TTG's Top 10: Games with stories (that aren't RPGs)
Nearly all games give us yarn to spin, but there are some that come to the table with a specific story – or stories – to discover as you play. Here’s a selection of tabletop tales you won’t forget in a hurry.
1. Mansions of Madness: Second Edition
With tales of horror and doom that span from deranged cultists to creatures from beyond the stars or the bottom of the sea, Mansions of Madness’ branching plotlines and player-driven revelations bring the Arkham Horror universe fully alive. The second edition’s introduction of an app that controls the background machinations of each self-contained scenario means all the players can experience the shocks and surprises together.
Play this if you enjoy: Arkham/Eldritch Horror, not sleeping at night, conspiracy theories, the tales of H.P. Lovecraft (minus the racism)
2. Legacy of Dragonholt
Powered by the Oracle system of storytelling, Legacy of Dragonholt blends together elements of fantasy roleplaying and choose-your-own-adventure gamebooks in quests across the realms of Terrinoth. Players create their character and explore the world, experiencing the inhabitants and events of the setting in a unique way based on their individual decisions during the course of each playthrough.
Another RPG-like experience in a box, Gloomhaven’s meaty Euro-style combat gameplay is surrounded by a world that is shaped by the actions of the players as they embark on its epic adventure. Legacy elements mean that the fantasy environments and their inhabitants can be permanently changed over the dozens of hours of gameplay, as players’ characters uncover their personal story and make decisions that branch the story in different ways.
4. Betrayal Legacy
Tying the random haunts of Betrayal at House on the Hill together in a story that spans hundreds of years, Betrayal Legacy is the ultimate spooky board game. Players’ characters are members of families drawn back to the haunted house generation after generation, trying to uncover the secret horror that lies underneath its shifting walls and sinister rooms. The house you’ll have at the end of the campaign will be unique to you – and ready to be explored endlessly in the free play mode once the story has come to its terrifying conclusion.
5. Tales of the Arabian Nights
Inspired by the timeless 1001 Nights, Arabian Nights uses its Book of Tales to let players weave their own stories in the magical lands, discovering the consequences of their actions by rolling a die and flicking to one of the many paragraphs of text that make its world come alive. Whether they end up as a wealthy ruler or a penniless beggar – or worse – players get the chance to take their own path through the world, using the skills they gain to their advantage – or not. Just be sure to disregard the unfortunate remnants of its decades-old origins and source material in the more ignorant details of its rules.
6. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Not quite as old as Conan Doyle’s original mysteries but a classic in its own right, Consulting Detective hands players the world’s greatest detective’s deerstalker and pipe and sets them loose in Victorian London in pursuit of clues, suspects and – ultimately – the solution to several different cases. The combination of a book stuffed with paragraphs that capture the atmosphere of the setting – as well as some evidence here and there – with newspapers and a map used to determine where to investigate makes for a brainteasing few hours that fly by. The solutions are tricky and some of the writing a little wobbly in places, but Consulting Detective’s interactive tales are as memorable and rewarding as some of the best crime mysteries out there.
7. Stuffed fables
A spiritual successor to the wonderful Mice & Mystics (which could just as easily belong on this list), playing Stuffed Fables is like jumping into a children’s storybook. Almost quite literally: the adventure book in the box is used as the board for your characters’ movement and actions, as well as taking you through the story of each chapter. Set in a dream world of living toys and nightmares made real, the game lets players explore its universe and guide their own story through pivotal decisions. Whether you’re a kid or a grown-up kid, it’s a magical experience.
8. T.I.M.E Stories
A choose-your-own-adventure board game, T.I.M.E Stories sees players racing against the ticking clock to explore different time periods and worlds, trying to complete missions before they’re forced to withdraw and start their run again. Full of puzzles and different corners of each of its worlds to explore, the game has been expanded with a number of inventive scenarios that take players from sailing the Caribbean with pirates the 17th century to surviving the frozen wastes of Antarctica in 1914. Brilliantly thematic and with simple gameplay supporting its storytelling, it’s an old school adventure in a modern form.
9. Near and Far
A sequel to Above and Below, which combined the challenge of building a town with the story-driven exploration of the depths below it, Near and Far places a greater focus on players’ stories. Players are adventurers searching for a lost city, exploring maps and recruiting fellow travellers to help them find treasure and discover the world. The world emerges from paragraphs of text read from the book of stories, with players’ decisions and reactions changing what happens. The main story takes place over ten separate sessions, each set in a new location and featuring new things to experience – and there’s always the option to replay from the beginning to tell a completely new story.
10. This War of Mine: The Board Game
Based on the equally hard-going and acclaimed video game, This War of Mine captures the struggle of surviving in a war-torn city during the real-life Siege of Sarajevo. As they take shelter in a crumbling building and search for the scraps of food, water and material they need to eke out a living, the characters must also fend off attacks from dangerous raiders and make the tough decisions needed to make it through to the end of the conflict. What makes the characters and their plight feel so real is the game’s Book of Scripts, a tome of over 1,000 potential passages read when cards are revealed or events happen during each playthrough. The impossible choices and branching outcomes of the passages create a sense of living alongside the characters, in one of the most genuinely emotional and affecting achievements board gaming has to offer.