Excessive boozing, dozing grandparents and leftover turkey sandwiches. The Christmas staples. As are board games, and sadly, flipped game boards. Some folks just can’t stand losing.

Good news. You can still enjoy some family board game bonding, without your festive day degenerating into scattered Monopoly money, broken furniture and lower lip wobbles.

The answer is a co-operative board game.

Yes, there is such a thing as working together to beat the game. And it can be just as fun. You’ll still have to watch out for some of “those gamers”, but it beats crawling around searching the floor for tiny houses and hotels.

Some of the themes on our list are a little dark for the festive season, but it might keep jaded older teens enthused with family time.

As a bonus, if the rest of the family have drunk too much to be reliably coherent, most co-operative games can always be played solo too. Bah, humbug.

N.B. Tabletop Tribe may earn commission for sales generated through some of the links in this article via affiliate programs. Details here.

We’ve deliberately excluded escape room games, alongside other pure deduction games like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. It’s not that we don’t think they’re great (they are, and we’d recommend them at Christmas) we just want to focus on games where you roll dice/move cards and shuffle little counters around on a piece of cardboard.

Pandemic

Publisher: Z-Man Games
Price*: £36.99
No. of players: 3–6
Play time: 60 mins
Age: 10+

Co-op tabletop games (especially RPGs) had been around for years, but it was Pandemic that really put them on the mainstream map.

Players control members of a globe-trotting CDC team combating the spread of four lethal viruses, using their specialist skills, close-teamwork and good planning (along with a dose of luck) to stem outbreaks and discover cures before time runs out.

 

Not only are there plenty of expansions available to keep the game fresh no matter how many times you play, but also different versions with alternate themes.

There are even Legacy games, where multiple plays over the course of a campaign permanently change the components of the game. (Yes, that does mean you’ll be ripping up and writing on cards. That sort of thing.)

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. Can you stop the cultists and save the world and your sanity?

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu sees your team thwarting cultists intent on opening gates to other dimensions through which they’ll summon unspeakable horrors, whilst the new Pandemic: Rising Tide pits you against Mother Nature as you struggle to hold back the sea from the Netherlands/Low Countries.

Pandemic Rule Book
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu Rule Book

 

T.I.M.E. Stories

 
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Price*: £37.99
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 90–240 mins
Age: 14+

Have you ever wished you could time travel? How easy would it be to embark on dangerous adventures if you could just rewind the clock after a mistake and try something different?

Not that easy as it turns out. T.I.M.E. Stories adventures will still pose a considerable challenge to up to four would-be investigators.

The difference between this and most games out there is that it’s driven by narrative, which means that once you crack the case, there’s very little replay value. However, you can simply buy a new deck of adventure cards to send you back to another time and place, and do some temporal adventuring all over again!

The first three expansions: The Marcy CaseA Prophecy Of DragonsUnder The Mask

The core box also features a nifty insert that serves as a save game device, meaning you can run a game into Boxing Day or just take breaks for more drink and grub!

T.I.M.E. Stories Rule Book

 

Burgle Bros.

 
Publisher: Fowers Games
Price*: £39.99
No. of players: 1–4
Play time: 90+ mins
Age: 10+

If all else fails get the family to plan a heist and go safe-cracking.

Burgle Bros. let’s you be that Ocean’s Eleven (or Pink Panther) you’ve always wanted to be, laughing in the face of the best security systems, and grabbing the loot from under the guards’ noses.

At least that’s the (hair-brained) plan.

If you really want the most thematic experience, you’ll build supports for the game’s different floor tiles to create a 3D building (which you’ll then place on a Lazy Susan for ease of play, of course), or just buy one from the game’s website. But laid out side-by-side is almost as good.

There’s a host of characters to choose from.

Huddle as a family around those floor plans and figure out the perfect crime. With a load of characters and game modes to choose from, this has plenty of shelf life packed into a small box.

Burgle Bros Rule Book

 

Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition)

 
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price*: £92.99
No. of players: 1–5
Play time: 120+ mins
Age: 12+

Players take the role of intrepid 1920s investigators, who must uncover and then thwart a sinister design of otherworldly, eldritch horror in a sprawling, spooky mansion.

You don’t have to be a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing or know anything about it to enjoy this game. It’s your archetypal haunted house kind of affair, but with horrors that are altogether more substantial.

Not only do you have to work together to avoid the physical harm the mansion’s denizen’s wish to inflict upon you, but you must safeguard your sanity too. The human mind can only take so much.

The first three Mansions of Madness expansions: Recurring NightmaresSupressed MemoriesBeyond The Threshold

The whole game is run by a smoothly via a digital app and there’s plenty of expansions and extra downloadable scenarios available online, so this one will keep you screaming in terror for many Christmases to come.

Mansions of Madness Rule Book

 

Samurai Spirit

 
Publisher
: Fun Forge
Price*: £17.99
No. of players: 1–7
Play time: 30+ mins
Age: 10+

This is pretty much 7 Samurai in a box. A pretty small box at that, but one jam packed with katana-waving, shape-shifting fun for everyone. You’ll work together to stave off waves of ne’er-do-wells intent on burning the place to the ground.

Each samurai is unique with their own stats and special abilities and you can use your talents to support other players on their turn, meaning it’s a truly integrated co-operative experience.

Make no mistake  — it’s tough going, even on the easiest level, so you’ll all need to bring your A-game, but there’s little satisfaction in a cake-walk, right?

The small box is pretty amazing considering it accommodates up to 7 players (plus plays solo for when the family are comatose).

Samurai Spirit Rule Book

 

Mechs vs Minions


Publisher
: Riot Games
Price*: $75.00 USD
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 60–90 mins
Age: 10+

You need to order this direct from Riot Games, but it’s worth the effort, and at $75 USD it’s a steal.

For a start this is literally the best-produced board game in history. Everything from the inserts to the ready-painted miniatures scream quality and developer love. You’ll wonder why other games are so darned expensive.

Image: Riot Games

Mechs vs Minions (MvsM) is a programming game, meaning you decide on the moves you want your character to play, program those moves with cards, and then play them out in a set sequence, regardless of the external factors that might mess with your careful planning.

Image: Riot Games

Now whilst some programming games (we’re looking at you, Robo-Rally) might turn this into somewhat of a frustrating experience, particularly when you’re racing to beat other players, the co-op nature of MvsM and just the sheer fun of it, make any programming errors more hilarious than heartbreaking.

Plus through all of it you can just wallow in the quality that just drips from every component. There’s even sealed secret mission envelopes to open! Sealed envelopes, people!

Mechs Vs Minions Rule Book

 

The Big Book Of Madness

 
Publisher: Iello
Price*: £34.99
No. of players: 2–5
Play time: 60–90 mins
Age: 12+

You opened the book! Why did you open the book?? There’s a reason it’s called the Forbidden Library. Moron.

This is all about building the best monster-defeating deck of Element cards you can, whilst avoiding Madness cards in the process. Only by good co-operative card play can you hope to thwart the monsters you’ve released from that pesky book, ya big klutz.

Great artwork, and it’s nice to see some female characters.

There’s a touch of Hogwarts about this escapade, and like the Potter books your protagonists will rely heavily on each others’ special abilities to make it out of the library in one piece.

It’s not the cheapest for a card game, but you get your money’s worth in quality artwork and colourful , crazy, co-operative fun.

The Big Book of Madness Rule Book

 

Forbidden Island/Desert

 
Publisher: Gamewright
Price*: £14.99/£17.99
No. of players: 2–4/2–5
Play time: 30+/45+ mins
Age: 8+

From the creator of Pandemic comes two survival games. The first, Forbidden Island tries to drown you, and then Forbidden Desert cynically tries to dehydrate you to death.

Both games function in a similar way: in Island you need to drain locations and then shore things up to stop them slipping under the waves and cutting off your escape route. Desert sees you frantically shovelling sand to keep it from burying your objectives, your transport or your whole team.

That said they manage to be their own individual beasts. It’s probably worth trying Island first, and if you like it then pick up Desert too.

Forbidden Island

This is actually more like co-operative puzzle-solving, with some fairly intense collaboration and planning between team members. Make no mistake, it can be hard, but there’s few titles that give you so much satisfaction when you finally crack it and whisk everyone (and your loot) to safety.

Forbidden Desert’s modular Flying Machine…

The Forbidden games come contained in embossed tins, which is fairly Christmassy in itself, and the components are top quality. Therefore it’s surprising that both games are almost stocking-stuffer material when it comes to budget.

Forbidden Island Rule Book
Forbidden Desert Rule Book

 

Zombicide/Black Plague

Publisher: Cool Mini or Not/Guillotine Games
Price*: £83.99/£99.99
No. of players: 1–6
Play time: 60–180+ mins
Age: 12+

For families obsessed with The Walking Dead and zombie-surviving/killing in general, then you can’t go far wrong with either flavour of Zombicide.

Personally I think the best way to tackle zombies is wearing a suit of armour and carrying a battleaxe (Zombicide: Black Plague), but I appreciate there are many that prefer a more modern, boom-stick approach (Zombicide).

Image: GeekDad

Either way, you’ll be facing waves of Walkers just queuing up to be splattered in imaginative ways, and both games have ludicrous amounts of expansions to keep you doing it for quite some time.

The medieval themed Black Plague version…

Few veterans deny the Black Plague medieval version irons out some niggles in the original, but there’s no reason why you can’t incorporate those tweaks into the modern setting.

So get tooled up, get busy or get (un)dead!

Zombicide Rule Book
Zombicide: Black Plague Rule Book

 

Imperial Assault

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price*: £92.99
No. of players: 1–5
Play time: 90+ mins
Age: 12+

Star Wars has been thrilling audiences for four decades now, so whole families are often ardent fans. If yours is one of them then this should be a no-brainer.

Until recently this was an All-vs-One game, so one player would have to take the role of the Empire, working to thwart the other players’ Rebel scum.

Wookies will do what Wookie’s do…

However, in recent developments, publisher Fantasy Flight Games (the same guys that brought you that Mansions of Madness app) have announced Legends of the Alliance, an app that takes on the Emperor’s mantle to allow fully co-op play.

Heart of the Empire: the most recent of the many expansions available for Imperial Assault.

With stunning artwork, gorgeous miniatures and a 2-player skirmish game for when you feel competitive, it’s one of the best family Star Wars experiences (barring everyone watching A New Hope after Christmas lunch).

Imperial Assault Rule Book

 

Elder Sign

 
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price*: £32.99
Number of Players: 1–8
Play time: 90+ mins
Age Guide: 12+

If rolling dice Yahtzee-style is your thing, but you like a game dripping with theme, then you might want to pick up Elder Sign (check out our full review).

This is like a dice/card game version of Mansions of Madness, where players take the roles of investigators trying to thwart an ancient evil, this time in a museum rather than a spooky mansion.

Kind of like Yahtzee… but not as you know it. And with more tentacles.

To succeed (and survive) encounters and defeat the various foes to be found amongst the museum’s exhibits, you’ll need to achieve certain combinations of dice faces. With clever card use and relying on each investigator’s strengths, you can mitigate the luck of the dice.

Expansions at time of writing in order of release (and the order you should probably get them in): Unseen Forces; Gates of Arkham; Omens of Ice; Omens of the Deep.

All the while the clock is ticking its way around to midnight, and when the clock strikes each night something suitable horrible will (usually) happen, so it’s a race against time to seal the evil away and save humanity.

Elder Sign Rule Book

 

Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd Edition)

 
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price*: £74.99
Number of Players: 2–5
Play time: 120+ mins
Age Guide: 12+

When it comes to co-op dungeon-crawl board games, Descent is near the top of the list.

This is archetypal swords-and-sorcery adventuring, with players “exploring dangerous caves, ancient ruins, dark dungeons, and cursed forests to battle monsters, earn riches, and attempt to stop the overlord from carrying out his vile plot” (according to the official website).

The Trollfens expansion. There are literally dozens more.

The overlord can still be controlled by a player as an All-vs-One game, but as with Imperial Assault and Mansions of Madness, there’s an app to allow a fully co-op experience.

Descent has been around for years, so there’s a huge library of expansions and add-ons to choose from, meaning this is one game that will have shelf life (or rather off-shelf life) for as long as you want to keep adventuring together.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark Rule Book

 

Shadows Over Camelot

Publisher: Days of Wonder
Price*: £46.99
Number of Players: 3–7
Play time: 60–80+ mins
Age Guide: 10+

When you play Shadows as intended, there’s actually a traitor in your midst, with one player secretly scheming to ensure the group’s failure and the triumph of evil.

Very Christmassy, right?

However, the rule book does offer the option to play the game totally co-op, and it’s this version we suggest you get to the table over Christmas. Obviously.

Up to 7 players work together to track down Lancelot, recover Excalibur and the Holy Grail, fight off combined hordes of Picts/Saxons/Dragons and duel with the Black Knight.

And quote Monty Python, of course. A lot.

Shadows Over Camelot Rule Book

 

Sub-Terra

 
Publisher: Inside The Box Board Games LLC
Price*: £34.99
Number of Players: 1–6
Play time: 45–90+ mins
Age Guide: 8+

Probably not one for those in the family with very active, claustrophobic imaginations, Sub Terra is about working together to escape a cave system. You’ll want to do that before your lights flicker out and whatever horrors exist Below finally catch up with you…

The tiles that define the cave system are laid out at random, so every game will be different. As players draw and lay tiles to explore and reveal the cave system around them, they’ll have to cope with such joys as floods, cave-ins and gas leaks.

Like Forbidden Island/Desert and Pandemic, each player controls a unique character with a special skill (like the Engineer that can use dynamite to blast through blockages, or the Scout to find ways around them).

Also like those games, co-operative use of those skills will be essential to avoid becoming just a pile of bleached bones for future incompetent spelunkers to stumble upon.

Sub Terra Rule Book

 

Thunderbirds

Publisher: Modiphius Entertainment
Price*: £44.99
Number of Players: 1–4
Play time: 45–60+ mins
Age Guide: 8+

What does “F.A.B.” even mean? Does anyone know? If so then enlighten me in the comments, as I grew up around this stuff and still have no idea.

As you’d expect from the designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Island/Desert, this licence features some pretty tight co-op action as players take on the role of International Rescue members and zoom around the globe saving lives, fighting crime and impressing everyone.

All your Thunderbird favourites are available to play/control. Except Parker apparently, so you can keep your “Yes, m’lady” to yourself.

You’ll of course also have to thwart the evil machinations of the dastardly Hood — as if you hadn’t got enough to worry about already saving the day all over the planet?

There’s even a few expansions out there to add to its shelf life.

Expansion sets (top to bottom): Tracey IslandAbove and BelowThe Hood.

It doesn’t get the kind of love it probably should, so you can often pick it up pretty cheaply.

Thunderbirds Rule Book

 

*Listed prices are RRP/MSRP only. Shop around and you WILL find the games cheaper, sometimes far, far cheaper!

We hope you enjoyed our Co-op Games For Christmas list. Did we miss any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to join us and the rest of the Tribe on Facebook and Twitter!

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