I LOVE cooperative board games. Working together, collaborating, discussing, debating, and being able to cooperate towards a shared goal is one of my great joys, on or off the board. My earliest games were the usual suspects; Monopoly (Star Wars in my case!), Hungry Hippos with my cousins (missing a ball or two), traditional card games, and these distinctly uncooperative games. As I grew up it dawned on me that the conflict between players, even friendly banter, triggered strong anxiety. Was I about to get crushed? What if someone gets angry if I beat them? What if I’m not fast enough at punching the hippo button? Why are they looking at me like that…?
As an adult (and educator) I am conscious that building resilience is important, and play based learning can teach some of the strongest lessons in a manner that engages and lasts. Learning how to lose, how to gracefully deal with a stronger opponent, how to be that graceful stronger opponent, are part of growing into a functioning, emotionally intelligent adult. But you know what…? Sometimes we just want to play together and enjoy a shared goal.
Here are a great mix of cooperative games that range from quiet exploration, to time pressure silence, to engaging in an evolving story.
Cooperating to solve crimes we have MicroMacro: Crime City and its sequel MicroMacro: Crime City Full House. The former won the Spiel des Jahres in 2021, and the sequel included feedback for indicating age appropriate material. I mean, sure, you’re dealing with murder and infidelity but the pictures are so cute that playing the game is worth having to explain/lie about what is happening if you have kids playing. Either way they are both AMAZING. It is Where’s Wally meets Cluedo where everyone is pouring over a huge map finding clues and paths and exclamations of THERE’S THE THING! keep happening. So good.
From shouting kids to silent kids? Magic Maze has your adventuring party stealing equipment for their next venture… from a magical supermarket. The aim is for each adventurer to steal the object they need and then escape. Everyone can control all pieces, but each player controls only one aspect of movement. Perhaps only I can move anyone west and north, whereas you can move the adventurers up escalators and east, and someone else moves adventurers south and teleport. Great! Now do all this without talking, and do it before the sand timer runs out. Silent mayhem and wild gesticulation abound.
Less silent, but more about subtle communication, The Crew: The Quest for Planet 9 and The Crew: Mission Deep Sea are fantastic cooperative trick taking games - the former won the prestigious Kennerspiel des Jahres for 2020, and the latter won 2021’s Golden Geek Award. Anyone familiar with the classic card game ‘500’ will certainly enjoy this as players are looking to complete missions by getting the right trick to the right player. Frankie needs a 2 of squares and you need the 6 of circles? Mission one done. Each of these games steps through a series of missions that get progressively harder needing multiple tricks needing to be completed in specific ways. With a loose narrative that ties the missions together this easily becomes ‘just one more game’...
If you like narrative in a game, then this next one is the game for you. The Adventures of Robin Hood comes with a literal book that you open up and start reading. As you read it teaches you the game, and instructs you to cast your eyes at the stunning game board. Full art forest and castle with heaps of advent calendar style flaps will reveal story twists and goals as you move your pieces in shadows (to keep away from the Sheriff’s guard) or simply all out attack as you draw from the bag.
Unlike many legacy games, The Adventures of Robin Hood is resettable stories meaning it can be replayed with different outcomes without the destruction of any components. Choose your own adventure meets advent calendar meets a classic story.