Flash Point Fire Rescue - Probably the strongest integration of theme of any game on this list. Players are fire fighters, sent to rescue those trapped inside before the building collapses. I adore the fire fighter miniatures, but the rest of the components are fantastic as well. A simple introductory variant is fun on its own, but when you add in specialist abilities like firing the deck hose or scanning for survivors, the game really heats up, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Hanabi - One of the most unique games I’ve ever played, Hanabi is only very loosely themed (players are trying to create a successful fireworks display) but the gameplay more than makes up for it. Each player has a hand of cards that they hold where only other players can see, and then take turns either giving clues or guessing which pile to put their cards in. It sounds simple but it is far more difficult than you might think! Two versions of the game are available, a value-priced card game version, as well as a deluxe edition with beautiful, hefty tiles.
Shadows Over Camelot - The tale of King Arthur has been popular for centuries, and this game takes the theme and integrates it wonderfully. Players take on the roles of various knights, each with differing abilities, and can team up to take on quests. Jousting the Black Knight, retrieving Excalibur, and finding the Holy Grail are accomplished by matching cards. The game also includes a “traitor” variant, which adds a lot of second guessing but takes away from the sense of teamwork.
Honorable mentions include Sentinels of the Multiverse as well as the D&D Adventure Games, including Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drizzt, and Temple of Elemental Evil. These are a bit more complex than a gateway game should be, and also feature themes which may not appeal to many players.
Each of the games on this list make a great introduction into the hobby of tabletop gaming. They aren’t too complex to figure out quickly, and have themes that will appeal to a wide variety of both gamers and non-gamers. Best of all, they all require working together with your friends in order to beat the game itself. If none of these sound appealing, take a look through the Tabletop Co-Op archives, where you will surely find something you like.