Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games

What do we mean when say a board or card game is small? We mean one of of many things:

  • How much does it weigh? (weight)
  • How difficult is is? (complexity)  This is taken from the “complexity” metric on BoardGameGeek
  • How long does the game last? (length)
  • How big is the box? (dimensions)

Of course, some of these metrics are closely related (weight and dimension), but they are all different ways to measure “how small” is a game.  The 10 Games below are our favorite small cooperative board and card games. 

10. Pandemic: Hot Zone

Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America, Z-Man Games, 2020 — front cover

Weight: 1.05 pounds
Complexity: 1.92/5
Dimensions: 9 x 5.88 x 2 inches
Game Length: 30 Minutes

Victory!
Pandemic: Hot Zone is a game that was developed by the designer (Matt Leacock) as a way to demo Pandemic (the bigger and more complicated parent) in game stores: it was a way to give a Pandemic-esque experience in a shorter time frame.  For those of you who don’t know, Pandemic (and so many spin-offs) is a fantastic cooperative game that’s taken the world by storm since it’s release in 2008.   Pandemic: Hot Zone is a simpler, smaller version of the game with fewer rules.  There are fewer roles, only 1 research station, only 3 diseases (which you can’t eradicate), and a few other differences.  The game is fun and only lasts 30 minutes.  The thing is, it isn’t THAT much shorter that Pandemic (officially 45 minutes) and it’s just different enough that anyone who knows the original Pandemic might get tripped by a few differences.  The Pandemic: Hot Zone box is smaller and it is still all the goodness of Pandemic in a smaller package, but if I had a choice, I would probably always play Pandemic instead.  This is best used as a welcoming game that’s good to introduce someone to the wonderful world of Pandemic without overwhelming them.

Print n Play version. Lost one card from victory!

9. The Grizzled
box cover

Weight: 10.6 ounces
Complexity: 1.94/5
Dimensions: 5.51 x 5.51 x 1.97 inches
Game Length: 30 Minutes

Game setup

The Grizzled is a “mostly cards” game in small-ish box.  It’s played in silence as players cooperatively try to survive a war in the trenches.   It’s very thematic and tense as players will take “bad stuff” or other effects for each other so they can survive the war.  The goal is to survive and try to get peace to win.  The game is mostly about matching patterns on cards (or rather, not matching too much) and trying to deduce your comrades cards/patterns (based on what they play).  There are special abilities and negative personality traits and threats that add to the theme.  This feel very much like war: “We are stuck in a trench: we have to be quiet to survive but we still have to do something!  Comrades in arms work together!”  The game has an even further thematic twist, as the artist of the game (Tignus, a French cartoonist from Charlie Hedbo) was killed in a terrorists attack not long after this game came out.

The Grizzled

8. Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game

high quality image of front cover

Weight: 11.9 ounces
Complexity: 2.42/5
Dimensions: 8 x 4.5 x 7.5 inches
Game Length: 30-60 Minutes

Setup for solo play

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game is a small card only (and 1 die) game that really nails the Space Marine motif.  For a small little card game, there is a lot of complexity and choice here!  It even made our Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games!   It’s unfortunately hard to find this game these days, but offers interesting tactical and strategic choices as Marines kill bugs.  This would probably be higher on the list if it wasn’t so hard to get a hold of these days.

Action cards for Brother Claudio & Brother Goriel

7. Mint Cooperative

Cityscape Tin

Weight: 0.007 ounces 
Complexity: 1.43/5
Dimensions: 3.94 x 1.18 x 2.36 inches 
Game Length: 15-30 Minutes

Mint Cooperative Kickstarter... Early Christmas Present!

Mint Cooperative is a tiny little game that fits in a mint tin!  We reviewed it here.  It’s probably the second smallest game (yes, there is one smaller)!  It’s got a little die and lots of little cards.  Given how small this game is, it’s surprisingly easy to read and see!  It’s a decent game you can just plop into you pocket and bring out any time.

Components

6. Unlock!

Amazon.com: UNLOCK! Squeek & Sausage, The Formula, and The Island of Doctor  Goorse Card Game Set: Toys & Games

Weight: 6.4 ounces 
Complexity: 1/5  to 3/5 (varies on the game)
Dimensions: 3.6 x 1.2 x 7.1 inches
Game Length: 60 Minutes

The Unlock! games are a bit of cheat to put on here.  The newest Unlock! games are only available 3 adventures per box: see our review of Unlock!  Epic Adventures here for more discussion of the game and this issue.   However, you can still find the “little mini Unlocks” for the first 15 or so adventures.  They are board games answer to an Escape Room game, where the box contains a full escape room adventure!  Your smart phone and the cards in the game help guide you through many puzzles and mysteries.  If you can still find the “one adventure per box”, they are a nice form factor (a small game) that’s easily portable to your friend’s house.  And very fun! Although we won’t rank all of them, we can give you our top 5 Unlock! mini boxes:

  1. The Tonipal’s Treasure
  2. The Adventures of Oz
  3. Expedition: Challenger
  4. Squeak and Sausage
  5. A Noside Story

5. Solar Storm

Solar Storm box cover

Weight: 6.2 ounces
Complexity: 2.12/5
Dimensions: 4.96 x 3.78 x 0.98 inches
Game Length: 30-60 Minutes

A few turns from defeat in my first solo game.

Solar Storm is a (mostly) card game that we reviewed here.  It reminds us a lot of Pandemic with a lot of it’s mechanics, but it still feels different.  I’d honestly rather play this than Hot Zone (#10) if I wanted a smaller Pandemic experience.

Solo action!

4. Sprawlopolis
The cover image

Weight: 0.089 kg
Complexity: 1.83/5
Dimensions: 4.50 x 3.00 x 0.25 inches
Game Length: 15-20 Minutes

First game with all expansions: Beaches, Construction Zones, Interstate, Points of Interest, and Wrecktar. Final score after all that: –1.

Sprawlopolis is, without a doubt, the smallest game on here by almost any metric!  It’s just 18 poker-sized cards that fit in a tiny plastic wallet and some some, foldy rules.  And that’s it!   The cards are two-sided: One side has “scoring conditions” and the other side has 4 blocks in a city.  Choose 3 cards using the scoring side, then build a city with the rest of the 15 cards to build a city (trying to “maximize” the points)!  And that’s about it!  There’s a lot of variety, it’s easy to take with you, the game doesn’t take up much space on the board, and the game play is quick and fast!  

Supposedly, a newer version is coming out that’s more the size of, say, The Grizzled (see above) since this game has done so well.

Wallet edition

3. Decktective

Decktective - Bloody-red roses Second Edition
Weight: 6.2 ounces
Complexity: 1.17/5
Dimensions: 4.96 x 3.78 x 0.98 inches
Game Length: 60 Minutes

3D Crime Scene

There are currently two Decktective games out:  Bloody-Red Roses and The Gaze of The Ghost.  Both of these games made our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games!  There are small little card games, but with interesting little mysteries and mechanics for solving some crimes.  Part of the thrill of these games is setting up the scene of the crime (see above) using the box and cards are elements!   These games are fun and light and easy to take with you, but they are a little longer (60 minutes) than most games on this list. 

Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost, dV Giochi, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

2. Deckscape

Deckscape - 7 Games To Choose From

Weight: 7.9 ounces
Complexity: 1.61/5
Dimensions: 1.1 x 3.6 x 5 inches
Game Length: 30-90 Minutes
Deckscape: Der Test, ABACUSSPIELE, 2017 — box and sample cards (image provided by the publisher)

The Deckscape games are small card games that offer the Escape Room experience in a tiny little box!  There are currently 6 of them (with a 7th coming soon).  You can easily fit them in your pocket and take them with you.  The time and complexity varies quite a bit between different Deckscape games.  Here’s our current favorites, ranked:

  1. Behind the Curtain (so good it made our Top 10 Cooperative games of 2019)
  2. The Mystery of El Dorado
  3. Time Test
  4. Heist in Venice
  5. The Fate of London
  6. The Curse of The Sphinx (by far my least favorite)

Deckscape Mega Review - Small Box, Big Experience | Meeple Mountain

1. The Shipwreck Arcana

The Shipwreck Arcana boxart

Weight: 7.9 ounces
Complexity: 2.15/5
Dimensions:
Game Length: 10-30 Minutes

shipwreckarcana Instagram posts - Gramho.com

The Shipwreck Arcana is an odd little cooperative game that has generated much interest here at Co-op Gestalt! We first reviewed it here, and it’s really grown on us! We have used it as the model game for playing cooperative games (with hidden information) as solo games: see our discussion of Changing Perspective here. The Shipwreck Arcana is a quirky game where each player has a hidden number, and players are trying to give clues to each other using only the cards on the board to guess those numbers. It’s very logical and almost feels like a logic puzzle. If that doesn’t scare you away, then I think you’d love this game. It’s quirky, different, logical, mathematical but it’s a small game (on every axis except complexity) you can take with you everywhere. It is one of the most complex games on our list!

Game components

6 thoughts on “Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games

  1. SHDA is overhyped and defended by a group of fanatics. That doesn’t make it a good game. I had it and the constant explosion of little tidbits of text on every card made it extremely tiring to keep track of what the options are, plus the gamebook is terrible and no index whatsoever of useful key game elements, tried to set it up a few times because of the Alien theme plus it was always called a masterpiece. Had to watch a couple videos which probably is enough evidence it’s not my kind of game.

    So glad I sold it and indeed at a profit.

    This is one of a few games that I would refuse to play ever again.

    Like

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