Cooperative Board Games Comparison

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Cooperative (co-op) board games are a great way to satisfy some competitive urges without getting pissed at your family and friends. Because, while you’re competitively trying to accomplish a challenging goal, you’re doing it together, not against each other. Everyone wins or everyone loses. Team work is the theme. I’m going to highlight three four popular co-op board games, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are other fantastic options out there. These are just a few that I own and particularly enjoy. I can’t wait till my kids are old enough to participate. I hope you’ll enjoy them too!


First, a side note. Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert are similar games. But, they are uniquely challenging experiences. Many people own them both. Some people prefer one over the other, others love them equally. I only own Forbidden Island, because after extensively reading reviews, it seemed that “Island” is slightly more accessible than “Desert.” This was important to me as I often play with casual gamers and I want to play with my kids as soon as they can possibly grasp the rules.

The setup is quick and the gameplay is simple. There is no board, only tiles. Mix up the tiles as best you can and arrange them to create the game’s island. Next, assign character roles randomly or allow players to choose their roles for a greater sense of control. Deal a few cards and you are all set up. Quick, right?

During the game, you must often choose between combating the flooding island and acquiring the necessary artifacts. Focus too intently on one or the other and your group might lose.

Forbidden Island‘s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness. The simple premise and straight-forward rules make it fast and easily approachable, but also limits the depth of the gaming experience. Choosing a more aggressive water level makes it harder to win, but doesn’t add complexity. And, unfortunately, there aren’t expansions available. But, mixing up the map adds a welcomed twist. As far as hardcore gamers go, they might get bored, but Forbidden Island can provide a quick ice-breaker game before getting into more complicated games. (For some people, complicated = fun.) Lastly, its box is smaller than most. So, it’s easy take Forbidden Island on the road!

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Co-op board game #1 – Forbidden Island. (Photo by Heath Washburn –
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Co-op board game #2 – Castle Panic. (Photo by Heath Washburn –
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Co-op board game #3 – Pandemic. (Photo by Heath Washburn –


If you want to engage your children with board games that are more interesting than Sorry! or Monopoly, Castle Panic might be the perfect choice. Most kids will be more excited by a castle, trolls and goblins rather than a flooding island or a global disease outbreak. I can’t blame them. It’s inherently more satisfying to defeat a mighty orc boss, even if you ultimately lose the game.

Unlike the other two board games in this comparison, you never move in Castle Panic. In fact, you don’t even have a character representing you. You are the castle. The decisions you’re faced with involve which cards to discard or trade, rather than which game actions to take. Most of the time, you’re attacking as many monsters as your cards will allow. So, obviously there is luck involved. Draw the wrong cards and the monsters will advance unharmed.

It’s worth mentioning, Castle Panic can also function as an entertaining solitaire game. The other two can as well – but only if you simulate playing as two characters (cooler than it sounds). The best part about Panic are the bosses and unexpected effects. (Rotating monsters always messes up my strategy!) That’s why getting an expansion like The Wizard’s Tower or Engines Of War is a “must.” (I have the former.) If some panic is good, more panic is better. Right?


In the most basic sense of game mechanics, Pandemic is a more intricate version of Forbidden Island. In place of an island, you have the entire globe. Instead of subduing a flood, you’re addressing multiple outbreaks. Instead of collecting artifacts, you’re seeking cures. It trades a little bit of accessibility (learning curve) for a deeper & better co-op experience. At times Forbidden Island feels scripted – like only one move is logical – whereas I rarely get that single-track feeling playing Pandemic.

From a family-friendly perspective, the rules of this game might be the most challenging of the three. But, global map-based games like Pandemic (or Risk) could teach your kids a lot about geography, if they can hang in there long enough to grasp the rules.

As if 4 viruses threatening the planet weren’t hectic enough, there are expansions. On The Brink adds some pretty serious wrinkles to the game and further separates Pandemic from other co-op games. (On The Brink is near the top of my Amazon wish list.) Finally, the Legacy version of Pandemic (a standalone game) gets rave reviews. As awesome as it may be, it demands that you sit down to play on a regular basis to advance the plot through multiple sessions. This busy dad can’t make that kind of commitment.


*Edit 4/21/17: I’ve recently added a copy of Burgle Bros. to my collection of cooperative games. Burgle Bros. is an immersive heist game of epic proportions! 1-4 players are working together to navigate through a 2 or 3 story building (made up of beautiful tiles); all while avoiding security, finding stairs and most importantly grabbing loot! Every aspect of this game is dripping with theme. Oh, and it comes in an amazingly-efficient and charming little box that looks like a building! I even took the building motif a step further and created heist platforms. Two minor warnings about Burgle Bros.: (1) The game is sold directly from the publisher, which can affect availability and shipping. (2) While all 4 of these games have elements of randomness, a bad break in Burgle Bros. can be particularly punishing. Unfavorable tile placements or a few unlucky guard movements can make your heist nearly impossible. But hey, that’s the risk you take when leading a life of crime! I think it’s worth it.

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Co-op board game #4 – Burgle Bros. (Photo by Heath Washburn –


Get Pandemic if… you often dream of a virus-induced apocalypse. I recommend all three games, but Pandemic is probably my favorite, and I can’t wait to buy On The Brink. Out of the box, this game has the perfect amount of “complicated” for my taste, but young kids might struggle. For more experienced gamers, expansions can add interesting rules and variations.

Get Burgle Bros. if… you’re like Dane Cook and want nothing more than to be part of a heist (monkey sidekick not included). This is right up there with Pandemic as far as hitting a sweet spot of being complex enough to satisfy most “gamers” but also being accessible to newbies. Although, while it’s fairly easy to learn, it can be quite difficult to win. I think it’s my new favorite because of the burgling theme oozing out of every game piece.

Get Castle Panic if… you have kids or you’re obsessed with orcs. But, don’t get me wrong, it’s fun for adults too, especially if you crank up the intensity with expansions. There are also Panic variations for zombie lovers and Star Trek lovers. But, only Castle Panic has multiple great expansions to choose from.

Get Forbidden Island if… you frequently play with casual gamers and you want an easy-to-explain game that also travels easily. While Forbidden Island might be my least favorite of these three, I still think it’s a solid purchase. It’s accessibility, quick setup and small box size means I always take it with me on family vacations. It’s inexpensive too. So, for those reasons I highly recommend buying it. If you’re not worried about accessibility, try Forbidden Desert instead.

The only potential downside to co-op board games is that passive players can end up feeling pushed around by louder or more opinionated players. I haven’t had that problem yet, but it’s something to keep in mind. Speaking of fun games… If you’re a basketball fan, I’ll show you how to make your own NBA Guess Who? game!

Thanks for visiting Dad Kingdom. Happy gaming!

Dad Kingdom was not paid for this review, nor was any free promotional product received. Opinions expressed are purely that of Dad Kingdom and not the product’s manufacturer.
Dad Kingdom earns revenue through AdSense advertising and also receives a small commission percentage from purchases made through Amazon links. For details, read About Dad Kingdom.


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