Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2022!

What a great year 2022 has been for cooperative board and cards games! We have reviewed about 50 cooperative games and expansions here at Co-op Gestalt over the course of 2022! Wow! And we still missed a bunch of games we want to play! Weirdly, I don’t think we saw many of the games that we like on other people’s top 10 list! Apparently, our taste is unique! So, let’s take a look at our favorite cooperative games of 2022!

Honorable Mention. Sentinels of The Multiverse: Definitive Edition


Plays Solo:  Yes (but you have to play 3 heroes)
Player Count: 1 to 5 (best at 3)
Ages: 14+
Length: 30-60 mins

We have to give a shout-out to one of our favorite games of all time: Sentinels of the Multiverse. This year, Greater Than Games released the newest version, called the Definitive Version! This new version replaces and obsoletes the Second Edition (which has been around for some time). See the new version below!


The art and components are better, the gameplay has been smoothed out, and it’s a great evolution of a great game!


This game gets a 10/10 for us. So why is it an Honorable Mention? The problem: I have already invested pretty heavily in the Second Edition of the game! I know the original cards so well (the heroes, the villains, the environments) that I don’t want to “throw away” that knowledge and start over in the new universe! See my investment below!


So, if you are starting fresh, I would highly recommend the Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Definitive Edition! But, if you are like me and my friends, who have invested pretty heavily in Second edition and want to stay there (For example:we played tons Sentinels of The Multiverse Second Edition at RichieCon 2022!), we can only give this an Honorable Mention. See our review here for much more discussion of the game and which version you may want. There is a reason this is #1 on our Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games!

10. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns 

Plays Solo:  Yes 
Player Count: 1 to ?? (it really a solo game, but multiple people can make decisions together as a solo unit)
Ages: 14+
Length: 90 mins per session (there are exactly 4 sessions)

Strictly speaking, this is a solo game, but you can play it multiplayer either as a  1 vs. 1 game, or “solo with many people”.  The solo player (or multiple players) takes the role of the Dark Knight from the Frank Miller masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns and plays out each of the four issues as Batman.  Your goal is simple: to survive all 4 issues!


This game caused a lot of existential crises for us: The Dark Knight Returns forced us to think about how to Resolve Ambiguity in Cooperative Games!  It also forced us to confront the idea that just surviving is okay for a cooperative game.  


Strictly speaking, this is a solo game. With some handwaving, you can play this with multiple players, but it is best solo, which is why it is only at number 10 for 2022.  See our review here. 2022 was a very good year for Superhero games … keep reading!

9. Eila and Something Shiny


Plays Solo:  Yes
Player Count: 1-3 (it’s really multiplayer solo, with everyone making decisions together)
Ages: 8+
Length: 30-45 mins per session (the game is a campaign over many sessions)

If you are surprised about this one, so are we!  Eila and Something Shiny just enchanted us! It also surprised the heck of us with its interesting ideas and straight-forward gameplay.  It is also a campaign game! My game group wanted to bribe me (with doughnuts) to keep playing this because it was so cute and so fun!  The little comics/stories that came with the game were surprisingly emotional, and they even caused us to feel real human emotions. 

IMG_0013 (1)Even though this is obviously aimed at a younger audience, Eila and Something Shiny took our game group by storm.  If you’d like to find out more abut this game, check out our review here.


Eila and Something Shiny  is a fun game that the whole family can enjoy.

8. Legends of Sleepy Hollow


Plays Solo:  Yes (but you have to play all 4 characters! It’s very difficult to play solo!)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 14+
Length: 30-120 (depends on the scenario you play)

This game was #2 on our Top 10 Anticipated Games of 2022!  There have been some production problems (which Greater Than Games have addressed) and some rules problems, but this campaign adventure game is so thematic, it’s easy to forgive some of the flaws.


This game is a campaign, exploring the world of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman.  The components and art and unique and creepy, the story is really thematic, and the game is just a unique romp.  Each player plays a character in this world and upgrades in unique and different ways as the story progresses.


Despite some of the production flaws (some boards were hard to read), the theme and story just oozes out out this game. See our review here to see if you would like to enter the world in Legends of Sleepy Hollow!

7. Minecraft: Portal Dash


Plays Solo:  Yes (no real changes to play single solo: works well)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 10+
Length: 60 mins

Minecraft: Portal Dash is a huge surprise of the this year!  I didn’t expect to like this game as much as I did: It’s a solid cooperative game and plays in about 60 minutes.  Although some of the graphic design won’t win any awards, it does look like Minecraft, which will probably appeal to a lot of people!


What really sold us on this game was the cube structure: they way the cubes interacted with the rest of the game was so interesting!


I know, it sounds weird that we liked this game so much, but take a look at our review here to see if you might like it too!

6. Agents of SMERSH: Epic Edition


Plays Solo:  Yes (as a single character, no multiple characters needed)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 14+
Length: 90 mins

Agents of SMERSH: Epic Edition is the Second Edition, a major reworking and simplification of the original Agents of SMERSH game.   Agents of SMERSH: Epic Edition is a storybook game, where players roam the map doing “secret agent” type things.  It’s got a sense of humor, but if you want a silly storybook game with lots of reading and some fun dice-rolling, this is a great game. 


The components for this are amazing!  


The original Agents of SMERSH was in our Top 10  Cooperative Storybook/Story Telling Games, and the new version has replaced it for us!  The new edition is streamlined, has better components, looks better, and concentrates on the funner parts: reading and rolling. See our review here to see if you would be interested in this!

5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (A Pandemic System Game)


Plays Solo:  Yes (alternate between 2 characters)
Player Count: 1-5
Ages: 14+
Length: 60 mins

Although Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a Pandemic game, it has really evolved the rules so that the game melds with the Star Wars theme quite well!  There are a lot of new innovations to the Pandemic system that make this quite fun and unique!  It’s not just “Yet Another Pandemic Game“, but a unique entry into the Pandemic lexicon!


Each player takes a character from the Star Wars mythos and operates them, moving around the board, and working together to take down one of the evil bad guys from Star Wars!


We were worried this would be “nothing new”, but Star Wars: The Clone Wars was an interesting and fun evolution.  If you like Star Wars or Pandemic, this is a great cooperative game.  See out review here!

4. Suspects


Plays Solo:  Yes
Player Count: 1-6 (probably best at about 3 or 4)
Ages: 10+
Length: The box says 90 minutes per mystery (there are 3 mysteries in the box). This is about right, but it depends on how much your group thinks (it’s not a timed game)

We love cooperative Detective games here at Co-op Gestalt, and Suspects gave us a fresh perspective on the cooperative Detective game. Suspects is mostly a card game, where the mystery is revealed from the cards as more and more if them are revealed. There are exactly three Detective Mysteries in the box, and once you’ve solved them, the game is done!  (You can still reset it and give it someone else)


Suspects played well solo, and it played well in groups of 3 or 4.  It was such a hoot going through the adventures!  After I finished all three mysteries, I passed it onto Charlie and Allison who proceeded to finish it quickly as well!  We all loved it!


This game would easily make our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games!  Check out our review here of Suspects to see if this is something you would enjoy!

3. Paperback Adventures


Plays Solo:  Yes (primarily a solo game actually)
Player Count: 1-2 (the cooperative game works really well at two)
Ages: 14+
Length: The box says 90 minutes, we it seemed more 2+ hours

I must say, any of the next 3 games could have been my top game of 2022.  I really liked Paperback Adventures a lot more than I expected!  This is primarily a word game where you battle monsters using your words!  This is a deck-building game as well, as you buy letters on cards to build better words!

A solo game set-up!

The components were absolutely outstanding (these were some of the best sleeves I have ever seen), except for the plastic trays didn’t quite work.  Overall, I had fun battling the monsters by making words!


I was also surprised how well the cooperative game worked for Paperback Adventures!!  Sara and I had an amazing time playing this two player cooperatively.  See our full review here to see why we liked this so much! I think the only reason it didn’t make the number 1 spot for this year is that the cooperative mode is limited to only 2 players: if it played a few more people, it might have made our #1 spot for 2022!

2. Hour of Need


Plays Solo:  Yes (and plays well with just a single character)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 14+
Length: 30-120 (really depends on the adventure you choose)

So, this could have easily been my #1 game of the year for 2022: I spent so much time playing it! I even some time pimping it out with bases for the miniatures: see here!  I love how this is the next evolution of the Sentinels of The Multiverse system, which is a game I adore! (remember our Honorable Mention)  (Some people know this as the Modular Deck System).


This game has s lot of depth and fun!  The pieces are outstanding!  The game has theme and story everywhere! There are so many good choices everywhere in the game! I feel like a superhero when I play this game.


As much as I love this game, I think its complexity can turn off some players, which is why I put it at #2.  But I love this game: see my review here to see if you will too.  Hour of Need could easily be in out Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games! 2022 was a very good year for Superhero games!

1. Tokyo Sidekick


Plays Solo:  Yes (but you have to play two superhero/sidekick teams: it also needs a house rule)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 12+
Length: 45-60

I love Tokyo Sidekick!  The game is so great for so many reasons! The art and standees are amazing! The rulebook is one of the best rulebooks I have seen! The gameplay has so many cool elements! The cooperation is very pronounced! The game has so many choices!  The amount of upgrading you do as you play makes the game that much more fun! The game just looks so cool on the table!

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I think the Acrylic standees (which were an optional buy) have made me think that miniatures are outdated!


The game is unfortunately a little flawed at 1 or 2 players: it’s a too hard.  We discuss a very simple house rule to make the solo/two-player game much more fun: see our review of Tokyo Sidekick here!  Despite this minor flaw, I can’t think of any game I’d rather get off the shelf and play: this is the one I keep wanting to play!  That’s what makes it our number 1 of 2022! 


2022 was a very good year for Superhero games. Tokyo Sidekick would easily would make our Top 10 Cooperative Superhero games!

What a wonderful year 2022 was for games! Thanks for reading our Top 10 list!

A Review of The Shivers


The Shivers is a cooperative, storytelling/adventure game that was on Kickstarter back in August 2020: it just delivered about a week ago (Dec. 13, 2022). Honestly, it should have made our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2022, because we have been really craving for this to get here! Now, it promised delivery in July 2021, so it’s about a year and a half late … this one you might forgive for being so late because of the unique components: pop-up rooms! Yes, that’s what I said … pop-up rooms!


This is a unique game! Let’s take a look inside!



The Shivers box that we bought was the 1st Edition Deluxe Game: see above. It’s about the size of a standard Ticket To Ride sized box. See the Coke can and pencil for scale.


The little advert at the top of the box comes with a quick description of the game: A Pop-Up Mystery Adventure! (With more expansions available).


The game comes with a Quick-Start Tutorial Guide! See above!


Next comes a bunch of punch-outs. The little black pieces are for holding open the pop-ups: most everything else is a standee for a character or monster that will come up in the game.


Under all that are some more standees! You can make your own characters (that’s cool) or you can use the Kickstarter exclusive cat and dogs! See above and below.



There are three books that come with the game: the History of Fogmoor book (left) will come into play as you get more into the game (there are at least 2 campaigns in the box). The Storyteller’s Companion (middle) offers advice on how to spice up the story in the game. The Full Instructions (right) are for after you have read the Tutorial.

There’s a lot more stuff in the box: mostly new adventures! But there’s also some great magnifying glasses and dry-erase character boards!


The components looks pretty cool … but we still haven’t seen the pop-ups yet …

Tutorial Set-Up


The Tutorial for this game is really good. It sets up a vey simple scenario to start the game: it’s only 3 cards (in the tutorial bag) and uses 3 standard rooms in the game (the game comes with a number of pop-up rooms).


The three cards that come with the Tutorial fit into the rooms:


What’s going on: the backdrop of each room changes per mystery!


The empty spaces of the room (see above) are filled in by the card!


The Peculiar Parlor is typically the starting room of the game: see above. The Spooky Study is another room from the supply (see above and below).


The final room is the Laboratory: see below for set-up! You basically set-up by “opening the pack”:


In order to hold the pop-ups open, you need the little black wedges from the punchouts: see below.

When the Tutorial is all set-up, it looks like the following:



A Coke can is included above for perspective.


You might notice the flashlight … what’s that for?


The flashlight does NOT come with the game, but the game recommends having one!


If you really want to play ambiently, you can turn off the lights and use the flashlight to go through the house. We used it more to help illuminate some of the pop-up rooms. Some of the room have some smaller items that re easier to see with the flashlight.

Tutorial Reading


Once the pop-ups are set-up, the Tutorial sheet unfolds into a large sheet! See above and below.


The sheet describes the game, what players are doing, the goals, and the basic structure! There’s a lot there!


Once you’ve read the top,  you turn the sheet over for a more directed “guide” on how to step players through.IMG_4635

There’s even a little marker to note where you are!



You are almost ready to play!

What Is This Game?


What is this game? It’s basically a cross between a Role Playing Game (RPG) and a Storybook Game! It’s an RPG because there is a Storyteller: the Storyteller is very much like a Dungeon Master from Dungeons and Dragons (or Gamemaster from other RPGS)! The Storyteller has to read through the entire adventure to get ready to run it for the other players! Once the Storyteller is ready, he starts shepherding a group of players through the Adventure as defined by the pop-up rooms! That’s where the Storybook comes in! There is definitely a defined start, middle, and end to the story, and the game defines the ways to advance the story.


Those of you who read Co-op Gestalt frequently know that we love the Monkey Island games! See here and here. The Monkey Island games are the point-and-click adventure video games where players explore the world, interact with objects, and solve some puzzles! And that’s kind of what The Shivers is! Instead of interacting with the video game though, players interact with the pop-up rooms! They explore the rooms, looking for items, and solving the puzzles!


The main difference between this and other games like our Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Story Games is that The Shivers has a Storyteller! Most of the games on the Top 10 list can be played completely cooperatively … in The Shivers, one player has to sit-out and run the game!


If I were to describe The Shivers to someone, I might describe it as a point-and-click adventure game meets an RPG in board game form! With cool pop-ups!

Solo Play


This game does not follow Saunders’ Law: there is no solo mode! The Shivers is a game for 2-5 players, where one person has to run the game! And everyone else plays a character in the game! See some characters below.



Having said that, one person has to be the Storyteller to run the game, so they kind of have to “mock play” through the adventure by themself so they know the story. In other words, solo play is basically preparation for running the game! To be clear: the Storyteller has to prepare to run the game, or the cooperative play will go very poorly. This is all about prep.

Solo play is prep.

Cooperative Play


When I ran my game of The Shivers, I felt like I was running an RPG with a very directed script .. like a point-and-click adventure game. For example, before the characters can look in cabinets (in the room), they say “I am going to look in the cabinet” and I tell them “the cabinet is locked, it doesn’t open” or “it opens”. I almost feel like I am quoting standard lines from video games! Many times in video games, players will try something crazy and the game will respond “You can’t do that”. I responded that way a number of times.


To be clear, the adventures in The Shivers do have a “back story” about what’s happening: in fact, the first adventure in the Tutorial is sorta the first part of a campaign!  So, as the Storyteller, I know the overall direction as well as the specifics to my current adventure. So, if the characters try to do something “weird”, I can redirect that sometimes to reflect the campaign.


One of the things that helps “remind the Storyteller” is that the back of room shows all the things they can do: all the white text (above) is what the players can see, and the yellow text is hidden until the players “do something right”. So, preparation of the Storyteller can be minimized a little because each room has reminders on the back of the rooms.


And of course, the adventure has tools (like the current step: see above) to keep the adventure on task.


Players play through the adventure, alternating turns, as they try to “solve” the mystery/puzzle!


I’d say the cooperation is good in this game: players talk about what to do, where to explore, what to combine, and the Storyteller is just a shepherd trying to help the players through the story.



The tone of The Shivers is fairly light. You are exploring a haunted house and going to haunted rooms, exploring crazy labs, being haunted by ghosts, but it’s all pretty light hearted.


The standees (above) give the biggest clue about the tone of the game: players are role-playing kids exploring some haunted mansions! It’s light and fun, but still has a serious story … if you consider stories about swapping brains with a chicken serious…

RPG Lite?


If you generally like RPGS, I think there is a good chance you will like the Shivers. The stories seem interesting, the puzzles have a very definite solution, and there’s still just a little bit of room for improvization. And the exploration is fun!

It really depends on what you want in an RPG: if you like to make up stuff as you go, have the world spin around in unexpected ways, and have crazy narrative … The Shivers is probably not for you. The puzzles in The Shivers are very definite and have a specific solution: the game is a little on rails, as you have a definite script to keep to … not unlike a point-and-click adventure game.

The nice thing about The Shivers is that it’s an RPG-Lite: the story is all set for you. With minimal prep (you still have to prep), you can get an RPG going quickly. Let’s be clear: The Shivers still has a lot of storytelling for the Storyteller! Even though the way through the adventure is prescribed, there’s still a lot of room to be creative in how the players and Storyteller interact … there’s still imagination and story!

Do you want an RPG adventure that’s all prepared for you? Then The Shivers is perfect for you! Do you want an open-ended adventure that’s definitely not on rails? Then The Shivers may not be for you. Honestly, even if you are a hardcore RPGer, you can have The Shivers as a backup for when you want a light adventure … or some cool pop-up rooms ..

Pop-Up Rooms


In case we haven’t said it: these pop-up rooms are awesome! Amazing! See above! And the fact that they can be reused in many different adventures in the game (by putting in a different card in the back) is so very clever!


One musing I had: I can see using these rooms for set pieces for an RPG! Even if you don’t like the The Shivers as an RPG-Lite, you can still use the pop-up rooms for an adventure of your own making even if it’s not in The Shivers system! I mean, these pop-up rooms are pretty amazing.


One of the cooler late discoveries: after we’d been playing a while … we discovered the pop-rooms are magnetic! See above as they click together from some magnets in the bases! Whaaaaaaaaa??



I think The Shivers is great! The Tutorial is fantastic and brings you into the game quickly! I wish more games had a tutorial like this: you get a sense of the game very quickly and jump right in.

The Shivers includes some amazing components: pop-up rooms, magnifying class, dry-erase character boards, great punchouts! All in all, the game looks amazing on the table. If you want an RPG-Lite game, where the game is a little on rails but still interesting, you will probably love The Shivers! If you are looking for a more open-world, deep-end RPG, The Shivers is probably not for you.

Regardless of whether you might like the game system, the pop-up rooms of The Shivers are phenomenal! You might find the pop-up rooms useful for deeper RPGs as extra components…

Appendix: Make Your Own


The Shivers does actually come with create your own characters (in the box)! See above


You can also create your own card back (if you get the Kickstarter) using the StoryCrafter’s Pack.

A Review of Fun Facts (A Cooperative Party Game)


Fun Facts is a cooperative card game for 4-8 players. It takes 30 minutes … or it can be as long or as short as you want, as it’s a cooperative party game.


The components are pretty minimal: 8 plastic chevrons, 8 pens, a bunch of cards, a rulebook and a “first player” scoring star. See components below.


Each player takes a plastic colored chevron and the appropriate pen.


You know who’s who from either the color (I have a pink pen, so I am the pink chevron) or the name on the back of the chevron (see above). Half the time we wrote our name, the other half we didn’t (the pen color was enough to tell who was who).



Gameplay is dirt simple: the first player (with the plastic star) reads one of the cards aloud and everyone writes a number (secretly) on the back of their chevron. All questions have a numeric answer!! See a sample question above.


See Teresa writing her answer above.


Once you have your answer, players put their chevron face-down “somewhere” in the line of chevrons. If I am blue and I think my number is highest, I put my chevron (face-down) at the top. Basically, you are trying to figure out “Is my number less than or greater than my compatriots?”


Play proceeds around in order starting with the first player. When the play gets back to the first player, the first player has a chance to rearrange her chevron one last time: see Allison above (she’s the first player currently because she has the star) trying to decide if she wants to move her blue chevron!


You flip the tiles over (starting from the bottom), and for every one in order, you get a point! Above, we’d get 3 points since all three were in monotonically increasing order! Something that helped most people is that you think of the chevrons as “greater than” signs!


If, on the other hand, some were out out order, they get tossed to the side and not counted.  For exampple: above,  the 13 gets tossed, but we still get 2 points for the 21 and 36.

After 8 questions, players correlate their score to the score grid to see how they did! This is a cooperative game, so players are scoring together as a group.


We played this with three very different game groups: family gamers, casual gamers, and some hard-core gamers. We also played with 3 and 4 players mostly: even though the game says “4-8 players”, we had no problem playing with just 3 players.


The only problem playing with only three players was that the score sheet doesn’t cover that (so we used the 4 player level and just upgraded one level with our score for 3 players).


In general, the game went over pretty well in all three groups. Nobody loved the game, but everyone had fun playing (well, almost everyone). The game was easy to learn, easy to play, and was simple enough to play as long as desired. The first game tends to be the dictated 8 rounds to get a score, but after a while, you just keep playing and don’t keep score. I think that’s the sign of a good party game: you just keep playing because it’s fun!

One caveat is that one person didn’t like the game: they tend to have social anxiety, and even though this is a party game, it still put them “on the spot” with some questions that could be personal. For example, we found out that one friend had moved recently (“How many years have you lived in your home?”)!! So, some people who are very shy may not like this game.



So, Fun Facts comes from the same company that did our top cooperative party games: Just One and So Clover! I think Fun Facts would make our Top 10 Cooperative Party Games, but I don’t think it would make the Top 5. Generally, we all liked playing the game, and we’d play it again. It also worked in most groups (family, casual, hard-core) pretty well. Just One and So Clover! are better choices, but Fun Facts is a good cooperative party game that will get played again.

A Review of King of Monster Island


I have been highly anticipating King of Monster Island! It’s a cooperative dice game in the world of King of Tokyo (a competitive dice game). Everyone else seems to be getting advance copies: I had to order mine directly from Game Nerdz. I was so excited to get it, I even ordered without free shipping to get it shipped ASAP! So, it arrived about a week or so ago (late November 2022) and I have been playing it solo and cooperatively.


Let’s take a look!



Ha, This game has a sense of humor.  I love how the rulebook cover starts with a “Breaking News…” and looks silly!IMG_4187

Oh, and look how beautiful the rulebook is!   Stunning art and annotations abound!


This rulebook is good: it starts with a list of components! Even better, it annotates all the components with a little description.  So, you learn the components AND the rules at the same time! Nice!  See above and below.



The set-up is phenomenal: it’s all described with a great picture over two pages  It’s very easy to get set-up and going!

The rest of the rulebook is pretty good.  I had a few troubles finding rules a few times (maybe there should be an index or glossary?), but it general the rulebook was easy to read and grok.  Although they did commit the cardinal sin of not using the back cover for anything useful for game play.


New Guideline for Rulebooks: The Chair Test!


I did like the rulebook for King of Monster Island, but it did fail in one major way.  In fact, it caused me to create a new category of rulebook criteria!

Frequently, I will keep rulebooks on the chair next to me when learning a game.  It keeps the rulebook out of the main game flow, but in a place where I can glance/reach/read easily.  I call this The Chair Test: Can I put a rulebook fully open on a chair next to me for easy reading?


Most games have no problem with The Chair Test: see the rulebook for Agents Of SMERSH: Epic Edition on the chair above. (We reviewed this game a few weeks ago).  It’s easy to read, it sits open on the chair, and it allows me to just glance at it without any effort.

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King of Monster Island fails The Chair Test!  It droops over the side of the chair, and it’s way too big to see everything! It’s a pain to look stuff up: I can’t usually just glance at it!

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In the end, you’ll notice I ended up playing with the rulebook up on the table (see above) taking up tons of space!

As good as the King of Monster Island rulebook was, it failed The Chair Test.  Caveat Emptor!



King of Monster Island has a weird-sized box: see above with a Coke Can for scale (this weird shape may be why it fails The Chair Test?)


You can see the rulebook above fitting in the weird sized box.


There are lot of punch outs: minions (left), crystals (upper right) , and Support tiles (lower right).


There’s a fantastic board!


There’s a cool volcano in the box that you build: it serves as a dice tower for the Boss (the Bad Guy) dice!


You build the volcano and put in on the board; it looks fantastic!

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There are a bunch of dials to note health and fame for the good guys and the bad guys (upper left), some Power cards (lower left) and volcano (right).


The black dice are player dice, and the red dice are the Boss (Bad Guy) dice.


The cards with the energy symbol on the upper left are player cards (Power cards): they can be bought with energy.


The event cards are interspersed in the Power cards and offer some random events to keep the game “interesting”.



There’s a bunch of Ally cards (to help players) and Bosses (Bad guys).

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The components are exceptionally well produced!  We really loved how this game looked!

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At its core: King of Monster Island is a dice game with a Yahtzee re-roll mechanic. You roll once, keep what you want, then re-roll again keeping what you want, then one final re-roll.  Just like King of Tokyo.  Or Yahtzee.  Or many other games with dice.  It’s what the dice do that is interesting!

  • Heart: Gain 1 Health
  • Star: gain 1 fame (fame powers special powers)
  • Tool: gain 3 or 4 tools to buy and Support Tiles
  • Foot: either move or do 1 damage to minion or  move 1 space
  • Hand: do 2 damage to a minion or boss
  • Energy: gain 1 energy cube.  With energy, you can buy some Power cards

Already, you can see it’s much more complicated than King of Tokyo!


Each player takes the role of a Monster: see the choices above.  Interestingly, the Monsters have no special powers: it’s the Ally you choose that has the special powers!!  (This kinda reminded us of Minecraft : Heroes of the Village from a few weeks ago when the pets had the special abilities, not the villagers … is this a new trend?)


In a game with X players, you put out X+1 Ally cards: for my solo game, I (randomly) picked up the Ape-Monsters and the MedBots.  As soon as you get 1 fame during the game, you choose your Ally! As a player gains fame, he can power more and more abilities of his Ally!  


To win, the players must cooperatively take out the main Boss: see above for the Boss powers and the Boss Hit Points/Fame Counter.

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You’ll notice the Boss has more powers that he gains as his fame increases!


While the players share the pool of 10 black dice (rolling 6 dice and occasionally locking some), the Boss has his own red bad dice:

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The red Boss dice get thrown in the volcano (above) and scatter around the island (below):

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These red dice activate the “bad news” parts of the game: they summon minions, give the Boss fame, and build crystals. 

Players set-up their Monsters and the Boss to fight!

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Like most cooperative games, the game alternates between “some bad stuff happens” (from the Minions and Boss dice) and “some good stuff happens” (from the player dice,  Power cards, and Support tokens).  There is a notion of movement, as players can usually only do things if they are the zone with the thing of interest.


Minions get placed on the board to do bad things: they come from a bag of minions!

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Gameplay alternates Boss/Player/Boss/Player, etc goes until the Monsters beat the Boss (cooperatively), the Boss defeats any Monster, 3 pylons are built, or there are no Minions in the bag!

Solo Play

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I am not sure why, but it took me three times to play this game to get the rules right.  The first time I played solo, I thought that all Minions did their thing on the Boss’s turn: Nope!  Just the Minion IN THE ZONE with the Boss!  It even says that at the start of step 4 (see below).  
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So, my first game was pretty bad: I lost horribly as every single Minion activated!!  I realized I played wrong, so then I tried again: this time, I got the rule wrong that you only activate dice in the Boss’ Zone and THEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF AND REROLL them at the start of the next turn!


The rules even highlighted the “remove them from the board” in the rules (see above).

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So finally, on my third time through, I got the rules right and played through a game.  Please take my mistakes to heart when you play the game!  Only activate minions in the Boss Zone and Always remove Boss dice after activating them (so they can be re-rolled!)


I’m not sure why I had so many problem my first few plays: it’s not like I haven’t played lots of co-ops or read tons of rulebooks!  I think I just expected a much simpler game?  I expected  a simple “co-op King of Tokyo” and got a much more complicated game!

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Once I got through a real game of King of Monster Island, I liked it!  It was fun, there were a lot of interesting decisions, but there were some frustrations when the dice didn’t behave.  But in general, I liked it solo and would play it solo again.  It’s not quite as complicated a co-op dice game as, say, the Reckoners (which we reviewed here and here), but it’s close.  We will mention the Reckoners again later on …

Cooperative Play

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Cooperative play went well for us.  One thing we noticed is that there wasn’t that much cooperation!  When it was your turn, you focused on rolling your dice, trying to roll the best results you can!  You tuned out everyone else on your turn!  Others could offer suggestions, but generally turns were pretty solitary and intense.  And that’s a good thing!  Each player has agency on their turn!  Each player feels like they are doing something!  It’s just … the cooperation was less pronounced than many other co-op games.  We were cooperating in the sense that we had the same goal of “take out the boss”, but we didn’t seem to consult each other nearly as much as other games (like say, The Reckoners…)

 I would maybe call this a Cartman Cooperative game: “I do what I want!” … but all players share the same goal.

King of Tokyo 


King of Monster Island squarely lives in the King of Tokyo universe.  The production, the dice, the graphic design, the characters, all make that clear.  See King of Tokyo above and below.  They are NOT compatible … just so you know.


I am one of the few people who doesn’t actually like King of Tokyo.  The original game is just a lightweight dice game using a Yahtzee re-roll mechanism to “beat the crap out of each other” …  and that’s all it is.  That is great for end-of-the-night games.  Ultimately, I found King of Tokyo not fun as it tended to be too random, with too much time between turns.  This was highlighted by a 6-Player game of King of Tokyo that I played where my friend John got eliminated quickly and had to watch the rest of us play. In the meantime, I’d have to wait for 4-5 people to play through their turn and you never knew what your rolls what be.  The game is just “roll and use your dice the best you can”: there’s not a lot of strategy (we’ll discuss this below more in the Dice For Actions section).


However, in spite of not liking King of Tokyo, I did like King of Monster Island. I liked it partly because it’s a co-op (there is some cooperation), there’s much more strategy than King of Tokyo, and the production is great. But be careful: King of Monster Island is a step-up in complexity from King of Tokyo.  In fact, Andrew was thinking it’s more than just a step-up, it’s maybe 1.5 to 2 steps up!  So, if you liked the silly simplicity of dice rolling in King of Tokyo, be aware that there is a lot more going on here!  King of Monster Island is NOT just a “co-op King of Tokyo“: it’s a much more complicated co-op in the world of King of Tokyo.  

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The game looks great, but there are so many more rules than King of Tokyo: King of Monster Island has dice locking, crystal growing, buying Support tiles, buying Power cards, cube tower rolling, activating bad guy dice, activating minions, moving the bad guy, handling the bad guys powers, handling the bad guy upgrades, worrying about moving yourself, upgrading powers, getting minions from the bag, keeping track of powers, taking extra game occasionally from a zone … need I go on?

King of Monster Island is NOT just a “co-op King of Tokyo“: it’s much more.  Be aware.

Player Count


Although King of Monster Island can play 1-5 players, I can’t imagine playing this with 4 or 5 players.  The game seemed to be great solo, and flowed pretty well at 2, and slightly less better at 3.  The problem was that there’s not a lot of to do when it’s not your turn!  At 4 and 5 players: the downtime between turns is much more pronounced and not fun.  Granted, players can talk and offer a little bit of advice (since it’s a co-op), but generally each player is very focused on the dice and ignoring everything else.

Basically, the problem with too many players boiled down to two things:

  1. Each player’s turn seems fairly solitary.  There really wasn’t a lot of cooperation.  Each player would really get into their turn and making their decisions (which is good!), but would tend to focus on the dice rolls to the exclusion of others.  There was a little talk, but not much.  This doesn’t have to be a bad thing (some people like having their own turn and agency), but could with item #2 below, this was really a detractor.
  2. We have to wait a long time for each other’s turns.  Although each player seems to really get into their own turn (having their own thoughts and re-rolls without consulting the others too much), the others are waiting for their turn without really participating too much. It’s one of the problems I had with King of Tokyo: you just have to wait  too long for your turn. 

King of Monster Island seems best at 1-3 players.  At 4- 5 players, the game has way too much downtime between turns.   I would say the game would work better at higher player counts if the cooperation were more pronounced, but the cooperation seems pretty limited. That’s not a bad thing per se: players do have a lot of agency on their turn—It’s just that turns feel very solitary, so you don’t want too many players waiting for you.

Dice for Actions

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I generally don’t like games where the dice tell you what actions you can do.  I famously sold my Alien Uprising game for $1 back in 2017.  I should have loved Alien Uprising: cooperative, cool space theme, cool Aliens theme, and a Richard Lanius game!  Nope, it turns out I generally don’t games where you roll your dice to get your actions: I feel like it takes away player choice and forces you to do “what the dice tell you to do” rather than make your own decisions.

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King of Monster Island has enough dice mitigation (basically because you get many re-rolls and you can lock dice you don’t use for future use) that this wasn’t a problem for me.  But I did struggle a few times with the dice during my plays: I still don’t love this mechanism.


Those of you paying attention might remember that we should have loved Shadow of the Bat (see review here) because of the Batman theme, but the “roll dice for actions” really took it down a notch so that we just liked the game.  


In fact, the only game that I have loved that has “roll dice for actions” is the Reckoners.  We discuss why we love The Reckoners, (in spite of the “roll dice for actions” mechanic)  in our review of Batman: The Animated Dice Game to a much greater extent.  Take a look here for more discussion.  Or keep reading.



I liked King of Monster Island and my friends liked it. We’d probably give it a 7/10 overall. The production is pretty great, the gameplay is pretty fun, and it flows fairly well. It works best at 1-3 players.

I did like King of Monster Island, but I think The Reckoners is a much better cooperative dice game! For a cooperative dice game, The Reckoners is much more cooperative (as you roll together and play your turns together), and the dice are less strangulating (because you can almost always do something good with your dice or help out compatriot with your dice). The Player Selected Turn Order of The Reckoners really makes it a better game. The major problem of King of Monster Island is that you may have to wait too long for your turn, which is why the game is much worse in 4-5 player games.

I will say that King of Monster Island can bring in people who may be “wary” of cooperative games: even though the Reckoners elicits more cooperation, the amount of focus and agency each player gets on their turn (in King of Monster Island) may keep “wary” cooperative players involved: maybe even opening them up to more cooperative games.

In the end, the production of King of Monster Island is great, the game looks good, and it is fun overall. If you like the world of King of Tokyo, you may very well like King of Monster Island! Just be aware that this is NOT just a “co-op King of Tokyo“: it’s a lot more complicated than you might first expect. That’s not bad, just be aware King of Monster Island isn’t the simple game that King of Tokyo is.


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The Support tiles surprised us. See one above. Did they surprise anyone else? See more below.


How Do You Detect an Alpha Player?

Previously, we have discussed the notion of the Alpha Player in this article on The Alpha Player “Problem”:

Have you ever played a co-operative game in which one player takes over, telling everyone else what to do? That player makes other people feel unimportant as he co-opts (pun intended) the game. This is the Alpha Player Problem: someone who simply takes over the co-operative game and makes it less fun for everyone.

Today we look at the idea of the Alpha Player from a more objective point of view: How do we know we have an Alpha Player in our midst? 

As we discuss Alpha Players, we also need nomenclature to refer to the other players playing with the Alpha Player: Beta Player(s) seems be the natural term.  

We’ll take a little tour through some video game literature first.

What Makes a Toxic Environment?

What makes an online video game into a toxic environment? There is an article this year in IEEE Spectrum (see link here) heralding a result published this year in the IEEE Transactions on Games called “Bad Vibrations”: Sensing Toxicity From In-Game Audio Features. See a link to the paper here. There are a number of related papers cited in the Bibliography for more information.

The Idea

The idea of the article is interesting: by monitoring online chat forums of video games (Overwatch in particular) in real-time, the researchers hope to spot “toxic” interactions. The idea of “toxic” is, of course, open to interpretation, but there is a more formal definition comes from the this paper:

N. A. Beres, J. Frommel, E. Reid, R. L. Mandryk, and M. Klarkowski,
“Don’t you know that you’re toxic: Normalization of toxicity in online
gaming,” in Proceedings of CHI ’21. ACM, 2021.

Generally, “toxic” means negative social interactions tending to alienate. To research the topic, the researchers apply a variety of AI, statistical, and machine learning techniques to data they collected. Interestingly, the very notion of what makes an interaction toxic is very subjective. According to Frommel:

“Differentiating what individuals perceive as toxic or not is a big challenge in this context when players accept such toxic language as the norm in their communities or use language that others may consider as toxic without malice within their friend group. Furthermore, these norms differ among various gaming communities”.

The paper discusses some of the criteria they used, both negatively and positively correlating toxicity.

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The paper notes highest metrics of toxicity (see table above) are negate and differ categories, which as summarized from the paper:

Words within the differ and negate categories had some of the strongest positive associations with toxicity. This could be because words of differentiation and negations are used more frequently in argumentative contexts or confrontations.

In the other direction:

Similarly, toxicity had a negative association with the tentative words (tentat category), which might be used in more careful and considerate communication that avoids confrontation, and less in toxic communications

The paper talks about approaches, tentative conclusions, and further directions for research in this area.  It’s quite interesting. 

Toxicity and the Alpha Player

The “Bad Vibrations” paper got us thinking more about the Alpha Player in board games. There are a number of questions that the toxicity discussion brings up with respect to the Alpha Player Syndrome:

  1. Can we Identify the Alpha Player from Externals only?
  2. Is Alpha Player Syndrome a type of toxicity? Or is it something else?
  3. Can we apply some of the techniques of the “Bad Vibrations” paper to find Alpha Player Syndrome?
  4. How do the in-person Alpha Players relate to the online Alpha Players?

Audio Externals

The first question that came to mind when I was reading the “Bad Vibrations” paper: Can we detect an Alpha Player using only “external” information?  If we are involved in a game with an Alpha Player, we typically know it because of how the game flows: our agency is taken away from us by the Alpha Player.  (In this situation, we are looking mostly at in-person games).

But, could someone looking in on a game externally notice the presence of an Alpha Player?  “Externals” in this context means simple objective criteria that can be understand without having to understand the conversation(s).  For example, some audio externals might be: word choice, the timings, periods of silence, the tone, the volume of the conversations.  Some visual externals might be mouth twitching, shaking, eyebrow movement.  If we look only at the externals, can we detect the presence of an Alpha Player?

What are some audio externals that might indicate the presence of an Alpha Player?

  1. Short, curt, word choice.  My experience has been that a game with Alpha Player(s), other players typically keep responses short and curt so as to not engage the Alpha Player.

    Some counterexamples might be: (a) teaching or (b) quiet players.  For (a) one player may be teaching trying to get a lot information across, thus most responses would be short.   However, a good teacher would tend to engage and encourage questions.  Perhaps short, curt word choice would simply be the example of a bad teacher.  For (b) a group of people may simply be contemplative: they  are quiet and thinking and prefer short, curt interactions.

  2. Disparate Time Talk. If one player talks quite a bit and the others don’t, does that indicate the Alpha Player?

    Again, the teaching scenario might be the counterexample to this.   Also, some cooperative games have the notion of first player or captain, and the captain tends to talk.  If we can note that the person talking tends to rotate as the game plays, that would suggest there’s no Alpha Player.  If  however, the same person talked through the whole game, that might be an Alpha Player.  Or just someone who likes to talk.

  3. Volume.  How loud are conversations?  If you can isolate all the verbal responses of the players, does the volume tell a story about the Alpha Player?
  4. The word OKAY.  How does someone say OKAY?  An engaged player might use a happy O-K.  A frustrated player might have a O-K like Eeyore (minor third between O and K).  A very short K might be indicative of frustration.  A thinking OKAY might be an elongated  OKAAAAY.  The same grumpy OKAY would be OKAAAAY (but with grumbling underpinning the AAAAY).   Again, a short curt OK might also be to try to disengage from the Alpha Player.
    It would be interesting to see how the word OKAY is spoken correlates to the presence of an Alpha Player.  I suspect a strong correlation.
  5. Word choice: much like the negate and differ categories from the “Bad Vibrations” paper, certain types of words or phrases, might  indicate the Alpha Player presence. 
    On the Beta Players side, I suspect phrase like “Can I go please?” would indicate someone’s frustration.  “I got  it” or “whatever” might indicate someone is trying to assert their own independence, but it might depend on how it’s said.
    On the Alpha Players side, “If you do this…” might be a phrase coming from the Alpha Player, or “we’re going to lose unless…” or “just do this…”.   I suspect assertions of the game state or suggestions all coming from one player might suggest an Alpha Player.
  6. Tone: Can we detect a condescending tone from an Alpha Player? Can we detect frustration in Beta Players?

There are certainly many other criteria we might discover.  What have we missed? None of these by themselves would indicate the presence of an Alpha Player.  For example, many of our examples detect frustration. Perhaps a game is just hard and everyone is just struggling to learn the rules: they are frustrated with the game in general.  But if a singular player tends to stand out in our external detections as different, perhaps there is concern they are the Alpha Player?


Subversive Toxicity and The Alpha Player

Does the  Alpha Player produce a type of toxicity or is it something different?  Taken the extreme, I think an overbearing Alpha Player is absolutely toxic and would show all the signs of toxicity.   My experience with Alpha Players is much more subtle though:  many games with an Alpha Player just feel bad without showing all the signs of toxicity.  I think a better term might be subversive toxicity.  

Consider the bad experiences of a game with an Alpha Player: they cause issues that tend to subvert the cooperative game genre:

  1. Cooperative Game Detachment. Many people don’t like cooperative games because they have only played cooperative games with an Alpha Player: they think all cooperative games have the Alpha Player Problem and refuse to play them. “I hate cooperative games! They always have some jerk who wants to run everything!”
  2. Specific Game Detachment: A particular game may be marred because of an Alpha Player.  “I love Pandemic, but I can’t play Clone Wars Pandemic because I had such a bad play!”
  3. Specific Person Detachment.  A person you may like, but who tends to Alpha Player, may cause you to never want to play games with the person. “I don’t ever want to play with them again!”

This is subversive toxicity because the cooperative game with an Alpha Player breaks people apart rather than bringing them together.  Arguably, the entire purpose of cooperative games is to bring people together.  If an Alpha Player causes future negative repercussions for others, that subverts the entire purpose of cooperative games.  


My own inclination is to look into this Alpha Player Syndrome with in-person games.  Online games are a different creatures (see next section). I think some of the ideas of the “Bad Vibrations” paper are applicable here, but they are much harder to measure with significant data without recording gaming sessions and doing complicated post analysis.  The online games are easier to measure because all the data is in the chat and available to download from online: it’s easy to analyze that.  

An ideal experiment would be to set-up recordings (with everyone’s permission of course) at a Convention: record cooperative game sessions, and ask people (both the participants and people watching) in a questionnaire if they thought there was an Alpha Player in the game.  I think to “mask” the objective, this question might be hidden in longer questionnaire (so as not to bias the findings: “Hey! They are looking for the Alpha Player!”).

Once we had the recordings of the gaming sessions, we could transcribe and get the audio externals.  There might be some visual externals as well, depending on how it was recorded.  With the transcriptions, we might be able to apply some of the techniques of the “Bad Vibrations” paper.

In-Person vs Online Alpha Players

There are a lot of places online to play cooperative games: Board Game Arena, Tabletop Simulator, and Tabletopia to name a few.  It would interesting to try these same experiments online. It has been my experience that we don’t use the online chat with those systems, but rather play over Discord or Zoom.  Depending on how you look at it, I would expect either dramatically more or dramatically fewer instances of Alpha Players.

  1. Play with Friends.  If I am going out of my way to organize an online game, I won’t tend to invite people who I don’t want to play with.  I won’t invite Alpha Players: I suspect far fewer Alpha Players.
  2. Playing with Strangers: The computer interaction tends to dehumanize people, so it’s easier to tend towards an Alpha Player.  I expect far more Alpha Players.

Of course, online sessions would be much easier to record and transcribe.


What makes an Alpha Player different from a Beta Player?  And why do we dislike the Alpha Player?  Fundamentally, the Alpha Player takes away our agency in a  cooperative game.  Detecting loss of agency is quite difficult from an experimental point of view, but we presented  some thoughts on some external ways to detect the Alpha Player.  Did we miss anything?

Although the immediate frustrations of a game with an Alpha Player are annoying, the subversive toxicity is much worse: it can turn people people away from a specific game, from cooperative games altogether, or (worse) from other people. In a future article here at Co-op Gestalt, we hope to come up with ways to curb, mitigate or even cure (?) Alpha Player Syndrome: this is much harder topic than just measuring the presence of an Alpha Player.