Cooperative board game

Cooperative board games are a loose category of board games where players work together in order to achieve a goal, either winning or losing as a group. As the name suggests, cooperative games stress cooperation over competition.[1] This type of board game attracts people who enjoy the social aspect of games and is a good way to get new board game players interested in the hobby.[2] Either the players win the game by reaching a pre-determined objective, or all players lose the game, often by not reaching the objective before a certain event ends the game.[3]


In Cooperative board games, all players win or lose the game together. These games should not be confused with noncompetitive games, such as The Ungame, which simply do not have victory conditions or any set objective to complete.[4] While Adventure board games with role playing and dungeon crawl elements like Gloomhaven may be included, pure Tabletop role-playing games like Descent: Journeys in the Dark are excluded as they have potentially infinite victory conditions with persistent Player characters. Furthermore, games in which players compete together in two or more groups, teams or partnerships (such as Axis & Allies, and card games like Bridge and Spades) fall outside of this definition, even though there is temporary cooperation between some of the players. Multiplayer conflict games like Diplomacy may also feature cooperation temporarily during the course of the game. These are not considered cooperative though, because players are eliminated and ultimately only one individual can win.

History and development

20th century

Early cooperative games were used by parents and teachers in educational settings.[5] In 1954, a board game version of Beat the Clock, a Game show was released.[6] In 1956 by the Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corporation of New York City released a board game version of I've Got a Secret, a Panel show featuring host Garry Moore on the cover of the box.

Jim Deacove, a teacher, published a cooperative game Together in 1971. He founded Family Pastimes, focused exclusively on cooperative games in 1972 [7] in Perth, Ontario[8][9]. Family Pastimes has a high number of co-ops game designs. They have released over 100 board games, all cooperative, including the popular game of Max the Cat. The company also holds the trademark for the phrase, A CO-OPERATIVE GAME™.[10]

Ken Kolsbun and Jann Kolsbun founded Animal Town in 1976 in California. They invented cooperative games like Save the Whales, Nectar Collector, and Dam Builders.[11] Animal Town was later renamed as Child and Nature in 2003.[12]

During the 1980s, several cooperative games like The Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora, Time Tripper, and Arkham Horror were published. In the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective series of games published in the 1980s, players are presented with a mystery to solve, and they trace the evidence together. Many cooperative Adventure board game series with Role-playing elements like Citadel of Blood, HeroQuest, Wizards (board game), Advanced HeroQuest, Deathmaze were released in this decade.

Minion Hunter is a board game originally released in 1992 by Game Designers' Workshop in conjunction with their Dark Conspiracy Role Playing Game. The game is designed to encourage the players to work together to stall and/or defeat the plans of four monster races as a primary goal, with the individual advancement of the players as a secondary objective. Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive VCR Board Game is set in the Star Trek universe and released in 1993.[13] It utilizes a video tape that runs constantly while users play the board game portion. Events on the video tape combine with board game play to determine whether users win or lose the game. The video itself was directed by Les Landau and contains original footage filmed on the actual Star Trek: The Next Generation sets at Paramount Studios. Warhammer Quest is a fantasy dungeon, role-playing adventure board game released by Games Workshop in 1995 as the successor to HeroQuest and Advanced HeroQuest, set in its fictional Warhammer Fantasy world.

21st century

In 2000, Reiner Knizia published Lord of the Rings which influenced a number of subsequent titles, including Shadows Over Camelot. Pandemic (board game), designed by Matt Leacock was first published by Z-Man Games in the United States in 2008.[14] Space Alert is a cooperative survival designer board game created by Vlaada Chvátil in 2008.[15] Players assume the roles of space explorers on a mission to survey the galaxy. The crew is evaluated on teamwork and how they deal with problems that arise on their journey.

Other recent cooperative games are Star Trek: Expeditions, Space Alert, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Freedom: The Underground Railroad, Zombicide, and Hanabi, which won the Spiel des Jahres award in 2013. Mechs vs. Minions is a cooperative board game created by Riot Games.[16] The game was released on October 13, 2016.[17]


In José P. Zagal, Jochen Rick, and Idris Hsi's "Collaborative games: Lessons learned from board games", the lessons the researchers learned highlight what makes a good cooperative board game.[18]

  • First, the game needs to point out the folly of being competitive by allowing players to make decisions that benefits themselves rather than the whole group.
  • Second, each player should not need the input of the rest of the group when making a decision.
  • Third, players need to be able to identify what actions had benefits or consequences.
  • Fourth, the game should reward selfless players by giving players unique roles or traits.

These researchers also point out Challenges in designing collaborative games due to the following pitfalls that must be overcome:

  • game degenerating into a single player decides the actions for everyone
  • For a game to be engaging, players should invested in the end result and winning the game should be satisfying
  • For repeat play, game experience should vary and challenge needs to evolve

Game as the opponent

Participants typically play against the game. Cooperative board games generally involve players joining forces against the game itself, and can be played without any player in the role of the opposition or Gamemaster. In Pandemic, for example, players work together to stop and cure different strains of diseases.[19]

Also, in some cooperative games, players actually cooperate with the opposing forces in the game. For example, in Max the Cat, players are mice who keep an aggressive cat at bay by offering him milk and other appeasements. In this way, all participants in the conflict scenario are fulfilled and the resolution is truly cooperative or "win-win".


In many contemporary cooperative games, randomizing devices help in varying game experience over multiple plays. Dice can be rolled, cards can be drawn each turn from a shuffled deck or various board sections of a modular board revealed to generate random objectives, events and challenges. These provide the conflict or challenge in the game, and make it progressively more difficult for the players. For example, in Save the Whales, players work together to protect whales from the challenges inherent in the game setting—radioactive waste, commercial whaling, etc.[20]

Focus on the Theme

Themes and objectives in cooperative games are either or both of grand and highly detailed. This brings an investment in the games objective and the satisfaction of succeeding against the overwhelming magnitude of the odds. The outcome of the is often uncertain until the very end, the games try to maintain (and often build) interest and tension.[21]

Cooperation and its Variations

Most cooperative games bestow different abilities or responsibilities upon the players incentivizing cooperation.[22] Some cooperative games might have an added layer of intrigue by giving players personal win conditions. In Dead of Winter: A Cross Roads Game, a zombie apocalypse game, in order to win players must achieve the communal victory condition and a personal objective. Gloomhaven is a cooperative board game for 1 to 4 players designed by Isaac Childres and published by Cephalofair Games in 2017 where each player also has a personal objective.

Secret Opponent

In Scotland Yard and The Fury of Dracula have one player secretly controls the enemy. The other players are cooperating to locate and defeat the enemy.


A traitor game can be seen as a cooperative game with a betrayal mechanism, or as a kind of team game. For this mechanism, traitors begin the game with hidden identities, or are assigned them during the game. Traitors typically win if the other players lose. In Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, players who receive a “You Are a Cylon” card when loyalty cards are handed out work in secret to undermine humanity. Other games, like Betrayal at House on the Hill, start out fully cooperative, but assigns a player to be the villain mid-game. Such games may be separated from Cooperative board games.[23]

See also


  1. "Cooperative Games" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-24. Retrieved 2009-03-02..
  2. Wilkes, Chris (April 15, 2018). "Cooperative Games". Library Journal. 143: 44 via MasterFILE Elite.
  4. Rovner, S and y (May 3, 1981). "Confronting the Unspeakable". Washington Post. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  7. "Best ever cooperative boardgames / Boing Boing". Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  15. "Space Alert". BoardGameGeek. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  16. Duffy, Owen (October 24, 2016). "League of Legends: Mechs vs Minions review – a challenging triumph". The Guardian. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  17. McKeand, Kirk (September 20, 2016). "League of Legends board game, Mechs Vs. Minions, pits Yordles against trash mobs". PCGamesN. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  18. Zagal, José; Rick, Jochen; Hsi, Idris (March 2006). "Collaborative games: Lessons learned from board games" (PDF). Simulation & Gaming. 37: 24–40. doi:10.1177/1046878105282279.
  19. Zielinski, Sarah (April 29, 2009). "Playing Pandemic, the Board Game". Smithsonian. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  20. Ward, Jean (March 1, 1982). "Game Review : Save the Whales by Kenneth E. Kolsburn. Animal Town Game Co., P.O. Box 2002, Santa Barbara, CA 93120. Copyright 1978. $17.00". Simulation & Games. 13: 122–124. doi:10.1177/104687818201300110.
  21. Zagal, José; Rick, Jochen; Hsi, Idris (March 2006). "Collaborative games: Lessons learned from board games" (PDF). Simulation & Gaming. 37: 24–40. doi:10.1177/1046878105282279.
  22. Zagal, José; Rick, Jochen; Hsi, Idris (March 2006). "Collaborative games: Lessons learned from board games" (PDF). Simulation & Gaming. 37: 24–40. doi:10.1177/1046878105282279.
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