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Cooperative Games

We have talked at length already about the value of playing cooperative games with your kids.

With that in mind you can only imagine my surprise when I was able to set an appointment at New York Toy Fair with a company that specializes in them. In fact, coop games are the only kinds of games they publish.

I got a look at a number of their games. Below is a list of the ones I found most interesting. We’ll be publishing reviews of several of them over the next few months s keep on eye on EFG!

Cauldron Quest

This is a cooperative game that will fit right at home in any house full of Harry Potter fans.

Players are working together in Cauldron Quest to brew a magic potion that their kingdom needs to break a magic spell cast by an evil wizard.

They do this by trying to move special barrels of ingredients from the outside of the board into the cauldron in the center. This might SOUND easy, but the evil wizard is trying to stop them by putting magic barriers in the way.

This is a game that really commits to its theme and we can’t wait to get more time with it.

Race to the Treasure

Tile laying games are great and Race to the Treasure is a great introduction to the genre. Players take turns laying tiles on a grid trying to make a path to a treasure before a monstrous ogre can take five steps. He takes his steps whenever players reveal his special tiles.

This is a challenging game that will test players of all ages.

The Fairy Game

The Fairy Game is in the running for the most adorable thing I saw at New York Toy Fair. Mr. Winter is trying to freeze the fairies’ magical flowers and players have to work together to make them bloom before the ice takes hold. The game play includes light card matching while you race to keep the flowers from freezing over before they bloom!


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We spent some time talking about why co-op games are a great idea for your game collection and pointed out a whole host of learning opportunities that they present. Below is a list of some of our favorite Co-op games as a team. Take a look and make sure to let us know if you have any other games you think we missed in the comments.


Flash Point Fire Rescue

Sound the alarm and ready the hoses. In Flash Point Fire Rescue, players take the roles of firefighters entering a burning building. Random die rolls determine where smoke appears, and where there’s smoke, fire (and explosions!) quickly follow. Gameplay is tense and well balanced, and gives players the true feeling of fighting an organic and ever-growing fire. Easy to follow family rules coupled with more advanced and complicated add ons that can be incorporated ala-carte or all together give this game plenty of life for all ages of gamers.

Note: You can read our review here!

Forbidden Island/Desert


Our love for Gamewright games is well documented so there really wasn’t any way we could create this list without including The Forbidden games. Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert are both amazing cooperative experiences that are quick to play and easy to teach. Both of these games present their players with dangerous worlds to explore that each seem to have a mind of their own.

Where each of them succeed the most is in the delivery of their themes. Forbidden Island is about the exploration of an island that is slowly sinking into the ocean. Each turn is filled with tension as players flip over cards that indicate which tile will sink (and thus shrink the board). As the game progresses it really feels like the world is sinking.

Note: Our Forbidden Island review is here. Our Forbidden Desert review is here.

Mice and Mystics

Adventure awaits as you and three other players control brave Prince Colin and his loyal court in a battle against the treacherous sorceress-queen Vanestra in this magical tale. The catch? The court magician Maginos has turned your band of heroes into mice! Mice and Mystics blends Role Playing Game elements with an engaging story in this highly thematic dungeon crawler. Each game builds on the last as players play through chapters in the ongoing story. Battle against rats and roaches, collect mice-sized equipment, like a button shield or needle rapier, and try to save the kingdom from the evil queen.



Diseases of epic proportions run rampant through the world, and only a team of CDC specialists can eradicate them before they eradicate us. Pandemic is a 2-4 player game that pits players against rapidly spreading diseases with more chances at failing the world, than of saving it.  Each player can perform the same actions, as one unique action based on their randomly selected role at the CDC. This plus the ability to control difficulty makes each game of Pandemic a unique challenge.  Expansions (In the Lab, On the Brink and State of Emergency) add players and new situations to overcome, so it never gets old!

Note: You can read our review here!

Sentinels of The Multiverse

The Earth is in peril an evil genius is attempting to pull the moon into our home planet, and only a team of superheroes can stop him from completing his diabolical plan! Sentinels of The Multiverse is a 2-5 player card game that lets you choose from pre-constructed hero decks to face an array of villains with a variety of evil plans in a slew of comic-inspired settings. In case the original set of heroes, villains and environment decks aren’t enough to keep you busy, Sentinels has quite a few expansions that change mechanics and elements of the game to keep it interesting. The sheer number of combinations makes this game incredibly unique each time you play — Even if you only ever play your favorite character.

Note: You can read our review here!


To a pyrotechnician, there is nothing more important than a beautiful show of fireworks for their audience, but what do you do when there is a mix-up and you’re too honorable to admit the problem? Well, the show must go on! Hanabi is a small deck card game consisting of 60 cards, in the game players work together to put on the most impressive show they can muster, without insulting the honor of their fellow experts. Hanabi is unique in that you can’t see your own hand and other players must give you limited clues for you to identify what to play! It’s a challenging and small game that keeps you wondering and guessing and hoping that you aren’t booed off the field! The game comes with a 6th suit and a few additional variations for advanced play!

Note: You can read our review here!

Castle Panic


Goblins and Orcs and Trolls, oh my!!! Castle Panic is a game where 1-6 players must defend a central castle from an onslaught of monsters. Each turn new monsters appear in the forests around the edges of the board and existing monsters advance towards the castle. Different cards allow players to attack monsters at varying distances from the castle, and players can trade cards, slay monsters, and defend the castle walls. If all the walls fall, the monsters win! Players work together to keep the castle secure, but the player with the most victory points gets declared the Master Slayer!


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Greater Than Games

Ages 13+

2-5 players

45-60 minutes


It was a quiet day in Megalopolis when, suddenly, all TV channels blared an ominous message: Baron Blade was threatening to pull the moon into the Earth!  The superheroes known as the Freedom Five assembled to fight Blade and his minions, hoping to save the planet!

Sentinels of The Multiverse allows players to immerse themselves in a comic book universe, taking on the roles of an assortment of heroes, banding together to face off against devious villains in a variety of environments.

The characters in the Multiverse echo heroes and villains familiar to many; Wraith is a billionaire-turned-vigilant, armed with a cape and a utility belt; Tachyon runs super-fast; Omnitron is a malicious, skeletal robot.  While there is plenty to learn about each character and location, they are similar enough to jump in with little prep work.

Players select a hero, a villain, and an environment, each represented by a specialized deck of cards.  The villain and the environment are functions of the game; no one plays as either of those roles.  Instead, when those two roles get their turns (before and after the players, respectively), the players draw the next card in the deck and perform the actions on the cards.  During their turns, players draw and play cards from their own decks, using their hero’s powers.

Accompanying the cards are a number of tokens to record the temporary effects, as well as tokens for the hit points of the heroes, villains, and minions.

The variety presented by the different combinations of hero-villain-environment, as well as the randomness presented by drawing the cards, lends to an immense amount of replayability.  Each game can go differently, as situations change and the heroes respond accordingly.

While the game says that it is for ages 13+, it can be played by younger players.  Heroes and villains are assigned a difficulty rating; with some guidance, younger players can learn a particular hero and become effective members of the team.

The game requires a number of skills – reading, problem solving, teamwork, and math.  Since it’s a cooperative game, there’s no reason to not play with “open hands”, so if there are players with weaker reading or strategic skills, they can easily get a boost from other players.

Sentinels of The Multiverse has had several expansions. Look for more info on each of them soon!

Want more cooperative games?  Check these reviews out!

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Ages 10 and Up
2-5 Players
Playtime: Approximately 45 minutes

“Gear up for a thrilling adventure to recover a legendary flying machine buried deep in the ruins of an ancient desert city. You’ll need to coordinate with your teammates and use every available resource if you hope to survive the scorching heat and relentless sandstorm. Find the flying machine and escape before you all become permanent artifacts of the Forbidden Desert! ~ Gamewright”


Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game for two to five players which pits a team of adventurers against a sandstorm in a burning hot desert. The sandstorm threatens to block players from successfully locating the parts to a flying machine that they need to escape the all of the sun and sand.

It sounds a lot like another game we reviewed, right? Forbidden Island, perhaps? Well, it is similar in a lot of ways, but it is MUCH more complex.

Much like Forbidden Island, the game “board” is actually a series of 24 tiles shuffled and laid out to form a 5×5 grid with a hole in the center. That hole represents the eye of the sandstorm. Orientation of the tiles to form the grid is VERY important. Read the rules. Seriously. If it is set up incorrectly, it will really confuse gameplay. Also, unlike Forbidden Island, where the tiles just look pretty, these tiles actually do something! They’re pretty, too. But actually interacting with the tiles beyond just moving them around or flipping them over adds to the sense of adventure and makes you really feel the archaeology/Indiana Jones aspect.

The game also includes 31 storm cards, 12 equipment cards, 6 adventurer cards (these determine a player’s role in the game), 48 sand markers, 6 pawns, 6 meter clips, 4 flying machine parts (propeller, engine, solar crystal, navigation deck), 1 flying machine model, 1 sandstorm meter, and 1 sandstorm meter stand, and a rules booklet.

Much like Forbidden Island (or any cooperative game), gameplay consists of a sequence of turns. First, the adventurers take their turn. Then the environment takes its turn. On their turn, each adventurer has a series of 4 actions that they can complete. Adventurers can Move, Excavate, Remove Sand or Pick Up a Part. If an adventurer is on the same tile as another player, they can Share Water or Pass Equipment. After each adventurer completes their actions, the environment gets a turn. The adventurer draws storm cards (which increase as the game goes on) that direct the storm to move one to three spaces in a given direction. The tiles move to fill in the hole where the storm was, depositing sand and possibly cutting you off from water or your team members. The complexity in this game is more significant than Forbidden Island, because in addition to the sand cutting you off, you also have to deal with the burning sun from the storm card deck. Add in the need to find wells, gear, location clues, tunnels, and mirages and you end up with a myriad of decisions to make each turn that can cause your group to win or lose the game.

Players WIN when all adventurers get to the Launch Pad! Once you have the four necessary parts, all players must find their way to the Launch Pad tile where everyone can insert the parts into the flying machine, start the engine, and escape for the win. Remember: The Launch Pad tile MUST be unblocked in order to enter it and/or take off for the win.

Players automatically LOSE if ANY player reaches the skull and crossbones symbol on their canteen. Players also LOSE if they get Buried (If you need to add a sand marker to a tile but there aren’t any left in the supply). Players LOSE if they get Swept Away (the sand storm meter reaches the skull and crossbones symbol).

Is the game any fun? Of course it is! The atmosphere is cool. Who hasn’t dreamed of exploring and finding buried treasure? The mechanics are complex, but after a play-through, simple to learn. And, most importantly, the play is challenging and requires thoughtfulness, cooperation and decision making. Being a co-op game that really relies on teamwork, this can be a great break from other more cutthroat games to get the family working together.

Gamewright recommends ages 10+ for the game, and we think that’s spot on for independent play. We played through with 1 adult, a 9 year old and two 8 year olds and it felt like barely controlled chaos. We also played through with a group of very overtired adults and kept confusing the direction of the storm movement because of player orientation around the table. It is probable that younger players certainly can grasp and enjoy the game when playing with the help of adults, but they probably wouldn’t be able to “lead” the team to success as their are too many variables to keep track of.

At a price of $24.99, Forbidden Desert is a great deal and a fantastic second step in the co-op board game genre. Just like Forbidden Island, the randomness of the tile layout as the board leads to huge variety and replay value, as does the multiple combinations of adventurer play styles (especially in combination). The difficulty can be scaled to all abilities based on the sandstorm level set at the beginning of the game, and even at the easy setting can provide a decent challenge for some of the most experienced gamers. This is another win from Gamewright!

Wondering about other Gamewright games? Check our our reviews here!

Love cooperative games?  Check out our other reviews here!

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Game Summary

  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Ages 10 and Up
  • 2-4 Players
  • Playtime: Approximately 30 minutes
  • Game Type: Cooperative

Seawater splashes around your ankles as you trudge across the Cave of Embers, reaching desperately for the Crystal of Fire. Your partner is frantically laying sandbags to prevent the rising tide from blocking your only escape. The distant hum of a helicopter’s blades sounds in the distance where the rest of the team awaits with the other elemental treasures. You only hope you can make it to them in time before the waters rise and you sink, along with the rest of this…. Forbidden Island.

Game Overview

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game for two to four players which pits a team of adventurers against an ever-sinking island in a quest to obtain four ancient artifacts and escape before the island sinks. Sounds easy enough, right?

Not so much.

The game “board” is actually a series of 24 tiles laid out at random. Each tile represents a location on the island, and has a corresponding location card in the 24-card “Flood Deck.” The game also includes 28 Treasure Cards, 6 pawns and 6 corresponding Adventurer cards (more on those later), 4 sculpted treasure figurines representing the four Elements (The Earth Stone, The Statue of the Wind, The Crystal of Fire, and The Ocean’s Chalice), as well as a Water Level Marker and Meter.

The tiles get laid out in a set island pattern, and six cards flipped from the Flood Deck. Players draw cards from the Flood Deck, and the corresponding tile on the board flips over to a blue tinted version of the same piece. This represents the location “flooding”. If a flooded location floods a second time (via the same flood card being drawn later in the game), that location is lost to the abyss and both the tile and the corresponding flood card are removed from the game.

To begin, players dealt out (or select) one of the six adventurer cards and place their pawn on a designated start tile on the board. Each player receives two treasure cards and set the Water Level marker to the level of difficulty the players want out of the gate.


Gameplay in Forbidden Island is relatively simple. Players can take up to 3 actions per turn. Actions can be any of four types

  1. move to one adjacent tile (up, down, left or right),
  2. “Shore up” an adjacent tile or the tile the player is on (by flipping it from the blue tinted flooded-version to its normal happy colored version),
  3. Give a treasure card to another player on the same tile
  4. Capture a treasure.

Each Adventurer Card also has a set skill or power that the adventurer can use throughout the game. For example, the Pilot can move to any tile on the board once per turn for one action, the Engineer can shore up two tiles as one action, and the Messenger can give a Treasure card to any player on the board without being on the same tile. These skills are absolutely critical to success in the game, so play the characters wisely!

Treasure Cards and Water Rises

After taking three actions, the player will draw two Treasure Cards, and then Flood Cards equal to the current water level indicated on the meter. The Treasure Cards are the key to winning. There are four treasures that the adventurers must acquire, representing the four elements – Earth, Wind, Fire and Air. The players must acquire four Treasure Cards of the same elemental type, and then move to one of the two tiles on the board that matches that element – Caves for fire, Gardens for Air, etc. Then the player can use one action to discard those four Treasure cards and acquire the treasure. Players can find helpful cards hidden in the Treasure Deck. These include: Sandbag (which can be discarded to allow the player to shore up any tile at any time, without using an action) and Helicopter Lift (which allows the player to move to any tile at any time, without using an action.) Also hidden in the Treasure Deck, however, are the dreaded Waters Rise cards.

Waters Rise cards trigger two key actions. First, the Water Level marker on the Water Meter goes up. This means that potentially, more Flood Cards will drawn each turn. Second, players shuffle all of the cards in the Flood discard pile and put them back on the TOP of the Flood Deck. This means that any tile that recently flooded will flood again soon (and potentially be lost forever)

Win and Lose Conditions

In order for the Adventurers to win:

  • Players must have all four treasures.
  • All of the players must move to the Fools Landing space.
  • A Helicopter Lift card must be used to escape from the island.

The tile-sinking mechanic encompasses nearly all of the possible lose-conditions for the adventuring team. If both tiles matching an element sink before the adventurers can acquire that corresponding treasure, the players lose. The loss of Fools Landing – the extraction point at the end of the game – also represents a lose condition for the players. Additionally, if a player is on a tile that is lost and the player cannot move to an adjacent tile, they drown, and the game is lost. (Are you sensing a theme?) Lastly, if the water levels rise too high, the adventurers loose.

If it sounds like there are many more lose conditions than win conditions, you are absolutely right. This adds to the tension in the game, giving players the real Indiana Jones feeling of snatching treasures up and rushing to escape right as the catastrophe swallows the island whole. Sinking tiles can cut off movement paths, and often times key decisions hinge on a choice between shoring up a sinking tile, or rushing across the board to capture another treasure.

Final Thoughts

So the real question, is Forbidden Island fun? And the answer is: incredibly so. The atmosphere in the game is great, the mechanics are simple to learn, and the play is challenging. Being a co-op game that really relies on teamwork, this can be a great break from other more cutthroat games to get the family working together. The game can even be played solo (controlling two adventurers, as some of the game mechanics rely on two Adventurers) for a fun and challenging time. While Gamewright recommends ages 10+ for the game, we think that younger players certainly can grasp and enjoy the game. There are no scary illustrations, and the gameplay is simple enough that the 8 yr old we played with was able to “lead” the team to success while the adults merely consulted. Even players as young as 5 could likely enjoy the game with a heavier guiding hand from the grown ups at the table.

Forbidden Island is a fantastic introduction to co-op board games before moving on to something more complex like Pandemic, or Flash Point Fire Rescue. The randomness of the tile layout as the board leads to huge variety and replay value, as does the multiple combinations of adventurer play styles (especially in combination). The difficulty scales to all abilities based on how high the water level starts the game. Even at the easy setting can provide a decent challenge for some of the most experienced gamers. For the value, we highly recommend picking up a copy for your family and enjoying hours of fun!

What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

You can also look at our other video game definitions from previous weeks here!

What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

Make sure to keep your eyes on Engaged Family Gaming for all of the latest news and reviews you need to Get

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Privateer Press/Bodger Games
Ages 8+
1-6 Players
45+ Minutes


Holed up in the walls of a besieged brownstone, our heroes defend their lives, and the lives of their friends, from the shambling, leaping, and running hoards of undead.   Building massive contraptions of zombie destruction, they tinker to avoid their own demise – or worse, infection.  Who are these brave and brilliant souls who are the last line against a terrible foe? Goblins.  That’s right, Goblins.

Zombies Keep Out is exactly what you’d expect from a Goblins vs Zombies cooperative game,which is to say, a lot of fun for children with an impressively complex gameplay to keep adults entertained as well.  OK, so maybe that’s not what you’d expect, considering that it’s not likely you’ve actually thought about a game pitting these two completely separate factions of under-the-bed creatures against one another.  I assure you, it’s worth expanding your imagination’s boundaries to accommodate this unlikely rivalry.

Like most cooperative games, there are MANY ways to lose and only one way to win. Collect parts and build 3 contraptions while facing nearly insurmountable odds as each player’s turn increases the urgency of the situation! The interesting dynamic that Zombies Keep Out (ZKO) has that sets it apart, is that the player who draws the aptly named “Terrible Things” card must choose between 3 options of many possible occurrences that do their title justice.  Adding zombies, moving zombies, infecting characters, and even more problems must be chosen by the current player without consulting other players.

To make it worse, a player cannot choose an action that cannot be completed at that time, so as the game progresses. “Terrible Things” become “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad” Things.

Players get a trade and a single action on their turn. They can repair damage to parts of their building, to protect the much-needed contraptions from destruction. They can defend against zombies, flinging spare parts at the oncoming horde. They can tinker with a device to work on completing it. Or, they can scrounge for parts. It is crucial for players to act together, as completing contraptions requires an exact sequence of cards. Once a contraption is completed, it adds another action called… “Press the button!” which activates the contraption’s special abilities!

As the pool of zombies (it is actually a literal swimming pool full of zombies) depletes the option of being bitten becomes more and more probable.  Biting adds a very kid-friendly scale of terribleness. The first bite takes away your ability to trade with other players and makes you speak more slowly and sickly. The second bite brings you even closer to the precipice of undead-dom (yes, that’s a word) by making your words even less intelligible, and removing your ability to take a tinker action.  A third bite will render you completely unable to speak beyond the iconic zombie groan, and will make you BLINDLY select an option (using hand signals, of course) from each “Terrible Thing” you draw on your turn!  Finally, any bite past the third will turn you into a full fledged Zombie, groaning continuously (to add to the atmosphere of mostly primary colored, large headed monstrosities), and you now have your ability to take actions replaced by drawing another “Terrible Thing”, as you assist your brain-dead brethren in their quest to consume the ever popular delicacy that is green brains. Kermit beware!

This game is immensely enjoyable and the cartoonish characters will be a quick favorite of most children.  It’s an easy game to modify for younger players, by allowing the group to decide the “Terrible Thing” for each card drawn.  Smaller children can build their strategic planning skills individually and even advance to figuring out what’s best for the group as they choose their own actions.

Adults will find themselves questioning decisions and calculating moves as zombies shamble ever closer to devouring their most precious asset… their contraptions.

ZKO is basically the answer to the question on all of our minds: what happens after Pandemic?

Zombies Keep Out! will be available April 23, 2014 from Privateer Press! If you’d like to add more fun to your already awesome ZKO game, Privateer Press has just announced Zombies Keep Out: Night of the Noxious Dead will be released Late Spring 2014!  Adding Glow in the Dark Zombies to the swimming pool near you!

Love cooperative games?  Check out our other reviews here!

Big Zombie Fan?  Here are all our Zombie reviews!


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R&R Games Inc

Ages 8+
2-5 players
30 + Minutes

I was placing an order on Amazon that included and add-on item & needed about $10 to make up the difference in order to actually make it ship.  Searching around, I couldn’t find anything I really *needed* at the time, so I thought I’d try to find some sort of game to finally allow my other items to begin their journey to delivery.

I started aimlessly searching through highly reviewed card games, like you do, and stumbled upon a game with a 4.5 star rating right in my price range: Hanabi. Victory was mine!

Two days later Hanabi arrived, a small, sturdy box with 60 cards, 12 tokens and an instruction manual.  After reading the manual, I was intrigued & couldn’t wait to play!

The game is simple.  Hanabi is the Japanese word for Fireworks, and you are pyrotechnicians who have accidentally mixed up all of the parts of your fireworks display and now — THE SHOW MUST GO ON!  You have to work together to create the best display you possibly can despite your myriad of mistakes! The kicker is, you can’t look at your own hand!

Your teammates can give you limited information about your hand as their turn, but if you misunderstand and play the wrong firework, it can be disastrous!

The game is immensely challenging, and really makes you consider every move!  While the recommended age is 8+, this game mechanic seems to lend itself to older players.  It requires patience, reading your team-mates and figuring out how best to convey half (or less) of the picture to your fellow “fireworkers”.  Hanabi teaches simple strategy and teamwork in a somewhat high pressure environment where you don’t have access to all of the variables at play.

All in all, it is a very thought-provoking game that will help your older children learn how to draw conclusions from limited data, how to give the best clues within in a constrained framework and when to take a blind chance.  As if Hanabi‘s price-tag isn’t good enough, the manual also includes 4 variants for advanced play so once you’ve mastered the strategy of the basic game you still won’t be bored!

We HIGHLY recommend this for any family with older kids that love to work together!

Love cooperative games?  Check out our other reviews here!

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