That is partly because the term ‘RPG board game’ means different things to different people. It does not have a single and shared definition, at least as far as board games are concerned. Some are getting biased by the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing games, others are inspired by video RPG games.
Before we move on, let’s agree on the term, otherwise, the below review may not hold too much relevance for you. For me, some of the main characteristics of a stellar RPG board game are:
- Strong theme, that typically includes dungeons and fantasy worlds
- You are taking on a role of a character or a hero
- Ability to improve and level your character (i.e. character progression)
- Story driven campaigns and gameplay
If you agree with the above, we are in a great company and I am about to show you why. Below you will find the carefully hand-picked selection of some of the best RPG board games on the market today.
Best RPG Board Games – Quick Comparison
The following table we believe summarizes best of the best RPG board games on the market. We have tried to cater for different player preferences in terms of a theme, complexity, game duration, player count and age, so we should have a great pick for you!
|Descent: Journeys in the Dark||12+||Medium||2-5||120 Min|
|Pathfinder Adventure Card Game:|
Rise of the Runelords
|Star Wars: Imperial Assault||12+||Medium||2-5||60-120 Min|
|Mechs vs. Minions||10+||Easy||2-4||60-90 Min|
|Mage Knight||14+||Very Hard||1-4||60–240 Min|
|Arcadia Quest: Inferno||8+||Easy||2-4||60–120 Min|
|Darkest Night||10+||Medium||1-4||150 Min|
|Shadows of Brimstone:|
City of the Ancients
|Sword & Sorcery||12+||Hard||1-5||60–90 Min|
Gloomhaven is a legacy, campaign style, dungeon crawler board game where players take on roles of wondering fantasy characters and develop them throughout their careers.
The game comes with 95 campaigns in a box that will easily take over 100 hours to complete. This is probably one of the very few board games to unlikely require an expansion anytime soon.
Teamwork is at the heart of the Gloomgaven. It encourages players to stand together against evils of menacing dungeons and forgotten ruins.
One of the main objectives of the game, besides completing scenarios and campaigns, are personal hero quests. Each hero can take on small personal ventures in parallel with the main storyline. Completing personal quests allow additional characters to enter play and provide variety and more strategic options.
There are two main game areas, the city of Gloomhaven and the scenario itself. In the city of Gloomhaven, players are able to manage their party, level-up characters, buy or sell items, select new action cards, donate money to obtain blessing or complete city events.
The scenario area represents dungeons where players fight monsters, complete quests, and achieve scenario objectives. This active phase is where the main action and storytelling takes place. At the same time, this is also where the game plays against you and forces you to exhaust your characters that become too weak to advance. Keeping your characters in a good shape is paramount as once they all become exhausted – you lose the scenario.
On their turns, players choose two cards and trigger a top action from one card and a bottom action from the second card. Choosing the right card at the right time is both a challenging and a rewarding experience which may sound somewhat simplistic, but manages to create one of the best combat experiences I have ever had in board games.
The other highlight of the game is its unparalleled sense of exploration. Discovering new parts of the world brings new hidden items, envelopes, character packets, and fascinating cities. All of which allows you to level your character, improve its skills and ultimately determine the path the storyline takes.
|Gloomhaven is truly a masterpiece as it has everything you could ever want from a tabletop RPG game. It creates an epic world big and immersive enough for you to lose the sense of time. It invents a unique combat system which is both simple and deeply strategic. It features a streamlined gameplay with relatively easy rules that deliver an exceptionally thematic and fun dungeon crawler experience.
If you have money and time commitment at your disposal, Gloomhaven will deliver the best RPG board game experience there is to date. Moreover, according to the trusted board games resource BGG, Gloomhaven is the best board game in the world at the moment!
|Creates a deeply addictive and immersive RPG experience|
|Refined and balanced gameplay|
|Thrilling combat system|
|Brilliant world exploration and discovery mechanic|
|Over 100 hours of gameplay|
|Some may find the actions slightly repetitive|
Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) is the reimplementation of the original classic that was released in 2005.
The game is both cooperative and competitive as one player takes on the role of a deceitful overlord (or dungeon master), whereas up to four other players take on roles of brave heroes.
Each turn heroes embark on thematic adventures to complete quests and gain loot. Each quests contributes towards the game objective of stopping the overlord from executing his evil plot.
Quests in the game are well thought out and typically require heroes to visit ancient ruins, caves, dark dungeons, and cursed forests where they face monsters and find special items and powers.
There are two ways to play Descent and both work really well. You can pick one of the scenarios and play it casually enjoying a one-off standalone encounter. Alternatively, you can pick a campaign mode which is lengthier but a lot more immersive. Campaigns represent multiple scenarios strung together to deliver a story-driven dungeon crawler experience.
Campaigns are designed to be dynamic and feature evolving storylines. Scenarios in campaigns change depending on whether the overlord or heroes end up winning it. This mechanism does a great job at balancing the gameplay as the next scenario suggested by the game typically favors the losing side.
Each scenario is unpredictable in a fun and engaging way. At times it may feel insurmountable for heroes to beat the overlord, other times your heroes feel unstoppable. Overall, the game reaches its peak of intensity, fun, and engagement when both sides are equally competitive sharing victories between different scenarios.
Descent introduces a unique dice mechanic to resolve battles. Throughout the game, players build dice pools based on items, weapons they collect and individual character’s abilities. Each die added to the pool contributes to your attacks in a variety of ways. Special symbols and surges on dice trigger special effects to give you the combat bonus which may play a decisive role.
The time factor is crucial in the game, so be prepared to move fast. Your heroes get fatigued crawling through the dungeon and fighting monsters, so they need to rest. Resting is straightforward, but it comes at the expense of time which you always find yourself short on. Overall, it feels somewhat as a balancing exercise between picking the right battles to fight and making progress in the game. At times, Descent’s pace feels scarier than the dangerous monsters it throws at you.
In terms of game components, Fantasy Flight is generally as good as it gets and Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) is no exception. Miniatures are full of anima, cards have an amazing artwork and the dice are pleasing. The box feels loaded with miniatures, cards and double-sided modular board pieces. It is sure to leave you with a feeling that you got your money’s worth.
|If you like fantasy dungeon crawlers, Descent will truly surprise, thrill and reward you with almost 40 hours of intense and engaging gaming experience. Each dice roll and each decision can have a dramatic finale, but the smart game mechanic alters the scenarios as the campaign unfolds keeping the balance in check. Descent: Journeys in the Dark is a proven, time-tested board game that stands amongst the best RPG board games ever made. It is a true classic that does not age.|
|Plays equally well with 2, 3, 4 and 5 players|
|Original and interesting scenario and campaign objectives|
|Beautiful and detailed miniatures & cards|
|Can create your own custom scenarios|
|Some may find it luck based|
|Some scenarios played on its own (not in campaign mode) may feel unbalanced|
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords is one of the most successful deck-building strategy card games that has managed to incorporate elements of RPG in its design.
The game supports one to four players and comes in a large box with five dice and around a whopping 500 cards.
It feels balanced and works well with any player count, including a solo play.
Players get to take on the roles of heroes fighting evil in the ancient land of Varisia. As a group, you are tasked to cleanse the land from dark and deadly magic, plague, and corrupted monsters.
The game features multiple characters to chose from such as wizards, ninjas, rogues, slayers, arcanist, magus and many more. Each character has its unique skills, abilities, and proficiencies. In addition, each character has different levels of strength, wisdom, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, and charisma.
Once the character is selected, he gets a character card and a starting deck of 15 cards. The deck rapidly grows throughout the games as the players get to acquire weapons, armor, allies, spells, blessings and various supporting items and tools.
On a typical turn, a character gets to explore a location and discover the card it contains. Most of the time it can either be a useful item, a villain or a henchman. Useful cards can be acquired, but require a skill check to be performed which is done against the characters stats and skills. You can also locate a barrier which forces a combat check based on strength or specific instructions printed on the card. Barriers represent locked chests, hazards, and various traps, each with their own rules for defeating.
Alternatively, you could discover the bad guys. If a henchman is discovered and defeated, the player has a chance to disable the current location permanently. If a villain is discovered, other players have a chance to close their locations. Defeating the villain will make him flee, yet if there are no other open locations, it has nowhere to go and you win the game.
Keep in mind to take a good care of your character as dying is unforgiving. Whatever you have managed to amass playing the character disappears and you have to start from the beginning.
The best thing for me about Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords is that it encourages teamwork in a very special way. Players can exchange items, give each other blessings, add combat rolls and boost checks.
Typically, in the final stages of the scenario, players jointly pick one of the characters for the last battle. The character then gets buffs and perks from other players to increase the chances of defeating the villain and winning the game. It may sound somewhat plain on paper, but in reality, it feels truly epic.
Lastly, there is a reason why we only have one card game in our best RPG board game review. It is really hard to convey the dungeon or fantasy atmosphere without having the map and miniatures. At the same time, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords is an amazing attempt at creating a roleplaying experience and delivering a thematic feel so many other card games fail to do. If you are after the best RPG card game experience out there, it does not get much better than this.
|Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords is a great RPG card game and one of the best tabletop to card game conversions we have played to date. The game offers a brilliant story-telling mechanism, character customization, and encourages teamwork. It is probably not a perfect fit for strategy or roleplaying purists but is an amazing option for anyone who prefers a casual gaming experience, card games, and rolling a dice.|
|Exceptional character customization|
|The game lends itself to telling stories|
|Works well with any number of players|
|Many extra adventure packs are available|
|Small text on cards make it hard to read|
|Base game replay value could be better|
The game concept and mechanics are inherited from the highly acclaimed Descent: Journeys in the Dark with some rules and gameplay being streamlined.
Playing the game in the skirmish mode invites two players to gather strike teams for a head-to-head combat over conflicting objectives.
As the game campaigns unfold, both Imperial and Rebel players acquire new skills and experience, which allows the characters to level and evolve throughout the storyline. The winning side gets additional rewards, yet the losing side gets some nevertheless.
Winning or losing determines the mission you play next or the special rules applicable to the mission. There are also handy side-quests available for you to acquire special items and additional cash.
The game mechanic is pretty straightforward and represents an action point allowance system. Each card is a unit and on their turns, players activate units they have in the order they choose. Activating a unit gives you two actions which can be spent on attacking, moving, interacting, resting and other special actions.
At the beginning of the campaign, it always feels that you are short on actions, yet as you progress, new cards provide additional actions allowing you to plan out more complete and strategic decisions.
* note that miniatures that come in the box are not painted
The combat system is really smart, engaging and amazingly fun as it puts more emphasis on the defender than the attacker. The attacking side rolls the dice which most of the time generates a hit, but may not result in any damage being caused. Next, the defender roll follows which can soften the blow significantly or even negate the attack. This simple yet smart mechanic gives the engaging sense of hope to the defender and makes the dice rolling process amazingly fun.
Playing imperials equally exciting as you get to control almost unlimited resources and build a map. Additionally, the Imperials are allowed to know game conditions that trigger special events. Those may include Rebels entering a specific room, etc, which adds a special twist to an already immensely engaging tabletop experience.
|Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a fantastic game that would appeal to anyone who likes strategy, asymmetric board games, let alone the Star Wars theme. The smart combat system, extremely fun and thematic gameplay that equally well supports up to five players makes it one of the best RPG board games on the market. If you are a Star Wars fan, prepare to be immersed in a deep, engaging and extremely addictive galactical experience that looks beautiful and feels real.|
|Greatly executed Star Wars theme that feels like a true galactical adventure|
|Beautiful art and quality components|
|The combat system is exciting, balanced and has an element of surprise|
|Neat and easy to read rulebooks|
|One of top 10 Star Wars games of all time|
|Rebel objectives sometimes feel slightly unfair and unbalanced|
|Many cool miniatures are sold separately|
Each player takes on the role of one of four Yordles who must work together piloting their mechs to achieve the mission and campaign objectives.
As a mech pilot, you get to create modular boards, command lines, and program your mech to be efficient on the battlefield to confront a host of foes.
During their turns, players get to issue commands to their mechs by drafting cards which allow mechs to move, turn and attack. Over time, the cards and the sequence they are played in ultimately creates the programming line of commands for mechs to execute.
Getting the commands and their order right requires an ability to think a couple of turns ahead. In addition, to run any chance of winning the mission, you would need to coordinate those future turns with other players.
The pressure is part of Mechs vs. Minions’s DNA as the game is driven by a strict time limit controlled by a sand timer. Each player gets around 40 seconds at the beginning of their turns to pick the right cards that will help them and the team to face the upcoming challenges and battles. Over time, the decision complexity rises which causes more mistakes and suboptimal decisions to be taken. As a result, surprisingly, but the game becomes more dynamic, tight and ultimately more fun!
With enemies spawning on random locations, you slowly find yourself in a controlled environment of a complete chaos. You may kill five minions with a single blast or you could wander around the empty spaces on the board and cause no damage at all. This type of gameplay could be a dealmaker for some and a dealbreaker for others.
In addition, the game comes with a secret box and secret envelopes which you should only open if the gaming scenario says so. This adds a great level of suspense and intrigue as you play through your missions wondering what is coming next.
With armies of rampaging minions spawning all the time, character progression is key to give you that extra edge to get through scenarios that increase in complexity. The game encourages you to level up your character by slashing, stomping, eviscerating and electrocuting your enemies as they get spawned around you.
|Mechs vs. Minions delivers an extremely fun, hilarious, intense and overall a very compelling RPG experience. It is surprisingly simple to learn, a joy to look at and a delight to play. At the same time, the game is not for everyone and that is intentional. It may not appeal to strategic and tactically minded players. Conversely, if you are after lots of action and hilaroius fun in the gameplay – this may be one of the best RPG board games on the market for you.|
|Fun, addictive and intense experience|
|Sets new standard for component quality|
|Beautifully painted minis|
|May come across too chaotic for some|
|Some rules are ambiguous|
When the game came out in 2011 it had all the hype you can think of, and later has become an RPG classic unrivaled in some areas to date.
Although the game can be played with up to four players, the extensive downtime between player turns kills the gameplay and makes it frustrating.
Mage Knight features character leveling and a campaign mode creating a long-lasting RGP experience in a beautifully crafted fantasy world setting. It captures the rich history of the Mage Knight universe in a very special, addictive and immersive way.
You will find the game to incorporate a number of board game mechanics such as deck-building, card drafting, tile placement, role play, and others. Surprisingly, it manages to integrate them extremely well delivering an all rounded and smooth board gaming experience.
Just to add to it, getting one action wrong can determine the game outcome, so no pressure. If you do get it wrong, however, the game features a reset mechanism that allows you to return back to the state of play prior to you taking your turn.
Winning the game requires thorough thinking and just like in chess, seeing the game a couple of turns ahead. It is a highly strategic and tactical experience that is as deep as we have ever experienced. The turns can be complex with multiple things to consider to the point where you start to feel your brain melting. Each turn feels like solving a challenge on its own, but getting it right returns enormous rewards and a sense of an epic accomplishment.
|Mage Knight delivers a unique and remarkable RPG experience, but it is not for everyone. It requires dedication, patience, and intense concentration to score a win. If you enjoy complex puzzles that require you to think a couple of turns ahead, open world fantasy setting, and you also have around three hours up your sleeve – get it, it is one of the best RPG board games of all times.|
|Character progression is brilliant|
|An immersive and engaging board gaming experience|
|Miniatures come painted|
|Rulebook is slightly confusing|
|For hardcore gamers only|
|Long setup and lengthy play|
In the game, you and other players get to create a guild of three heroes tasked with descending into the depths of Inferno to put an end to an army of angry demons and the Underlord himself.
The game delivers a unique combination of dungeon crawling and PvP action which adds a unique twist to the overall gaming experience.
Like most RPG board games, heroes get to complete quests in the underworld by cooperating with each other fighting monsters and then sharing the loot.
What makes Arcadia Quest: Inferno different is that it also allows players to get greedy and make it personal. The game allows players to initiate life or death arguments where only one would walk away with the loot.
Combat in the underworld follows a classic dungeon crawler tradition of being simple and fast. Whether you are fighting an enemy or another hero, it involves a lot of dice rolling. The enemies are typically semi-aggressive and only attack if provoked.
Turns in Arcadia Quest: Inferno
Dying may seem a bigger deal than it actually is as heroes get to respawn almost instantly. At the same time, dying too often earns a curse that will stick around for missions to come.
As you complete missions you get to acquire items, rewards and meet trapped angels. Saving the angels will add them to your team where they grow and become more powerful as the story unfolds. You can also corrupt other players and monsters to add even more fun, tension and unpredictability to the overall gaming experience.
As you earn gold through the scenarios, you can spend it on upgrading weapons and character improvements that set your ready for more difficult challenges lying ahead.
|Arcadia Quest: Inferno is a simple yet a great way to dungeon-crawl with friends and children without taking up an entire evening. It is a perfect RPG game for anyone looking for a faster and lighter way to get through scenarios. The ability to have an argument and a death battle between the heroes adds a unique twist to the gameplay making the gaming experience truly engaging and fun.|
|Simple, quick and fun gameplay|
|Great and easy way to introduce people to dungeon crawling & RPG board games|
|A unique blend of cooperative and competitive play|
|Not for hard core gamers|
The new version has received a complete overhaul which ultimately feels, looks and plays like a brand new game. It now features a gorgeous art, better quality and bigger components, and five amazing expansions. Overall, it feels more complete and definitely more premium.
The game sets the scene in a kingdom broken under a Necromancer’s shadow where up to four players take on the roles of heroes with unique special abilities in their attempt to salvage the realm taken over by the evil Necromancer.
Exploring the kingdom is a very thematic and engaging journey where you can find equipment and special powers to improve the heroes’ ability to fight evil. But most importantly, you will find keys to unlock the holy relics that you desperately need in order to defeat the Necromancer.
Whilst the heroes discover the kingdom, the Necromancer blights the land, grows his army and becomes more powerful with every turn. Every area that gets too blighted gets overrun by dark forces and the monastery receives a spillover. If the monastery falls and gets overrun, the whole kingdom and heroes get consumed by the darkness and the game ends in defeat.
Darkest Night manages to create an environment that is truly thematic and intense. There is always a feeling that you are running out of time and the end is near. The gameplay is quite variable due to the abundance of hero classes and the events that you get to face throughout the game. Winning the Necromancer is not an easy task, at the same time, loosing does not feel disastrous. The game somehow still delivers a rewarding feeling by bringing joy and pain in equal measures.
|Darkest Night delivers a truly unique, dark and seriously emotional experience where fighting evil feels real. The theme, art, heroes, and time pressure seem to blend together perfectly to create tension and glimmers of paranoia. If you are after a cooperative experience in a dark fantasy setting, Darkest Night is among the best RPG board games to have on your shortlist.|
|Premium quality, look and feel|
|29 hero classes to choose from|
|Tensious and fun at the same time|
|Great for solo play|
|Games can run too long|
|Too much dice luck?|
In the game, players get to take on roles of brave adventurers who travel deep into the mine in search of an elusive dark stone. What they find instead are demons, monsters and foul creatures from beyond space.
At times, players may even find themselves pulled into other worlds by using portals where even more adventures and surprises await.
Completing scenario objectives awards players experience points which are used to level up the character. Additionally, the players may get exposed to less fortunate effects such as permanent injuries, disfiguring mutation or madness. Those effects can get carried across the scenarios.
Between the adventures, the players can visit local frontier towns to rest, gamble, undergo a surgery, buy gear, artifacts or other special items. It allows players to prepare for the next scenario and to develop the character throughout the campaign. The character progression is driven by a class-specific upgrade tree that unlocks special skills and abilities to allow custom character development.
Overall, the Cthulhu horror narrative feels quite emerging and ads a nice touch of thematic experience into the mix. Despite the game having a horror theme, it is surprisingly fun and even hilarious at times due to its randomness.
The game is quite easy to learn as the rules are clear, intuitive and streamlined which makes it a great choice for anyone wanting to get into the cooperative RPG board games.
|Shadows of Brimstone: City of the Ancients is a great dungeon crawler experience mixed with an engaging horror narrative that is both fun and thematic. The game fosters player cooperation in an evocative and immersive way that feels entertaining rather than serious or horrific. The non-stop dice rolling adds the element of unpredictability and fun into the mix making it a perfect getaway or casual RPG board game.|
|Great campaign-style play|
|Fun, engaging and thematic experience|
|Unique mix of Old West and horror themes|
|The rulebook is neat and easy to read|
|Perhaps too much dice rolling?|
The game is fully cooperative, where up to 5 players can team up against the forces of evil and darkness.
Although there are multiple board games that feature the underworld setting, Sword & Sorcery makes it a lot more pronounced than others.
The game feels, plays, looks, and even screams ‘underworld’, much more than any other board game in our review.
The game is made up of multiple missions, which are broken into scenarios that are well incorporated into the storyline delivering a great thematic immersion.
The unique feature of Sword & Sorcery is that you get to choose your soul nature at the beginning of the game. You can pick between Law, Neutral, and Chaos and have it carved in your Soul Gem which ultimately defines your character.
Getting that choice right is important as it determines your style of play and how encounters, checks, and monster fights are resolved. Additionally, defining your soul nature also drives the initial skill set and drives interaction with other players in the party. It is advised to have all players to be on one side, at least for the first game. It helps to streamline the team decision-making process as teams driven by either light or dark forces have better chances to succeed.
In addition, the Soul Gem determines your health, combat activities, action activities, power and talent cards your hero starts with. As you move along the storyline your hero gets to gain soul points from corpses of the enemies you defeat. Those sole points allow you to enhance character’s attributes and level-up. For character progression, there are seven levels to go through, with each one making you stronger and more capable.
As your heroes move along the map they will discover new events and waypoints. They are usually quite thematic and you may need to refer back to the storybook to understand the story behind it and how to advance. Most of the time, you discover some helpful information about the quest you are doing. Alternatively, if you are less lucky, you get to face an enemy attack.
Eventually, you will get to complete quests and earn some gold, which can then be spent at the Emporium (game’s market) to get the latest items and consumables.
If heroes ever run out of health, they die and turn into souls. There are shrine locations on the map where the fallen heroes can be resurrected. But keep in mind that the team needs to have the sufficient Soul Points to commit to the ritual.
|The dynamic storyline, branching narrative, smart character progression, and customization make Sword and Sorcery one of the most complete RPG board games we have ever played. It delivers an amazing level of thematic action in a truly heroic fantasy board game adventure. Anyone looking for the essence of RPG experience in board games should give this game a try. Ah, and the in-game item market is amazing, it reminds me RPG video games.|
|Ability to customize characters and playing styles|
|Thematic and story-driven gameplay|
|Smart character progression|
|Can resurrect fallen heroes|
|Have to refer to the rulebook more often than wanted|
|Character sheets could be thicker|
We have previously reviewed the game as part of our top solo board games list and were pleasantly surprised with the experienced it has delivered.
The game story goes all the way to the beginning of the 20th century. You have returned from the expedition of the 7th Continent and realized that everyone in your team is now dead and you have been cursed.
Throughout the game, players get to discover the world by building the board piece by piece. There are almost 1,000 adventure and action cards to make sure the world you discover is always unique.
The game employs two unique mechanics that have not seen in a board game before. First, to progress in the game you need to use adventure cards. Each adventure card usually triggers other cards to be played which ends up being a never-ending sequence of events that keeps the storyline going. This mechanism coupled with a vast number of cards that come with the game can most certainly guarantee high replay value and the unique experience every time.
Lastly, you start the game not knowing what to do which feels strange in the beginning and extremely fun and intriguing as you go along the storyline. Ultimately, the story and scenario objective becomes clearer as you explore more land and find more clues. You will eventually discover what needs to be done to win, but it is the ‘how’ that makes this game a unique experience from any angle you look at it.
|7th Continent is a unique board game that feels innovative and less of a game and more of an experience. The implementation of multiple unique ideas and mechanics coupled with the stunning design deliver an incredibly deep and thematic atmosphere. The game feels like a breath of fresh air that may have just defined the boardgame trends for years to come.|
|Innovative gaming mechanics|
|Great storytelling experience|
|Could be long|
|Not great for 3 or 4 players|