We’ve come a long way since role-playing games were first introduced to the world via Dungeons and Dragons in 1974.
Back when I was a kid in the 1980s, people who dedicated their precious time to inhabiting the make-believe personas of wizards, barbarians, and bards were mostly considered nerds beyond redemption or people on the verge of demonic possession.
As personal computing became more accessible and the genre started crossing over into the digital age, RPGs became more accessible to a slightly wider audience.
Attitudes towards these games were still very reserved, though. And, while more people were playing them, it was still mostly those who already had a penchant for either gaming or technology.
It was at around this time that I became aware of RPG gaming.
I had already lost my heart to fantasy as a fiction genre (thanks, Raymond E. Feist) and when I first encountered the notion that I could “become” a magical badass and doing things that magical badasses do for a couple of hours, I was enthralled.
Sadly, D&D’s reputation as a doorway into guaranteed spiritual damnation prevented me from playing with other human beings, and I was restricted to secretly living out my fantasies in pirated copies of The Bard’s Tale, Eye of the Beholder, and Rogue.
As the information-age dawned and “geek culture” became increasingly popular among a new generation of open-minded people, the role-playing game saw a resurgence in worldwide popularity.
This was helped, of course, by the incredible leaps forward in technology that made RPG computer games incredibly accessible, visually attractive and very, very cool.
This was a big factor in offline RPGs becoming less of a niche and gathering huge popularity among regular folk who just enjoy the challenge of playing a game against their friends away from their TVs or computers.
Enter the new age of role-playing board games – a great group activity that offers players the best of two worlds: spending time with people in real life and living out their dreams in a dense, beautifully crafted magical world as alter-egos of their own creation.
In this article we’re going to take a deep, long look at the best rpg board games on offer at the moment, and we’ll help you make a decision on how to select the best one for you.
But before we do that, let’s have a quick chat about what defines an RPG board game. There’s no need to put too fine a point on it so let’s keep it super simple. Each game on this list adhere to at least two of these three qualities:
- Each player inhabits the role of a fictional character that develops various skills as the game progresses.
- The game is set in a fictional, often fantasy-based, setting.
- The players participate in a story that unfolds within this world.
The 12 Best RPG Board Games
So here they are. Our selection of the best RPG board games containing swords, sorcery, skill points, and deep, dark mythology.
This list represents countless hours of playing and research. We’ve delved into every aspect that could make an RPG board game attractive to various types of players.
Keep reading. Your next favorite RPG board game lies waiting in the dungeons below.
A quick note before you get started though: Even though we have attempted to give as much gameplay information as possible in our reviews, we wholeheartedly acknowledge that we’re going to be oversimplifying these quite a bit. This article is not intended as a gameplay guide or a rule book.
- Gloomhaven – Best Overall RPG Board Game
- Mice & Mystics – Best Family Board Game
- Lord of the Rings – Journeys In Middle-Earth – Most Replayable RPG Board Game
- Call to Adventure – Best for Short Gameplay
- Fallout: The Board Game – Best Crossover RPG Board Game
- Descent Journeys in the Dark Second Edition – Best Update on a Classic Board Game
- Dark Souls: The Board Game – Most Challenging RPG Board Game
- Star Wars: Rebellion Board Game – Most Epic RPG Board Game
- Pandemic – Most Popular RPG Board Game
- Scythe – Best Resource Management Board Game
- Dungeons and Dragons: Castle Ravenloft – Best Old-School Throwback Board Game
- Mechs vs. Minions: League of Legends – Most Unique Combat Board Game
1. Gloomhaven – Best Overall RPG Board Game
Average play length: 60 – 120 minutes
Recommended ages: 12+
Number of players: 1 – 4 players
Game type: Solo and cooperative, campaign-driven dungeon crawler.
Some fantasy RPG board games will take you barely 15 minutes to learn, deliver a dozen hours worth of fun for you and your role-playing friends. Then you’ll pack it away for a year, fondly remembering the week you spent immersed in its fun, adorable, but shallow mythology and gameplay.
Gloomhaven is not that game.
Gloomhaven is a colossus. Literally. The game’s box weighs about the same as one of the battleaxes the heroes are likely to equip at some point during their journey through one of its 95 dungeons.
Said box is absolutely packed with over a thousand (yes, you read that correctly) game components: 18 hero miniatures, 295 tokens, 236 monster standees, and 1000+ ability, attack modifier, event, and item cards.
Less may be more when it comes to certain types of entertainment, but in the case of a monstrous RPG board game, the opposite is most definitely more applicable.
When creating a gameplay experience as sprawling as Gloomhaven’s, you need the hardware to go with it, and this is where the manufacturers haven’t dropped the ball. Prepare to be momentarily overwhelmed by the sheer avalanche of components you’ll be faced with as you lift the lid on the game’s 20lb box.
However, if you’re not the type to be overawed by this astonishing amount of components and the understandably complex system of rules governing a game of this scale, you’re going to love this game.
Despite its rather hefty price-tag, it’s one of the all time best RPG board games of all time and our pick for the best overall game on our list.
At the start of each session (campaign) your character draws two “Personal Quest” cards that are their primary objectives for the campaign. The player is required to select only one of these, discarding the other.
There are 24 personal quest cards in total.
Quests range from accumulating a certain amount of wealth to dispatching a specific beastie to whatever afterlife their miserable species believe in.
Once a player’s character reaches the fulfillment of their lifelong quest, they head back to the town of Gloomhaven and “retire”.
Retiring affects the subsequent campaigns in numerous ways like unlocking fun new characters and items.
Since Gloomhaven is a cooperative game, there are also several instances where retirement grants instant bonuses to players who are still in the process of completing their quests.
As a dungeon crawler, this game offers an experience that is mostly combat-driven; all the typical gameplay mechanics and tropes that you’d expect in such an RPG are present: Dice, ability cards, tokens, all the usual suspects.
The core mechanic here is the accumulation and use of ability cards. Each class of character comes with a wide range of these and knowing how to use these intelligently is a critical aspect of succeeding in combat, exploration, and your personal quest.
The gameplay map or “campaign board” consists of several numbered campaign locations that are unlocked during the course of the campaign. Each time one of these becomes available, the characters can progress to it.
Traveling from one campaign location to another is done by completing what is called a “road event”. Each of these presents a choice to the party and, depending on the character’s chosen course of action, inflicts a condition or provides them with a buff in the upcoming scenario.
Once a campaign starts, players refer to the 122-page Scenario Book, where they are presented with the map, story, challenges, and foes unique to it.
Since each campaign always ties in with the larger campaign narrative, completing one unlocks rewards for both the party members and the world itself. This includes unlocking other scenarios on the Campaign Board.
Once you’ve played each of the 100+ scenarios with each of the 17 character classes, there’ll be little reason to play Gloomhaven again, although you certainly could if you wanted.
Having said that, the scope of “completing” the game in the way we just described will take more than 100 hours of gameplay.
So while Gloomhaven’s replayability isn’t particularly high, the amount of gameplay that a regular play-through represents is a more than adequate compensation.
- Both the product and the game world are absolutely huge in scale.
- Lots of great, stimulating tactical combat.
- Scenarios can be played as a standalone game.
- May be on the expensive side for players on a budget.
2. Mice & Mystics – Best Family Board Game
Average play length: 60 – 90 minutes
Recommended ages: 7+
Number of players: 1 – 4 players
Game type: Cooperative
With a fun, character driven storyline that feels like you’re playing a Young Adult fantasy adventure, Mice & Mystics is an extremely popular game for families with younger children.
Don’t let this fool you into thinking that the game is unsatisfyingly simple – it offers enough challenges to keep even the most dedicated RPG fan deeply engaged.
Each campaign plays out as a chapter in a beautifully engaging narrative that tells the story of a group of characters loyal to a benevolent prince as they combat the minions of a witch looking to overthrow the kingdom.
The catch is that each of the followers have been morphed into mice in order to escape the attention of the loathsome villain.
Along the way they will also encounter foes that will ordinarily be nothing but a nuisance for human players – a fun little twist on the typical exploration and combat RPG game.
What the game lacks in the way of deep player progression, it makes up for in a great storyline, some interesting equipment, and tons of fun.
Be aware though that fully enjoying and understanding Mice & Mystics requires quite a bit of reading and narration before and after a campaign. The world is beautifully realized and fans of fantasy fiction are sure to fall in love with the game’s mythology.
Each of the game’s 11-chapter campaign book represents one game campaign. Each chapter highlights the environment and map that the campaign will take place in and highlights the challenges the players will face. Each chapter also has a predetermined win-state which the players have to achieve in order to progress to the next chapter.
Loss-states are also pretty easy to identify with an innovative mechanic involving the progression of a token along a sequential page “ladder”. Each chapter indicates what needs to have been achieved before the campaign book reaches a certain page. If this has not been achieved, the game is lost.
Since playing Mice & Mystics is such a narrative-driven experience, revealing these win-states will sadly spoil the game for new players and that’s the last thing we want to do.
Each player will play with a character that has a unique set of skills necessary to defeat the various enemies they will face as they progress through the castle.
Each player is also allocated a set of ability cards that can be used to overcome the myriad of interesting foes they will face on their missions. You will need to play them according to an intelligent strategy if you want to succeed.
Careful strategizing between all players is crucial to succeeding, especially since the ideal way to combine characters’ skill sets won’t always be obvious.
Enemy movement and combat is based on a relatively simple and logical rule system that is executed by rolling dice.
The roll of a die also governs the movement capability of each player’s turn. Intelligently combining their allotment of movement and ability points is a real test and a great source of fun.
The replayability of Mice & Mystics is limited, given how the gameplay is directly tied to a story that has a beginning and predefined ending.
Having said that, the time spent playing the game is by no means a disappointment. The game mechanics may be simple, but defeating a particular level is not.
In addition, there are also side quests and downloadable extensions that definitely add to the long-term value of this great game.
- Great gateway into the genre for younger players.
- An adorable concept and game world – beautifully realized with a great story.
- Quite challenging to play despite the relatively simple gameplay mechanics.
- Not as much character progression as one would expect from a traditional RPG board game.
3. Lord of the Rings – Journeys In Middle-Earth – Most Replayable RPG Board Game
Average play length: 60 – 120 minutes
Recommended ages: 14+
Number of players: 1 – 4 players
Game type: Cooperative, app-supported
If a deep fantasy world steeped in one of the most legendary mythologies is your thing, Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle Earth is going to tick so many of your boxes.
JRR Tolkien’s legendary Middle Earth is renowned for its complex lore and a significant portion of this giant universe is at the players’ fingertips in this remarkable game.
As can be expected in an RPG board game associated with this franchise, exploration and conflict abound. Expect plenty of fun, challenging adventures as you make your way through numerous campaigns that form part of a larger, original narrative arc set between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Another fun aspect of Journeys In Middle-Earth that Tolkien fans will appreciate is the cast of playable characters. Four of the six are legends from the books: Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn, and Bilbo while the game introduces two lesser-known characters in the form of Beravor and Elena.
So get settled and prepare to immerse yourself in a truly awesome game that promises another enriching experience in the most beloved fantasy world of all time.
The default campaign that Journeys In Middle-Earth ships with consists of a number of chapters or “adventures”.
An interesting mechanic that this game offers is that progress to the next adventure isn’t impeded by failure to win it. While this may seem counterintuitive, Journeys in Middle Earth’s overall enjoyment is definitely not compromised
As the overall campaign reaches its conclusion, the success (or lack of it) during its individual chapters dictates the heroes’ effectiveness in overcoming the threat posed to Middle Earth.
What sets Journeys in Middle Earth apart from many of the other titles on our list is the inclusion of an app that dictates many of the game’s scenarios. From enemy behavior to map and token placement, the app will clearly set up the specifics of each adventure’s scenarios.
Another benefit of using the app is the “save” feature. If a specific adventure is interrupted, the app allows players to take a break and regroup their fellowship at a more convenient time. While board game purists may balk at this break from tradition, the benefits are obvious.
At the start of the game, all players select a character and a role. These are critical decisions since, while there certainly are roles that are more suited to specific characters, the selection of a non-standard role can have a significant effect on the outcome of each adventure. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Damage, fear and weakness cards also play a big role in the game but aren’t allocated to players individually, but rather placed in a deck where they will be accessed when prompted. These have a significant impact on the outcome of enemy encounters.
Other game components that come into play are: skill cards, search/threat, exploration/inspiration, person, and enemy banner tokens.
Exploration and combat is app supported and each player’s turn is executed mostly by playing one of the numerous cards in their deck.
As one adventure comes to a close, the decisions, outcomes, and events the fellowship encounters unlocks a plethora of variables in the subsequent adventure. This boosts the game’s replay value significantly, despite the game being dedicated to a single narrative arc.
Side-quests, additional, interwoven narrative strands and scenarios abound, making each play-through a relatively new experience.
The game’s exceptional replay value is also boosted by its integration with the app, which can generate different gameplay variables in each adventure and campaign.
Characters are also not allocated fixed roles and equipment within the game. Before the game starts, players create a character “build” which will have a huge impact on strategy and outcomes.
As you immerse yourself in Journeys in Middle Earth’s rich, rewarding gameplay, it becomes clear that diversity is a very big part of it.
And if you eventually find yourself exhausted with the default campaign the game ships with, an additional campaign is purchasable from inside the app. Just another way the publishers have added to the game’s replayability.
For RPG board game fanatics who value replayability, Journeys in Middle Earth offers exceptional value. You can play this game over and over again.
- The integrated app is a game-changer and allows for very smooth gameplay that’s light on admin.
- Rich, immersive world means exceptional replayability.
- Great choice for the millions of fans of the Middle Earth franchise.
- There is no “undo” function on the app. A misclick can have some awkward repercussions on play.
4. Call to Adventure – Best for Short Gameplay
Average play length: 30 – 60 minutes
Recommended ages: 9+
Number of players: 1 – 4 players
Game type: Player vs player, card drafting.
Building on the archetypal hero’s journey framework, Call to Adventure is a relatively non-standard addition to the mostly board-centric selection of titles we review in this piece.
Decisions that players make as they attempt to guide their character towards their destiny are filled with fascinating risk-to-reward considerations that can either help or hinder their journey to achieving the objective they have been assigned.
As can be expected of a game with this title, narrative is deeply embedded in the gameplay. Subsequently, buying into your character’s origin, destiny, and the journey that takes them there is organic and extremely satisfying.
In Call to Adventure, all players are the master of their own narrative. Cooperation will play no part in a character achieving their objective, but rather the intelligent consideration of the challenges they face personally and making choices that propel them towards their fate.
The goal of the game is to create the most satisfying journey for their hero. Fortunately the game designers have not left that to the group’s interpretation, but rather created an elegant mechanism that tallies story attributes like triumphs, tragedies, and experience.
At the conclusion of the game, once all cards from the various decks have been acquired by the players, scores are totalled, and the winner revealed.
The relatively simple gameplay structure overlaps elegantly with the narrative guidelines detailed in every novelist’s first point of research: The Hero’s Journey – a template for creating satisfying stories.
Players are allocated an origin, motivation, and destiny card at the start of the game. All but the latter are revealed to opponents.
Each of the origin and motivation cards come with unique attributes that assist your hero when they make the initial decision at the start of their turn: either acquire a “trait” card that their existing cards’ attributes give them immediate access to, or participate in a “challenge”.
Acquiring a trait contributes to the characters’ overall bank of traits or rewards, and plays an important role throughout the rest of the game.
If players opts to take a challenge, the game’s most common mechanism comes into play, rolling their runes (two-sided dice) to see whether they succeeded or failed in their attempt. There are additional methods to increase success in these challenges, but they also come at a price that could result in future penalties.
Succeeding in a challenge typically results in a significant advantage.
Several other card types contribute to the complexity of the gameplay and open up additional, rewarding levels of strategy.
Being more of a card/strategy game than some of the cooperative, self-contained narrative-driven titles on our list makes this game slightly more replayable than those with a predetermined ending.
- Beautiful artwork adds to players’ immersion in the game world their character’s journey.
- Future expansions integrating popular fantasy series are in the works.
- Shorter time investment than other titles with a similar theme.
- Minimal interaction with other players, making this one of the least social games on our list.
5. Fallout: The Board Game – Best Crossover RPG Board Game
Average play length: 120 – 180 minutes
Recommended ages: 14+
Number of players: 1 – 4 players
Game type: Non-cooperative, solo.
The likelihood of an RPG board game enthusiast NOT being aware of Bethesda’s groundbreakingly popular computer game franchise is slim.
However, just in case there are a few players who’ve been stuck in an underground vault for the past 15 years, here’s a quick primer.
Fallout is an RPG game franchise developed by one of the absolute leaders in this genre. Players navigate an enormous post-nuclear holocaust wasteland acquiring weapons, armor, medicine and various types of substance-abuse problems along the way.
Also, a lot of killing happens.
Fallout: The Board Game is Fantasy Flight Games’ attempt at capitalizing on the immense popularity of this great series of games by introducing it to a market looking for a more social gameplay experience.
Securing the rights to this franchise must have been a tremendous achievement for the company, and, just like they did with Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle Earth, they’ve totally knocked it out of the park with this title.
Unlike many “questing” games on our list, Fallout players (appropriately referred to as “survivors”) do not cooperate with each other. Nor do they have conflict with each other. All players explore the map, aiming to gain a predetermined number of Influence Points in order to win. Their journey never overlaps directly with that of another survivor.
As survivors journey through the Fallout wasteland, they acquire Agenda Cards – each dictating a specific game-state that the survivor needs to create in order to gain one or more Influence Points.
Interestingly, some of the actions players can participate in are aligned with the agendas of non-playing entities called “factions”. Those of you familiar with the Fallout series will know all about these. Loyalty to a faction introduces an interesting balancing dynamic to the game.
While alignment with a faction can prove beneficial for a player’s tally of Influence Points, it can also lead to a certain faction reaching a critical mass of influence, ending the game for all players. This is a very interesting mechanic that makes reaching a win-state just that little bit more complex.
As can be expected, given what they’re called, Survivors are dumped into the radioactive, enemy infested post-apocalyptic wasteland with little more than a single skill and a starting item.
Players take turns in which they can choose two of the following actions: moving, exploring, fighting, resting, questing, and encountering.
Questing is one of the most common actions and is dealt with through the use of cards that present the survivor with a specific narrative-driven campaign. The player’s choice or response to the campaign triggers various game mechanics that include fighting, the acquisition of Agenda Cards, leveling up, and gaining abilities or traits.
All of these mechanics combine to create a highly enjoyable, challenging experience for players looking for an alternative to typical fantasy-world RPG tropes.
This is one area where Fallout lags behind its competitors just a little. While there are four game scenarios – each with unique map configurations, – the quests themselves are limited and once players are familiar with each one’s outcome, the novelty is slightly compromised.
This is a minor issue though, and is to a very large extent negated by the fact that a single play-through of Fallout can take up to three hours!
Yes, certain aspects of questing mean that this isn’t a game that you’ll want to play every night for a week, but, in the long term, you’ll still get a lot of entertainment bang for your caps with Fallout: The Board Game.
- Offers everything that players loved about the computer game series.
- Intelligent inclusion of great cooperative scenarios.
- Relatively affordable, given the game’s pedigree and scope.
- Leveling up is slightly random and the game can be frustrating for players who fall behind early.
6. Descent: Journeys in the Dark Second Edition – Best Update on a Classic Board Game
Average play length: 120 minutes
Recommended ages: 14+
Number of players: 1 – 5 players
Game type: One player vs multiple cooperating players
The first version of Descent has been around since 2005 and, for those new to this genre of board game, is considered a mithril-bound classic.
It’s one of the very few titles that took what still makes Dungeons & Dragons such a unique experience, and updated it to make it slightly more accessible.
The success of a D&D game was largely dependent on the quality of the Dungeon Master and their commitment to making the experience enjoyable for the actual players. Descent: Journeys in the Dark took this role – one that traditionally only oversaw the narrative and challenges of a given adventure – and made them an actual participant in the game.
While the game is also rich and packed with complexity, learning how to be a successful Overlord isn’t remotely as challenging as its D&D counterpart, making the game far more accessible while still offering old-school “overpowered villain vs plucky party of heroes” thrills.
The second edition takes everything the original did right while updating the combat system and offering additional hero configurations (among other welcome amendments).
All of which adds up to an absolutely great night sitting around a table with your friends.
Quite simple, really. If you’re the Overlord, obliterate the party of “heroes” (insert eyeroll here) with your myriad of minions, abilities, and traps.
If you’re one of the intrepid swashbucklers who dare to venture into the Overlord’s realm of evil, survive the onslaught and murder him.
Yeah, this is a gross oversimplification, and how it plays out is obviously way more complex, but, frankly, this is what it comes down to.
Players fight, they level up, they acquire kickass weaponry, and they kill things.
Descent is a dungeon crawler, meaning that it’s all about exploration and conflict. There are no diplomatic victories. There are no win-conditions dependent on a compromise or negotiation.
That typically means that the fun of an RPG board game comes down to the success of two critically important game mechanics: The combat-system and player leveling.
Drawing on over a decade’s worth of feedback on the original version, designers were able to take what worked in this regard and implement several improvements, ensuring that Descent retains its reputation as the best update on a classic RPG framework.
Yes, there is a steep-ish learning curve, especially for the Overlord, but once mastered, gameplay is smooth and exceptionally action-packed. In fact, for a game this closely related to the often snail-paced D&D, Descent is an incredibly fast-moving game.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark Second Edition is a massively replayable game by design – thanks mainly to the chief adversary being a human being who is also striving for a win using their own subjective strategies.
Add to this the publisher’s almost relentless commitment to creating high-quality expansion packs, and you’re sitting with one of the most replayable titles on our list.
- Cards contain all necessary information to limit annoying stoppages for rule-book referencing.
- Line-of-sight is an interesting, unique, and enjoyable mechanic.
- Beautifully crafted, high-quality game components.
- The learning curve can be a little intense. This is not a game for first-timers.
7. Dark Souls: The Board Game – Most Challenging RPG Board Game
Average play length: 90- 120 minutes
Recommended ages: 14+
Number of players: 1 – 4 players
Game type: Cooperative dungeon crawler
It’s impossible to talk about Dark Souls: The Board Game without mentioning the enormous success of its Kickstarter campaign.
Promising backers a gameplay experience similar to the soul-crushingly difficult video game it’s based on, Steamforged Games raised over $5m before hitting their deadline and immediately set to work on delivering what they promised.
Similar to one of our other crossover titles: Fallout: The Board game, Dark Souls offers players exactly what they became accustomed to in the game’s digital iteration: Perishing with heartbreaking frequency at the hands of ridiculously overpowered foes.
The obvious challenge for the designers was to ensure that these frequent deaths in an analog context didn’t compromise the enjoyment of the game, and we’re very pleased to say that they did so.
Playing Dark Souls: The Board Game is a harrowing experience, but if you’re someone who enjoys a serious challenge, you’ll enjoy every brutal minute of it.
When it comes to achieving a win-state, it doesn’t get much simpler than Dark Souls: Stay alive, level up, acquire gear, destroy the seemingly endless barrage of ridiculously powerful enemies.
As those familiar with the video game will be aware, boss battles play a very large part in the game’s sequence of encounters. Much larger than your average dungeon crawler. Opportunities to level up prior to facing off against one of the game’s numerous bosses do exist, but they are far scarcer than in your typical dungeon crawler.
Hence, the frequent deaths.
Similar to its digital predecessor, Dark Souls forgoes a complex narrative and exploration for a larger emphasis on complex engagement tactics.
All players will need to take several variables into consideration as they prepare to face off against one or more of the enemies they encounter along their journey. Adopting a tactic that worked against one enemy type is almost certain to result in failure against another. Careful management of your two key resources: health and stamina, as well as physical positioning play a much larger role in Dark Souls than any other game on this list.
Understandably, equipment plays a pivotal role in success. However, finding items that your character is capable of equipping is one of the game’s biggest challenges. Powerful weapons, effective armor, and useful magical abilities abound in Dark Souls, but will seldom be of immediate use to you.
What really sets Dark Souls apart from other combat-driven RPG board games are the mechanics that govern boss battles. Bosses don’t follow a predetermined pattern of attack and defense. Their tactics during combat is determined by cards drawn from boss behavior decks – making each encounter a relatively unique experience.
The absence of a complicated storyline and complex exploration system may seem like it will hinder a game’s replay value, but this isn’t the case in Dark Souls. This is mainly due to the innovative boss behavior mechanism that ensures no epic battle against one of these beasts is ever the same.
Given that by far the majority of your time playing Dark Souls will be spent fighting all manner of monsters, this goes a long way to ensuring significant replay value.
- Encounters with exceptionally powerful enemies will appeal to players who enjoy tactical combat.
- Simple exploration mechanics means that action and combat is at the forefront of gameplay.
- Defeating an enemy is an incredibly fun and rewarding experience.
- Can be overly frustrating for players wanting a more casual gaming experience.
8. Star Wars: Rebellion Board Game – Most Epic RPG Board Game
Average play length: 180 – 240 minutes
Recommended ages: 14+
Number of players: 2 – 4 players
Game type: Players vs players
When you’re designing an RPG Board Game telling the story of arguably the most beloved and enduring franchise (sorry, MCU fans) of all time, you need to bring the epic. And, dear heavens above, did Fantasy Flight Games ever nail that aspect of the game.
Whether you’re playing the role of the Galactic Empire, or the Rebel Alliance, you’re not commanding a specific hero, or even a party of characters.
No, that scale of control is simply too modest for a franchise as omnipresent as Star Wars. As the Galactic Empire you take command of entire armies of stormtroopers, fleets of battleships, and scores of TIE fighters.
As the Rebel Alliance, you are outgunned by an enormous margin, despite not being entirely toothless. Minor victories in small, tactical strikes are an option, but so is the art of diplomacy. One of your most prominent objectives will be to draw strength from neighboring planets and rallying them to your cause of overthrowing the brutal rule of the Empire.
One thing Star Wars: Rebellion gets absolutely right is how the designers managed to infuse the deeply personal journeys of certain iconic Star War characters into the war. You’ll not only be commanding nameless droids and fighter jets, but also use the unique abilities of characters like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Emperor Palpatine, and Darth Vader to further your cause.
Since Star Wars:Rebellion is essentially two opposing forces with different strengths and weaknesses facing off against each other in a large-scale conflict.
Ultimately, it comes down to either side overpowering their opponent, but by using intelligent tactics encompassing aggression, defense, diplomacy, and espionage.
The Rebel Alliance’s primary objective is to drum up enough support from other planets under the heel of the empire and trigger their decline.
The Galactic Empire’s goal is to invade and conquer as many systems as possible without spreading their resources too thin and leaving them open to guerilla-style attacks. By subjugating as many systems as possible, the closer you get to the all-important objective of identifying and overpowering the hidden rebel base.
As can be expected from a game that’s mostly about map exploration and control, intelligent maneuvering is critical to success. Whenever opposing units find themselves in the same system, fun, challenging, dice-governed combat ensues.
One of the most important goals for players taking part in a battle around or on a specific planet is to have a “leader” present for the conflict. If Obi Wan Kenobi finds himself in a system where his faction is facing off against a leaderless Empire fleet, the Rebels have a significant advantage through the use of special Tactics Cards that can only be used in such a scenario.
Add one or two leaders allied with the Empire to this engagement and you have a full-scale war on your hands – a battle packed with complex strategies and tactical options.
Be aware though, if you are playing as the severely underpowered Rebel Alliance, such battles need to be carefully selected. You’re seldom going to find yourself in a position where you can overwhelm the Empire with brute force.
The option of playing as one of two factions, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, makes a giant contribution to Star Wars: Rebellion’s replay value.Switching this up often and playing with a rotating group of opponents will make this one of the best rpg board games if you value multiple replays. Competing for control of a system is a varied, complex, and fun experience.
Bear in mind also, that for a game that lasts three and four hours, multiple playthroughs in a short space of time is unlikely.
- Delivers massive service for Star Wars fans.
- One of the few players vs players options on our list. A truly competitive experience.
- Diverse gameplay results in tons of fun and great replay value.
- Instructions are a little difficult to understand for first time players.
9. Pandemic – Most Popular RPG Board Game
Average play length: 45 minutes
Recommended ages: 8+
Number of players: 2 – 4 players
Game type: Cooperative crisis management.
Pandemic is a great cure for players looking for an alternative to the “magical-world” settings of your typical RPG board game.
This innovative title, that also happens to be the biggest seller on our list of reviewed products, pits the skills of 2 – 4 medical specialists against an invisible enemy as they attempt to contain numerous unique diseases that strike the world at the same time.
This board game (obviously) eschews typical RPG character tropes in favor of more relevant roles, each with unique abilities that need to be intelligently applied in order to overcome the pandemic: Medic, Researcher, Quarantine Specialist, and Dispatcher.
The real-world setting, along with more relatable characters and scenarios go a long way towards making this board game one of the most unique titles on our list.
Quite simple, really. Find the cure for each of the four deadly diseases currently plaguing the planet. This is done by placing four relevant cure cards on a city that is infected with that specific disease.
It’s a relatively simple concept, but the tactics and cooperation necessary to achieve this is incredibly challenging and also very rewarding.
One of the major hindrances in your quest to rid the world of the pandemics, is the frequent introduction of an Epidemic! card that aggravates the virus’ intensity and can lead to some pretty bleak outcomes.
Players start at a central location (Atlanta, appropriately) and are allocated various types of cards that allow them to contain an outbreak, travel to new locations across the earth, and develop response infrastructures, among other things.
Cooperation plays a big role here. But it’s not as simple as just handing over an action necessary to solve a particular problem within a city to a player located there. Both players need to be located in the same city for this to happen.
Pandemic is a fast-moving game and can end within 45 minutes, but don’t let this fool you into thinking it lacks strategic challenges. Balancing actions in your current location with providing assistance in another player’s city is critical to defeating the four viruses.
As mentioned in the Objective section above, you’re never faced with a static threat. Epidemic! cards are randomly introduced into the gameplay, making for some unexpected challenges that could throw a specific group tactic into disarray.
The deck of Epidemic! cards adds to tremendous replayability to this fantastically replayable game. Even though character actions and strategies may seem relatively streamlined as if a certain tactic could be applied to overcome the worldwide infections, there is a very strong element of randomness when it comes to the diseases’ behaviors.
Exactly where infection can spread and the intensity of its effects is something that will differ with every play-through. Expect to find many, many hours of fun playing this marvelous game.
- One of the best RPG board games for an alternative to standard role-playing tropes.
- A game can be completed in a very reasonable 45 minutes.
- Mechanics that drive cooperation are fun and unique.
- Not much in the way of character skill development.
10. Scythe Board Game – Best Resource Management Board Game
Average play length: 90 – 120 minutes
Recommended ages: 14+
Number of players: 1 – 5 players
Game type: Player vs player
Scythe is set comfortably in a space between fiction and reality – in an alternate-history version of 1920s Europe where factions compete for map-dominance using agriculture, industry, and giant war-robots.
The designers of Scythe did an incredible job in creating a deeply immersive world that’s built on both relatable and fictionalized themes. There’s a familiarity to each faction’s culture but, like all great alternate-history tales, each is twisted just enough to hint at a hidden lore that remains a mystery for your imagination to solve.
Your job is to take control of a character leading their faction towards taking control of what remains of Eastern Europe’s war torn landscape.
The game may seem overwhelmingly complex at first glance, something that’s balanced out nicely by the richly realized world, but after a couple of rounds, most players will be able to grasp its diverse mechanics.
Simply put, Scythe is a map-conquering game. Factions vie for control of territories left vacant by The Factory – the mysterious city-state that produced the mechs that fueled the continent’s recently-ceased conflict.
To do this, players must manage and grow their populace, recruit fighters, harvest crops, engineer and upgrade various constructions, and reactivate giant mechs to aid their cause. There’ll be a lot to like here for fans of real-time strategy and RPG crossover games; managing and upgrading resources is integral to staying in the hunt for a win.
Achieving a win-state is determined by how effectively each player can do the above, balancing initiative and reacting to their opponents’ actions. The first player to achieve six of the game’s numerous global objectives, ends the game, at which time each faction’s points are tallied and the winner revealed.
For such a complex game, Scythe moves at a pleasingly energetic pace. Even with five players taking part in a game, there’s minimal downtime waiting for your turn.
Another mechanic that adds to the game’s appeal and limits frustration is the lack of player elimination. Yes, there is conflict between factions, should players seek it, but everyone remains in the game until the very end.
Actions are taken to make your faction’s economy run smoothly and efficiently. Get this done and you’re on your way to victory. Interestingly, each faction’s economy board is slightly different from the other. Factions’ starting resources also differ to reflect their unique post-war condition and culture. While this may appear to be unfair, the game is perfectly balanced, lending greatly to Scythe’s replay value.
Regardless of factions’ differing starting conditions and the economic growth trajectories, each has an equal opportunity to get their economy off the ground and claim victory.
Scythe’s replay value is quite high. Not only because of the factions’ unique attributes and diverse starting conditions, but also because of the numerous different ways that a player can guide their faction’s economic growth.
There’s a very deep sense of gameplay freedom in Scythe with a remarkable number of options available to each faction, every turn. You seldom feel as if your chosen faction needs to stick to a specific guideline or development trajectory in order to achieve dominance.
Each play-through can be remarkably different from the last, especially if you choose a different faction each time you sit down to play this truly great RPG board game.
- Lack of player elimination means that everyone stays in the game until the end.
- Fast-moving gameplay despite the relatively complex mechanics.
- One of the best rpg board games for players who enjoy a unique and beautifully realized world.
- Lack of frequent combat may alienate some RPG board game fans.
11. Dungeons and Dragons: Castle Ravenloft – Best Old-School Throwback Board Game
Average play length: 60 minutes
Recommended ages: 12+
Number of players: 1 – 5 players
Game type: Cooperative dungeon crawler
Back to a more traditional RPG board game now, with Castle Ravenloft, a great old-school throwback based on slightly simplified D&D mechanics.
While this dungeon crawler offers little in the way of innovative gameplay, it does the basics exceptionally well. Even the most experienced RPG board gamer will find a lot to like in this game.
All-in-all, Castle Ravenloft is a great game, whether you’re new to the genre or if you’re a seasoned adventurer looking to open up a box of nostalgia.
It’s a dungeon crawler. You explore. You find monsters who you fight and kill. You find traps that may or may not kill you. You find loot that helps you with the aforementioned enterprises. Your characters grow in strength and wisdom.
Each of Castle Raveloft’s 13 scenarios have a different objective. Hours of fun await as you and your friends are tasked with a wide spectrum of goals, from murdering a specific monster terrorizing the castle or retrieving a long-lost magical heirloom from its murky depths.
As can be expected from a game aligned with the D&D franchise, all the usual RPG board game tropes are accounted for in Castle Ravenloft, albeit at a slightly diminished level of complexity.
Characters and enemies are your typical D&D archetypes, gameplay is executed with map tiles, tokens, mini-figurines and a multi sided die.
Crucially, there is no need for a Dungeon Master, with each of the game scenarios’ storyline and encounters being dictated by the drawing of cards.
With thirteen adventures to choose from (depending on the number of players participating), Castle Ravenloft has quite a bit to offer in terms of replay value.
- Great starting-place for RPG board game newbies just looking to have a bit of fun.
- Offers tons of uncomplicated nostalgia for seasoned players.
- No need for a Dungeon Master.
- Doesn’t offer much in the way of gameplay innovation. However, it executes the basics very well.
12. Mechs vs. Minions: League of Legends Board Game – Most Unique Combat Board Game
Average play length: 60 – 90 Minutes
Recommended ages: 14+
Number of players: 2 – 4 players
Game type: Multiplayer cooperative
If your definition of a quality RPG board game is aligned with component-quality and range of pieces, then you’re going to flip out over Mechs vs Minions – a game that’s packed to the brim with awesome gameplay components.
This feels like a luxury item (which is a good thing, considering its price) even before you open the lid to reveal a staggering array of beautifully packaged figurines, tokens and other goodies.
Based on the world’s most popular MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena): League of Legends, Mechs vs Minions pits 2 – 4 players, each inhabiting an impressively detailed and deadly mech-suit against an army of murderous minions.
Despite its alignment with an online game that is notoriously bereft of anything resembling a storyline, each of this title’s 10 missions reveals a satisfying narrative – adding an additional layer of immersion and fun.
Mechs vs Minions is a great gameplay experience and comes highly recommended by its enormous fan base and other reviewers alike. If this game is in your budget and you’re looking for a game that offers just that little bit more in terms of physical and gameplay quality, you cannot go wrong with this awesome RPG board game.
As can be deducted from the game’s title and its affiliation with League of Legends, Mechs vs Minions is very combat-heavy.
As mentioned before, Mechs vs Minions ships with 10 gameplay scenarios or “chapters”, each with a unique storyline and win-condition. Although most of these involve the obliteration of enemies as opposed to negotiations, banishments, or other diplomatic options.
Players always face off against minions, the tiny enemies that are harvested by LoL players for gold and XP. Individually, or in small groups, these minions represent little threat to a mighty mech. But when they get organized (according to a predetermined set of movement and attack rules unique to each gameplay chapter) they can cause some serious damage to a group of poorly controlled mechs.
Don’t underestimate these little guys, when focused and grouped in large numbers, they can wipe the floor with your iron suit.
Operating your character’s mech forms the basis of this title’s gameplay. Doing so successfully, and cooperating strategically with your teammates is the key to success.
Mech operation is enabled through the use of a six-slot player board called a “command line”. Cards determining your mech’s attacks and movements are placed inside these slots in a way that makes it feel as if you are “programming” rather than piloting the mech manually.
Card-drafting at the start of each turn plays a big role in what your mech is capable of in the upcoming conflict, making this one of the most important phases of gameplay.
After drafting, cards are placed in your control board’s slots representing the sequence in which they will be executed.
The turn ends with the execution phase, where cards’ actions are played out.
While this “programmatic“ approach to player behavior has been attempted in other titles (none featured in our list) with mixed responses from RPG board game enthusiasts, Mechs vs Minions keeps this mechanic simple and fun without making the game feel too basic.
Programmatic complexity scales well as the game progresses. As players’ experience with the game increases and their mechs’ capabilities expand, the complexity of programmatic options become more varied and fulfilling.
This game is hugely replayable. Which is a good thing, considering its price. The behavior of minions may be relatively predictable, given their chapter-specific instructions and objectives, but the programmatic nature of character control means that player characters are seldom going to be able to perfectly reuse tactics that worked the last time they came up against their tiny foes.
Expect battles to play out in satisfyingly varied ways.
- Extremely fun, narrative-driven gameplay scenarios.
- One of the best RPG board games for players who like lots of action.
- Programmatic approach to mech behavior is challenging but innovative and fun.
- May be a little on the expensive side for players on a budget.
RPG Board Games Buyer’s Guide
Why You Should Get Into RPG Board Games
A traditional, real-life, in-person RPG board game relies very heavily on a number of variables that have been a dealbreaker for more casual game enthusiasts.
Firstly, the amount of time required to complete a traditional game could be unrealistic, given people’s schedules. Commitment involved in completing a pen-and-paper RPG game is enormous. Completing a campaign could take days, or even weeks, depending on the game itself and the players’ availability.
What an RPG board game does well is streamlining complex rules into a gameplay “channel” or trajectory that may sometimes come at the cost of flexibility and player development options, but lower the time required to complete a game significantly.
Secondly, there is no reliance on a gamekeeper, or “Dungeon Master”, in the D&D parlance. These overlords’ investment in creating and overseeing enjoyable, challenging scenarios were critical in the success of such a game.
With an RPG board game, this role is negated by a combination of the rulebook, enemy behavior cards and physical maps that the players can explore.
An RPG game offers a level of immersion and that few board games can match. Investment in your character, party, or faction is inevitable. You’ll not only be incentivized to complete a difficult quest and win the game, but also see your avatar develop and invest emotionally in their survival and success.
Forget about the days where you’re represented on the board by an arbitrary, lifeless icon. When you play an RPG board game, it’s YOU that’s crawling through a dungeon looking for treasure, teaming up with friends, and vanquishing demons from the underworld.
What to Consider When Choosing an RPG Board Game
It’s probably not necessary to mention that your typical RPG board game isn’t going to offer the same type of challenges that Ticket to Ride or Monopoly will.
Not only is the gameplay significantly different, but the complexity involved in learning several of the titles we’ve reviewed here can be somewhat overwhelming for the first-time gamer.
Know who you’re buying the game for and what their appetite for delving into a sophisticated set of rules are going to be. If you typically host events that involve quick pop-ins and casual conversation about what’s happening in real life, you may want to opt for a slightly less complex game.
If, however, your group of friends are eager to take on a game that’s going to test their level of concentration and they’re the kind of people who want to use their leisure time to escape the bonds of reality, feel free to get hold of one of our more complex titles.
There’s no direct correlation between complexity and fun. There’s only finding the right game for the people you’ll be sitting around the table with.
The most prevalent differentiation between the RPG board game types on our list is whether players compete against each other, or whether they cooperate to overcome a mutual foe.
Again, this is going to come down to you understanding your and your “audience’s” needs. Are you a competitive bunch who like to mess with each other? Or are you a closely-knit loyal group of friends who’d prefer a game that prizes strategic teamwork over an individual win?
Some games offer numerous, highly enjoyable ways to outwit or even screw over your opponent. If this is your bag, read our descriptions in detail and select a game that offers these mechanics.
Another RPG game may reward keeping your eye on the greater good. Taking one for the team in order to accomplish a difficult task.
It’s only in understanding the social dynamics between your group of friends that you’ll be able to choose the ideal game.
This is one of the main concerns with a game that is heavily story-driven. Oftentimes players’ progress through a magical world and the challenges they face are revealed to them only as they complete a certain chapter. In these cases, most of the fun comes from not knowing what’s around the next narrative corner.
Such a game is either played through once and then traded or sold, or they’re shelved for an extended period of time, allowing players to re-experience a familiar story like they would a favorite book or movie.
Some story-driven RPG board games offer mechanics that solve this problem elegantly by the inclusion of several side-quests that aren’t triggered in every play-through. Choosing different characters and taking different approaches to completing a campaign also go a long way towards increasing replayability and combating the boredom of doing the same thing over and over again.
Finally, you have games that are designed in a way that simply invite constant replays. A game that requires players to respond to highly randomized events that occur only once every couple dozen play-throughs.
If you have no problem in being a game hoarder or you’re happy to trade or sell your game once completed, feel free to invest in one that has a low replay value. Your enjoyment of it won’t be compromised.
If you want to make a specific game part of your weekly leisure-time ritual and delve deep into its nuances, replayability is key.
This consideration obviously ties in quite heavily with game complexity and average play length. A 12-year old may struggle with a tactically intense game like Scythe or Star Wars Rebellion.
Average play length should also be considered if you’re buying a game for your family. You don’t want a game’s resolution compromised because one of your party members still needs to finish their math homework before going to bed.
There may also be some themes that aren’t appropriate for players of a certain age. This is obviously quite subjective, but a game like Dark Souls may have a slightly problematic effect on a younger player’s state of mind.
On the other hand, younger players will relish the quick playtime and narrative-driven approach of a game like Mice and Mystics or Call to Adventure.
All games have a “recommended age” specification as provided by the manufacturer. This is a great starting place to guide your decision, but again, there are exceptions and you may find that certain younger players are capable of enjoying slightly more mature or complex RPG board games.
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