Cooperative Board Games Like Pandemic

Pandemic was a gateway game for me and I fell in love after my first play (even though we lost, erm, yeah….badly).

I adored every element of it:

– The tension…..I never realised a simple board game could have such a uniting effect on everyone round the table…what else is there like this???

– The joint decision making the game requires, means collaborative conversations will help to balance all the needs to survive in that moment of play

– The theme of battling an illness, is perfect to unite everyone around the table against a common enemy – and gives a sense of contribution, that few competitive PVP games can deliver.

So…my brain was alive. There must be more out there like this? What else was I missing???!! Lol And how quickly could I get my friends round a table to start playing?

Here’s my pick, and I make no apologies for targeting the lighter-gamer/family end of the spectrum:

Forbidden Island Is A Simpler Version Of Pandemic

Forbidden Island

*The* game that started me into the tabletop hobby initially, after seeing Wil Wheaton’s show.

By the same designer as Pandemic, Matt Leacock, this is maybe even lighter than Pandemic but with a similar mechanism to rank up the tension, in that when cards are discarded they are shuffled in to the top of the deck.

To me the mechanism actually fits more naturally with the theme of Forbidden Island.

Forbidden Island .v. Pandemic

Instead of eliminating disease cubes, in Forbidden Island you draw Flood cards which eliminate parts of the island you need to escape from.

As the game continues the island is beginning to disappear under you, and your escape routes reduce.

it gives a very real feel to the tension element involved, an ingenious mechanic.

Similar to Pandemic, each player has a specialist role and character card, which enable e.g. greater movement than normal, or the ability to ‘shore up’ more tiles, directional movement advantages, etc.

You and your fellow travellers must work together, using action points wisely, to share resources, gather 4 unique treasures, and escape in time before you’re swept in to the murky depths.

The artwork of the island landmarks is just gorgeous, they’ve done a great job here.

I played this with my daughter starting at 5 yrs old (!) and we managed to beat it on the easiest setting, so this is great for families. We preferred Forbidden Island’s simpler mechanism and dramatic theme, which for us has greater impact than the slightly more cumbersome mechanics in Forbidden Desert.

The difficulty level can be ramped up by adjusting the rate at which flood cards are drawn. The default setting starts at 2 for the novice player.

As a bonus, it’s pretty cheap (as far as this hobby goes), and it gets a ton of good reviews, so there’s not much not to like here.

My takeaway – This is the one to go for if you want a similar mechanism to Pandemic that you can dive into quickly, something cheap with good value, or even an effective gateway game for the non-gamers in your life.

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Although the instructions state Forbidden Island plays 2-4 players from age 10+, I’ve had some pretty good solo game logs too, so don’t discount it if your gaming group is not around.

Flashpoint Fire Rescue .v. Pandemic

Flash_Point1Flashpoint rides along with a similar mechanic to Pandemic, but is themed around firefighters getting a fire under control before it destroys the entire building!

Again you decide how best to allocate your action points, between movement, damping down fie, etc.

If the building collapses, or 4 victims are killed in the blaze, you lose. Otherwise, the players win when they rescue the 7th citizen.

Expect to face tough decisions like, “Should I reduce this small fire now, to avoid the risk of explosion soon, or should I move toward this bigger fire now, which threatens to be much more destructive more quickly?”

The action points replace the need for dice and as you might expect by this point each member of your firefighting team have special roles to help with specific scenarios.

For me Flashpoint felt a bit claustrophobic and the movement mechanisms were more frustrating at times, as a clear passageway can become blocked when you’re already half way down it.

For the normal difficulty setting there’s a fixed set up to use from the start. The components are good quality and if the theme fits with you, you’ll enjoy it just as much as Pandemic.

YouTube video

Castle Panic .v. Pandemic

CastlePanic1Another lighter co-operative game that sees you drawing new monsters each round, to add to the mob attacking your tower and castle. You draw cards and spend actions by playing the weapon cards in your hand, to take out the bad guys.

As the game progresses, the monsters move ever closer and inevitably some will begin to destroy your defences.

What I love about Castle Panic is the planning and decision making to maximise best use of resource cards amongst the team.

There are some surprise monsters along the way, which have multiplicative effects, (like draw another 4 monsters!) but on the whole, your planning skills definitely have enough of an impact to help you feel like the strategy elements *can* be used to overcome any bad luck the draw pile throws at you.

Just watch out for the Mage Lords lol.

Castle Panic does a good job of keeping victory close, but not quite certain enough, that everyone feels engaged in the game, and like the decisions matter.

It’s a similar mechanism (but not quite the same) as Pandemic etc, and for me it’s different enough for it to feel like a different game, that’s not simply a rehash of another theme.

At most conventions they now do a hilarious real-life version of this with people around the circle representing monsters attacking the defenders at the castle centre – so if you get a chance to do this, don’t hesitate.

Rules are easy to get into, I would say anything from 8 upwards will happily be able to play with some parental assistance and Castle Panic plays anything from 1-6. Expansions are also available.

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Pandemic Legacy .v. Pandemic

PandemicLegacyWhat could be better than Pandemic….except more Pandemic?

Pandemic Legacy sees the traditional mechanics of the game turned into a strategic campaign mode – a move that looks terrible on paper, but executes incredibly well.

Currently with 2 seasons, the same gameplay takes place with a longer term story to follow, around the game.

Later in the game, new rules and components coming into play, and the original board changes, in ways that cannot be undone! New character skills become available and can benefit or hinder gameplay and progress toward the next objective and the next month in the game.

I’ve heard of many groups completing this one in real-time, when their gaming groups meets once a month, and it does add a certain extra layer to the gameplay.

The Legacy version is probably best with 4 players (although plays 2-4) and extends your Pandemic addiction if you just can’t get enough.

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Compare Cooperative Board Games Like Pandemic

Complexity # Players Play Time Age Range More Info
Forbidden Island Light 2-4 30min+ 10+ More Info
Flash Point Fire Rescue Med 2-6 45min+ 10+ More Info
Castle Panic Light 1-6 60min+ 10+ More Info
Pandemic Legacy Med 2-4 60mins+ 12+ More Info

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.