In our previous feature we asked our Bloggers the question, “In your opinion, what is your best co-op game?”
We received a variety of responses, both positive and not so complimentary about some games. However, what links all of the games selected is the sense of team work, coupled with theme and atmosphere that can be engendered during game play. The shared experience somehow seems to heighten the tension and accentuate the highs and lows of success or failure.
In this second part of our favourite co-op games, the Zatu bloggers have selected titles with slightly darker themes. You could argue that these good vs evil battles play even better with a co-operative game. Indeed, some of the challenges in these games really do require everyone to pull together to win through in the end.
Orleans Invasion according to Nick Welford
Orleans is one of my favourite games ever. I love the bag building aspects of creating your own luck to push. But wait young man, I hear you interject, Orleans is not a co-op game. You are right, until you add the Invasion expansion. Then the whole world turns on its head and Orleans becomes a co-op game - not only that, a bloody good one too.
Co-op games had all become a bit “meh” for me. Bored of endless variations on Pandemic I didn’t expect much from a modular expansion, especially when expansions claiming to create new games often feel half baked. But Orleans Invasion nails it. It takes the core bag building concept and adds to it by asking you to deconstruct your bag for the greater good. A central board needs filling with discs, coins and goods. Coins and goods would be one thing but it’s needed to fill disc spots that is the killer. Discs represent various workers which you must recruit and then send to the wall. The only problem is you probably need them for some other tasks too.
This battle is the crunchy crux of Invasion. Timing is everything. Knowing when to send your workers off to the central board will leave you short-handed, but you must do it to win the game. If you already have Orleans, then in my view, this is an essential purchase and makes it my best co-operative game.
Elder Sign according to Carl Yaxley
The best cooperative game in my opinion, or at least my favourite, is Elder Sign. I'm a fan of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, and I think the theme lends itself well to cooperative games. Arkham Horror (board game and Living Card Game), Mansions of Madness, and Eldritch Horror are all good games. I like Elder Sign in particular because of how accessible it is, in comparison to its bigger cousins. Core gameplay is pretty straightforward, and it doesn't take long to teach the rules. Players can get to the action without too much delay. When the game is in motion, it flows quite naturally, with little appreciable downtime between turns.
Up to eight players will take on the role of investigators, attempting to stop the awakening of an Ancient One - a powerful, inter-dimensional being that is as likely to drive mortals insane as to physically devour them. To seal the Ancient One away, players need Elder Signs. These are awarded by completing tasks throughout the game, represented by Adventure Cards. A player can attempt an Adventure each turn, by rolling dice. Each Adventure offers a different reward for successfully completing it. Players can gain allies, learn spells, and pick up various objects to aid them in the game. Failure to complete a task may have dire consequences. Each turn the clock moves on, bringing the Ancient One ever closer to consciousness.
The game has a decent replay value and there are plenty of expansions to add more content and new game modes
Arkham Horror: The LCG according to Ryan Hemming
In my opinion, the best cooperative board game is Arkham Horror: The Living Card Game. I know that the Cthulhu Mythos theme has been done to death, but this is the finest implementation of it that I’ve come across. The base box gives you a range of cards to build varied decks, with three scenarios to start you off. This is enough for you and one friend to get busy dismantling the work of malicious cultists.
You’d need another base box for more players, but I’ve never felt the need. As a particular campaign progresses, you earn points and can upgrade your deck, removing weaknesses and enhancing your favourite cards. You also carry the burden of the horrors you’ve encountered, hampering your health and sanity. What’s more, Fantasy Flight Games has done a great job making each scenario feel unique, with monsters, layout and special rules really mixing things up. You can expand your game in several different directions.
Grab an expansion box, which comes with new characters, cards to augment your deck and new scenarios to tackle. Add mythos packs to form a full campaign, with a storyline integrated into the gameplay. This, of course, could turn into a money sink, but with a little restraint, can become a carefully curated library of scenarios for you and a friend to explore. Overall, there’s tonnes of replayability to be had and you can have a fantastic afternoon cracking down on the twisted monstrosities of the Mythos.
The Fury of Dracula according to Tom Harrod
I may get hunted down for nominating Fury of Dracula as my pick for the best co-op game. Straight off the bat, I should admit this isn’t a pure co-op. It’s one-versus-many, in a co-operative manner. Four players, vampire hunters from Bram Stoker’s novel, have to work together to kill Dracula. The fifth player takes on the role of the count himself, whose aim is to spread Evil™ around Europe.
In Pandemic, the players play against a deck of cards. In Fury of Dracula, that deck of cards is an actual person. This deck of cards answers back when you swear at it. It cackles behind a black cloak, and then vanishes as mists roll in from the sea.
Fury of Dracula is a hidden movement game. It’s like Ravensburger classic, Scotland Yard. Only here, locating which city the count is hiding in is part one. Part two is then defeating him in combat!
The asymmetrical hunters are strongest during the day. They can travel around Europe trying to find the vampire, or stock up on supplies. Dracula of course, comes out to play at night. He leaves an evil trap behind in his current city, and then waltzes off to a parallel location. Aim one is trying to detect Dracula’s trail. If you don’t pull your socks up, the trail will go cold. His traps trigger after a certain time if not discovered. They’re nefarious in nature, and send his Evil-O-Meter all aquiver.
The thing I love about Fury of Dracula is that trail of cards. If you stumble across one of them, the noose tightens in a heartbeat. The hunters lean over the board, fingers pointing, excited plans formulating. Realisation hits the once-smug vamp. Colour drains from his cheeks (as if he wasn’t pale enough, already). Now the hunt is on. Now Dracula’s furious…
Escape the Dark Castle according to Rob Wright
During my formative years, I engaged in a solo activity that I desperately wanted to share with my friends but couldn’t. This activity was, of course, playing Fighting Fantasy books, a series of ‘choose your own adventure’ books that had all the elements of an RPG without the need for a DM. Fast forward several decades and lo! Escape the Dark Castle is Fighting Fantasy with friends!
Each player (1 to 4) is given a character, each with their own dice. Each dice has a mix of might, wisdom and cunning icons on it in varying amounts depending on the character’s strengths (the Abbot being all about wisdom, the Tailor cunning etc.). Characters and 20 hit points assigned, 15 cards are picked to be the adventure and one final card to be the boss. The players then attempt to escape the DC, taking it in turns to turn over the cards and facing the consequences, be they traps, wandering strangers or fearsome beasts. Combat is simple, with each assailant having a certain number of attribute dice that need to be ‘knocked out’ by the correct rolls.
Whilst your opponent lives you take damage (unless shielded) but successfully defeating them gives up an item… yay, mouldy bread! If all players make it to the end and defeat the boss, the game is won! It’s great because it’s quick but satisfying, the monochrome art is gorgeously nostalgic and it’s hard for one player to alpha it – everybody plays! (it’s also very reasonably priced…)
Mansions of Madness according to Tom Gorner
Why do I say this? Well, in my opinion, you would be stuck trying to find a game that adds so much atmosphere and suspense as Mansions does! The unique aspect of Mansions, specifically the second edition, is the incorporation of an app which takes over all the “admin” tasks that were normally performed by a player in the first edition. Alongside this app management, you also get flavour text with voiceover, thematic music, leading to a streamlined, more pleasant experience.
I adore Mansions of Madness as a game, with its Lovecraftian theme and endless story possibilities. The app auto-generates the landscape and objectives each time you play so while some similarities may exist, these are mostly discarded by the app. Of course, this game is heavily cooperative, with all players forming a group of investigators taking on the Lovecraftian monsters! You MUST work together as a team if you want to stand a chance in this game and investigations you play will ensure this takes place. Want to run off and slay a Star Spawn by yourself? Think again friend! You need to work together if you want to succeed and that’s what makes this game so enjoyable.
It brings you together as a group and the victory at the end is made that little bit sweeter because of it. If you want a co-op game that has a deep thematic edge, enjoyable gameplay and lots and lots possibilities and replayability, then Mansions of Madness needs to be on your list!
Aeon’s End according to Matt Thomasson
Aeon’s End is a one to four player, co-operative, deck building game. Players take the role of a Breach Mage with a unique starting deck, casting spells, purchasing new cards, preparing spells and using relics. Spells cast and cards purchased go in to a player’s discard pile followed by any spent gems or relics. The players take turns casting spells until either nemesis health has been reduce to zero, or the nemesis deck is exhausted, and the players win. The nemesis will take turns drawing cards from their nemesis deck, using powerful attacks and bringing out minions to thwart the players. The nemesis wins if all of the player’s life has been reduced to zero or the health of Gravehold has been reduced to zero.
Aeon’s End has some interesting mechanisms such as a variable turn order deck and no shuffling of the player’s deck. The order in which cards are discarded is important. The game comes with four Nemesis, eight unique mages and a host of gems, relics and spells to choose from. The replay-ability in the game is very high. The Nemesis themselves all play differently and each have a unique feel to them.
The relic and spell cards are varied and have interesting abilities and effects. Breach Mages also all have unique and varied special attributes. These can be crucial if things start to go awry.
The variable turn order deck is always fun. It offers tension and, at times, it offers chaos where you can get a pounding by the Nemesis. Yet it doesn’t often feel like you can’t come back from it, assuming you work together. Co-operation is key in this game.
No shuffling of the discard pile is a really cool mechanism. One of the problems with deck builders is the luck element - the luck in drawing cards that simply do not seem to sync. This is removed to some extent as you can discard the cards in the order you then want them to come out. This simple twist makes the game for me. It is such a good, fun, co-operative game.