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My wife loves board games, but dislikes very competitive games, and is completely uninterested in aggressive "beat up the other guy" games. We recently discovered Pandemic, where each player works together to try and halt the spread of a number of deadly diseases. We really liked it.

What other games are there that are cooperative in nature?

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closed as not constructive by Pat Ludwig Jan 8 '12 at 6:35

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Just do not try Risk! We have got anger almost at every game. Because of that we haven't played it more than 2 years now :-) –  Pawka Oct 19 '10 at 21:23
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Yep! Monopoly is our big family no-no. ;) –  ire_and_curses Oct 19 '10 at 21:29
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@Richard Gadsen: Most marriages don't last long enough to finish a game of Diplomacy. –  Powertieke Oct 20 '10 at 6:50
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BTW, Well done for finding a wife that loves board games! –  Codemwnci Oct 21 '10 at 0:57
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My parents threw out Risk early on to save their marriage, and I know a Navy guy who threw his copy to the waves to stave off mutiny. –  Andrew Vandever Nov 22 '10 at 0:55

22 Answers 22

Arkham Horror is almost completely cooperative.

It is the players against a Great Old One(GOO) of Cthulhu mythos. Players need to work together to arm themselves and find clues that will enable them to seal gates that open from other realms. There is a large number of expansions, but the basic game is very enjoyable.

Generally, the expansions make the game harder and should be avoided until you can regularly beat the GOO in the base game.

See Is it possible to play 2-player, 2-character Arkham Horror successfully? for a question about the viability of a popular 2 player variant for Arkham Horror.

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I own this game. I found it to be fun the first few times, after the third or fourth play-through the game seemed to drag on and on... It also takes a long time to set up and the rules are VERY involved. Love the premise and it definitely is worth checking into, but for me it wasn't the relaxed, casual gaming I tend to enjoy. –  SandraFace Oct 21 '10 at 0:12
    
@Sandra - I have played this game with about 8 people. A couple of them definitely had reactions like yours. The rest were all eager to play again to see a different permutation. The game is different every time. Luckily there are plenty of games out there for everyone to enjoy. –  Pat Ludwig Oct 21 '10 at 0:15
    
out of curiosity, how is it almost completely cooperative? :) –  Gordon Gustafson Jan 18 '11 at 14:02
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@crazy - in Theory it is completely cooperative. Ideally the group would work together to always increase their odds at staving off the awaking of the Great Old One. In practice, it isn't always easy to give up your best weapon/item/spell "for the good of the group" –  Pat Ludwig Jan 18 '11 at 15:02
    
ok, so it is totally cooperative in the sense that you all have the same goal and its impossible to win without the rest of the group. Some players don't play as cooperatively as others at times. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Jan 18 '11 at 19:32

Forbidden Island is another cooperative game created by the same guy that made Pandemic. http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/65244/forbidden-island

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We noticed this in the local game shop a few days ago, and the clerk strongly recommended it. It doesn't fit in our budget at the moment, but may soon. –  eswald Oct 20 '10 at 18:36
    
I love forbidden island because its very customable, and pretty cheap. You can change so many things, from the roles to the shape of the island to the effects of the cards. I played with 5 other people who almost hated boardgames (we changed the rules a bit, but it can work with 6 players) and they loved it so much we played it 3 times in a row. They were scared of the complexity, but soon they were knew every single corner case and knew the rules better than I did. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Dec 30 '10 at 20:38
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I wouldn't recommend Forbidden Island if you already have Pandemic because they're almost the same game. The rules and gameplay are very similar. –  idbrii Jul 3 '12 at 7:16

My wife and I played and loved Shadows Over Camelot for years before Pandemic existed.

There are many cooperative games around now, and some are on my radar:

  • Space Alert looks cool and I love a couple of the designer's other games
  • Defenders of the Realm looks like it takes the lessons learned in co-op gaming and goes back to my beloved fantasy theme, too
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Shadows over Camelot is a wonderful game, but it doesn't play well with fewer than 5 people. –  F'x Oct 23 '10 at 20:18
    
FX_ is right. Space Alert is also excellent... but it's not a 2-player game; it's strong with 4 but suffers badly with each player less than that. –  Tynam Nov 12 '10 at 10:15
    
Well, that's a reason for me to wait on Space Alert. I do a lot of 2 and 3 player gaming. –  gomad Dec 2 '10 at 17:47
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Space Alert is kind of fun but it's not really a boardgame, more an incredibly difficult multiplayer logic puzzle. Its one I'd definitely recommend trying before you buy! –  thesunneversets Feb 10 '11 at 16:43
    
You can usually play space alert with fewer than 4 by having each player control more than one crewmen. If one player is very experienced, they can control 3 and try to maximize the learning opportunities of the other player so they can play as equals in the future. Shadows over Camelot can also be made slightly more suitable for lower numbers of players: boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/2309/… :D –  Gordon Gustafson Feb 18 '11 at 2:06

The Lord of the Rings is a cooperative board game that I like. The one thing to watch out for (as with many other cooperative games) is that a few enthusiasts take over the whole running of the game, and others just passively do as they are told.

It has an extension that converts it to a one-against-many game, Lord of the Rings: Sauron. So don't get that extension if you're looking for the cooperative experience.

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I play a lot of cooperative games.

The two that we currently play are:

Castle Ravenloft - Based on the old D&D theme. Fun and simpler to play.

Red November - Gnomish Submarine that continually gets less seaworthy.

Also some great quick card games:

The Isle of Dr. Necreaux, Space Hulk (as mentioned above)

All games are co-op and "all win or all lose".

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I don't know the others, but Red November is great. If you add the custom rule "when you drink rhum, you actually have to do it in real life" it becomes even more... interesting. Please notice that while it is a cooperative game, there actually is a rare case where it becomes competitive (escaping during the last 10 minutes). –  Lohoris Nov 2 '10 at 22:57
    
Unfortunately, my wife doesn't drink, but I will add this to the guys game night rules. As an odd aside, I just two minutes ago set the game up to teach my wife to play. I'll let you know how it goes... –  My Turn Yet Nov 3 '10 at 2:54

I have the perfect game for you guys: Last Night On Earth. I've played dozens of board games, and I really don't go back to any of them anymore except for this one. It is a co-op game, as long as you have more than 3 players. The reason for this is that you have Heroes and Zombies and someone has to be zombies. However, this is why it's not a highly competitive game: as much as Heroes may want to win, the chances of that happening are unlikely. Ok, I know this sounds ridiculous: "why would I want to play a game which one side almost always wins?!." The answer is simple, Last Night on Earth's charm lies in recreating B zombie movie cliches and playing through impossible odds. You are encouraged to create your own rules and try new things.

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Now all he needs is a second wife and it's game on :) –  Don Oct 21 '10 at 6:31
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Last Night on Earth is a reasonably good game, but I think All Things Zombie (from Lock 'N Load Publishing) is even better, if what you want is a tense "players against the Zombie menace" theme. You can play with anywhere from 1 to 8 players, and it helps to have one player control the zombie "state machine", but that's not at all necessary: it's a task that can be shared amongst the players. Don't be put off by the fact that it's (currently) published by a wargame company: it's very, very good. –  Viktor Haag Feb 10 '11 at 13:37
    
I have only played Last Night On Earth a few times but I felt that the rules were quite complex and, as you commented, the zombies (almost) always win. –  Frank Oct 11 '12 at 16:57

Try Carcassonne. You can be competitive if you want, but there's no need. Beautiful maps you can create. And if needed you can play with more people. It's quite easy to explain.

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Many of the Carcassonne expansions add a significant edge of competition to the game, but the base game lends itself to strong cooperation (or, at least, it makes competition difficult). –  Commodore Jaeger Oct 20 '10 at 1:08
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@Jaeger you have never played base carcassonne, if you say it leads to strong cooperation. It is one of the very tactical one AGAINST the other 1 on 1 games. Remember which cards are out, try figure out the evil plots of the opponent, try to lock his pieces, etc –  Peter Miehle Oct 20 '10 at 6:45
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While I agree it doesn't lead to cooperation, if you are playing with your wife you can leave that part of the game out and simply play a friendly game of Carcassonne which is still entertaining. –  Don Oct 20 '10 at 8:37
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I don't get it. If you play Carcassonne "cooperatively", you're doing no more than a solitaire. A real cooperative game is many players VS. some event, not many players just slacking off. –  Lohoris Nov 2 '10 at 22:53
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Carcassonne is not a cooperative game. Saying you can use the game's components to not compete but build beautiful maps may be entirely true, but then you're not playing the game, you're building a beautiful map with the game's components (which may, in itself, be fun and what you're looking to do). I can make exactly the same claim for something like "Advanced Squad Leader" or any other game. Nice bits put to other use doesn't make the game itself a cooperative game. I think this is a misleading answer. –  Viktor Haag Feb 10 '11 at 13:47

Another good cooperative game might be Ghost Stories.

Ghost Stories is a cooperative game in which the players try to defeat the spirit of Wu-Feng, the lord of hell, and his legions of ghosts before they haunt a town and recover the ashes that will allow him to return to life. Each Player represents a taoist monk ghost hunter who is working together with the others to fight off waves of spirits and other beings mostly inspired by eastern mythology.Blockquote

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I've heard its REALLY hard to win, is that true? –  Gordon Gustafson Jan 22 '11 at 20:57
    
@CJD: Every game I've heard of where the players won, we've realized was played incorrectly in retrospect. I've tried at least five times and lost every time. Ghost Stories and I have decided that it's time for me to see other games. Frankly, I think our separation may become permanent. Sure, it looks pretty and promises you a fun time, but you'll soon realize that it's an emotionally abusive relationship. –  invisiblejon Jan 25 '11 at 3:47

One way to ease the competitive pressure is to play silly games so that the players don't take them too seriously. Cheapass Games are a good choice, with Kill Dr. Lucky being my favourite.

I also like dexterity games for the same reason. Some have a bit of strategy, but nobody takes them too seriously. I like Pitch Car, Villa Paletti, Bausack, and Polarity.

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Knizia's Lord of the Rings game is the only truly cooperative game I know of. The players are playing against the board so to speak.

Many people like it because of the "working together to reach a goal" without a human adversary element (most other coop games feature one player to be the 'bad guy').

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I like Advanced Civilization just because it can be played mostly cooperative. Unfortunately it is out of print, but you still can get it used.

The goal of the game is to build a civilization. There can be little conflicts between players, but these can be settled peacefully. The only problem is with the calamities. (Calamities are part of the trading system so you can trade calamities to other players). But most of the time this can be settled too.

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Sounds interesting. Could you add a link to the game? –  ire_and_curses Oct 19 '10 at 21:03
    
@ire_and_curses - If you want a game about building a civilization that you can play without constantly battling each other, you should try Through the Ages, one of the games I love by the designer of Space Alert. –  gomad Oct 19 '10 at 21:15
    
For some reason, people didn't appreciate it when I played it as if it were a wargame the first time I played (they were all experienced players) ... of course, they then all coorperated in beating me back to Crete. –  Joe Oct 20 '10 at 15:40
    
Neither Advanced Civilization, nor Civilization (upon which it's based) are cooperative games; also, neither do they really offer a non-confrontational experience. There is lots of opportunity for direct confrontation, direct, and indirect stabbiness. I really don't see any way that suggesting these games is reasonable to the original poster's point. –  Viktor Haag Feb 10 '11 at 13:53
    
But Civ stood out before cooperative board games were in vogue for offering a not-so-in-your-face world domination of sorts, yet a serious board game. It was world superiority without world conquest. I agree they aren't actually cooperative. They were serious, but competitive in ways that more closely reflect confrontation levels more reflective of what average consumers feel comfortable with, which may still hit the OPs actual intention, if not his wording per se. –  John Robertson Feb 16 at 8:54

If you're a little more flexible on the definition of 'board game', the recent Space Hulk card game is fast-paced and easy to learn, while being completely cooperative (players VS the deck).

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Have you considered games that are more like puzzles? They can still be competitive, but it's more of a race than a fist fight. The best example I can think of is Ricochet Robots.

A similar category is deduction games like Mastermind and its relatives Black Box and Zone X.

For another kind of puzzle game, see if you can track down Situation 4. It's a competitive jigsaw puzzle. (I'm not kidding.) This is mostly aimed at kids, but I find the idea hilarious.

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After thinking about my recommendation for Through the Ages, it occurs to me that you and your wife might be well served by a wide variety of eurogames. Many euros have very low player interaction, and while not exactly cooperative, they certainly avoid the "beat up the other guy" problem. In fact, many of the best-regarded euros have been accused of being "multiplayer solitaire", an accusation which might turn out to be a ringing endorsement in this case.

The interaction between players in many games comes down to denial-of-choice or denial-of-resources. For example, in Puerto Rico, if you choose the Craftsman role all players will produce goods, but you'll get an extra for choosing the role. And in Agricola, if you go fishing no other player can get food from fishing that turn. In both cases, you've denied the other player the opportunity of making that choice.

Those are three of the best games in the world (don't just take my word for it, ask BGG), and big favorites at my family's table, which often includes just my wife and me. I answered originally with some strictly cooperative games, but thought you might enjoy the low player interactivity of these exemplary eurogames, too.

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Thanks. We're massive Agricola fans, so your other recommendations sound interesting. –  ire_and_curses Oct 20 '10 at 16:12
    
In that case, also consider Puerto Rico's baby brother card game, San Juan. –  Tynam Nov 1 '10 at 11:43
    
@Tynam - I've never played San Juan. I was told by multiple sources, "Try Race for the Galaxy if you want Puerto Rico: The Card Game." I ended up hating Race for the Galaxy. So maybe it's time to think about San Juan again. –  gomad Feb 9 '11 at 18:21
    
I love it, but if you really hated Race, try before you buy with San Juan - it is a different game, but it's got some elements in common. (Race was originally intended to be the Puerto Rico card game, but design moved on.) "Simpler Puerto Rico without tiles or shipping" is the best I can describe San Juan. –  Tynam Feb 10 '11 at 10:38

Not a two-player game, but don't miss Space Alert. It's a high-pressure game of cooperation and coordination (4-5 players cooperate to defend their spaceship). The challenge comes from the need to coordinate actions under tight time pressure. (If one player fires the main starboard gun four moves in a row to fend off a threat, someone else had better have thought to go down to engineering and divert power to recharge it... or come order resolution, it's going to go 'pffft' instead of 'zap'.)

It's like playing RoboRally while trying not to bump into the other players... but with no time to talk over all your moves in advance.

Has a group scoring system too; you're encouraged to keep track of the group's triumphs and deaths for future comparison. Level of difficulty is higly customisable; more so than in Pandemic.

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Maze is a chess-like game that is cooperative. It's basically a puzzle where each player moves the pieces on his side of the board. The publisher specializes in cooperative games, but most of them are for kids.

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3-High, a recent game using Treehouse pyramids, is fully cooperative: 2-4 players are trying to reach a goal together before running out of cards in the deck. It was one of the more pleasant gaming experiences I've shared with my wife, though replay value is a bit low.

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Excellent question. This answer is bucking the trend somewhat from the other answers here, but what about a game like Pair Go? Obviously, you'd have to be interested in a traditional strategy game like Go, first. Also, since Go is a metaphor for war, I don't know if Go counts as a 'beat up the other guy' game for your wife.

Pair Go would involve you & your wife playing the same side of a Go game against another couple.

The dynamics get interesting, at least for me, because I never seem to know what my wife is thinking ;-)

Actually, that may be a metaphor for my entire marriage...

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I don't think this addresses the point, because your suggestion is not a two-player suggestion, really; it's a four-player suggestion. –  Viktor Haag Feb 10 '11 at 13:54

If you're willing to print out and assemble a free print-and-play game, consider Space Monster ( http://www.invisible-city.com/play/507/space-monster ). Elevator pitch: Alien – The boardgame.

Neat features: The alien's special powers, immunities, and weaknesses are different every game. Many player roles, so your "crew" is different every game. Modular board, so the space ship is different every time. The alien doesn't have hit points, but a health deck that controls how it reacts and behaves after it gets wounded. Can be played co-op, co-op with possible traitor, and one-vs-many.

Takes 1 to 5 (6?) players.

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Try Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the 2000 Edition - sadly, this is now out of print and you have to get it from Ebay, but, it's a great co-op game with multiple players as good, and one player as evil. Sadly, the later Buffy game is pretty lame. But the 2000 one is a ton of fun - particularly if you're a Buffy fan.

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He said he wants to play it with his wife: i.e. just 2 players. –  Lohoris Jan 16 '11 at 13:07
    
Indeed, it can also be played as a 2-player. Although, there, not so co-operative. –  jebyrnes Jan 17 '11 at 5:47

Someone introduced us to Forbidden Island the other day. Easy to learn entertaining race against the system to recover items then escape as the waters rise and tiles disappear. Not without some flaws though: our first game was over in failure almost as soon as it began due to some unlucky turn-ups, and sometimes it's so obvious what each player/character needs to do the game feels like it's running on rails.

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In its defense I've never seen a cooperative game where bad luck can't screw you over in the beginning. We always play a variant where each player gets 4 actions instead of 3, but you raise the initial water level up 1. This gives you more choices, more interesting turns, faster gameplay, all while keeping the game balanced. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Apr 26 '11 at 12:42

I personally love A Touch of Evil: it's another take on the a bunch of heroes working together against the big bad. You have slightly different character cards and each person plays one and goes around, picking up cards, items and fighting flunkies and you eventually get together to fight the big bad. I'm not sure how well it would work with only two people, but at least you don't need someone to play the bad guy.

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