Top 10 Co-operative Board Games “Off the Beaten Path”

There are a lot of top 10 lists for co-operative board and card games, but I have noticed that they tend to rehash the same games over and over.

To that end, here is a list of my top ten “off the beaten track” co-operative board and card games.

10. Shadowrift:

I believe it was originally a Kickstarter, but I picked it up at my local  game store (the original edition).   This (at the time) was unique, as it was a co-operative deck-building game. The theme was simple: keep Haven Town from being overrun.

Shadowrift is hard to set-up, but once you get into it, it’s pretty fun. (I strongly recommend finding a youtube video for set-up: we liked this one).

Currently, there’s a second edition, but I only have the first. My friends and I always enjoyed it when we played it, so I have new reason to buy the new one. The newer edition has better components, but again, I was happy with the first.

9. The Isle of Dr. Necreaux:



An interesting co-op card game, where splitting the party is a mechanic!

I don’t even think this game is in print anymore. I just adored this game: it has some interesting game play ideas: every turn, you decide how many “challenges” (cards) to flip. Too many and you get overwhelmed and “die”, too few and you won’t save the scientists/get off the island in time!

The FAQ is bigger than the rulebook, and there are some ambiguities. If you like rules very cut-and-dried, you won’t like this game. Fairly often in the game, you have to make a rules interpretation to move on; this can be fairly disconcerting to some gamers. But, for me, it was kind of thematic! “I’m on this weird island! How do I deal with this weird stuff?” You just deal with the weird stuff and move on.

I adored this game (I know I said that), but I can see why others might not like it. It’s worth checking out just to “split the party”; the fact that they have a mechanic for that is worth at least a few plays.

8. Agents of S.M.E.R.S.H:

A fun co-op game with lots of immersive reading, originally a kickstarter.

Thematically, you are secret agents from the 70s. (Think Bond in the era of James Bond with Sean Connery, but much sillier).

This game was originally a kickstarter. I introduced it to a lot of my friends: they liked it so much they bought it themselves!  (I had the first edition, there is currently an updated 2nd edition).  It’s best described as Tales of Arabian Nights meets Pandemic and Arkham Horror. There’s lots of reading that can be very immersive: every turn, someone reads some text from a VERY big book about a secret agent challenge, and you either succeed or fail in the challenge. You move around a map, trying to squash Dr. Lobo and his minions before they destroy/take over the world!

One complaint I have heard about Tales of Arabian Nights is that it’s too random (and it really is!). If you like the idea of Tales of Arabian Nights, but want something with strategy, SMERSH is for you!
My friend Joe bought the game because the reading aspect is very helpful in his classroom: it seems to encourage kids to to read more.

My friends Charlie and Alison bought it because they loved the co-op nature and the flavor text is very immersive.

This is a fun game. It also has a sense of humor. (There’s at least 2 expansions, one is named “Swagman’s Hope”.)

7. Ygdrassil:



A fun co-op set in Norse Mythos. Very hard, but very fun.  This game comes out a lot onto our table.  It seems to be a real crowd pleaser.

6. Arkham Horror:


A very big, very thematic Cthulu Mythos board game squarely set in town Arkham. It’s almost a role playing game, in that you play a character with abilities and equipment and stats, but it is  still “limited” to a board game (to keep some of the complexity down).

So, you might wonder, “How is this off the Beaten Path? Arkham Horror is an mainstream game!” Well, I was “shocked” how little presence Arkham Horror had at the Fantasy Flights board game center in Roseville MN (I got to visit when my wife and I visited her family). There was just a few copies of the game and the expansions. It didn’t seem like they were pushing it very much. It seems like the new generation of Fantasy Flight games is getting the love: Mansions of Madness, Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign.

I suspect that Arkham Horror has gone as far as it can, and Fantasy Flight is hoping to next generation of Cthulu Games will take hold.

My friend CC even thinks the newer games (esp. Eldritch Horror) are more modern and have slighly better mechanics (and he introduced me to Arkham Horror!).

But I’ll play Arkham Horror just about anytime. It has a special place in my heart: for my Bachelor Party, we played Arkham Horror and 6(!) expansions at the same time. EVERY SINGLE EXPANSION AT ONCE. To keep track of the different boards and rules, every player was responsible for one expansion.

I still think it’s a great game. If you like Role Playing Games, but just don’t have a DM or time to make up an adventure, Arkham Horror feels very much like an RPG while still being bounded. It’s a great game, if a little complicated.

To my mind, it’s the first real co-operative board game.

(And, I also loved it so much, I tried to get my Software Engineering course to implement it.)

5. Dead Men Tell No Tales:



This was originally a kickstarter .

I am a sucker for co-op games, so I picked this one up. I also picked up a second copy for my friend CC (as a birthday present) because I knew his kids love pirates (and CC is the only person I know who likes co-ops as much as me).

CC, a bit of a connoisseur of games (and quite the designer), was really taken with the game. He thought the dice mechanic was interesting and original. I also noticed that the game was pulled out many times at one of my Las Cruces gaming groups. “Did you bring Dead Men Tell No Tales?”

It was a good gift and it is a good game.

4. Secrets of the Lost Tomb:


This was originally a kickstarter.

For gameplay, it can be best described as Arkham Horror meets Betrayal at House on the Hill (but fully co-operative for the entire game). The theme is very Indiana Jones/Johnny Quest with exploration of crypts and tombs and defeating all sorts of evil creatures. In some ways, I like this better than Arkham Horror because each time you play, the scenarios are very different (with different win conditions,  set-up, etc) a la “Betrayal at House on the Hill”. The only problem with scenarios is that there are a finite number of them which may limit your replayabilty a little.
There’s a lot of pieces, but it’s lots of fun. There are TONS of expansions, but I still only have the base game, as I haven’t played through all the base scenarios yet.

A long game, but lots of fun if you like a lot of role-playing aspects in
a board game.

3. Say Bye to the Villains:


My friend Jeremy brought this over some time ago. I was skeptical: it’s a co-op that plays 3-8 players. 3-8?  We ended up playing a game with 7 people. And it was FUN! There are very few games that work well with 7 or 8 people, especially a co-op, and this one pulled it off. I am sad to say we haven’t played this as much as we should, but it was really fun.

I bought it the next day.  Part of the reason this one gets such high marks is because of the 3-8 players for a co-op.  So few have that now.

2. Big Book of Madness


This game is fairly new, and has hit our table quite a few times.  I suspect many of my friends may go and buy it they like it so much (CC already has!).  Check out our review and discussion of the game here.

I wonder … this game has quite a bit of “Parry Hotter” in it (I don’t want to get sued …), so I am curious how well the Harry Potter Deckbuilding game (out very soon) stacks up (no pun intended) against this.  Will the one that was developed with the IP work better?  Or will the “offshoot” be a better game?  Time will tell …

1. CO-OP: the co-op game


Hopefully, a kickstarter in the future.

This is a my own creation, which I have working on for about 9 months now. I still like playing this game! I like co-op games that are very puzzly, especially ones you can play by yourself or with others; that describes CO-OP to a T. I also like games with a sense of humour (The Secret of Monkey Island, Chez Geek, Munchkin, Agents of SMERSH, etc.) and I tried to instill humor into a game without sacrificing gameplay. I also find that some things are missing from a lot of co-operative board games, mainly “Why can’t you play in any order?”. If players control the order, they can make some neat combinations that can really move the game along (See this blog posting for what I call “The Fastball Special”).

So, I am hoping to take CO-OP to a kickstarter maybe at the start of next year. Be on the lookout!