The world of board games can seem intimidating when you venture beyond childhood classics and booze-fueled party games. There are a lot of accessible options outside of “Monopoly” and “Cards Against Humanity.” Cooperative board games, where players team up instead of playing against each other, can seem daunting — at first, I imagined seven-hour sit-downs with absurdly intricate rules. But what I’ve found is an abundance of quick, clever, easy-to-play gems with reasonable mechanics that you can learn and teach fluidly in the course of a first game.
Below are five recommendations of co-op board games that are simple to pull out of the box and play — they’re stimulating, and don’t take all night. Each game clocks in around an hour of play time.
1. Castle Panic (1-6 Players)
Set up the castle and its walls in the middle of the board and defend it against monsters. It’s a simplistic game, but it becomes exciting, especially as the monsters stack up and close in. Players attack monsters on the board through certain cards — such as archers, knights and swordsmen — each with a different range of attack.
The goal of clearing monster tokens may be simple, but, “Castle Panic” presents enough challenges —things like special monsters, boulders and plagues — to keep you engaged. It’s a great game for kids, but compelling enough for adults, especially with the expansion packs, which are pretty clutch if you want to turn up the complexity.
Price: $34.99 | Buy here
2. Pandemic (2-4 Players)
Four diseases threaten the world’s population, and each player takes the role of one medical specialist, each having special abilities to help fight the outbreak in this, the sine qua non of co-op board games. The board itself is a world map, where the diseases grow based on drawing cards. The players must move around the map and take various actions to cure each of the four diseases before they outbreak — too many outbreaks will result in a loss.
“Pandemic” is one of the most popular co-ops out there and for a good reason: it’s a well-balanced game that’s not overly brain-burning. Somehow, it’s frustrating and addicting in all of the right ways.
Price: 39.99 | Buy here
3. Ghost Stories (1-4 Players)
The lord of the nine hells, Wu-Feng is trying to bring himself back from the dead, and four Taoist Priests, all with different abilities, must protect a village from his resurrection. The board is made up of nine location tiles, all of which contain different ways to help the players. Wu-Feng also has an army, so, like “Castle Panic,” players will have to defeat waves of enemies to win the game, which culminates with an incarnation of Wu-Feng himself.
“Ghost Stories” is probably the most complicated game on this list, and it has a learning curve because there are several symbols, tokens and variables to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it has a lot of replay value.
Price: $49.99 | Buy here.
4. Sentinels of the Multiverse (2-5 Players)
The players are the superheroes, and the board is the villain in the comic-book-themed “Sentinels of The Multiverse,” a card-fighting game with fantastic artwork. Every player selects a hero, each with unique powers. Players have the collective goal of defeating one of the game’s villains, who have various strengths, weapons, minions and nuances. In each game, there’s also an environment where the heroes and the villain battle, which all have different effects and obstacles, adding an interesting — and sometimes frustrating — twist.
“Sentinels of The Multiverse” has the characters and the aesthetics of a comic book, but the mechanics of an RPG boss battle. It’s one of those games that’s easy to play and harder to master.
Cost: $39.95 | Buy here
5. Forbidden Desert (2-5 Players)
A team of adventurers survive a helicopter crash and must survive the heat and sandstorms of a desert together, locate an odd-looking flying machine and escape. Each player selects a role card, which helps them move, clear piled sand and excavate their way to victory. The board is formed by small tiles, which also act as spaces, and are relocated by the storm, which adds some dynamic curveballs to the game.
The flying machine is broken into pieces — scattered and hidden around the board — all of which the players must find to win. Unlike some of the rest on this list, it’s a quick game, and another plus is — for those looking at this list and getting sticker shock —it’s relatively cheap.
Price: $26.99 | Buy here