Top 10 Cooperative Games With a Sense of Humor!

A lot of cooperative games have very dark and depressing themes: “Work together to save the world! Or everybody dies! AHHH!” (In fact, that’s exactly what we did to make Lost Ruins of Arnak cooperative last week!) We wanted to point all those cooperative games where a “sense of humor” permeates the game. What do we mean by that? Something that makes you laugh! As you read the rulebook, as you play the game, you notice little touches that tickle your funny bone. It may be flavor text, or the way a rule is expressed, or just some picture that make you giggle and not take the game (or life) too seriously.

To be clear, these are all real games (some heavier than others), and not just excuses for jokes!

10. Dungeon Lords

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So, we are cheating a little bit here:  Dungeon Lords is ONLY cooperative if we play with our rules from our Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Full Cooperatively.  This would probably be further up the list if the cooperative rules were better fleshed out.  (Hint, hint, Rich).   Dungeon Lords has one of the funniest rulebooks we have ever read, the art is silly and evocative, and the games mechanisms and cards reinforce this sense of humor.  The funniest bit in the game: the Dungeon room where, for 2 imps and a food, you can create another imp—we call this “The Romantic Dinner Room”.

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9. Far Away

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This is further down the list because, although the sense of humor pervades the rulebook and the box and the components, its not quite as prevalent as we start playing: it’s a pretty heavy game.  We reviewed the game here  and it also made our Top 10 Cooperative Space Themed Games.  Overall, the game has an almost dark sense of humor!  My favorite joke: 

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Overall, this is a heavier game (see below) that uses a sense of humor to keep it from being too much.

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8. CO-OP: the co-op game

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CO-OP: the co-op game is a silly game where Hippies of all generations come together to stop Mondo Mart (which is nothing like MegaloMart or Walmart) from taking over the local CO-OP.   The rules encourage you to embrace the hippie vibe of the game and roleplay your characters.   The cards have funny little flavor text at the bottom,  but the best part are the ridiculous things you can buy at the shop such as 103% Dark Chocolate, Chaka Reversers, and the game itself (yes, you can buy CO-OP: the co-op game  in game).  It’s a silly but fun light-hearted co-op.    It also made our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2017.

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7. Unlock: Squeek and Sausage

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Squeek and Sausage is an Unlock Escape Room game (we’ve reviewed a few of Unlock games: Unlock Epic Adventures and Unlock: Star Wars).  This particular universe, with a silly professor who has “doomed us all”, has been so popular that he has spawned two more Unlock Escape Room Games: A Noside Story (from Unlock: Secret Adventures set) and Professor Noside’s Animal-O-Matic (from the Unlock: Mythic Adventures Set).  Squeek and Sausage is still my favorite, as it introduced us to this hilarious world.

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6. Agents of SMERSH

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I was a kickstarter of the very original Agents of SMERSH back in 2016!  (And I am kickstarter on the reboot in 2021 as well: this is a neat game).  This is a storybook game (as it made our Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Story Telling Games), where players roam around a world map trying to find and take out Dr. Lobo before he can “destroy the world!”.  But, this game is very much a love-letter to the silly 70s tropes of Secret Agents and James Bonds. The text that comes out in the storybooks is very action-packed, but still has decisions and a sense of humor. This game also made our Top 10 Cooperative Games “Off The Beaten Track”.  

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5. Spirit of 77

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This game almost didn’t make the list, because it’s a Role Playing Game rather than a board game, but the game is cooperative. It is also THE MOST RIDICULOUS GAME I HAVE EVER PLAYED.  In a good way.   We reviewed it here, and tried to explain how the game naturally encourages a sense of humor with playlists, twists, and other mechanisms.  The game is strongly dependent on the group itself having a sense of humor, so you have to make sure your group is in the right frame of mind.   I look forward to further plays with silly thing like Bigfoot jumping over 30 Ford Pintos in a Dodge Pacer.

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4. Forgotten Waters

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We initially reviewed Forgotten Waters here, but the game has just gotten better and better for us!  It’s a silly, pirate themed Adventure game with a great story!  It has some really silly jokes dressed up in an App that makes it that much more thematic!   Forgotten Waters made our Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Story Telling Games, our Top 10 Cooperative Swashbuckling Games, as well as our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2020.  It’s a real fun game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still has a lot of good choices.

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3. Scooby Doo: Escape From The Haunted Mansion

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Scooby Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion is essentially a Scooby Doo themed Escape Room game.  The players, as a group, take the roles of the Scooby gang.  Each character has their own “verb” they apply to objects throughout the Mansion: Fred can investigate, Velma can research, Scooby can smell, and welllll, Shaggy can eat.  That’s right, Shaggy will frequently just pop things he finds around the Mansion into his mouth and try to eat them!   There’s a fun mystery to solve, and the interactions in the game are pretty hilarious.  This game really brings in that sense of humor from the Scooby Doo cartoon.   This game made our Top 10 Cooperative Creepy/Spooky Games as well as our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Board and Card Games!

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2. Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger

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This is probably the lightest cooperative game on this list, but maybe the funniest by itself!  It made the number 2 spot on our Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Storytelling Games because of how easy it is to play and how ridiculous it is.  You can pick this up at Target for fairly cheap, and also play online fairly easily (see our Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online).   It’s a pretty simple story game, but the stories it tells are just hilarious and your choices do kinda matter!

 

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1. Cantaloop

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Cantaloop may be my game of the year for 2021! We reviewed it more deeply here. This game has the best sense of humor I have ever seen.  Jokes, throw-away and essential, permeate the game.  The art style is silly and works with the game.  And yet, for all the humor and silliness, this is still a fantastic point-and-click adventure game masquerading as a board game!  One of many throw-away jokes: “What’s the best time of day? 6:30 hands down!”  

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A Cooperative Mode For Lost Ruins of Arnak

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In last week’s entry of Co-op Gestalt, we discussed the Lost Ruins of Arnak, a 1-4 Player Worker Placement/Deck-Building game that is a competitive “get-the-most-victory-points” game. Some of my friends have loved this (beautiful production, lots of choices) and some of my friends hated it (too fiddly, bad online implementation, the “disparity of experience” problem). The conclusion of last week’s blog was simple: The Lost Ruins of Arnak needs a cooperative mode to help bring in the detractors.

So, I put my money where my mouth was. I mean, this is a cooperative games blog after all. Included somewhere below is a cooperative mode for Lost Ruins of Arnak. It’s only 18 cards and a page or two of additional rules.

Cooperative Mode

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The cooperative mode adds two new sets of cards:

  1. 14 Shadow Creatures Motivations
  2. 4 Character Cards

The basic premise is that the players must work together to defeat some Aliens threatening the Earth! From the Introduction:

Some strange, shadowy creatures have been spotted in major metropolitan areas across the globe! These strange creatures, dubbed “The Shadow Creatures” have been dealing chaos, havoc, and damage everywhere they appear! What do the Shadow Creatures want? What are their motivations?

With the world in chaos, major governments have shared all their intel on the Shadow Creatures. Synthesizing this collective intel, the world’s top researchers have gleaned that the Shadow Creatures have some connection to the Lost Ruins of Arnak. But what is that connection?

The answer lies nears the site of the Lost Ruins of Arnak! The researchers must travel there to find the answer! Using research, exploration, smarts, and a little luck, the researchers will work together to discover the Shadow Creatures motivations and the appropriate response!

Can the researchers figure out the Shadow Creatures motivations before time runs out and the Earth is destroyed? Can YOU help them?

To win the game, players must together discover and satisfy the Shadow Creature Motivations to save the Earth!

At the start of the game, the players choose two Motivations cards (called Characteristics in the original 3×5 card version) which will set the victory conditions for the game.

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At the end of the 5th round, the players must collectively be able to satisfy BOTH conditions to win the game. The rest of the game essentially stays the same, but all the victory points are unused as the Shadow Creatures Motivations (see above) take over for deciding victory points. No one cares about victory points when saving the Earth.

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There aren’t any rule changes, but a couple of additions:

  1. Players can share resources at the start of round
  2. Players can do “research” to flip the Shadow Creatures Motivations up early.

The Shadow Creatures Motivation cards are face-down at the start of the game: they get flipped face-up at the start of rounds 4 and 5.   It can be too late to do what’s necessary, so there are mechanics for “Researching Motivations” so you can flip the Motivations earlier.   See the picture below for the original rules for how Researching Motivations work.  The full rules are available in the PDF at the end.

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Essentially, players cooperatively have to choose when to use resources to build engines or research motivations.  This is one of the things the players will have to discuss!

Characters

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One of the things the cooperative mode adds is a unique character card for each player.  Why?  Firstly, because variable-player powers in cooperative games tends (for me anyways) to make co-op game more fun!  Do you want to play “MoneyBags” Thad or “Sky-King” Cooper or “Deal-man” Kerns or “Inspirational” Allison?  More fun!  However, more importantly, the addition of variable players powers helps balance the game:  the Research Motivations actions costs extra resources and by giving characters extra resources, we are preserving the original balance from the original game. 

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Solo Mode

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The cooperative mode essentially adds a couple of new solo modes to the Lost Ruins of Arnak! The cooperative mode scales from 1 to 4 Players, so you can play solo by playing the cooperative mode with one player controlling 1 character. For a harder solo mode, a solo player can control 2 characters in the cooperative mode.

Alpha Version

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So, directly below is the PDF that describes version 1.0.0 of the cooperative rules. This is the Alpha version of the rules: they work, we’ve play-tested them, and we like them, but there are still some rough corners. We are releasing this partly so we can get feedback. Was any Motivations too easy? Too hard? Do certain actions require clarification?

Lost Ruins Of Arnak Cooperative Mode (PDF)  Version 1.0.0 

Please feel free to send us email at returnfromsubroutine@gmail.com.

Conclusion

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I’ve really enjoyed my competitive and cooperative plays of The Lost Ruins of Arnak. Hopefully, the addition of the cooperative mode will bring in some of friends who didn’t like the original game.

Exploring The Lost Ruins of Arnak and The Disparity of Experience: Why We Love Cooperative Games

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We will having our next RichieCon 2021 very soon (see here for previous RichieCon 2019 and RichieCon 2018 highlights)! This is our yearly (modulo last year) event where we get together and play games for two to three days at the Rec Center at the top of the street! This year, we have people coming from all over! Tucson AZ! Las Cruces NM! Phoenix AZ! Madison WI! Fort Hayes KS! It’ll be fun to get together with friends I haven’t seen in a long time!

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Unfortunately, my friend Nevin can’t join us this year, so he went ahead and sent me an early birthday present for RichieCon 2021! The Lost Ruins of Arnak! (See above). This is a hot new Euro that’s currently up for the Kinnerspiel des Jahres 2021 award and it won the BoardGameGeek Medium Game of the Year for 2020! I love the theme (kind of an Indiana-Jones-exploration thene) and I think it would be great for the “hot games” table at RichieCon 2021! So Nevin, in all his magnanimity, went ahead and gifted a copy of Lost Ruins of Arnak to RichieCon 2021! You’ll note that this is not a cooperative game, it’s a stone-cold Euro. So why are we talking it in this cooperative games blog? Keep reading dear reader …

Components

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I think one of the reasons this game is up for the Kinnerspiel is because it looks so nice! The components and art are fantastic! See above and below.

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The art on the cards, board, and locations is downright gorgeous. The plastic components (arrowheads, gems, tablets) are top-notch quality and fun to manipulate. Overall, the game looks gorgeous on the table.

Solo Mode

The solo mode is pretty good: it’s how I learned the game. There’s deck of about 12 cardboard cards (see above) which basically are the deck of a second “automated” player. There are very special rules for what the automated player’s cards do: you basically alternate turns between the automated player deck and your “normal” turn. The solo player plays like a normal player would, and the automated player usually blocks spaces and take resources/spaces before you can sometimes. The automated player represents another player “blocking” you.

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If you look online (see above for web site), you’ll see there is a Solo Campaign available to play as well. I haven’t played it yet, but you can either print out the solo campaign or play online with it.

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Overall, I enjoyed the Solo mode okay. I didn’t love it, but it really did teach me the game.

In Person vs. Online

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So, at this point, I’ve played 1 solo game in person and 2 4-Player in person games.

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I have also played 2 4-Player online games on BoardGameArena (see above). The experience has been very interesting. Simply put, people who have played Lost Ruins of Arnak in person have liked it, and people who have played it online have not. One of the players even said he think he’d love the game in person, but he hated the BoardGameArena implementation. Me and someone else played both online and in person, and we liked both experiences.

I think that because the game is so big and sprawling, Lost Ruins of Arnak can be fiddly and intimidating online: you’ll notice that BGA had to squish the whole board into a small computer screen that you have to scroll a lot (Recall that most online games seem lesser games if you have to scroll too much) . But, if you play in person, you can see the whole grandiose board and focus easily on the areas you need to.

I think the lesson here is simple: play Lost Ruins of Arnak in person first, and then, if you like it, then try it online. Once you know the game and like it, the BGA implementation is good. My experience has been that people don’t seem to like this game if they are introduced to it online.

Disparity of Experience

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So, after each play of the game, I asked people what they liked and didn’t about the Lost Ruins of Arnak. One of the things that came up is a criticism of many games: “Anyone has played the game more has an advantage”. I trounced my friends online (I didn’t mean to: it’s hard to keep track of points until the very end) because I have played more times than them. This led to discussions of “This is like Lords of Waterdeep: I’ll never play that game with Kurt because he’s played like 100 times and he just destroys us! It’s fun, but I don’t like to be destroyed!” Games like this suffer from a disparity of experience: the more experienced players (at that game) tend to beat soundly the less experienced players. It’s not like me and my friends have to win, but it’s usually no fun to watch someone do so much better and take away options (especially in worker placement games like Lost Ruins of Arnak and Lords of Waterdeep).

It’s pretty clear that half of the people I played Lost Ruins of Arnak with will probably never want to play this game again. The disparity of experience (both the first game and future games) really soured them to the game.

(I guess you could argue it’s my fault that I soured the game to my friends, but it was clear to everyone in my group that this was just a first play/learning game. The point was that me and Teresa both had an advantage as we had played more than them. And as long as we all play this game together, we will continue have that advantage. On the same note, I will never play Lords of Waterdeep with Kurt because our disparity of experience is so wide).

Why We Like Cooperative Games

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And this is why we like cooperative board and card games: they don’t tend to suffer from disparity of experience nearly as much as competitive games. Even if one player has played a cooperative game significantly more than the other players, everyone is a cooperative game can usually still participate and contribute! It’s a group effort and you can still feel empowered contributing to the shared victory or commiserate with your friends in a shared loss. Either way, all players are part of the group.

You can still have Alpha Player Syndrome, where a cooperative game can be co-opted by an aggressive player, but this is orthogonal to the disparity of experience problem. An Alpha Player tends to be an Alpha Player regardless of their experience. As an example: I remember teaching my friends a game and we had playing for about an hour. The Alpha Player walked in, and after after 10 minutes, started telling us what to do! He didn’t know all the rules AND he had never played before. The Alpha Player is just an Alpha Player. But usually the problem is pretty easy to solve: don’t play with Jerks. (There are other ways to mitigate Alpha Player Sydrome: see here for some suggestions).

Conclusion

You may or may not like Lost Ruins of Arnak: you will probably have a decent idea of your interest level after reading this. The solo mode in the physical board game is good for learning the game, and there are even solo campaigns (online) to extend your solo experiences! I strongly suggest playing the physical board game in person first to get the best experience! The online experience on BoardGameArena is decent, but that online experience seems to have soured many of my friends on this game.

Unfortunately, Lost Ruins of Arnak definitely suffers from the disparity of experience problem, which tends to make certain groups of people dismiss it. I think the disparity of experience problem does go away over time, but it’s definitely something that will sour certain people (as I definitely saw). The solution is obvious: we really need a cooperative mode for Lost Ruins of Arnak. EDIT: So we made one: see here