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Top 6 Board Games that Scratch the RPG Itch header
Reading Time: 8 minutes

I’m an adult now; at least, I’ve aged enough to classify me as an “adult”, even if I don’t know what that classification means. I pay bills, I’ve made children, and I have responsibilities I don’t remember ever agreeing to. Gone are the days of playing D&D after school multiple times a week. Hell, gone are the days of playing it even once a week. That we managed to complete the Curse of Strahd in a span of one year feels like a huge achievement.

Time is relative, and if you’re like me it’s moving too fast. Finding a GM willing to put up with that work, finding players capable of investment, these are the unicorns. Thankfully we can still scratch that itch with all the great board games available now. But just like there are many, many different RPG systems that accentuate different aspects of play, so too are there many board games that show off those aspects. Which one works for you will depend on the reason you play RPGs, so ask yourself that question and find a game great for you.

The Storyteller

Are you the player that loves to escape into the narration the table is telling? Reading up on the lore of the world, piecing together the mystery and telling a great story, that’s the heart of a good RPG. Roleplay is built into the acronym!

Lucky for you there are lots of great choices. If you’re looking for something horrific to reflect your Call of Cthulhu game, why not try out Eldritch Horror? For a good mystery, check out Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. If you’re a fan of puzzles, the escape room games like Unlock are fantastic, but I’m going to throw out a biased nod toward Escape Tales: The Awakening (for which I edited the rulebook).

If you can find a copy (good luck), Tales of the Arabian Nights is zany storytelling fun. You and your significant other might also enjoy Fog of Love. But if you really want to embrace the cooperative storytelling, and if your players can embrace it with you, Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game is a great option.

My Choice: Near and Far

Near and Far

Near and Far blends character growth and story into its resource management euro game. You’ll play on one of 10 different maps built into a beautifully illustrated board book. Your character will move around the world, interacting with the various spaces and trying to purchase victory points in multiple ways. But some of these spaces allow you to read from a storybook and learn about your character’s personal growth.

Each story is unique to that character, and all are well written. Eventually you’ll reach a point where you are seeking out these spaces just to learn more, even if it means losing the actual game. But it’s not just paragraphs you read, each chapter leads to a choice that you make (often based on your current game position), cutting off future paragraphs and guiding your growth. You’ll need to play multiple games in order to fully realize your character’s story.

The Munchkin

You’re the player that spends hours mapping out your character growth. You know exactly which power to take at each level you hit. You’ve found the best strategy to make the ultimate fighter, untouchable in their godhood.

Well, you’d like to invest that time. But, you know, there are dishes to be cleaned. So let’s simulate that experience.

The obvious choice here is Roll Player, a game where you build up your character’s stats and abilities in a very familiar way. You also might enjoy Race for the Galaxy or Oh My Goods!, where your limited empire must have the best engine for the most points.

Tech-trees are probably a personal favorite for you, so checking out Progress: Evolution of Technology is a good idea. On a grander scale, games like Eclipse and Twilight Imperium 4 will also tickle your strategy side.

My Choice: Aeon’s End Legacy

Aeon’s End Legacy

In Aeon’s End Legacy you play a legacy campaign game that ends with you having built a playable Aeon’s End character. Each story of the campaign allows you to add more player powers and customizations. Your player board is filled with stickers, your starting deck will change, even your starting portal positions are designed around choices you choose for the character.

When all is done, your character is useable in any Aeon’s End game. Your Legacy game is also converted into a standard game, replayable like any other. You also have the option of buying reload packs, allowing you to play through the campaign again and create all new characters. Playing a 2-player 4-character experience was a personal joy last year, and I have debated doing it again.

The Socialite

This one goes out to all you Vampire players out there. Those of you that play RPGs for the player interaction, the political intrigue, and the backstabbing. So obviously my first recommendation is A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, where your army maneuvering will require discussion with your neighbors. And if you truly hate your friends, you could always go for Diplomacy.

Or maybe you just really like interaction and discussion. There are many social deduction games available for you to choose from, but my personal favorite is Secret Hitler (or it’s retheme, Secret Voldemort). But if you just like yelling about fake news and slander, you can always try The Resistance.

My Choice: Two Rooms and a Boom

Two Rooms and a Boom

Two Rooms is a game of strategic human placement, where you’ll need to work with your team to either save or assassinate the president with a human bomb. The game is played over several rounds, each ending after a certain time limit. There are two rooms full of people, and when the round ends the leaders of the rooms send some of their room’s inhabitants to the other room. At the end of the game, the bomb blows up one of the rooms.

Through creative planning and discussion, each team must make sure their objective is met as the clock reaches the final hour. You can, and should, also enhance your game by adding in cards that grant special abilities and goals for the players. My personal favorite is the Hot Potato, a personal single target sticky bomb that adds a lot of chaos.

The Strategist

These are the players that yearn for combat skirmishes, calculating all possible tactics to reach maximum team cohesion and outcome. There are hundreds of options…

War of the Ring for obvious reasons, Star Wars: Imperial Assault even more so. Cry Havoc has one of the most interesting combat resolution mechanics of all the options, while Catacombs (and its family) let you flick discs at each other for hilarious results. And if you like Euro-style games, you really should just buy Adrenaline.

My Choice: Arcadia Quest

Arcadia Quest

As this is my first article for Meeple Mountain, I’m allowed to throw up my favorite game this one time. I’ll try not to make it a recurring thing. That said, as far as tactical skirmish games go, Arcadia Quest has some of the smoothest and easiest to understand mechanics I’ve found.

I’m not even a big fan of tactical skirmish games, so the fact that this is my favorite game should add emphasis. What I like most about it, beyond the simplicity and ongoing team development, is the mood of the game. Arcadia Quest doesn’t take itself that seriously, choosing bright colors, cute characters, and massive amounts of crazy interactions. It encourages player attacks, but discourages them immediately after, and a death never feels that penalizing. Arcadia Quest puts fun first, but still asks you to be tactical and clever.

The Explorer

Much like the Storyteller, you’re here for the story. Not just the one the GM is telling, but the lore of the sandbox itself. You want to learn the mythos, meet the NPCs, delve the dungeons, and map out everywhere you go.

Exploration is tricky in board games, because the shroud is removed after the first play. I could point you back to Near and Far, but you’re less exploring the world and more exploring the character. I could try and sell you on Mage Knight, but the exploration is mostly just hidden information. I could describe a lot of potential options, but this article is getting long, so I’ll just move in for the kill.

My Choice: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

See, what you really need is the experience of finding something new. That anticipation of opening every door, or in this case every box. Pandemic Legacy lets you have that joy of discovery. Each new envelope and box hides a new revelation, a new change to the world and the rules that govern it. There are surprises, and real consequences for your actions. Permanent consequences!

And look, just because one of the boxes can’t be opened until you’ve lost four games in a row, that doesn’t mean that should be your goal!

(but it totally should why wouldn’t you want to open every box ever…)

The All

I’m not choosing Gloomhaven. Yeah, that is the obvious choice, but that’s exactly why I’m not choosing it. What a boring choice that would be, like someone popped a balloon just as the string was being tied.

I’m also not going to choose the Dungeons and Dragons board games, Thornwatch, or Kingdom Death: Monster, or Descent: Journeys in the Dark. And while the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game has a very special place in my heart, I haven’t played the new version that just came out, and the original game was, well… flawed. Oh, and I haven’t played 7th Continent either so there goes that option.

You need a game that gives you the RPG feel, without the upkeep. Something easy to digest. Something that lets you experience a good story, grow attached to memorable characters, explore a colorful world, think through your actions carefully, and share all these things with family and friends.

My Choice: Mice and Mystics

Mice and Mystics

The only thing that really sets Mice and Mystics apart from a true RPG experience, is that the characters are given to you rather than being built by you. But I promise, the characters have more heart and soul in their tiny mouse bodies than most RPG characters I’ve created in the past. The story is charming and accessible for all players of any size.

In Closing

RPGs fell out of my life because I started a family of my own. I have two daughters, the eldest being not yet 3 years and the youngest being not yet 3 weeks. I don’t have that sort of time to invest in all the work required from either side of the screen. What Mice and Mystics represents to me is not only a way to hang on to that experience, but an entry point into that system when my daughters are older.

RPGs aren’t a part of my life anymore, but they will be again one day. And thanks to all the great board games on this list, when I return to that hobby, I hope to be taking a tiny hand with me.

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Bryan Gerding

Bryan Gerding

American expat living in Poland. Owner, writer and English editor for Tabletop Polish. Father of 2 and math teacher of many. Perpetually tired player of many types of games.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Thank you for this. Though they are not all my choices, I enjoyed thinking through each of the categories and seeing reasoned results.

  • Great list! My wife and I love Near and Far, and I’m excited to check out Sleeping Gods from Red Raven games later this year. Another game I’d recommend similar to Mice and Mystics, which I’ve heard has a lower bar to entry than M&M is Stuffed Fables. We’ve played that with our kids and they have enjoyed it.

    • Our daughter is going through a lot of those Stuffed Fables moments right now, and it’s at the top of my list of games to get. She’s even getting her own bed soon, gonna be some emotions there. I just wish she cared about stuffies at all 😀

      Sleeping Gods looks awesome. We also just recently got Above and Below and are eager to try it out.

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