Game Spotlights

Published: October 3, 2023

Adam Knight

Unique Cooperative Games

Now that you’ve defeated the diseased, mashed the monsters, and explored deep space together, it’s time to try some unique cooperative games. Today we’re discovering titles a bit off the beaten path, ones to check out if you’re all done with Spirit Island, or if your miniature collection desires a new adventure. Dice rolls and danger, faced together. Mysteries, by turns tricky and terrifying.

Read on to find some novel ways to put a new spin on gaming together in Unique Cooperative Games.

A Dice Dish Served Cold

Who among us hasn’t wanted to get revenge, John Wick style? Sadly, being Keanu Reeves or achieving a kinetic martial mastery is beyond most of us, but Vengeance and Vengeance: Roll & Fight are here to get us as close as possible.

Vengeance is the more traditional co-op here, pitching you and your pals as wanton warriors delivering smack-ups and downs to hapless goons and their more dangerous masters. Set up like an action film, the game alternates between ‘montages’, where you and your buddies will heal up, train, and scout out your next target, and ‘fights’, where you’ll have several turns to roll dice, use those dice to activate skills, and score points by sending baddies to where they belong.

While you’re working cooperatively, Vengeance gets its name by the unique Vengeance card drafted by each player, bearing a boss and a gang color. Defeating that boss and enemies of that color gets you bonus points, adding a twist to an otherwise take’em-out-together romp. Best played with a partner to keep things moving, Vengeance knocks out its action hero theme.

As does its new buddy, Vengeance: Roll & Fight. A spin on the roll & write genre, where staples like Cartographers and Railroad Ink evoke evenings spent scribbling on paper with little interaction, Vengeance: Roll & Fight says no thanks to this proposition. Instead you begin every round with a real-time frenzy, where players roll dice to fit into combos on their boards, combos that’ll be used to knock out villains in the next phase. The rolling happens in real-time because as you slot dice into abilities, you get to grab more, until time runs out or the dice do. With everyone yanking from a common dice pool, you’ll have to decide whether waiting for the perfect roll is worth missing out on more chance cubes. Just don’t take too long, or you’ll wind up with nothing more than a jab, earning derisive chuckles from both the villains and your pals.

Vengeance: Roll & Fight shaves an hour or two off its predecessor’s playtime and opens the game up to more players while keeping the theme intact. Coming in two episodes, each with totally different heroes and bosses, enterprising unique cooperative games lovers can get both boxes to bump up the player count to a whopping eight.

That’s a lotta John Wicks, folks.

Take those Minis for a Walk

Ducking out of fight school, let’s take a trip to your game collection. If you, like me, have bought a ‘big’ game in the last decade, odds are you have some minis hanging around. They might be zombies, space marines, or even Chibi superheroes. Why restrict such beautiful and/or terrifying models just to their home games?

Enter Two Hour Wargames and their mini-agnostic adventures. Spanning just about any time and territory you might want, these books are both cheap and creative, letting you play through unique campaigns solo, cooperatively, or against one another.

Take a look at Adventures in the Lost Lands: the blurb alone offers ridiculously fun options, like using your kid’s toy dinosaurs to go on a rampage, or grab some Bolt unique cooperative gamesAction soldiers and venture on a time-traveling quest to a pre-historic world. Any one of these could be a full, big game in its own right, but instead you can skip another big box, use the great figures you already have, and go on unique journeys.

There are other mini-agnostic unique cooperative games, like Gaslands, that focus on the competitive element, which is all well-and-good, but there’s special joy to be had in adventuring together through settings wild and wonderful. It’s an easy leap to take too, with many Two Hour Wargames books at impulse buy price.

When Spider-Man leads his Marvel cavemen in a raid against the Ninja Turtles’ tribe, it’ll be hard to keep a grin off your face.

Party Pirates

Sometimes adventures are better abstracted, putting the focus on a unique cooperative story stuffed with decisions and memorable characters. Pirate themed Forgotten Waters and its sci-fantasy sequel Freelancers give everyone a chance to create their own avatars and send them on an epic tale, flush with professional narration and often hilarious outcomes. Easily supporting larger play groups, both games have you building out a character from a selection of skills and background, then tasking your whole group with deciding who’s going where and doing what.

Say you’re a swarthy scalawag, a privateer who might not know her numbers but who can deliver a mean right hook and down some rum with the best of’ ‘em. When your group sights another ship in Forgotten Waters, it’s easy to slip out of the living room and onto the high seas, dropping yourself into the boarding ship and making for a fight. Across the way, your buddy might’ve fashioned himself a pirate pilot, eager to make the skill check to keep your boat on course. His success gives you a chance to knock out the target’s captain, giving you the choice of the loot. If, of course, you can pick the lock, which is where your third player comes in, her skullduggery doing the job to get you the gold.

Forgotten Waters and Freelancers are swift to set up and play, with minimal rules leading to maximum memories. Stopping and restarting adventures is easy, as is switching things up if attendance isn’t a sure thing. This isn’t Gloomhaven, but a streamlined tale, one worth mixing up with a mug of your favorite grog.

If you’d prefer a unique cooperative game great for two, one that evokes a grand adventure without, say, a million monsters to control or convoluted rules to sift through, give Sleeping Gods a look. Taking to the seas on the steamship Manticore, you’ll be gathering crew, solving mysteries, and trying to keep yourself afloat through dangers and delights. The game eschews a standard board for an atlas, turning the pages as you venture. You’ll pick points of interest, listen to the well-told story, and see if you can find at least fourteen totems hidden throughout the world.

What makes Sleeping Gods perfect for couples or ad hoc partner plays is its flexibility: it’s simple to stop whenever you’d like, without locking you into a long skirmish or a multi-hour quest before letting you go. Want to explore that mountain of unique cooperative games before bed? Scout out that horizon over lunch? Have at it, and enjoy the ride.

Magical Mystery Box

While both Forgotten Waters and Sleeping Gods abound in puzzles, sometimes you want a mystery with more bite, and that’s where Mansions of Madness comes knocking. A terrifying title in the Lovecraftian universe, Mansions of Madness brings app-driven supernatural suspense to mysteries lasting anywhere from several to eight or more hours in length. You and up to four others will pick from a swath of oddball investigators before embarking on your adventure, often starting not in some sparkling city or a bright road, but a dreary inn with an angry mob outside, or perhaps a manor with strange shadows moving on the walls.

You’ll have objectives, though those are as flexible as your choices as you use your actions to try and figure out what’s going on. There are strange sounds coming from the door’s other side: do you open it, stolen pistol in hand, or run the other way? Maybe it’s a monster, maybe it’s the lost child you’re hoping to save. While you’re deciding, your friend across the hall finds a safe, but he needs the key, one that might be in the dresser next to you. Dare you take the time to search it, and give the maybe-monster a chance to spring in, catching you unprepared or simply run from the room, hoping to find another way forward?

Mansions of Madness uses its app to create atmosphere, trigger surprises, and build tension in a way difficult for a normal cooperative board game to achieve. You won’t see the twists coming, and getting all the way to the end only to realize the guy you assumed was a worthless drunk had the key to that safe makes for forehead slapping fun. The game never feels unfair, giving you time to react, leaving clues, and offering alternative ways out should your choices, and some dice rolls, go the wrong way. A creepy good time for your group, Mansions of Madness is worth a ritual or two, though note it’s the 2nd edition that’s the full cooperative version. The original is great too, but puts a player in the app’s position, making it a one vs. all experience.

It’s All Different When You’re on the Same Team

It’s easier than ever to find a unique cooperative game for your group, whether you’re lovers of narrative choice, dice-chucking action, or twisted tales. Working together gives you a chance to expand your play horizons, so take a chance: ride a dinosaur or dig for buried treasure, battle an Elder God or, hey, become one. It’s all here, waiting to jump on your table.