Best 2 Player Cooperative Board Games [Top 6 in 2020]

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Co op board games encourage two or more of you to work together in a bid to beat the game itself. They tend to lead to fewer arguments than competitive games, although there’s no guarantee, and they come in every genre and game type, from horror board games to dystopian dice games.

Below, we’ve created a list of some of the best 2 player cooperative board games available. We’ve tried to include games from different genres, but you shouldn’t overlook dice and card deck-building games; some of these play in a similar way to board games but are quick to pick up and deceptively difficult to beat. 

We believe Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 offers the best overall co op experience. It’s even better than the original Pandemic, with a series of missions to work through, and it fosters an excellent bond between team members that elevates the sense of foreboding. You don’t just want to win in order to beat the game; you want to succeed as a team!

Our Top Picks
Best Overall
Pandemic: Legacy Season 1 (Red Edition)
Best for Campaign Gaming
Mechs vs. Minions: League of Legends Board Game
Budget Option
Forbidden Desert – The Cooperative Strategy Survival Desert Board Game
Name
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
Mechs vs Minions
Forbidden Desert
Features
Not only an excellent co-op board game, but a superb introduction to the “legacy” concept.
100 miniatures, modular board design, and an impeccably designed box.
Simple to follow but difficult to beat, a great 2 player co-op for the whole family.
Best Overall
Our Top Picks
Pandemic: Legacy Season 1 (Red Edition)
Name
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
Features
Not only an excellent co-op board game, but a superb introduction to the “legacy” concept.
Best for Campaign Gaming
Our Top Picks
Mechs vs. Minions: League of Legends Board Game
Name
Mechs vs Minions
Features
100 miniatures, modular board design, and an impeccably designed box.
Budget Option
Our Top Picks
Forbidden Desert – The Cooperative Strategy Survival Desert Board Game
Name
Forbidden Desert
Features
Simple to follow but difficult to beat, a great 2 player co-op for the whole family.

Related post: Best Campaign Board Games

Best 2 Player Cooperative Board Games

Best Overall – Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

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Best Overall
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (Red Edition)
An improvement over the already excellent original Pandemic board game. Team up with others to prevent the spread of a deadly virus.

Relevant before 2020, even more terrifying today.

Pandemic Legacy is a Legacy style board game. As you play through the different campaigns, you tear up cards and write all over the board. Once you’ve finished, you can never play it again. Or even gift it to board game loving friends.

It also has time-released mystery boxes that you don’t open until weeks or months after your first game.

These concepts will be alien to some board game owners, but if you can get past the decimated board and the components that will haunt your dreams, you have an excellent cooperative game. In fact, the game benefits for these elements.

Viruses and contagions leave a lasting legacy on the world. They not only shape the way we live our day to day lives, but they affect the way we respond to viruses in the future. We also don’t know when another virus will strike, and we don’t know what it will be, hence the secret boxes. These legacy and mystery mechanics not only make the gameplay more interesting, but they serve to heighten the realism.

And they work very well.

In Pandemic Legacy, you and your cohort play as a team of disease specialists that travel the world, taking on different diseases. Each player has limited action points, and each has special abilities, such as the ability to move other players. As is typical in co-op games, the game itself also gets a turn. Diseases spread according to the turn of the infection deck cards. Infections can also intensify and outbreaks can occur. All you have to do is cure all the diseases before the world’s population is totally decimated.

Best for Campaign Gaming – Mechs vs Minions

Best for Campaign Gaming
Mechs vs Minions
An excellent game in itself, but factor in the 100 miniatures and the exceptional game styling and box design, and it almost makes the cost outlay seem like a bargain. Almost.

Based on the game world of League of Legends, but not at all related to the online game, Mechs vs Minions has 100 glorious miniatures, including four fully painted heroes. It also has a modular board that is arranged according to the particular mission you play. 

In fact, all of the elements of the game look exceptional, right down to the box itself. The box art is stunning and the inlay is exquisitely designed. There are different poses for the miniatures, but each fits snugly into any of the 100 inlay holes. It might seem like a small thing but when you’re popping 100 minis and, more importantly, replacing them after a game, it makes a huge difference. You won’t be put off playing the game for fear of the hour-long tidy up afterward.

In terms of mechanics, Mechs vs Minions sees players take on the role of Mechs. Each player drafts cards and adds them to a “command line”. It’s similar to the programming style of Robo Rally.

After all the players have had their turn, you simply follow the instruction book to determine the minion’s moves. Damage is dealt to both minions and mechs, according to how fights play out.

There’s 10 missions, in total, which include a simple tutorial. It can be played by 2 to 4 players, and despite looking very complex in the box, it really isn’t difficult to master. Beyond the tutorial mission, though, it is a very challenging game to beat. And, as beautiful as the miniatures look, they have pumped the cost of the game up. We’re not sure why you would want to, but you could grab 6 or 7 copies of Forbidden Desert for the same price as one copy of this game. But then, if painting minis is your thing, you will get more than your money’s worth.

Best Budget Option – Forbidden Desert

Best Budget Option
Forbidden Desert
Work together to escape from the desert where your helicopter perilously crash-landed. Escape before you die of thirst or are buried in sand with no hope of escape.

When you and your archaeological team were forced to crash land in the desert, your only hope is to find the scattered parts of an ancient, steampunk style, flying machine. Once you’ve gathered the parts, you all need to meet back at the landing pad so that you safely set sail. During the ordeal, you will have to fight off dehydration and avoid the sandstorm that keeps burying the tiles. 

In the Forbidden Desert, the board is made up of 24 tiles, which are randomly placed at the beginning of the game. This leaves one hole, which moves according to the Storm Cards that are drawn during the desert’s turn. You will also draw tiles that lower your hydration while you attempt to uncover the missing parts and locate equipment to help. Different players have different skills that can be put to use. 

Forbidden Desert is the second in the series of Forbidden games, improving on the original Forbidden Island, although Forbidden Island alternative tile layouts help improve the game. It’s also, in our opinion, better than its successor, Forbidden Sky, although all are worth playing, and all are available at a similar price. 

Best for Dice Gamer Lovers – Pandemic: The Cure

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Best for Dice Gamer Lovers
Pandemic: The Cure
More random than the original Pandemic and Legacy, being dependent on dice rolls for all actions. However, it keeps the same premise while being more portable and quicker to play.

The basic premise of Pandemic: The Cure is the same as other Pandemic games. You, and your team of fellow doctors and virus specialists, are tasked with ridding the world of four viruses. You use assigned and general actions, as well as abilities. Throughout the game, the viruses will spread. You will also face outbreaks. 

However, The Cure is a dice game rather than a board game. There are discs, which are used to denote areas of the world, and you can move between them. But these are barely a board.

There are also dozens of dice, which you roll every time you take a turn, as well as to determine the route and virility of the virus. In this respect, the outcome of the game is a lot more random than in Legacy, although the spread of the virus is always dependent on luck. 

Arguably the greatest difference between this and other versions of Pandemic is the amount of time it takes. While Legacy will require about 90 minutes to set up and play, The Cure will take around half that time. As well as being a great game for two players, it is suitable for any number of people up to five.

Best for Wannabe Sleuths – Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

Best for Wannabe Sleuths
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Consulting Detective is a unique sleuthing game. You don’t take on the persona of Sherlock, you attempt to take on Sherlock himself, aiming to solve ten cases quicker than he does.

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is a little different. The base game includes 10 cases. Each case includes its own case book, and there is a map of London, a directory, and a selection of local newspapers. You have to use these, as well as your wits, to solve the case. 

The aim of the game is actually to try and beat Sherlock Holmes’ and solve the case quicker, but just solving them can prove challenging enough. The quality of the materials is exceptional, apart from a few typos littered here and there, and the cases are very well written.

If you like guidance and following rules, Sherlock Holmes isn’t the game for you. It’s up to you which clues to follow and which to ignore. You can even choose whether to work as a group or take it in turns, and it is entirely up to you when you think you are ready to solve the case. 

When it is time to solve the case, you turn to the back of the case book and answer the questions there. Sherlock, as the consulting detective, also details how he went about solving the mystery. He will inevitably point out the clues you missed and detail those that were irrelevant. 

Although it can be played by a good number of people, Consulting Detective makes a really good two player game. Each case should take you around two hours to complete, but it really is up to you.

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Best for Big Box Lovers – Gloomhaven

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Best for Big Box Lovers
Gloomhaven
A game like Dungeons and Dragons, but relies on cards instead of dice. It is immersive, massive, and encourages an ongoing campaign through the inclusion of 100 combat-based scenarios.

Gloomhaven is a lot like Dungeons and Dragons. It is a dungeon crawler, and you will take on hordes of enemies in combat scenarios. But, rather than poring over dozens of oddly-shaped dice, you shuffle some power cards into your deck, deal yourself a hand, and then choose your actions, attack, and defense according to the cards you draw. 

This is, by no means, a simple card game but it is a lot simpler and more inviting than full-on D&D. It also negates the need to have a dungeon master and, as well as making it ideal as a game for two players, it means that Gloomhaven can be played solo or by parties of up to four people. As a D&D style game, it offers one of the best cooperative experiences because it is such an immersive experience.

Since its initial launch in 2015, Gloomhaven has become one of the most popular board games there is. It quickly took the top spot on boardgamegeek.com and has remained there ever since. Yes, it is expensive, but when you see the size and feel the heft of the box, the sheer volume of cards and board tiles makes you realize that it’s money well spent. What’s more, the gameplay is excellent. 

It should be noted that this is a legacy game. The base game includes 100 missions. There are several expansions available but theoretically, at least, you will adorn the board and your character cards with stickers, so once you’ve finished, that should be it. However, you can buy semi-permanent sticker sets that enable you to replay the game once it’s complete. 

What to Consider When Buying a 2 Player Cooperative Game

Tabletop game with meeples and dice

Here are some factors that you should consider before getting any board games for two players (or more):

Co Op Game Type

Cooperative games can take several forms, from dice to card, but all of the games on our list have some form of board involved. Even Pandemic: The Cure, primarily considered a dice game, uses a disc-based board. 

  • Dice Games – Dice are often used to decide movement but can also be used to dictate moves and determine the moves and actions made by the game itself. Although dice are used in most board games, a dice game is one where dice rolling makes up the majority of the game. You roll the dice to move, to determine character attributes, and for every other action. Dice games are usually more luck-based than other styles. While some people like this element of luck, others prefer more strategic elements to their games.
  • Card Games – Cards are used in almost all cooperative board games. They are drafted at the beginning of the game to determine player attributes, goals, and other elements. They are drawn each turn to determine moves, offer items, and change attributes. They are also used to ascertain how and when the game will make its move. Cooperative games described as card games include deck-building games, as well as some trading card style games. These do not use a board, but pit players’ cards against one another, or against those of the game. Mechs vs Minions is primarily card-based but has heavy board game elements to determine the level layout.
  • Campaign Games – Some games, like Gloomhaven, incorporate so many elements that it is difficult to categorize them. Think Dungeons and Dragons, with character building and dungeon crawling, dice rolling, items, and character attribution. These games tend to be heavy on player decisions, although some dice rolling and card drawing add elements of luck to the gameplay.

A board game with dice

Legacy Games

Board game geeks are famously protective over our games. We buy card sleeves and box inlays to ensure we don’t lose pieces and that they don’t get damaged. We get nervous around card shufflers and may even shed a tear or two over creased game boards. Under no circumstances will we draw or otherwise deface said boards and cards. 

Then came legacy board games. Risk Legacy was arguably the first of its kind, although D&D would argue otherwise, launched in 2011. However, it was Pandemic Legacy that really brought this style of board game to players’ attention. It was launched in 2015 and remains, along with Gloomhaven, the best of the bunch. 

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Legacy games are designed to change permanently over the course of several games. They are viewed as being campaigns, rather than single games. In most cases, this means that you’re supposed to add stickers to cards, write on the board, and make other permanent changes. It also means that they have a finite life. This does reduce the replayability of a cooperative board game, but consider that Gloomhaven will take a good 100 hours or more to complete, so you still get a lot of game time before it becomes unplayable. You will also find non-permanent stickers available online so that you can replay them.

Fortunately, legacy style games are usually titled as Legacy, but some games naturally have no replayability. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, for example, cannot really be replayed. The board and components remain in reusable condition, but once you know whodunnit, you can’t forget. 

If you want unlimited replayability, don’t buy legacy games. If you enjoy RPG style video games, or you want something that you can play over several sessions, taking elements from one session to the next, give one a go. We suggest starting with Pandemic Legacy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Co-Op games be played solo?

Some cooperative games, like Gloomhaven, are designed so that they can be played alone. Others, like Pandemic Legacy, are designed for two or more people because they not only encourage but require table talk. Alternatively, you can play as two or more characters yourself. This is certainly possible with the likes of Forbidden Desert. It not only means that you can play when nobody else wants to, but it can eliminate the alpha player problem and it lets you get to grips with the mechanics and strategy of the game before playing with other people. The rules of many games can be modified or changed slightly to turn them into great single-player efforts.

Wide shot of a board game

How can I combat the alpha gamer problem?

The Alpha Gamer problem is a fairly common problem that has been experienced by most coop players. Some people naturally try to lead and direct other players. It commonly happens when one person encourages the rest of a group to play games, and they take it upon themselves to lead. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can also ruin the gaming experience for other people. After all, if the Alpha Gamer is going to make every decision for everybody, they may as well play on their own. 

The first step is to follow the game rules. Some games dictate that you shouldn’t show your cards to others. Although not listed here, Dead of Winter attempts to get around the problem by having individual goals as well as group goals. There’s also the threat of being viewed as the saboteur and being exiled. Pandemic states that players should keep their cards secret, which should eliminate the alpha problem.

Beyond game rules, the only real way to combat alpha gamers is through discussion. Indicate that a player can ask for help, if required, but none should be given otherwise. If worse comes to worst, you can ban table game talk.

Is Gloomhaven really worth the money?

Gloomhaven represents a significant investment for a board game, although Mechs vs Minions would probably cost you more. In both cases, though, you are getting a substantial amount of game. The total package weighs more than 20 pounds and includes more than 1,500 cards.

The value of a game really comes down to how long a campaign you get. This is a legacy game, after all. In theory, once you’ve finished the game, you won’t be replaying it. Even if you don’t opt to purchase and use temporary stickers, and you do treat it as the legacy title it is, you should expect to play for a total of 100 hours, if you play the whole campaign in two player co-op.

Mark Coster, BSc(Hons) PhD MRACI CChem
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Last update on 2020-10-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API