Team Up or Fall Down: 5 Co-op Board and Card Games

Team Up or Fall Down: 5 Co-op Board and Card Games

With Christmas and Kwanzaa around the corner and despite Hanukkah’s departure 12 days ago, it’s time to realize that your shopping is nowhere near completed and Freak-Out Mode should be engaged (unless you’ve already finished shopping, which means you can read on for fun and emotional wealth). For those living in places where “White Christmas” can be a reality — for wetter and driving’s worst — it’s frightening to hit the snowy road, inch through the parking lot in hopes of a space wherein other cars aren’t already invading due to poor spatial recognition, and salmon your way through a throng of frantic parents looking for the one toy their kid can’t live without and other such shoppers with the mindset that gift cards just aren’t personal enough. The holidays aren’t meant to inspire togetherness and working with your fellow man, but venturing to stores a week before Christmas can ensure the only thing you’d want to bring together with your fellow man is the business end of a baseball bat.


Artist’s depiction of a small outcome from the Tickle Me Elmo wars of ’96. Photo via Jerry Lodriguss

Luckily, in case you’re wholly unaware where you’re reading this story, you’re currently on internet, an e-land that lets you stay at home and order practically anything you could ever need. Compared to braving the elements and mentals at the mall, the internet is Shangri-La for last-minute gift getting.

Then again, what are you getting for those on your holiday list? If your friends and family are anything like mine, you have fewer clues to deal with than Blue when it comes to guessing what people want for Christmas and its Holiday Pals. A tie for mom? Over mitts for pop? Gender-identifying lessons for yourself?

What about some games? Board and card games are often accessible to people with varying ages and personal tastes. Good, wholesome family fun, right?

Except when someone rolls a Yahtzee against you.
Or when people make secret alliances in Risk.
Or when your opponent peeks over your board in Battleship.
Or when someone bumps you off in “Sorry!” and doesn’t even move to apologize.
Or when anyone even mentions Monopoly.

Easiest scar to explain

Do not pass 10-year-anniversary. Do not collect any happiness. Comic via

Guh. I suppose this wasn’t the keenest of ideas. Well, unless there are board games where you’re meant to work together. But that would mean potential happiness and harmony.

Good news: there are plenty of board and cards games that feature such teamwork! So, not only can you avoid the procrastination crowd, but you can provide that seasonal sense of kinship for which you’ve yearned since the last shared activity was arguing over how many turkey leftovers everyone was taking home.

Here’s a selection of five games that focus heavily on cooperation between players to make or break the outcome.


New name for a sausagefest: Mandemic. Try it out.

Save the world…or save yourself? Actually, you should probably go for the first option. Photo via Z-Man Games

Players: 2-4
Age: 8+
MSRP: $39.99
Expansions: Yes
Goal: Stop the diseases or start praying.

Pandemic combines all of the fear of a massive disease outbreak with all the fun of not actually dying from Ebola. There are four diseases that are currently spreading throughout the entire world. Well, minus Antarctica, but those penguins are pretty good at proper hygiene. As your team of specialists, you’re racing against time and outbreaks to find a cure and eradicate each disease from the world. You never know when or where an outbreak is going to occur, so it’s pertinent to keep communication open with your teammates to coordinate your efforts effectively.

Or cause the world to succumb to sickness. Your call.

Highlight: Character Roles
Pandemic features six distinct character roles that, in the instance of a real outbreak, would prove to be useful. Examples include the Researcher — able to discover cures much more easily than others — and the dispatcher — able to move other characters as if they were their own. Each role is the luck of the draw, so you could end up with many different combinations. As long as you try to hone your character’s skill instead of squandering it to play “hero,” then you’ll have a chance at a healthy outcome.

Feel like doing the exact opposite of Pandemic’s purpose? Try Plague Inc. for iOS or Android systems and spread the fun and illness.



Sorry, Lemmy, but there’s no ace of spades to be found. Photo via Wikipedia

Players: 2-6 (4 is optimal)
Ages: 8+
MSRP: $6.80
Expansions: No, but there are variations on how to play
Goal: Gather cards based on the rules, rack up the points, yell “SCOPA!”

Yes, there is competition in this game, but much like the game of Euchre, the Italian Scopa involves teams of two attempting to work in unison to snatch up the proper cards and play coin-keep-away with the opponents. The suits in this 40-card deck resemble feathers, chalices, swords, and coins, and they range from 1 to King (with a Queen in place of a Jack, a Knight in place of a Queen, and no replacement for an Ace). With three cards dealt to each player and four cards played face-up in the middle, scoring happens within these five potentials:

  1. Scoring a Scopa! This happens when you clear the shared pool of cards. Yes, you are encouraged to yell “Scopa!” whenever it occurs. Well, less encouraged, more forced.
  2. Snaring the 7 of coins, or “settebello.”
  3. Acquiring the majority of coin cards.
  4. Having the highest value of any four cards (not including any face cards). For example, having three cards with the 7 value would result in winning this point. Having two 7′s would cause the tiebreaker to go to the majority of 6′s. A tie in 6′s would move to the most 5′s, and so on.
  5. Grabbing the most cards overall per round.

The game is traditionally scored to 11 or 21, though you are open to pick whatever amount of points you’d like. I’m still stuck on this game that we foolishly decided to score to 129,093,571 points. It’s currently 98,042 to “who cares anymore?!” though I’m not sure what number that translates to.

Highlight: Yelling “Scopa!”
Just do it while sitting there. Feign an Italian accent while doing so. Try it in a library.

Arkham Horror


This looks simple. Photo via Kavenu

Players: 1-8
Ages: 12+
MSRP: $59.99
Expansions: Yes
Goal: Defeat the monsters, seal the gates, or face inevitable doom.

Ever heard of H. P. Lovecraft? No, contrary to name context, he did not famously craft teddy bears. Instead, Lovecraft is most famous for creating the being Cthulhu and many other horrific abominations and frightening stories. It is in Lovecraft that Arkham Horror finds its inspiration.

Though this game can be played solo, you can grab seven of your friends and do your damndest to remained undamned by game’s end. While you might feel hope when you choose your characters and their special abilities, your optimism will likely be dashed once you draw whichever Ancient One you’re trying to prevent from awaking, as its powers and minions will seep through gates that may seem to open more quickly than you can close them. You’ll travel the town of Arkham in attempts to gather clues, items, and even NPC (nonplayer character) allies in hopes of more easily quelling the monster uprising in time to seal the Ancient One away. Take too long and monsters may overrun the town, or even worse, the Ancient One will awake. Oh, don’t worry — you still have a chance to defeat him once he rises, a chance much akin to the one you have to win the lottery while dating Jennifer Lawrence/Ryan Gosling/whomever the internet is currently in love with.

Highlight: the Ancient One
Sure, having a character with a unique skill and several specific stats is neat for any gamer, but the terror of racing against a nigh-unbeatable beast makes the game all the more worthwhile. Some beasts make it extremely difficult to do your task before they even wake up, while others are that much tougher to defeat if you ever go toe-to-tentacle with them. Hell, one of them decimates the world just by being released. No battle. No discussion. Just pffffft.


This table ain't big enough for the two of us. We should go to Ikea, then. Photo via techorgaming

This table ain’t big enough for the two of us. We should go to Ikea, then. Photo via techorgaming

Players: 4-7
Ages: 8+
MSRP: $17.99
Expansions: Yes
Goal: Kill to survive.

Remember playing “Cops ‘n Robbers” as a kid? Y’know, before caring plastic guns in public was an offensive act? Well, if they take away your Super Soakers and your “pew pew” noises, you still have Bang!, a card game based on Spaghetti Western archetypes and settings. Like Scopa, this card game hails from Italy and features interplayer competition and cooperation.

In a combination of Pandemic and Arkham Horror, each player is assigned both a role and a character with unique features. The picture above notes the four possible roles (Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaw, and Renegade), all with their own specific goals. The catch? No one knows anyone else’s role with the exception of the publicizing of the Sheriff. That means that sheriffs may accidentally attack deputies, deputies may inadvertently shoot each other, and chaos may reign. This is all enhanced by whichever character your draw, possibly giving you the option to heal yourself each round, to fire as many “Bang!” cards in a turn as you’d like, or many other potent options.

The basis of the game is in the “Bang!” cards that are used to harm one another and take hit points away from your character. There are also “Missed!” cards that may be played to avoid damage. There are several other types of cards that keep the game changing (guns to enhance your range, horses to keep your character out of harm’s way, beer to heal damage, etc.), so strategy comes heavily into this game. Want to duel? Make sure you’ve got enough “Bang!” cards to outlast your target.

Highlight: Character Mystery
You’re an Outlaw. You know this, and you know that your only goal is to take down the Sheriff. Wait a second — someone’s trying to shoot me, and he’s not the Sheriff? Do I keep my focus on the man of the law, or do I try to take down this yellow-belly who’s tryin’ to turn me into Swiss cheese? Not knowing the majority of players’ roles can turn hidden cooperation into open stress.

Hero Quest

Mid-battle squats. Feel the magic burn.

Don’t take your sword-wielding form from board game box art. Photo via Milton Bradley

Players: 2-5
Ages: 10+
MSRP: Out of print. Sells for $129 on eBay if you’re that into board games.
Expansions: Yes, and also pricey on auction sites.
Goal: Traverse the dungeon, or control the monsters. Last one alive finds Trevor. Or treasure. I may have misheard.

This one isn’t fair due to its rarity, but if you can stumble upon a copy, Hero Quest is worthwhile and easy to understand for geeks and curiosi alike. This is essentially Dungeons & Dragons Lite: the characters are already created, the levels are predetermined, and the roles are ready to roll. Up to four players can team up as a Barbarian, Wizard, Elf, or Dwarf against one player acting at the Game Master, a role with the ability to control each of the monsters that pop up around the dark and dreary corners of these caves and dungeons.

Using red and white dice, the adventurers try to get overcome their set goals (save NPCs, collect items, etc.) before reaching the exit. Split up or stay together, but everyone must be prepared for baddies and traps to spring up at any given moment. The heroes can even acquire stronger weapons, but good luck against the tenacious bosses that guard them. Hope your game master has a decent bone in his body. Hint: he probably won’t. Or shouldn’t. Wouldn’t be very fun if he just let you waltz through, would it?

Highlight: Variety
Each level has a different goal, layout, array of evil, and strategy. Though there are only four roles to play, those have various skills, too. Each game will also be different depending on how your game master chooses to use his minions. Again, if you can find this game for cheap in a thrift store or steal it from a friend who proudly displays a collection of board games, you won’t regret it. You might regret the actual act of thievery, but your love for the game might overcome your budding guilt.

Store away those checkers, toss those letter tiles, and forsake connecting four in lieu of connecting with friends and family with these games. Whether you defeat the board or other teams, you can at least guarantee you’ll trounce boredom with any of these choices.

Header image via The Board Game Family

Print Friendly