There’s plenty of bold stories, irreverent tales, and spooky romps hiding in adventure board games, from barren post-apocalyptic romps to chivalrous combat in the forests of Sherwood, or even the dark streets of Victorian-era London.
Story-based board games aren’t so different from video games; they tend to feature sweeping quests, complex mechanics, and mysterious characters to befriend along the way. While they often require a big time commitment, they can be the perfect way to spend a long evening with friends.
If you’re somebody that likes to be more engaged in your tabletop sessions, a story-based adventure board game might be your jam. Here are a few solid picks that should spice up your next gaming session.
Our Top Picks
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Book Game
The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Book Game is a gorgeous storybook-based adventure where you play through the events of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy across a number of chapters. Taking the reigns of the main Fellowship, you’ll work solo or with friends to navigate through the Shire, Mordor, and wider Middle-earth as story events, puzzles, and mini-quests pop up along the way.
The entire Adventure Book Game series is incredibly clever, and makes storytelling very simple with great, descriptive quests to follow, and gorgeous art illuminating every step along the way. While having knowledge of the LOTR franchise will help here, you can also sit back with this game, and enjoy an unfolding, fast-paced tale with a bunch of friends.
- Check out Betrayal Legacy on Amazon.
Betrayal Legacy is the long-form version of Betrayal at House on the Hill, a co-op horror adventure game where players enter a strange mansion, and accidentally cause a terrifying ‘Haunt’ event to begin. Where the basic version of Betrayal features a single trip through a mansion, and players suddenly turning on one another when the horrors begin, this Legacy edition adds in more of a story for every character present, and allows players to take ownership of that character (and later, their family) through multiple eras and events.
When you manage to nab an item in Legacy, you’ll keep that item and hand it down, as generations of your family contends with new horrors, guided by the events of the game’s story book. While the action still invites you to explore a haunted mansion with each new chapter, alternating rooms and a differing haunt for each incursion helps the action feel fresh until the game’s final death rattle.
- Check out Forgotten Waters on Amazon.
Forgotten Waters is a pirate-themed adventure-exploration game where every choice is guided by a swashbuckling story – delivered via physical maps and story quests, and aided by a companion app. Every player embodies a curious pirate in this tale, with a variety of abilities allowing them to see more of the game’s world, uncover new items and locations, and eventually chart a course through raging seas.
You will need a significant crew to journey through Forgotten Waters (3-7 players) but if you can corral a group of enthusiastic folks, you’ll be able to discover nearly everything the game has to offer across five main scenarios filled with secrets. Clear a massive space on your tabletop for this behemoth, and you’ll be treated to one impressive adventure.
- Check out T.I.M.E. Stories on Amazon.
T.I.M.E. Stories is an endlessly replayable narrative game that centres on a group of agents attempting to stop global time paradoxes by going back into the timeline, embodying a range of characters, and ensuring they meet a set goal. In each game, players will become a new character (and sometimes several characters) and explore tactics for completing their goals – which can range from escaping an asylum, to defeating terrifying creatures.
In each environment of T.I.M.E. Stories – and there are many, thanks to multiple game expansions and card combinations – you’ll work your way through riddles, puzzles, and other challenges to find the best ways to reach your goal before your timeline resets. If you fail your goal, you’re sent back to the ‘beginning’ of your scenario, but you’ll still have all your experiences and findings with you – which can prove handy for winning rounds. The number of possibilities in T.I.M.E. Stories means you’ll be kept rather busy by the base game, which can be played in a number of creative ways.
The Witcher: Old World
- Check out The Witcher: Old World on Amazon.
The Witcher: Old World is a sprawling, quest-based combat-adventure game where players embody mythological Witchers tasked with hunting and defeating monsters. Not only does this board game’s tale kick off with a strong hook, it also keeps you engaged with winding quests that toss you from one end of the game’s world to another in breathless fashion.
One moment, you’ll be resting your laurels in the Continent, and in the next, you’ll be competing for monster-killing glory as you and your fellow Witchers compete to nab the highest score, and the best abilities. While combat is a major focus of the adventure, you’ll also get a hefty dose of Witcher lore as you explore deeper, and uncover each new quest. The theme alone is tantalising, but when you add in the Old World‘s story threads, it’s even more of a gripping tabletop delight.
Fallout: The Board Game
- Check out Fallout: The Board Game on Amazon.
Let’s start with a game that effectively bridges the gap between board games and video games: Fallout: The Board Game, from Fantasy Flight Games. This hex-based adventure-exploration game is all about setting off into the wilderness of the post-apocalypse, completing quests, and making friends along the way. As you guide a single character on a quest through a mysterious landscape, you’ll uncover a number of secrets – one tile may reveal a Deathclaw enemy, while another may reveal a fresh quest. It’s your job to traipse across the entire hex map, putting away enemies and attempting to complete a set storyline.
There are multiple different narratives included with the base game, each of which requires different hex tiles. That means every time you play the game, you have the potential to unlock new paths, discover new NPCs, and level up your characters in new ways. It’ll require more than hour to work through a single playthrough so if you’re keen to give this one a go, you’ll need to set aside an evening for a daring adventure, either solo or with friends.
- Check out Stuffed Fables on Amazon.
Stuffed Fables is an enchanting, storybook-like game starring a number of whimsical creatures that have stepped right from a fairytale imagination. In this 2-4 player narrative, you’re tasked with guiding a number of cute ‘stuffies’ in their quest to save a child from an evil villain. You’ll need to make a number of measured choices to save them, and pick the best paths for their survival. The entire action of Stuffed Fables is guided by an Adventure Book which reveals fresh maps to explore, and guides players through the drama one tiny step at a time. It means that picking up and playing the game is easy, no matter how many players you have on board.
In addition to revealing enemies, flipping each page of the Adventure Book and advancing the story will yield more challenges, quests or mysterious characters that may hinder or help your progress. Dice will aid your journey, but the game’s action is largely guided by the events of its book, which pulls players from gorgeous, gothic locales all the way to peril in its final chapters.
The Adventures of Robin Hood
- Check out The Adventures of Robin Hood on Amazon.
The Adventures of Robin Hood comes with a fully-fledged storybook that determines exactly where players are on a vast map, and what actions you can take to advance. As a co-op title, you’ll need to rely on your friends to survive your journey as you embody Robin Hood and his merry men, and work to conquer Sherwood Forest and its surrounds. With each adventure you go on, the action changes subtly, thanks to the ability to make game-changing choices, guided by the included book.
The board itself is ‘alive’ in that pieces can be removed or replaced, based on where you are in the story and what choices you’ve made. That does mean The Adventures of Robin Hood requires commitment from a set group of players, but with a relatively easy set up, you can also swap and change players as you go. Whatever method you choose for playing, you should have a blast completing each quest.
Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger
Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger is a board game adaptation of the classic novel of the same name, and essentially rejigs the ‘CYOA’ formula into a deck of playable cards, with a set board to keep track of player progress and danger level. Gameplay is simple: you just read each card and make a choice based on the text present. Some choices will let you nab clues and items that’ll help you conquer the House of Danger, while others may lead to severe injury, or other strange events.
Based on your choices, you’ll be advancing further into the game’s mystery house, and get closer to the secrets that lurk at its heart. While the simple gameplay isn’t very challenging, the narrative here remains excellent, and presents a number of intriguing puzzles for players to overcome. The path to victory isn’t always clear – and it’s likely you’ll run into unexpected death once or more during your playthrough – but mounting each surprise as it comes is a real delight.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
- Check out Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 on Amazon.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 may not be the most appealing board game to play after the events of the coronavirus pandemic, but if you can separate your reality from this fictionalised interpretation of a Cold War-era pathogen threat, then you’ll be in for an excellent adventure. This tale is an expanded version of the original Pandemic which focusses on ‘beating’ enemy agents, rather than controlling the spread of a deadly disease. As a spy in the 1960s, you’ll take on a range of false identities as you work your way through story-based missions where you rush to execute operations without being trapped by enemy forces.
To kick off your adventures, you’re provided with a dense brief that details exactly who you are, what locations you’ll need to breach, and how you’ll need to overcome the mounting enemy threat. While gameplay itself utilises the same mechanics as Pandemic, this version of the game is aided by a sleek story that lends each round a sense of urgency and excitement. As you meet new spy contacts and work your way through each game chapter, your character and the world around them will shift in new ways, with stickers helping to keep track of progress and transform the board in real time.
Adventure Games: The Volcanic Island
Adventure Games: The Volcanic Island is one of several escape room-style adventure board games from publisher KOSMOS, alongside The Dungeon, Monochrome Inc., The Grand Hotel Abaddon, and more. While each has its own merits, The Volcanic Island is one of the more accessible versions of this game, thanks to a light narrative and simple adventure mechanics. The Adventure Games series essentially operates as a real-life ‘point & click’ game – you play as a character journeying through a number of location cards, each marked by a particular number.
These numbers correspond to entries in a storybook that spell out an unfolding tale, with each new location card revealing more challenges to overcome. As with other stories in the series, The Volcanic Island asks you to spend time exploring each location, and combine item cards together to form new ways to advance. Placing a hook and a rope together will give you a grappling hook, for example, and you can then combine this shiny new item with a location number to climb up a hill. The games do require some logical thinking to complete, but whether solo or with friends, you should have no problem overcoming their many puzzles.
Detective: City of Angels
- Check out Detective: City of Angels on Amazon.
Detective: City of Angels is a sprawling noir detective story set in 1940s Los Angeles, where crime has run rampant, and only the LAPD can save the city from itself. You play as a homicide detective with an agenda of their own, attempting to work with a group of other players (or solo against AI). Choice is the name of the game in this story, and it means you can either use your power for good, or to interrogate suspects, conceal evidence, and carve a path of terror in your wake.
The game is based around investigation and interrogation as players discover a number of crimes and travel around LA – but with multiple forces working against detectives, and plenty of ways to fail, it’s a game where you’ll need to stay constantly alert.
With the size of the casebook and every little piece involved, you’ll also need to carve out a hefty chunk of time to play through this murder-mystery. Each case is tougher than the last and will require players to use their social deduction skills – so make sure you’ve got the right folks on board as you dive into the grimy, gloomy and wonderful story of Detective: City of Angels.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
If you’re somebody who loves picking apart clues, you’ll enjoy the story-based Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective board games. These games are essentially multimedia investigation projects – players are given a number of items including newspapers, maps and letters, and they must piece together major mysteries as they live up to the legend of the famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Each piece included in these boxes is an essential clue, and it’s up to players to sit down with each casebook and determine exactly how the puzzle fits together, one small step at a time.
There are several mysteries included in each box, and as in Detective: City of Angels, the clues must be pieced together with careful observation and some measure of skill. It takes a clever person to work through these narratives, but the sense of satisfaction you get upon completing each story makes the process triumphant and always exciting.
Legacy of Dragonholt
- Check out Legacy of Dragonholt on Amazon.
Legacy of Dragonholt is a fantasy adventure that takes players on a Dungeons & Dragons-style journey without the rigamarole of setting up an entire narrative from scratch. Here, players embody a hero taking on a number of epic quests involving dragons, goblins, evil lords and plenty of swordplay. Several adventure books are included in this game’s box, meaning you can occupy yourself for hours in its dense fantasy gameplay, no matter what character you pick to lead your adventure.
In your journey, you’ll be using one of several books to lead your character (or characters) onward, with Dragonholt Village serving as a hub world from which you can set forth on grand adventures, wherever you desire. The Choose Your Own Adventure series was a major inspiration for this board game, and helped shape its dense, choice-based narrative where players can control every place they visit, and every item they pick up. No matter what you pick, your decision will have consequences that change the overall story, making Legacy of Dragonholt a board game that’s never the same, no matter how many times you replay it.
If you’re looking for more board game adventures to explore, check out our other guides:
- The best board games for beginner players
- The best tabletop games to bring out at a party
- The best co-op board games for two players
- The best solo board games for single players
- The best puzzle board games to play solo or with friends
- The most relaxing board games for quiet afternoons
- The 8 best dungeon crawler board games for adventurers
- The best spooky board games to play this Halloween
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