Brian Kurtz, Tabletop Bellhop patron asks,
I am looking for advice on cooperative tabletop games to play with kids of different ages (grade school through high school).
I have enjoyed Hoot Owl Hoot for very young kids and Forbidden Island for older kids, and I have heard good things about Pandemic.
Are there less well-known options I should be checking out?
Thanks for the question Brian and thanks for being a patron of The Tabletop Bellhop!
One of the great things about the growing popularity of boardgames is the growing number of games released. More important to your question is the number of games coming out that are fun for players of all ages. For many years kids games were fun, for kids. It was rare to find a game that was fun for both kids and adults. Now, you specifically asked for cooperative games, which narrows the field down quite a bit, but I do have some suggestions.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
The short answer:
Stop right now and go pick up Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters or the re-themed version: Ghostbusters Protect The Barrier.
Okay now that you own the of the best kids games out there, that’s also one of the best cooperative games out there, that’s also just as fun for kids as it is for adults, we can take a look at some other games. You’ve got a solid start with the games you’ve already listed. Two more quick suggestions before I get into the longer answer.
For young kids: Outfoxed. This is a cooperative deduction game where players are trying to figure out which of the foxes in town stole a pie.
For older kids: You already mentioned Pandemic, it’s a solid choice, but for something less well known I recommend is Flashpoint: Fire Rescue. This is a fantastic co-op where you play firefighters trying to save people from a burning building. Players have to work together as every round the fire spreads.
The long answer:
While it’s getting easier and easier to find games for kids, it’s still often a challenge to find games that are fun for the whole family. The real sweet spot is finding a game that’s just as fun for the kids as it is for a group of adults. These are the perfect games to add to your game collection since you can break them out with the family and then bring them down to the local weekend game night as well. Now Brian added an extra restriction on this. He’s looking for cooperative games, which leaves a pretty short list. The good news is that the games on that list are all fantastic.
Why Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters, Outfoxed and Flashpoint?
Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters is a co-op game where up to four players (you can even play solo) try to sneak into a haunted house, steal some treasure and get out before the house becomes overrun. Defeating ghosts is easier if the characters work together so it encourages teamwork. Each turn the characters move around the house fighting ghosts and collecting treasure but at the end of the round more ghosts spawn. Get enough ghosts in a room and it becomes haunted. Enough rooms become haunted and everyone loses. Get all the treasure out and you win. The Ghostbuster version is a bit cheaper, has worse production values but adds in a small expansion and well has the modern Ghostbusters theme.
I gave my kids Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters for Xmas last year. I host a Gaming in the New Years party every year. This year, for the first time ever, we let my oldest attend the party up until Midnight. She brought some of her games to play with everyone including Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters. Not only did we play something like eight games in a row that night, with Big G playing every round with a different mix of adults, people continued to play the game all night long, well after she went to bed. That night I made up my mind that Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters was the best kids game I’ve played. Plus, for Brian’s sake, it’s co-op!
Outfoxed also plays up to four players (but really needs at least two to be fun). It is a pure deduction game. Players move around the board collecting clues. They put these in this special plastic “evidence scanner” that gives the players a bit of information about the suspect. It will graphically tell them something like: The fox that did it has an umbrella or the fox that did it does not wear glasses. Around the outside of the board, you place a bunch of character cards. The players then use the information to eliminate cards based on the clues until only one is left, then they open the evidence finder to see if they won.
My kids, who are currently 11 and 8, love Outfoxed and have played a ton of it. They still break it out now and then. I’ve played with them and so has my wife and it’s okay. It’s fun, especially fun watching the kids try to figure things out, but it’s not really any challenge for adults. I would assume it’s probably the same for older kids. Mostly as a parent, you are doing your part to get clues but you keep quiet when they are actually trying to solve the mystery. What this game is fantastic for is teaching logic and deduction. This is a great skill building game for kids.
“OMG, we are so going to lose!” This is something you and your family will probably say often playing Flashpoint Fire Rescue. While I think Pandemic is a great game, it just doesn’t have the emotion or tension that Flashpoint has. By bringing the problem you are trying to confront down to a personal scale the emotional impact is a lot stronger. You aren’t just removing a cube from Atlanta, you are saving a kitty from a house fire. When you fail, it’s not because the board is covered in cubes, it’s because the house collapsed with two people still inside. You have no idea the feelings this can bring about until you’ve actually played the game. Now that may sound like a bad thing and I really don’t think it is, I think having a board game make an emotional impact is an amazing thing. What you may need to do is tone it down a bit for younger kids. The house doesn’t collapse, instead, that’s when the other fire team comes in and saves the day (and steals the credit).
The best part about Flashpoint, and why I put it on this list is how well it scales. There are a set of basic rules in which all players have the same abilities and can do the same simple actions. The fire acts in a predictable way and the game is easy to teach. This game is great for families or for kids on their own. Then the rulebook includes a set of advanced rules. These give each player a specific character with more abilities, a chance to put explosive items in the house that can go boom, a firetruck the players can use from outside the house and more. Tossing these rules in both makes the game harder and more complex. Excellent for keeping the game fresh as players get older. This is another one I can play with the kids, but can easily break out with a group of adults and have just as much fun.
Other Cooperative Board Game Recommendations:
One of the most important things I’ve found about gaming with kids, especially as they get older, is playing a game with a theme they are interested in. If you can find a game about their favourite topic, you are already halfway there.
Now this one is for older kids, who are into superheroes: Sentinels of the Multiverse. This is a cooperative card game where each player picks a superhero, picks a location and picks a villain to fight. It’s completely card driven with each thing having its own deck. So each player has a deck for their hero. There’s a deck for the villain, etc. Each round each player gets to play one card and then take one action. Then the villain goes. The game is all about card combos, teamwork, and figuring out how to use each character’s powers in the best way to help the group. The core game comes with plenty of heroes and villains and there are a ton of expansions out there to keep this one fresh. This game is fantastic for adults as well, and is, to me, the best superhero board game out there.
If your kids watch Critical Role or are into RPGs and storytelling, then sit the family down for some Mice & Mystics. This is a cooperative story game where players are characters in a medieval fantasy story in which they have been turned into mice. This is what I would call a typical scenario based dungeon crawl board game complete with awesome miniatures and a great story. What really shines here for the kids is the story. It’s fantastic. Each game is set up as a chapter in the book and things you do early in the story can help you further into it.
The one issue with this style of adventure game is the number of mechanics. This one is not quick and easy for kids. My suggestion for playing Mice & Mystics is to play with the whole family, with the adults helping and coaching the kids. This isn’t one that my kids play alone but it is one we love to all sit down and play together.
Other people’s recommendations
I play quite a few games with my kids, but there’s no way I can play and try all of them. The recommendations above are all games I’ve personally played. In order to give a broader answer, I decided to do some research and look up some games I haven’t tried that others have recommended.
Mmm! – this game for younger kids is a dice game about eating cheese. It won multiple awards including the Kennerspiel Des Jahres in 2016.
Mole Rats in Space – a card game where you play mole rats trying to grab four pieces of equipment and get to the escape pods before the space station explodes.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – A deck building game that seems great for older kids. It starts off very simple but each “book” adds more rules. I should pick this one up myself 😀
Forbidden Desert – a step up in difficulty from Forbidden Island, if you kids find Island too easy, put them in the sand.
Escape The Curse of the Temple – a very fast paced dice rolling game. Think the beginning of Indiana Jones but make it co-op. I would guess mid-range age of this one.
Mermaid Island – A spinner based game where you are trying to get the mermaids back to Mermaid Island before the Sea Witch gets there. Says 5 years and up.
So, what kids games are your favourites? Are any of them co-ops? Do you have any more recommendations for Brian? Please let us know in the comments!
Quirky Circuits is really fun, and pretty simple mechanically. It also has adorable miniatures (including a cat riding a roomba).
I’ve been hearing good things about that one. People are saying it’s like a mix of Robo Rally and The Mind. I hope to check it out sometime soon.
Thanks for the comment,
And thank you for this list. I may run a couple of these ideas past the other half. Here at our place we have a couple of favorites that our little ones can play pretty easily.
Piratatak (Djeco) is a really simple pirate-themed card game. It’s cheap, very portable, and even offers some light strategy.
Acrobat (Janod) is a tower game that can be played cooperatively (build the biggest tower), or competitively (try and make the game difficult for the others). Its got fun little pieces and is very colorful.
Both of these games are pretty fast and can be played by kids as young as four.
I’ve never actually heard of Paratak or Acrobat. Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll be sure to call them out on a future podcast.
Thanks for the comment,