When you think of a board game night, you might tremble a little bit at the prospect of some of your friends coming over. You know the ones. Super competitive (“I don’t care that you’re last place! I guess now you’re in last place some more!”), don’t bend the rules slightly if someone makes a mistake (“You let go of the piece! Your turn is D-O-N-E!”), or lose their minds if you forget the tiniest of rules (“The fourth tiebreaker is number of times you said ‘Spatula’ since the game started? We’ve got to start over.”) Some might just leave that friend out, but we have a different solution: why not put them on your team? Today, we’re going to talk about five games that we think you should add to your board gaming shelf for those nights when you want a little less cutthroat and a little more Kumbaya.
I would call this the mother of all cooperative games. But Ric, what about… Leave me alone! It’s my blog post, I’ll write what I want!
As we previously mentioned in our review of Pandemic, this is a solid game for two to four players. This is definitely a case of “the more the merrier”. Teamwork is the whole point, and having a bunch of different perspectives on how to progress can usually help you make better progress.
I also believe that this game has one of the more balanced approaches to difficulty out there. Your fate is controlled by decks of cards, but they are set up in such a way that you very rarely are taken by surprise. I find this to be a key element of a good cooperative game, because the game itself is acting like an AI opponent that you’re fighting against. With some games, the difficulty you face is all luck of the draw, and so your success varies based on elements often out of your control. Pandemic’s use of epidemic cards works to avoid all that and I believe this results in a great game.
Tim Fowers can make a game fo’ real. I got the chance to interview him in one of our podcast episodes, and it was super crazy amazing. Paperback is where I was first introduced to his awesomeness. When Burgle Bros. hit Kickstarter, I tried every which way to adjust my budget so that I could sign up, but I was only able to pull off a $5 for the print and play. But have no fear! At a flea market about a year ago, I was finally able to get my hands on a copy, and I have not been disappointed.
This game is just sooooo cool! It really gives the feeling of being involved in a heist, and I love the different characters, room types, loot, and tools that help each experience be different from the next. I will say that this game does suffer occasionally from the punishment of randomness, as the movement of the guards can sometimes lead to unavoidable losses. In fact, I’ve never won this game in the 4 or 5 times I’ve tried it. But the fact that I’m still recommending this so wholeheartedly should be a testament to how much fun it really is.
Have you ever looked at a set of cards in your hand and thought, “Man, I wish I knew what everyone else had. That would make this game so much easier!” Well, now you do. In Hanabi, everyone holds their cards backwards, so you know all the cards in their hand. But of course there’s a downside – you don’t know what you’re holding!
Hanabi has you working as a team to build a great fireworks show. There are 5 different colors of fireworks all represented on cards, which are also labeled one to five. Your task is to place down cards of each color in ascending order. On a turn, players can put a card down, or they can give hints to other players about one color or one number in their hand. This setup means that you only know what others tell you. I find that this does a pretty good job of preventing one player from taking over everything, which can be a big problem in most cooperative games.
You will need to agree on the extent to which you will hold yourself to the rules on communication, as that is where I find most of the difficulty lies. You’re really supposed to limit yourself to a few phrases and descriptions with no body language or ‘reminders’ about why people might give clues when they do, but we almost always loosen up a bit so that we can make some progress. I guess just make sure you’re on the same page before starting and you’ll find yourself having a good time gaming together.
Forbidden Island / Forbidden Desert
These two might be the best entry points into the cooperative genre. Their rules are very simple, which makes it easy for everyone to jump in quickly and get involved. I also find that these games do a great job of providing a solid adjustment for difficulty so that newbies can have a fun time while veterans can also have a challenge.
Basically, a map is laid out with different tiles. Your task as the adventurers is to move around the map, grabbing treasures (Island) or parts to a legendary flying machine (Desert). As the game progresses, tiles are covered in sand (Desert) or they’re swept away by the water (Island). You have to work together to get all the pieces and get back to a space where you can evacuate. There are a few variations between the two games, and I would say that, overall, Island is a little easier than Desert. However, they’re both great little games that are affordable, learnable, and great additions to your library.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
I think that deck building games are still relatively unknown outside of the board gaming community, so maybe ‘the boy who lived’ can shine a little more light to this enjoyable genre.
In HP:HB (we abbreviate because we can!), you will take on the role of Harry, Ron, Hermione, or Neville and you’ll each have your own little deck of cards, with some of the cards being specific to that character. Over the course of the game, you’ll use your cards to attack enemies while also collecting money to buy even better cards to add to your deck for future turns. Between your turns, though, the Death Eaters will get to take a turn, and their moves usually punish you by taking health away, adding curses to your location, or just basically trying to ruin the progress you’re making.
One aspect of this game that I really enjoy is the use of years. Inside the box are your starter cards, plus a set of cards for each year of the series. You can start the game as a ‘first year’ student, and this serves almost like a tutorial to help you learn how the game works. As you progress through the years, more complicated and more powerful cards will emerge to help you fight the additional, more powerful bad guys that will show up.
It’s a really cool progression system that makes you feel like you’re really ‘growing up’ and having to face more complex challenges as you go. It also gives the game a bit of a ‘legacy’ feel, as you can’t wait to beat a year so that you can see what will be included in the next box. We’ve only finished year 4, so the game still has some surprises in store for us. If you’re a fan of the series or are just looking for a solid cooperative deck builder, this is one you need to check out.
Well, that should be enough to get you started. Do you have any that didn’t make our list that you would recommend? Comment below and let us know about them!