That time of year is fast approaching. It’s time to give gifts to your friends and family. If you are anything like us, regifting that yak wool sweater you got two years ago isn’t going to win you any friends. (Don’t get us wrong… yak wool is super warm!)

Why don’t you give a board game instead? They’re way more fun!

Now, there are tons of different types of board games for you to get, how do you choose? Well, we here at Detective Hawk Games are going to try and make that choice a little easier. Throughout November and December, we’re going to highlight our top five games in a variety of categories. Some of these games we’ve reviewed and written in-depth overviews for, others we’ve played and are lined up to be reviewed next year.

We’re going to kick this series off with Cooperative Games. If you are unfamiliar with this genre, it’s definitely the type of game we play over the holidays and are great for families. Cooperatives are designed so that you aren’t competing against your fellow players to win the game. Instead, you are working WITH them to achieve the goal. Our favorites involve a lot of theme and story where you are immersed in the board game world and making decisions together to advance that story.

Without further ado, here are our top 5 Cooperative games:

5. Pandemic

This is a great game to add to your board game catalog. If you’ve never played Z-Man Games Pandemic, now is the perfect time to start. In Pandemic, you and your fellow players are racing around the world trying to find a cure to four diseases plaguing the earth.

To do this, one player must have 5 city cards of the disease’s color and be at a research station to cure the disease. You work with your fellow teammates to move around the board treating disease and sharing city cards to help each other. As you all are working on the cure, you are trying to knock down the level of disease in the cities on the board. Too much disease and there are outbreaks and too many of those will cause you to lose the game.

We do realize that we’re still in a pandemic and many people have been affected in very real ways. One thing that is great about Pandemic is that it can also be used as an educational tool to teach children and others about how a disease is spread.

Pandemic also comes in many different “flavors” – Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu replaces disease with cultists and monsters, Pandemic: Fall of Rome replaces disease with Roman armies for instance. The newest game takes the beloved characters of Warcraft and has you trying to defeat the Lich King

There are also other Pandemic games that take time to play. These are Legacy Games. Legacy games wrap Pandemic in a long-form story that plays out over many sessions of play. The Legacy part refers to you permanently changing your copy of the game based on decisions you’ve made. No two copies of Pandemic Legacy play out the same.

Pandemic Review & Overview

Pandemic Legacy Season 1 Review and Overview

4. Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth

This makes our list and is a really fun addition to our catalog. Fantasy Flight Games has been publishing Lord of the Rings games for years now. This is in our opinion one of the best. In Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, you take on the role of one of the heroes from the Hobbit and the trilogy. In the core game, you can play Bilbo, Aragon, Gimli, Legolas, Elena, and Beravor. These last two are characters found in the Lord of the Rings: Card Game.

Together as a fellowship, you’ll complete scenarios that build upon each other advancing the overall story with each game. This game is also app-enabled and it’s required to play. The app keeps track of the board tiles you need to layout and where enemies appear. You also use the app to track enemy damage and story progress.

What we really like about this game is that each gaming session feels like you are playing a new game. Some games have you playing on journey map tiles where one or two steps have you passing through whole towns, while other games are played out on battle maps and are much more tactical having you move only around a small area, usually trying to defeat a boss monster.

This game also has a couple of expansions. Shadowed Paths expands the story into Mirkwood and the mines of Moria where you’ll find the Balrog. This expansion also expands your heroes to include Gandalf and Arwen amongst others. Fantasy Flight Games has also released a couple of downloadable campaigns that take the content you already have and expand on it with new stories to play through.

The Lord of the Rings Journeys in Middle-earth Review & Overview

3. Forgotten Waters: A Crossroads Game

Now we move on to one of the newer games to hit our table. Plaid Hat Games Forgotten Waters has you and your fellow players taking on the roles of pirates on the high seas. This game is a bit different than the other games on our list in that it is heavily reliant on audio recordings. The game comes with a board that represents the ocean and tiles that represent locations your ship can visit. It also comes with a location book which you will be directed to open to a specific page. Here the team has 40 seconds to put down their pirate standee on an action they’d like to do. Actions involve rolling dice and adding up how many skill points you have to complete the action. Many of these actions then lead you to the required app, where you type in a passage number and you can either read the story aloud or play the audio narration performed by a full cast of characters. The stories are usually humorous and will often tell you to gain or lose, crew, damage, supplies, or infamy. The app also played background music depending on your location. If you are in the middle of a sea battle, you’ll hear cannons firing and swords clanging together adding to the overall immersive nature of the game.

2. Arkham Horror Files

We love Fantasy Flight Games take on H. P. Lovecraft stories. The Arkham Horror Files are actually 7 different cooperative games that all share the same universal story. In each, you play an investigator of the supernatural. Each character has a name and a backstory of how they got to Arkham and their motivations. Working together, the entire team will try to complete each game. Most games, Arkham Horror: The Board Game, Arkham Horror: The Card Game, Eldritch Horror, Mansions of Madness, and Unfathomable have uniques scenarios for you to play through. The scenarios can have you investigating neighborhoods to globe-trotting between worldwide cities and delving deep into individual houses and storefronts. Each game in this series feels very different from the others. One thing we will say is there are a lot of rules in this game. This does keep it challenging and fun. That’s what cooperative games are all about!

World of Arkham Horror contains all our Reviews and Overviews of the games,

1. Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game

Portal GamesDetective: A Modern Crime Board Game is our number one pick for a variety of reasons, but mostly we really enjoy how deep the story is and how you can get everyone involved to work together. If you’ve ever wanted to play a detective on a cop TV show, this is the game for you. You will be following the evidence and choosing what to do next. Think of it as a group “choose your own adventure” game. This game works on many different levels. First, you are trying to find that next piece of evidence, that leads to solving the immediate case you are working on, and with each case you solve, you get closer to figuring out the entire mystery. This game takes 2-3 hours to play for each case and there are 5 cases that you complete consecutively. The main object of the game is to figure out which leads to follow. Each lead costs you time and you have a finite amount of time to finish each case. You will not be able to read all leads in a single game, so choosing which you follow is vitally important. That suspense is what makes this our top game. It’s a great game to play with the family with older (14&up) children It is a small group game with a max of 5 players.

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game Review & Overview

So, there you have it, these are our top five cooperative board games for 2021. Some of these have been out for a while such as Pandemic. It is a classic cooperative, but others like Forgotten Waters is fairly new and it’s very exciting to see where cooperatives are going.

We have reviews of most of these games and definitely check those out if you want a more in-depth article about how to play, we always do an overview article as well.