The Best Cooperative Board Games

Pandemic Season Zero

by William Lobley |
Updated on

Every reputable board game collection should have a healthy stock of cooperative titles. There’s no denying that very specific pleasure one can draw from outwitting the nearest and dearest on the fields of the best board games. But competition isn’t the only way to have a good time – sometimes, it can be more fulfilling to join forces, uniting against a common enemy and basking in shared glory.

Here at Empire, we’ve pulled together a list of the best cooperative board games for every taste and experience level. While all the games selected are cooperative, some are more cooperative than others.

Some, like perennial favourite Pandemic, require two players or more to work closely together to achieve success, while others, like Horrified, have a light cooperative touch, allowing players to go their own way more freely. Others, like the formidable board adaption of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS or eldritch horror Unfathomable, have some in the team set against their compatriots, be it overtly or covertly.


The Best Cooperative Board Games

Pandemic1 of 10


In Pandemic, four viruses are on the loose, spreading throughout population centres across the globe. Players must strategize to ensure that a cure is found for each strain before they overtake the world’s population, while also reacting to unpredicted outbreaks that can undo the best-laid plans.

At the start of the game, players are assigned roles – such as Engineer, Scientist or Operations Expert – each with unique abilities that can be applied tactically to increase the team’s chance of success. Once mastered, the difficulty of the game can be raised, with an increased number of outbreaks resulting in a more reactive style of play.

Now a household name, Pandemic is the yardstick by which other accessible cooperative board games are judged. The rules are simple to understand, and the gameplay loop is intuitive. Whether you’re a casual board game household looking to break away from Monopoly and Cluedo, or a tabletop expert, Pandemic will deliver what you need.

Mastered the base game? Pandemic has three expansions - On The Brink, In The Lab and State Of Emergency - which diversify the gameplay with extra professions, viral mutations, and challenges.

Players: 2-4 | Playtime: 45 mins

JAWS: The Game2 of 10

JAWS: The Game

A board game with bite, JAWS is an experience of two halves. In the first, players work together to protect swimmers on the shore of Amity Island by locating the stealthy shark. In the second, the game flips - quite literally, the board is two-sided - and the humans take initiative, heading out on board The Orca to battle the great white shark.

JAWS is only part cooperative. One player is always the shark, and thus the hostile of the game, while between one and three additional players work together to defeat the shark. So, if you’re looking for a cooperative game for two, this isn’t ideal – but for groups, the mix of comradery and competition makes for a delicious dynamic.

Players: 2-4 | Playtime: 60 mins

ALIEN: Fate Of The Nostromo3 of 10

ALIEN: Fate Of The Nostromo

Nothing quite unites a group of people like an alien attack. In this adaptation of 1978’s seminal sci-fi horror movie, players take the role of the Nostromo’s crew – Ripley, Lambert, Parker, Brett and Dallas – and hide, run and fight for survival against their alien foe. Using items and special abilities, and working to keep morale high, the team prepare to send the alien retreating back to its nest, but there’s always the chance that it’s waiting just around the corner.

Echoing the original movie, the alien isn’t the only nefarious presence aboard the Nostromo. Players have the option to up the challenge by having Science Officer Ash as an additional non-playable character. With all other priorities rescinded, Ash will roam the corridors of the ship, disrupting plans and draining crew morale – at least we have his sympathies.

Players: 1-5 | Playtime: 45-60 mins

Horrified4 of 10


Horror protagonists always have a rough time, but at least they only have to contend with one monster. In Horrified, players are plagued by seven classic ghouls, including Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and The Creature from The Black Lagoon. 

As a team, players must work to protect themselves and the townsfolk from classic cinematic nasties as each is controlled by the board to ever creep towards their prey. As the best defence is a good offence, players need to discover the unique ways in which each monster needs to be defeated. This gaming loop results in an engaging combination of board game mechanics, from card collection to strategic forethought.

Players: 1-5 | Playtime: 45-60 mins

Forbidden Desert5 of 10

Forbidden Desert

An airship has crash-landed in the desert, its parts scattered to the winds. Each player is armed with unique abilities and must chart a course through the unknown lands, locate the pieces, return to a launch pad and escape. Not content with this as a challenge, Forbidden Desert is loaded with mechanics to make the players’ journey anything but smooth.

Between hunting for gear, avoiding sandstorms and trying to stay hydrated, players must also contend with the constant pressure of shifting sands and blocked paths. Plus, teamwork and communication are at the forefront too because if one of your team perishes under the unrelenting sun, the whole team fails.

Forbidden Desert is a challenge, but its basic gameplay is quick to pick up and the loop is enticing. It’ll probably take a few goes before a team gets close to winning, but that makes victory all the sweeter.

Players: 2-5 | Playtime: 45 mins

Unfathomable6 of 10


The Atlantic Ocean holds many secrets, and in 1913, the SS Atlantica has the attention of The Deep Ones. This horrid Lovecraftian swarm has set itself the task of sinking the vessel, planting a human hybrid onboard to sabotage the ship from within. Players must manage resources against the purposeful depletion by the hybrid human and navigate onboard crises, such as food or fuel shortages.

The twist? One or more player is secretly assigned as a hybrid, working subtly to undermine the efforts of the true human players. The key to succeeding in Unfathomable is to cooperate and plan, but how can you do so when your team cannot be trusted?

Unfathomable is a lengthy board game that makes for an enticing mix of social stealth and deduction.

Players: 3-6 | Playtime: 120-240 mins

Mysterium7 of 10


Murder was afoot. Now, there’s nothing left to tell of the killing but a forgetful ghost with a penchant for blessing detective mediums with visions. Each vision needs to be contextualised and analysed, helping the gathered mediums to correctly place the murderer in the correct location, with the correct weapon.

One player is the ghost leading the seance, while all others are the detective mediums. As with all good seances, the cross-world communication is subject to a time limit, with each passing in-game hour granting more visions while also inching closer to the ghost’s disappearance and with it the end of the game.

Players: 2-7 | Playtime: 45 mins

Codenames Duet8 of 10

Codenames Duet

Codenames Duet gives players the chance to experience passing coded messages, all without having to sit around on park benches pretending to read the newspaper. Each player has the information regarding the contacts that the other needs to meet but can only let them know through one-word clues relating to the faces on the play grid. Additional missions are also available, in which more complicated messages must be passed on bust streets.

Best played with two, Codenames Duet is more than a sum of its parts. The interaction between the two players is where the real spark sits, with the potential for relationship-affirming communication styles to develop just as easily as hilarious misunderstandings.

Players: 2-4 | Playtime: 15-30 mins

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective9 of 10

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

The game is afoot! But there aren’t any dice in sight. Instead, players must stretch their mental might in this ultimate sleuthing simulator. Faced with a map of Victorian London and one of many mysteries to solve, players tread the cobbled streets in search of the truth.

All the mechanics a detective could need are at hand, including clue-hunting and interviewing witnesses. Some of Holmes’ most iconic characters are encounterable in Blighty’s capital, including Moriarty.

Players: 1-8 | Playtime: 60-120 mins

Pandemic Legacy Season 010 of 10

Pandemic Legacy Season 0

It’s Pandemic, but different. Set during the Cold War, players work together to uncover a new bioweapon. Like the classic Pandemic, this is a globe-hopping game where players must work together to overcome the odds and react to changing circumstances.

Furthering the player experience in Legacy Season 0 is that it has a continuity mechanic. On each repeat playthrough, players gain access to new cards and conditions which change how the game unfolds and continue to affect future playthroughs. In effect, the choices you make in one game affect the next. An endlessly engaging element to an already excellent board game.

Players: 1-4 | Playtime: 45-60 mins

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