and we highly recommend you grab it for the gamers in your life who will appreciate its glossy, gorgeous exterior and its solid gameplay core.  We’ll have a formal review up soon, but for now, spoilers, we think it’s great!

This link will bring you to the order page for the current wave of Mechs vs Minions – it’s scheduled to start shipping in December, just in time for the holidays!


Beyond Baker Street

  • Publisher: Z-Man Games
  • # of Players: 2-4, better with more

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Our final suggestion is one which we’ve only gotten quite recently, but has already had us silently starting at each other, trying to project our thoughts into each other’s brains.  Beyond Baker Street, from Z-Man Games, has our group trying to collect evidence and solve a crime, all before the celebrated Sherlock Holmes himself manages to do it.  The caveat of this set collection game is that everyone faces their cards away from themselves, and giving each other information is the only way we will win – of course, turns spent divulging info also give Holmes time to get closer to solving the case, so strategic timing and bold guessing are both called for.

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This mechanic isn’t new – Hanabi is the first game we saw use it, and that remains an excellent, tense title.  But the presentation, theme, and mechanics of Beyond Baker Street edge it out for us between the two.


That’s a quick list of 5 of our current favorite cooperative board games for the like-minded gamers on your holiday shopping list.  Did we miss your favorite, or do you have any suggestions for more?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

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