So 2019 is almost at end! I played a lot of cooperative games this year: many of them I didn’t review because I didn’t like them after one play (which is not a fair review) or because they came in late in 2019 (so I didn’t get a chance to play them). There were a LOT of good cooperative games this year! If your favorite didn’t make this list it’s either because I didn’t play it, I didn’t like it, or I didn’t play it enough.
As usual, we address whether the game supports solo play (Saunders’s Law). Anyways, here’s my favorites for the year!
A. Yggdrasil Chronicles
Supports Solo Play? Yes! But the rules feel like they need a little tweaking.
This cooperative, legacy game is based on the original Yggdrasil from a few years ago. The original Yggdrasil was bag-building/worker placement game which seemed to have a bit of a cult following, but most people seemed to think this was too hard. The newer version added difficulty levels (probably in response to the perceived difficulty) as well as some legacy play. It also added a movement mechanic and an amazing tree component (see above) which players move around and explore! I just got it a few weeks ago, so I’ve only played this a few times, but I really like it! I look forward to the legacy elements, but right now I can’t put it in my top ten because it needs more play. But, so far, it looks beautiful and plays well!
B. Just One
Supports Solo Play? No. This is a party game.
I originally got this game early in 2019 and thought it was a 2019 release. Nope: it came out in 2018 (according to BoardGameGeek at least). Having said that, this game was a staple at a lot of parties I went to later in the year! It’s a great, simple cooperative party game! One player tries to guess a word given only one word hints from other players (with the proviso that each word can only appear once)! For me, 2019 was the year of Just One, but officially I think it has to be an Honorable Mention.
C. Sidekick Saga
Supports Solo Play? Yes. The solo player plays two characters.
There’s a couple of reasons this is honorable mention. One: it’s technically being delivered as we speak so a lot of people won’t get this until 2020. Second: I designed the game, so it probably shouldn’t even go on my list. BUT, even after two years of living with it, I still love my game! I love the Phil Cho art! I love that there’s a notion of cooperative drafting (something I always wanted in Seven Wonders). I love the exploration, I love the story, I love the unique Superheroes. The Secret ID/Hero flipping mechanism was unique (when I designed it: now Marvel:Champions has it as well), and I had never seen that before.
I wanted a Superhero story that told a story over a 6-Issue miniseries. And that’s what Sidekick Saga is.
Okay! Onto the top 10!
Supports Solo Play? Yes! The game clearly states “play two Characters” and it works well.
This Kickstarter game came at the end of 2019 after taking 2-3 years to deliver. Players play characters from Victorian England trying to discover the plot to destroy/ravage England! It’s kind of like Arkham Horror:2nd Edition (with the exploration, characters, feel, art) meets The Captain is Dead (with exploration and the card mechanics). Those are two of my favorite games, so this game makes the list!
This is a real fun game: it would have made it a little bit higher but there’s a few things that hold it back. See my thoughts here. In general, I think it’s a great game, especially if you like the Victorian mythos!
9. Marvel Champions
Supports solo play? Yes! Arguably, this game is played best solo.
Anyone who knows me knows I love Superheroes (see the Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card Games)! So, this cooperative Living Card Game (LCG) based on the Lord of the Rings LCG was very tempting. It’s real fun as each player takes the role of a superhero from the Marvel universe (one of Spiderman, She-Hulk, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, or Black Panther is included in the base game). As a hero, the player(s) fight some Bad Guy: Rhino, Ultron and some others. This is a pretty fun game! It’s a Living Card Game (LCG) so there is lots of content probably planned for it (Fantasy Flight games, who makes this game, tends to milk these LCGs pretty hard). I have already pre-ordered the Captain America expansion!
It’s a fun game, but it’s not higher because the game feels just a little mechanical—you only have a small number of cards that are “hero specific”: The rest of the cards are generic cards (from a family of cards, but still). The game feels like The DC Deck-Building game meets Sentinels of the Multiverse (SOTM). The generic cards sometimes seem athematic (like in the DC Deck-Building game), but the “hero specific” cards are great and remind me of SOTM. How does this compare to SOTM? It seems 50-50: some of my friends like this more than SOTM, some like SOTM much more. I personally like Marvel: Champions, but I don’t think it will supplant SOTM for me.
Supports Solo Play? Yes.
This is easily the smallest game on the list! It is a cooperative city builder game, where players work together to get the most victory points (depending on their scoring conditions). It’s a small (18-cards) game that fits in the little wallet above.
On the table, it looks big as you try to connect roads and build your city cooperatively. Fun game: thank to Lon for showing this to me!
7. Crusoe Crew
This was a Kickstarter where I got 3 copies for myself, my teacher friend, and my friend with a family of four! The idea is so original and interesting: all players cooperatively follow along in a separate book for the same adventure, but each player sees something “slightly” different!
This game has really grown on me a little since the review (here and here). My only real complaint is that the binding could be better. But as a game, as an experience for 1-4 players, it’s unique and fun!
6. The Shipwreck Arcana
Supports solo play? No! But see here for some rules for solo play rules.
I usually don’t like cooperative games with some limited communication rules, but this one works! This is a small, fairly straightforward deduction game where each player has a hidden number that the other players cooperatively are trying to guess. One player gives a hint (by putting a number on one of the clue cards) and the other players can freely talk amongst each other trying to decipher what the clue means! (See below for clue examples)
The Shipwreck Arcana is a little math-intensive, which some people may not like, but in general it was a hit with several of my game groups. It’s small, cheap, fun, and it’s a cooperative deduction game!
5. Set A Watch
Set A Watch was a big surprise for me. It was a Kickstarter and I backed it because it looked like a fun, simple game. And it was! (See review here). The surprise was how well it went over with all my game groups! I have party game groups, mid-core gamer groups, and hard-core gamer groups! All of the groups seemed to like this game!
Players cooperatively roll and place dice on their character sheets. One player stays back each turn to “watch the campfire” and the others go off to fight the creatures surrounding the campfire! Sometimes it makes sense to use the die value directly to attack a monster, sometimes you assign dice to special abilities! Each player has 3 special abilities, and you almost always feel like you are making useful, fun decisions. On top of that, this is a very small box (really, the game just barely fits) that’s easy to lug around. A real fun game that seems to span all game levels.
4. Escape Games
Escape-type games are still very popular! Especially in my groups. I group them all together here, although my favorite Escape Room game could have been a contender for the #1 spot on the whole list!
Supports Solo Play? Yes, these all support solo play, but Escape Room games are generally much more fun with other people.
iii. Unlock: Expedition Challenger (the dinosaur one)
I played this one at a party with 3 other players and it was real fun. We all contributed (that can sometimes be an issue if too many people are playing), and the game was challenging and fun as we explored the jungle!
ii. Deckscape: The Mystery of Eldorado
I really thought this would be my favorite escape room of the year after playing it! The game had fun exploration puzzles, the help system with the guides was well done, and the game just flowed so well! The theme of exploring the jungle really comes out.
i. Deckscape: Behind the Curtain
Holy cow! This almost made my favorite game of the year! The puzzles were great, the theme really came through, and there were … toys (for lack of a better word) in this game that just really knocked the experience up! There’s some things I’ve never seen before in an Escape Room game. The magician theme really comes through for a fun fun escape room game! This may be my favorite Escape room game of all time!
3. Thunderstone Quest (Barricades Mode: cooperative expansion)
Supports Solo Play? Yes: The Barricades Mode expansion adds both cooperative and solo play.
Thunderstone Quest is a dungeon-crawling, deck-building game. The original game (upper left) was competitive. The Barricades Mode (upper right) is an expansion that adds cooperative and solo play to the game. See my reviews here, here, and here!
So, this game has amazing components! It ratchets up the deck-building experience with dungeon-dwelling, combat, barricades, abilities and some really great cooperative mechanics. I would strongly recommend this game, but beware that it is pretty complicated.
2. Adventure Games: The Dungeon
Supports Solo Play? Yes, but like the Escape Room games, it’s probably better to play with more people.
Longtime readers of this blog know that my favorite video game of all time is the Graphic Point-and-Click Adventure game known as Monkey Island. In Point-and-Click Adventure games, players explore a world, combine some objects, and solve some puzzles. The Adventure Games: The Dungeon was a board game version of the Point-and-Click adventure games!! This was SUCH a surprise for me! It looked fun, but it blew me away how fun this was when we played it.
It’s very much like the Escape Room games at number 4 on this list, but the game is much more about the story being told rather than the puzzles. The collaboration, the exploration, the story-telling is just great in this game. There’s a lot of reading … the app supposedly will do all the storytelling for you, but it wasn’t ready when we played. Thus, we had to read a LOT out text out of the storybook. But! We had fun using our own accents when we read from the book, and that just uppped the fun.
There was another Adventure Games game that was very very good, but not quite as good as The Dungeon. The Dungeon was almost my number 1.
1. Detective: City of Angels (cooperative mode built-in)
Supports Solo Play? Yes, very well.
Detective: City of Angels is NOT a cooperative game by default! The cooperative mode is built-in and had great support, but it is not the main way to play. See here. I don’t care! The cooperative mode is everything I want in a deduction game! A REAL mystery to solve! (This limits the replayability: the game only comes with 9 cases) Players work together, moving around the board, reading clues. There is also a notion of “challenging” a witness because you think they are lying, which adds some fun tension to the game!! You can “rough them up”, but if you do it too much, you lose time and credibility!
The game amazing components, the art by Vincent Dutrait is fantastic, the game board is huge (and barely fits on my table above), the books are easy to read, the clue system and note-taking system are easy and intuitive. This is what I wanted in Agents of SMERSH or Tales of the Arabian Nights: a story-telling game with a real story behind it! I love mysteries, and this game really feels like I am working with friends to solve a mystery. Just amazingly fun!!