Coop Board Games For Couples

It’s not always about beating another person when it comes to board games – sometimes you can band together to try and beat the game.

If you’ve not tried cooperative games before – and especially if you find competition against other people stressful – then you may find that they are a great way to play.

They are also a fantastic way for couples to spend time together, whether or not they are both players, as they work together to win as one.

Cooperative games that work particularly well for couples can be hard to find, and will depend upon the gaming preferences of the couple themselves. While most cooperative games can be played by two players, there are certain designs that highlight the need for two people to communicate effectively with each other. These are ideal for couples because they need one player to know how the other one thinks in order to win the game. They can also become valuable shared experiences and especially useful when one partner is less interested in games.

From personal experience, the most accessible co-op board games for couples starting out in gaming are:

  • Codenames: Duet
  • The Fox In The Forest Duet
  • Menara
  • Forbidden Island
  • Pandemic

…and for more experienced players:

  • Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
  • Mysterium Park
  • Horrified
  • The Ravens Of Thri Sahashri
  • The 7th Continent

Let’s look closer at some games that work really well for couples, from designs where one or both people are not regular gamers, to those that are pitched at hobbyists.

What’s more, I have played all of the games on this list with my partner and we are still speaking to each other, so I can definitely say that at least these games do not cause too many arguments!

What If My Partner Doesn’t Really Play?

The first selection of games that I’m going to mention are games that you should consider if your partner is not a regular player.

If this is the case then it is really important to find games that offer experiences that they will enjoy without too many complicated rules.

It’s also important that these games shine when experienced as a couple, meaning that you would probably get worse results if you played with somebody else.

The games in this section are chosen because they provide a great way to spend a quarter of an hour with your partner in a shared activity…and they might even get interested in games as well!

Codenames: Duet

codenamesduet frontcover

Codenames is a game that came out of nowhere a few years ago and which took the gaming world by storm.

It’s designed by Vlaada Chvatil, who is probably a design genius, is really simple to learn and play, and officially very clever indeed.

The only problem with Codenames is that the rules for two players in the original game are not as exciting as they could be, and that is why Codenames: Duet was designed.

The concept of Codenames is brilliantly simple – you get your partner to choose certain words on a five by five grid by giving them clues that consist of one word and one number.

Say, for example, that you wanted to link Window and Wine – you could give Glass, 2 as a clue.

Sounds easy, right, but the tricky bit is that there are certain words on the board that you are trying to avoid and one in particular – the assassin – that instantly loses you the game.

Imagine if the assassin was Greenhouse – then you wouldn’t be able to give Glass, 2 as a clue because your partner might choose the wrong word and lose the game.

It’s a simple but brilliant twist that turns the game from something forgettable into a really clever and fun bit of design.

Codenames: Duet adds a few twists and rules to the original, but works more or less in the same way, and also contains a very light campaign with a series of challenges.

This is a great game for couples, and will really make you laugh and groan together, as well as trying to work out how your partner thinks!

The Fox In The Forest Duet

foxintheforestduet

The Fox In The Forest Duet is a simple but beautiful two player trick-taking game, so if your partner has played standard card games in the past then this is a great choice.

Trick-taking games, where one person leads and the others follow, are very common in the history of card games, so the mechanisms of this game will feel familiar to most people.

What makes this game unusual, though, is that it is cooperative, which is something very rare in trick-takers.

Here one player of the couple will lead and the second will play a higher card or a trump – the winner will take the trick and you both make progress along the forest path.

You need to get to the end of the forest path to win, but the tricky bit (pardon the pun!) is that you need to judge which one of you wins each hand as you go along in order to make progress.

It sounds like a really simple game to play – and it is – but it is much deeper than it sounds, and you are allowed to discuss strategy and other matters, so it really does become cooperative.

The art is also beautiful so this is a great choice for couples who want to play something together that involves a little bit of brain power but which is not too demanding.

Menara

menara

Sometimes you want to play a game with your partner but you don’t want to think too much about what to do – you just want to have fun together.

If your game collection needs something that fits into this slot then Menara is definitely a game you should have on your shelf.

It does something very rare, as it is a building game – like Jenga – but the players act together to try to build the tower without collapsing it.

There are various columns and floor tiles, as well as a set of plans – easy, medium and difficult – and on each turn a player takes a plan and then adds the illustrated bits to the structure.

Sometimes you only need to add an extra column, which is nice and easy, but at other times you might need to move several of them or add a floor, which can make things really complicated.

There are a couple of win conditions, but in effect the tower needs to reach a certain height to win and extra levels get added when you make a mistake or extend the base to make things easier.

Menara is a game that takes about two minutes to learn and is all about steady hands and while it also works really well with a group of players I can also personally recommend it as a fantastic game for couples.

menaraexamplelayout

Here’s The Section For More Regular Players

If you and your partner already play or are looking for something a little more involved then this is the section for you.

I’ll be recommending some games that have a bit more going on and which are more challenging to win, so while the first set of games are fine for beginner players these are slightly more tricky.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

sherlockholmesconsultingdetectiveboxcover

I’ve chosen Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective here, but there are a number of other games that could fit into this category.

Basically these are deduction games where you can work together with your partner to try to work out who committed a particular crime.

The one real downside with these games is that once you have solved a case then you cannot really go back to it, but the good news is that there are new interpretations of these coming out all the time.

The Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series has four boxes, each with ten cases, which will keep you occupied for many game sessions.

In these games you use newspapers and interview suspects and colleagues in order to work out how and why the crime was committed, and by whom, and at the end you compare your result to Sherlock’s.

Sherlock is nearly impossible to match, though, so it’s best to play these for the experience and for the satisfaction of solving the different cases.

Another set of games like this is the Detective series, but you will need a computer at hand for these, and there is also Chronicles Of Crime, which needs an app.

The Sherlock series is fully analogue, though, and if you fancy something lighter but in the same vein then try MicroMacro Crime City, which will have you and your partner leaning over a large cartoon map attempting to solve various crimes.

MicroMacro is great fun, if short, and you can even try it out online if you want a taster.

micromacrocrimecity midgm

Mysterium Park

Mysterium Park is a relative of a game called Mysterium, but this one is designed to be smaller, less complicated, and playable at a lower player count.

Mysterium was tricky to play with two, but Mysterium Park works beautifully for couples and is the kind of game that needs you to understand how your other half thinks.

In Mysterium Park a murder has been committed (again!) and you need to eliminate suspects and then find the killer and the location of the crime.

One of you plays the Ghost and you communicate with your other half – the Psychic – by placing cards in front of them…and you are not allowed to talk!

The Ghost can put down as many cards as they like, but they need to hope that their partner understands what links them.

As the Psychic you will be asking yourself what those cards have in common and which of the nine suspects or locations they are referring to on the board.

Is it animals that links them? Or shapes? Or is it just that all the cards are red???

Mysterium Park is a bit like Codenames: Duet but using pictures for clues instead of words, and up against a time limit that really forces you to play creatively.

In the final round (if you make it that far!) the Ghost has to indicate the right choice of murderer and location with only two cards.

One card will refer to the murderer and one to the location, but as the Psychic you won’t know which is which!

This is great for couples because it needs you to try to understand how your partner thinks, and it can lead to some real fist-pump moments if you get it right.

Horrified

horrifiedpaintedfigures

Horrified is a fun cooperative game which is colourful and frothy, deep enough to have meaningful decisions but also light on the rules so that it can be played at the end of a day even when you and your partner might be a little tired.

You will both be playing different characters who are trying to stop the monsters from invading the town, and attempting to save villagers along the way.

There are a lot of games that do something similar to what Horrified does, but what makes this game a great choice for couples is that it is light and fun rather than thinky and stressful.

Yes, there can be stress towards the end of the game, but the puzzles you have to solve to defeat the monsters are not prohibitively difficult and – I’m going to use that word again – are just plain fun.

Horrified is also a great game for families, so if you are a couple with children and want to play together then this is a fantastic design to add to your collection.

horrifiediinaction

What Should Ambitious Gaming Couples Try?

Here we are onto the heavier games in this list, the ones that will take some brainpower to win and which will be involving from start to finish.

There are plenty of cooperative games that slot nicely into this category, but the ones I have chosen are here because they play particularly well with couples.

The Ravens Of Thri Sahashri

theravensofthrisahashri productionvalues

You’ll need to be patient with this one, and probably read the rules multiple times, but this is a beautiful and unique cooperative card game designed for only two players.

What makes it so suitable for couples is that talking is not allowed, so all the communication is done via the cards that are played.

Better still, the background to the game is a love story, so there is a really strong sense of being part of a couple in this game.

One of the players (Ren) draws four cards and places them face down and the other (Feth) tries to guess what colour they are.

This sounds absurdly simple, but the only way that Ren can communicate what she needs is by taking a card from the ones that Feth plays.

There are also ravens that appear and will make things more difficult, so both Ren and Feth are up against time to get things finished.

The Ravens Of Thri Sahashri is difficult to learn and needs both players to be experienced gamers but it is very rewarding for couples and is also unique and beautiful, something to savour.

The 7th Continent

the7thcontinent

If you’re old enough to remember those books where you choose your own adventure then The 7th Continent might be the game for you.

This really is unlike anything else on the market at the moment, a game in which you explore the continent and undertake various adventures.

You and your partner begin with a character each and some basic equipment and a single tile on the board which represents where you are.

Bit by bit you will explore the terrain around you and try to piece various clues together to discover the secrets of the history of the continent.

It’s not quite as easy as that, though, because there are nasty surprises lurking around nearly every corner, and you will also need to keep hunting for food in order to survive.

The characters all have their own strengths and weaknesses, and some will also work particularly well together, so choosing who you want to represent is part of the fun.

The 7th Continent can also be really immersive and it’s easily possible to take up a whole evening without finishing a quest, so it’s important to have the same people playing different sessions, which is one of the reasons why it works so well for couples.

The adventure begins with a very short quest, but soon opens out into some much more exciting challenges, and while it can be frustrating and repetitive at times, the cleverness of the design means that it is always fun to play.

Even after a whole afternoon exploring the continent, avoiding wild beasts, making equipment or uncovering clues, you’ll be thinking about what you might do next.

There are various different versions of the game available, and there is plenty to discover even in the most basic version, so don’t feel that you have to go out and buy everything straight away.

Instead, start with the basic game and see whether it works for you and your partner.

Two Gateway 2-4 Player Games, That Work For Couples Too

The recommendations that I’ve made here work particularly well for couples, but most cooperative games can be adapted to play well with two – you just play with two characters instead of the full number.

But while there’s no reason at all why you should not try games like Pandemic or Forbidden Island as a couple, those designs really shine at their best when you have four people at the table.

Of course, you could play them as a couple and run two characters each, but if that feels like too much hassle then any of the games on the list above will work with two right out of the box, and some of them have even been designed that way.

Just to mention again that I have played all of these with my partner, so they have all been tested in the heat of play, and they have all been enjoyed.

Final Selection

Whether your partner rarely plays games at all or is a full-on gamer there are designs out there that could suit both of you really well, but it can be difficult to sort out the best ones from those that are less suitable.

Gaming is all about having fun, and having a gaming partner is one of the best things to have, but any shared activity is going to be time well spent.

Just remember that cooperative games are about exactly that – cooperation – so your discussions about what to do will need to have a little give and take, in order to get the best experience.

To finish off, here is the list of games recommend, along with a short description of each one:

Light:

  • Codenames: Duet – A great guessing game in which one player gives clues and the other tries to guess the words, while avoiding the assassin.
  • The Fox In The Forest Duet – Trick-taking game in which you need to win in a certain sequence to progress to the end of the path.
  • Menara – A stacking game in which you build a temple made of floors and columns by following the designs you draw from different piles.

Medium:

  • Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective – Visit colleagues and suspects and use the newspapers to solve the crime and then compare your answers to Sherlock’s.
  • Mysterium Park – The Ghost tries to communicate with the Psychic using pictures on cards to find the perpetrator and location of the crime.
  • Horrified – Protect the village and defeat the monsters!

Heavy:

  • The Ravens Of Thri Sahashri – Beautiful card game in which one player tries to communicate the colours they need by taking cards laid down by the other player. Unique.
  • The 7th Continent – Epic exploration game in which characters discover the continent while avoiding animals and traps.

If none of these sounds right then check out this video for some other recommendations from a gaming couple, or you can watch games designer Jamey Stegmaier (and his cat) come up with a list for couples as well.

Whatever you choose to play – play nice!

Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.

About the author

James Declan discovered board gaming via a one hour sesh trying to escape Forbidden Island with his daughter and has never looked back.