For many readers, this term may sound a bit foreign...Cooperative? Board games? Huh? Well, I'm here to tell yall that co-op board games are a huge part of the hobby gaming scene and continue to rise in popularity. I'm going to share a few games on this list that range from the light and breezy to the crunchiest out there.
The entire Forbidden series is great, but I've picked Forbidden Desert, as I like the goal/theme the best. This is a lighter co-op that takes players through sandstorms and other hazards to find scattered parts of an airship, which is their only means of escape. Each player has a unique role and ability, and the game doesn't usually last more than 45 minutes or so. It's a great introduction into the genre.
I have two co-op trick-taking games here because they're similar in complexity but offer unique experiences in small packages that don't take long to set up and play. Fox and the Forest Duet and The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine are must-haves for lovers of Euchre, Pinochle, Spades, Hearts, Pitch, etc. If you're not familiar with trick-taking, I might steer clear of these, though.
I'd be shocked if you haven't encountered Pandemic before, as it's readily available in a lot of non-hobby-stores like Target. This is the game that really popularized the genre of co-op games, and it's a great system that many other games have tried to implement, to varying degrees of success. I'd say this is a bit of a jump in complexity from the previous games mentioned, but it's absolutely a great next step and a fun experience with a lot of replay value. If you really love Pandemic already, you MUST try Pandemic Legacy: Season 1.
All of Fantasy Flight's cooperative Living Card Games -- Arkham Horror LCG, Marvel Champions, and Lord of the Rings LCG -- are fantastic for their own reasons. While related mechanically, each does offer unique game play. If you want a bit of meat on the bone, I'd suggest trying out a core set of one of these and seeing if you're willing to jump in according to which theme/IP you like the most. Warning: It's a huge commitment monetarily to keep customizing your collection, but it's an experience I've loved with Lord of the Rings. These are also a significant step up in complexity from Pandemic. One rare difference here is that these games can also be played solo!
No list of cooperative games would be complete without some sort of dungeon crawler where you take on the roles of heroes battling monsters. Gloomhaven is currently the number 1 ranked game of all time according to Boardgamegeek and it sorta broke Kickstarter. It's a massive game with a complex rule set and a sprawling campaign with cardboard bits galore. The designer did, however, release a sort of sequel in the form of Jaws of the Lion, which is widely available and about a third of the price. The rules are taught in a series of introductory scenarios, and the gameplay is silky smooth. Can't recommend this enough.
Spirit Island. What a game. It's a brain burner; I'll say that upfront. But it's so satisfying. Perhaps the epitome of cooperative experiences, in my opinion. Also great solo. The theme is outstanding -- you play as native peoples and spirits on an island trying to repel incoming colonists. The card play is really crunchy, and the presentation is phenomenal.
CO2: Second Chance comes from my favorite game designer and is easily the heaviest game on this list -- on par with Spirit Island and perhaps even a bit more complex. It's a tough one, though -- definitely not for the faint of heart. It, like Spirit Island, also has an incredible theme as players work to try and reduce global carbon emissions by ending the world's fossil fuel addiction with sustainable power plants and green energy.
Credit: All images come from Boardgamegeek