Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively

The real title of this top 10 list should be “The Top 10 Board and Card Games that aren’t really fully cooperative games, but can be played that way with a few modifications”, but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?   Over the years, I’ve collected a number games that aren’t TRULY fully cooperative, but I’ve found there that was some way to play them fully cooperatively.   How? It might be as simple as ignoring some simple rule or as complex as adding a full-blown expansion whose sole purpose is to make the game cooperative!

Introduction

A few definitions before we begin: fully cooperative (or I might just say cooperative without the fully qualifier as we get into this) are games where all players in the game are invested in helping each other and working together as one team to win the game.   Other games types like team-vs-team or one-versus-many or semi-co-op or traitor games I do NOT consider fully cooperative!  There are elements of cooperation in those, but at the end of the day, at least one player is still “against” other players.

For each game, I give an overview of the changes needed to play the game fully cooperatively, as well as answer the burning question: can you play it solo with the newly formed fully cooperative rules? (I.e.,Saunders’ Law?)

These are the ones I have enjoyed the most.  If there is a game I’ve missed, please add it to the comments.

Honorable Mention: Runebound (3rd Edition)

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  You need the Unbreakable Bonds expansion.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes: the Unbreakable Bonds expansion adds solo play as well.

The base Runebound (3rd edition) is competitive.  You need the Unbreakable Bonds expansion to play cooperatively.

The reason this is Honorable Mention is that I haven’t played it enough yet! But I do know a lot of people who really like this  high-fantasy game.  It’s easy to get Runebound,  but it’s really hard to get a hold of Unbreakable Bonds at this point, so the lack of availability also slips this into the Honorable Mention.

10. Mage Knight

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How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  Ignore the victory points.  Play Cartman Cooperative.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.  The rulebook has rules for solo play, but I’ve found you can just play the game with one Mage Knight and there’s less maintenance and more fun.

I find that I enjoy the Star Trek: Frontiers version of Mage Knight better, but it’s still just about the same game.  See my review of Star Trek: Frontiers here.  There is more content for Mage Knight proper (a few more expansions and a Big Box version of the game), but there is a Khan expansion for Star Trek: Frontiers.

At the end of the day, this game is almost fully cooperative.  It’s a scenario based game where you either beat the scenario or not, so the players must work together partly to accomplish that. There’s a notion of victory points at the end, so each player tends to step on each other (especially near endgame) to try and get “more victory points to win!”.

Just ignore the victory points, play it as a fully cooperative game! At the end, revel in your shared win or commiserate in your shared loss.

The only reason this game is so far down the list is that it’s hard to get to the table: it’s a big sprawling, long game.

9. Shadows Over Camelot

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  Don’t play with the traitor. And see below.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Maybe?  You can play two characters, but then you have to worry about accidentally sharing card info, and you’d have to use the Changing Perspectives idea.

Shadows Over Camelot is a hidden traitor game with hidden information.  In the set-up for the game, some cards are handed out dictating if you are a traitor or not.  It is very possible that no one is a traitor.  So, rather than rely on that, we simply eliminate the traitor completely.  Since none of the players are allowed to see the other player’s cards, you can still play the game normally. The hidden information still allows the game to be interesting (and you still have to work together with imperfect information).

Now, getting rid of the traitor makes the game significantly easier.  We’ve found we had to change the win condition to make it harder.

  1. Players have to place the last sword white.  Even if they have a (overwhelming) majority, the last sword must be white or the players lose.
  2. Players need a overwhelming majority of swords  to win:  (an extra 2 or 3 white swords over simple majority, depending on how hard you want the game).

This game is lower on the list only because it’s older and doesn’t come out to the table as much.

8. Dungeon Lords

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  Umm, this one’s pretty complicated.  See rule changes below.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.  There some solo rules on BoardGameGeek here.

This is a favorite game of my friend Junkerman and myself.  Strictly speaking, this is a competitive victory point game with agonizing worker placement decisions.  Each player runs their own dungeon and is trying to get the most victory points by keeping those pesky dungeon adventurers out.  At its core, players are competing hard for resources in the worker placement phase, because you need those resources!

As we’ve played over the years, we’ve realized the real goal is to keep the adventurers from infiltrating ANY of your dungeon.   As a cooperative game, if all players (we’ve really only played two players in this mode) can keep their dungeons pristine, we call this a cooperative win!  And we ignore victory points.

Unfortunately, making this cooperative is a lot harder than most games.

  1. The worker placement phase is very tight, and it too easy to mess each other up. There’s just not enough resources to really make this work.
  2. There needs to be some form of communication, but too much communications just makes the game “not fun” as you end up in analysis paralysis.

So what do we do?  We basically add two new rules.  One of them requires a new deck of cards and the other is a new ruleset.

  1. Add the DungeonLords Improvements deck and rules to the game.  See here for details.  The basic idea: when you would go to a place that’s blocked, you may play one of your SPECIAL cards instead.  Basically, you can still do something interesting, even when you get blocked in the worker placement phase.
  2. Added limited negotiation in a few places.  This one was tricky, because we didn’t completely open it up to “we can negotiate everything”, but just in a few places:
    a. You can do one negotiation/information at the start of the worker placement: “I really need that Monster, so just do you know”.  It was more like, I am telling you what I need and maybe saying what the alternatives are.  That’s it, just a little extra information.
    b. Offer places where our workers WON’T Go. Similarly, when we put away our workers, we kind of tell each other “.. these are the kind of places my workers WON’T GO today, would any of those help you?”

In the end, the game is still tight as both players have agonizing decisions to make.  On some level, this fully cooperative version is more of a stay-out-of-each-other’s way cooperative.  But, it’s a cooperative form of a game that has no right to be cooperative in any way!

7. Conquest of Planet Earth

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  It comes with the game: it’s an alternate way to play the game.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.  There are solo rules in the box.

This game has the players take on the role of aliens invading earth!  It’s a fun theme.  The base game is competitive, but the rulebook has a cooperative variant built-in.  The cooperative variant is easily the best way to play this game.

This game is a little harder to get a hold of these days.

6. CO2/CO2 Second Chance

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  It comes with the game: Depending on the version of the game you get, it’s either the base game or  an alternate way to play the game.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.  There are solo rules in the box.

This may be a cheat to put on the list, as the newest version of CO2: Second Chance has it’s base game as cooperative (with a competitive variant built-in as well).  The original version of C02 was a competitive game but there just happened to be some variant for cooperative play.    If you do pick up the original box, you can still play cooperatively.  If you have a choice, pick up the CO2: Second Chance instead.  This is a heavy resource management game where everyone is working to save the planet together by eliminating our dependence on carbon.  (Honestly, the theme cries out for a fully cooperative game).

5. Legendary

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  Ignore the victory points.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  There are a lot of ways to play solo on BGG.

We’ve talked about Legendary quite a bit on this blog (See “Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games”): it’s a fun, superhero based deck-building game.  Players “buy teams” of heroes to build their decks up, in hopes these decks will help them to take out some Bad Guys.   All players lose together if they don’t defeat the Bad Guy (and his scheme), but the player with the most victory points (cards he’s collected throughout the game) wins.

We ignore the victory points completely when we play.  We just rejoice in the shared win or commiserate in the brutal loss.

4. Near and Far

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  You have to buy an expansion: The Amber Mines
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  No, there aren’t solo rules, but see below.

Near and Far is a competitive worker placement, storybook game.  In order to play cooperatively, you need the Amber Mines expansion.

The Amber Mines has a bunch of modules you can add to the game: one of them is the cooperative module.  Basically, it adds as timer to the game: a new board is added to the game which “moves up a track by 1” after the 1st player goes.  If this track makes it to the last space (skull), the players lose.  Otherwise, the players are trying to get victory points: when the game is over (when the 14th tent comes out), players add up their victory points.  If that sum is greater than the “track number x number of players”, the players win!  It’s a little esoteric win condition,  but you still get to play the full goodness of Near and Far in a cooperative venue (Oh ya, you still need to kill some bosses to win too).

I am surprised they don’t have solo player rules!  The win condition has to do with “track number x number of players”, so obviously the winning condition can scale to a single player.  To learn the cooperative version of the game, I simply played one character in the cooperative mode and got as many victory points as I could.  If nothing else, this solo mode seems like a perfectly cromulent way to learn the cooperative game.

3. Mousquetaires Du Rey

boxFront

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  At the very end of the rulebook, there are co-op rules.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes. The players takes the role of 2 chartacters in the co-op variant.

Mousquetaires du Roy is based on the novel “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas.  The base game is a one-versus-many game where one player plays Milady against the rest of the players playing the Three Musketeers.  At the very end of the rulebook are some rules for playing the game fully cooperatively.  Basically, in the cooperative version, all players play one of the Three Musketeers.  There’s an AI that controls Milady’s actions as she conspires against the players.

This game really surprised me!  When I played it cooperatively, I really had fun!  It’s too bad it didn’t too better: I never see it mentioned.  It even made my More Cooperative Games “Off The Beaten” Path List (see here).

2. Thunderstone Quest

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  You have to buy an expansion: Barricades Mode
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.

Thunderstone Quest is a competitive deck-building, dungeon-delving, killing-monsters game.  See my review of the base competitive game here.  In order to play cooperatively, you need the Barricades Mode expansion.

Thunderstone Quest makes the players work together to keep the town safe.  The base deck-building game is still there: at it’s core: this is a deck-building game where players can build themselves up in town (buying equipment or stuff to build their deck) or can head to the dungeon to fight monsters.  The Barricades Mode makes the game a lot more complicated, adding dice and experience boards and other stuff (see my review here).

Even with all this complexity added by the Barricades Mode, cooperative play was really fun!  There’s a lot of decisions to make, a lot of beautiful art, and a lot of monsters to fight!  Players work together to save the town from being overrun with monsters. There is also a ton of content from 3 (maybe more at this point) kickstarters.

 

1. Detective: City of Angels

Cover for Detective: City of Angels. Art by Vincent Dutrait.

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  At the very end of the rulebook, there are co-op rules.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes, there are solo rules built-in and they are quite good.

Detective: City of Angels is a storybook game where players solve a mystery. The base game is  one-versus-many as one player plays as the Chisel and “runs” the mystery, sort of like a DungeonMaster running the game.  The Chisel “runs” the game, knows the solution to the mystery, but still wants the players to “fail”.

Luckily, Detective: City of Angels has a great cooperative mode built in.  The rules for it are in the second half of the rulebook (belying that it’s a variant of the game and not the default way to play), but the rulebook does a great job of showing set-up and describing the full cooperative mode.  It’s really fun and the co-op mode made my favorite cooperative game of 2019 (see here).  You can also see my full review of the game here.

 

4 thoughts on “Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively

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