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What's not to love about a cooperative board game? You and your crew get to team up and use your different talents to strategize. Even better? No one leaves game night feeling grumpy or resentful. Although most cooperative games have a sweet spot of about four to six players, some can also be enjoyed with two people, making them a fun option for stay-at-home date nights.
We researched dozens of choices—here are our top picks that work for kids, adults, couples, and more.
Best Overall: Asmodee Mysterium
Mysterium's premise: A murder has been committed at a mansion called Warwick Manor. The players are psychic investigators trying to determine what happened, with one person acting as the ghost, trying to lead them to the answer. The ghost can only communicate through visions (depicted by cards), and the others, using intuition and the clues they've been given, must work together to figure out the weapon, location, and killer.
Mysterium is best for children aged 10 or older, and is designed for two to seven players. Because there are so many different options for weapons and locations, the game can be enjoyed over and over; there are also a handful of expansion packs available. Each round takes about 45 minutes, making it ideal for family game nights. It can be played as a two-person game as well, with one player taking on the role of two psychics, while the other is the ghost.
Best for Two Players: Czech Games Codenames: Duet The Two Player Word Deduction Game
The idea is that you and your partner are on a secret mission and need to make contact with certain agents, while avoiding dangerous ones (assassins, yikes). But like all worthy games, there's a catch: You know only the agents that are safe for your partner, and vice versa, so you need to give each other simple, one-word clues. It's quite fun for date nights, because it feels like solving a puzzle together, and you can try to tailor your clues based on what you know about how your partner thinks. You don't need to own the original Codenames to play this one, but if you do, you'll be happy to know that there are 400 new words that are compatible with that version as well.
Codenames is a popular spy-themed game that has launched many spin-offs, including this fast-paced one that works especially well as a two-player session. It's suitable for kids ages 11 and older, although slightly younger kids can pick it up with some help, and each round lasts only 15 minutes.
"Since each round only takes about 15 minutes, the game is fast-paced and engaging. We liked the cooperative aspect of Codenames: Duet—players work together, rather than against one another, to win the game. With 200 double-sided word cards (400 words in total), the game has great replayability." — Sage McHugh, Product Tester
Best for Families: Fireside Games Castle Panic
Castle Panic, which is suitable for children ages 10 and older, is a great introduction to board games (or in some cases, a reintroduction, if you're an adult who hasn't played in a while). The point of the game is that everyone works together to defend the castle from monsters, specifically goblins, orcs, and a troll: You'll need to fight and slay them (using cards), and also plan ahead to make sure your fortress stays protected.
Younger kids can also play with a little patience and assistance, and you can choose to add one slightly competitive element: Although you win or lose as a team, the person who earns the most Victory points is named Master Slayer. Each game lasts for about one hour. As the name suggests, there are definitely moments of suspense, so it's a good way to get video game loving kids interested in off-screen family time.
Best for Kids: Gamewright Outfoxed! Game
You want to teach your kids how to win and lose gracefully, but sometimes, especially in the case of squabbling siblings, you just need a game they can play together peacefully. In Outfoxed, a two to four player game that takes about 30 minutes to play, a prized pot pie has been stolen. Using evidence, players must work together to suss out the suspect—using clues and an evidence scanner—before the fox escapes.
Outfoxed is aimed at kids ages 5 and older, and it gives children a chance to practice several important skills: deductive reasoning, memory, and cooperation. Some parents also make the game a little trickier for older kids by creating new rules, such as increasing the fox's range and not allowing clue spots to be visited more than once.
Best for Preschoolers: Peaceable Kingdom Friends and Neighbors—The Helping Game
With themes that revolve around social-emotional learning, this woman-designed game was created to help younger kids practice their empathy skills. It can be played with one to four people, and each game lasts about 10 minutes—perfect for those short attention spans. Although the company's recommended age is 3 and older, some 2-year-olds are also able to enjoy it. Kids older than 4 might find that it moves too slowly.
The idea is that the game boards depict certain situations, like a child who is afraid of the dark or a cat who is stuck in a tree. Players reach into the bag of "helping tokens" and try to make a match—like a teddy bear or a ladder. When parents or caregivers play one-on-one with a child, it can lead to some interesting conversations, which is the true magic of the game. Because while it's fun to make the matches, what's even more fulfilling is the chance to talk to your little one about how these situations might relate to their own life.
Best Mystery Game: Asmodee Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Game
This beloved game (for a maximum of eight players) is best for kids 13 and older, and each mystery can take up to two hours to solve. It was created in the 1980s and then brought back for today's Baker Street fans. The point is to work together to attempt to solve some of Sherlock Holmes's most famous mysteries with newspapers, a map of London, and other clues. There are ten cases total—each one comes with its own file that has a newspaper, a directory, a map, and the instructions, which also have experts you're supposed to contact.
The cases are meant to be played in order, since clues from the earlier ones will help you solve the later ones. But due to the mystery factor, this game doesn't have a ton of replay value. To keep the game moving, some players find it helps to impose time limits on how long it takes to guess.
Best Strategy Game: Fabled Nexus Greater Than Games Spirit Island
Warning: This cooperative game, which is suitable for up to four players ages 13 and older, is complicated to learn and can take up to two hours to play. But its fans say the investment in time is worth it, and praise the rich details as well as the fact that each player also works independently to manage their own character.
The premise is that each person represents a spirit with their own distinct powers, and the goal is to defend the land from colonist invaders. For many, this is a refreshing twist, because often board games are set up so the players represent the invaders trying to take over new territory.
Because there are so many different spirit characters and ways to play (no two games are identical), the replay value of the game is quite high, and there are expansion packs available as well. The game also encourages lots of table talk among players, because you're working towards a common goal and you need to plan ahead, strategize, and figure out the best ways to divide your strengths.
Best Fast Paced: Z-Man Games Pandemic: Rapid Response
The dice version of the popular Pandemic board game is for players who want something fast-paces—each round takes 20 minutes. It works well on game nights when you may have people dropping by at different times, since they can jump into the action right away, rather than waiting for a long game to end.
With the tagline "Can you save humanity in time?", the basic idea is that you set the timer for 20 minutes, roll the dice, and try to deliver crucial supplies before the game ends. All players are part of a squad that's working together (there are seven specific roles, such as engineer and analyst) and you can add Crisis Cards (such as supply spills or extreme winds) to make things even more challenging. The game is suitable for kids ages 8 and up, and best for two to four players, although you could also create teams.
What to Look for in a Cooperative Game
Always check the manufacturer's suggested age range, but keep in mind that even if a child is slightly younger, they might be able to play with simplified rules or on a team with a grown-up—especially for cooperative games where everyone's working together. Consider your kid's attention span, interest, and ability to remain patient when choosing a game. If you're playing with a mix of ages, it's probably better for the youngest person to have a bit of a challenge, instead of having the rest of the crew feeling bored.
Geography, history, battle defense, mystery, and horror are just a few popular board game themes. If you have tweens and teens in the mix, choosing something that reflects their interests might make them more likely to put down their phones and engage with the game.
For younger children with shorter attention spans, 10 to 30 minutes for each round is an ideal playing time. When you're playing with just your own family, you can experiment with longer games that might spread out over a few weekend days. Shorter games also work well for game nights with groups of friends who might be stopping by at different times; if you're planning to play a game that's more involved and may take a while, make sure you've told your guests in advance.
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Lexi Dwyer has written about family games, board games, and trivia games for The Spruce.