In a cooperative board game, players work together in order to achieve a goal, either winning or losing as a group. As the name suggests, cooperative games stress cooperation over competition. Participants typically play against the game, and sometimes against one or two other players as well, who take the role of traitors. In many contemporary cooperative games, cards are drawn each turn from a deck of random events. These provide the conflict or challenge in the game, and make it progressively more difficult for the players.
Cooperative board games should not be confused with noncompetitive games, such as The Ungame, which simply do not have victory conditions or any way to compete. Furthermore, team or partnership games in which players compete together in two or more groups (such as Axis & Allies, and card games like Bridge and Spades) usually fall outside of this definition, even though there is cooperation between some of the players. Multiplayer conflict games like Diplomacy may also feature cooperation during the course of the game. These are not considered cooperative though, because ultimately only one individual will win. Games like Descent: Journeys in the Dark have similarities to roleplaying games and could be considered cooperative because players tend to work together.
Cooperative board games generally involve players joining forces against the game itself, and can be played without any player in the role of the opposition. For example, in Save the Whales, players work together to protect whales from the challenges inherent in the game setting--radioactive waste, commercial whaling, etc. However, in some cooperative games, players actually cooperate with the opposing forces in the game. For example, in Max the Cat, players are mice who keep an aggressive cat at bay by offering him milk and other appeasements. In this way, all participants in the conflict scenario are fulfilled and the resolution is truly cooperative or "win-win".
Early cooperative games were used by parents and teachers in educational settings. During the 1980s, several cooperative games were published in the gaming hobby, namely Scotland Yard, The Fury of Dracula, and Arkham Horror. Early developers of popular cooperative board games include Jim Deacove of Family Pastimes (inventor of Max the Cat) and Ken Kolsbun of Child and Nature (inventor of Save the Whales.) In 2000, Reiner Knizia published Lord of the Rings which influenced a number of subsequent titles, including Shadows Over Camelot, and Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game. Other recent cooperative games are Pandemic, Space Alert, Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Freedom: The Underground Railroad.