There are so many fantastic stories hiding in narrative adventure board games, from epic post-apocalyptic tales to chivalrous romps through the forests of Sherwood, or even the dank streets of Victorian-era London. Story-based board games aren’t so different from video games in their design; they tend to feature dense quests, intriguing mechanics, and plenty of characters you can get to know. While they often require a large 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 just be your jam. Here are a few solid picks that should spice up your next journey.
Fallout: The Board Game
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 mystery 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 explorable 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 will require more than hour to work through a single playthrough, so if you’re keen to give this one a go, set aside a quiet evening for a daring adventure, either solo or with friends.
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 may 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 storybook, which pulls players from gorgeous, gothic locales all the way to peril in its final chapters. With an all-ages focus, it’s a story-based board game that anyone can jump in with.
The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Adventures of Robin Hood comes with a fully-fledged book 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 story 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 and advancing in this innovative and frequently delightful story-based board game.
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 the danger level in the adventure. 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, while others may lead to severe injury or a mounting danger level.
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.
If you’re less in the mood for horror and more in the mood for sci-fi, you can also check out this board game’s sequel, War with the Evil Power Master. Both are excellent narrative board games.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 may not be the most appealing board game to play during an ongoing 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 spy 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 story-based 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 breezy 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 story book 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
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 certainly 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. Interview suspects! Comb the game’s map for clues, using coordinates and information to lead you to your next big breakthrough! It’s all part of the excellent gameplay in the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective franchise.
Legacy of Dragonholt
Legacy of Dragonholt is a delightful 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 (human, elf, dwarf, orc, gnome or catfolk).
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.
Whether you’re looking for board games to play solo, to play in co-op with friends, or to play at a party, there are plenty of options around. Board games can be anything – and there’s an adventure to suit every kind of player.