14 Board Games To Play If You Love Dungeons & Dragons

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Global pandemics can really do a number on "Dungeons & Dragons" campaigns. You know what they say: If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with. To that end, we've assembled a list of 14 board games you really should play if you love "Dungeons & Dragons." These are games that can help you and your inner circle fill some of those empty days between campaign sessions.

From character creation to dungeon crawling, each of these games aims to scratch a slightly different itch for longtime tabletop RPG players. As always, some of these games are prized possessions in my collection while others are just rules PDFs on a Google Drive and dreams. However, nothing on this list would be possible without the dedicated communities of both Reddit and BoardGameGeek. Their guidance (and sometimes brutal honesty) went a long way towards identifying which games truly belong on the list.

Oh, and while we have included Amazon links to each of these games, please consider buying local if you happen to have a great board game shop in your area. It is a harsh world out there for retailers and keeping your money in your local board game community is the best way to keep this hobby alive and thriving. Besides, where else are you going to be able to try some of these games before you buy them?

Aeon's End: Legacy

Complexity: Medium, Price: $57.15 (Amazon)

In the world of tabletop RPGs, there is often only one way to play through a campaign: with sheets of paper and your imagination. Part of the beauty of RPG-like board games is their ability to use different systems to achieve similar outcomes. While many games gravitate towards minis and modules, there is still plenty of room for a card-first game like "Aeon's End: Legacy."

Much like the base game of "Aeon's End," players take turns preparing their breaches and queuing up spells to battle powerful monsters. However, each spell a player casts comes with a one-turn delay, and when the spells trigger (on your next turn or on a future turn of your choosing) depends on whether the breach is open or closed. And unlike most deckbuilding games, each time you would typically reshuffle your draw deck, you simply flip the deck back around instead.

"Aeon's End: Legacy" offers a fun combination of permanent changes to both the characters and the world with a rulebook awash in empty spaces for future changes. But unlike most legacy games, which err on the side of being one-and-done experiences, "Aeon's End: Legacy" offers players a prepackaged reset. One only needs to buy the "Aeon's End: Legacy" Reset Pack, and each of the replaced or overwritten components will be renewed for future players. This is an excellent benefit for anyone who wants to experience the game a second (or third) time.

Arcadia Quest

Complexity: Medium Light, Price: $84.78 (Amazon)

Have you ever looked at your "Dungeons & Dragons" party and thought, "Man, I wish I could just fight these people instead"? Well, one player's intrusive thoughts are another player's central mechanic. In "Arcadia Quest," players will again pit their parties against an evil overlord. This time, though, there's a catch: Each party is competing for the ultimate victory against their enemies.

In each new campaign of "Arcadia Quest," players will choose their guild of heroes (or randomly draft heroes if they are already familiar with the game) and select six scenarios to complete. In a mad dash through the halls of the city of Arcadia, players will do their best to murder monsters and each other en route to a grand victory against the evil Vampire Lord. Better yet, each player will operate three unique characters, offering them a coordinated attack against the other players and the NPCs.

With a last-hit mechanism that rewards players for finishing an opponent and a respawn mechanic that means no hero is dead for long, "Arcadia Quest" walks a fine line between an RPG and a MOBA. But for those who wish they could collect loot and level their characters while also bringing a world of hurt to their friends, "Arcadia Quest" will be a welcome change of pace from the other cooperative titles on this list. Roleplaying doesn't need to be inherently collaborative, and "Arcadia Quest" proves chaotic battle belongs on the table.

Descent: Legends of the Dark

Complexity: Medium Light, Price: $122.59 (Amazon)

Back in the halcyon days of the 2010s, I was introduced to the second edition of "Descent: Journeys in the Dark" by a well-meaning friend who recognized my developing board game addiction. And while my own cardboard masochism has drawn me to the crunchier end of the spectrum, the "Descent" series remains a perfect balance of complexity and aesthetic appeal. That is still the case with "Descent: Legends of the Dark," Fantasy Flight's latest campaign-based adventurer set in the Terrinoth universe.

The app-assisted gameplay of the latest "Descent" game will be a welcome change for those who prefer cooperation over conflict. Instead of having one person play as the adversarial Overlord — the primary mechanism of "Descent: Journeys in the Dark" — players will now work together against the machinations of the app. Unless, of course, the primary driver of the series has always been about massacring your friends — you do your friendships your way.

With fantastical scenarios and combat galore, there is plenty here to hook fans new to the world of miniatures and board game storybooks. Does that make "Descent" the world's most expensive gateway game? That might not be such a bad thing. If you have eyes on some of the more complex games on this list and want to train your board game group to work together in campaign-based adventure games, then "Legends of the Dark" might be the perfect introduction to the medium.

Destinies

Complexity: Light, Price: $46.09 (Amazon)

Unless you are blessed with a dedicated gaming space, odds are you cannot leave a giant campaign game set up for weeks on end. That makes something like Lucky Duck Games' "Destinies" an attractive title for any collection. In this app-assisted game, players pick a hero and quest to meet one of two win conditions in a modular campaign. With solo modes, exploration modes, and challenge modes all available in-app, "Destinies" offers a significant amount of replayability at a modest price tag.

While some app-assisted board games blur the line between app and tabletop, "Destinies" makes excellent use of its digital storytelling. There are just enough components to manage (the modular board, a few supplies, some good-looking minis) that you can enjoy the tactile sensation of the game without wondering why the whole thing exists in the physical world at all. And unlike the bigger games on this list, "Destinies" can be packed and unpacked without costing you your entire evening.

However, the best part of "Destinies" is its leveling system, which asks players to constantly tinker with their skill check scores to find the right balance between intelligence, dexterity, and power. As you play, you will be presented with the opportunity to lower individual skill check thresholds, turning your character into a series of sliders you will need to manage effectively. Plus, the digital moderation of the game allows for a variety of character decisions — not just fight or flight.

Gloomhaven

Complexity: Medium Heavy, Price: $111.47 (Amazon)

It's been roughly a year since my board game group started our playthrough of "Gloomhaven," and it sometimes feels like it's become a part-time job. Wrangling four different schedules is hard enough in the best of times, let alone during the middle of a global pandemic, but here we are, diligently plodding along with one or two play sessions per month. Our text chain has become a delightful barrage of strategy ideas and TikTok videos from other people playing the game.

Like any good adventure game, "Gloomhaven" offers progressive narratives, sandbox exploration, and the kind of combat that makes you second-guess your decisions for days. You and your party begin in the title town and expand outward, taking on new quests that raise the stakes for the world. Part of the brilliance of "Gloomhaven" is that its approach to combat leverages a deckbuilding card system to serve as both your actions and your life. Building the perfect little action system for your character is the epitome of fun.

While a year of irregular gameplay may sound like a nightmare to many gaming groups, our interest in "Gloomhaven" has only grown over time. One of our players used this to justify buying his own 3D printer and has spent the past two months slowly replacing all the core components with custom components of his own creation. "Gloomhaven" is a commitment (one that might shove many other board games to the side), but it's still an adventure worth taking.

Mage Knight

Complexity: Heavy, Price: $72.24 (Amazon)

For almost a decade now, one of the best resources for gamers is the 1-Player Guild's annual list of the best solo board games. So when they declare "Mage Knight" one of the best single-player games of all time for eight years running in an era where board game publishers seem determined to outdo each other on an annual basis, then you know this is a fantasy game that belongs somewhere in your collection — especially if you have the space to accommodate the sprawling player areas required.

In "Mage Knight," you and your opponents travel around a hexagonal map, recruiting, learning spells, and just generally becoming the master of bad-ass heroes no army in their right mind would want to mess with. Most games end when you and your armies have conquered every city on the map. If you are playing against opponents, you will each use the game's achievements to score and declare a single winner.

If you are looking for a way to recreate the robust endgame of many RPGs where a group of mighty heroes wages wars against entire kingdoms, then "Mage Knight" might just be the fix to carry you over between sessions. Be prepared, though, "Mage Knight" is a complicated game with regular high-stakes decisions and requires multiple playthroughs to get right. You'll want to keep the rulebook handy for game two and beyond.

Mice and Mystics

Complexity: Medium Light, Price: $74.95 (Z-Man Games)

While most of the games on this list are best suited for experienced gamers, a few titles (including this one) will serve more as gateway games for those warming to the RPG experience. Like "Stuffed Fables" (also published by Z-Man Games), "Mice and Mystics" is a family affair. It features an RPG-like system with just the right combination of scary storytelling and rewarding gameplay to set an impressionable youth down a cardboard-laden path.

In "Mice and Mystics," you and your party play as a group of heroes who have transformed themselves into mice as a means of capturing escape (and saving the kingdom). Your group battles its way through the castle (and completes the accompanying storybook) through a healthy dose of combat and encounters. Framed as a bedtime story, the game also puts considerable effort into the narrative, encouraging players to share in the story of "Mice and Mystics" as the adventure unfolds.

As one of the oldest games on this list, "Mice and Mystics" might not feature the tightest mechanics or the most rewarding systems, but it remains a gold standard of adventure games — especially for those trying to find a Goldilocks game for everyone in your family. Plus, with Netflix planning a "Redwall" adaptation sometime in the next few years, "Mice and Mystics" may offer the perfect themed opportunity for your kids to explore a world they will soon be enjoying on the big screen.

One Deck Dungeon

Complexity: Medium, Price: $18.29 (Amazon)

So, you want to cross swords with monsters without spending hundreds of dollars (and hours) in the process. Given that so many adventure games these days are forever tied to the quality of their miniatures, the genre of "Dungeons & Dragons"-style RPGs can require a significant commitment. That's why Asmadi Games' "One Deck Dungeon" continues to be a welcome alternative to the 10-pound boxes of the board game world.

In "One Deck Dungeon," you or your party will plunge deeper into the depths of a cursed dungeon. Each encounter, players will roll dice and discard dice to claim more dice to fill up spaces on the enemy sheet. While the players will technically "pass" the outcome regardless of their rolls, a tough encounter will leave your heroes struggling to manage their health or the available cards in their encounter deck. This combination of dice-placing and dungeon-crawling makes "One Deck Dungeon" the murder hobo alternative to "Yahtzee" and a style of game you didn't know you needed until now.

And while "One Deck Dungeon" can be played as a series of one-off dungeons with characters accruing dice, skills, and potions for their inevitable final boss battle, the game also allows for a more conventional campaign. In this mode, characters choose their difficulty and advance their character through a series of checkmarks on their character sheet. The more checkmarks they have, the more powerful their hero becomes, allowing for a more satisfying campaign experience.

Roll Player

Complexity: Medium Light, Price: $42.89 (Amazon)

One of the great joys of any tabletop RPG is session zero, when characters roll dice and determine the attributes and backstories of their heroes. As in the video games that came after them, character creation in RPGs is often a rewarding minigame in itself, allowing players to tinker with different starting talents and skillsets to create the perfect hero. It comes as no surprise, then, that Thunderworks Games was able to turn character creation into a dynamic board game with "Roll Player."

In "Roll Player," you and your opponents will take turns drafting, placing, and manipulating dice to build the perfect hero. Using the abilities well-known to fans of "Dungeons & Dragons" (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma), the goal of each player is to balance their skills in the manner best suited to their class and backstory. When the game ends, players will add up the Reputation Stats they earned and declare the person with the most points the victor.

The result is a pleasant twist on the RPG experience with a "Roll Player" game ending just when the real adventure would begin. If you are a dedicated gamer and willing to cross the streams a little bit, you can even use your "Roll Player" creation as the basis for an actual "Dungeons & Dragons" character. Nothing will invest you in your character more than knowing how much you had to scrape for every single point.

Shadows of Brimstone: City of the Ancients

Complexity: Medium, Price: $100.76 (Amazon)

One of the great things about "Dungeons & Dragons" is that every campaign takes on the tenor of its players. If your party wants to spend its time learning more about the world, any good DM will put storytelling at the forefront of your sessions; if all your party cares about is killing as many monsters as possible, then a good DM will roll initiative early and often. While many of the games on this list try to balance worldbuilding and dungeon crawling in equal measure, sometimes you just need a fistful of dice and a title like "Shadows of Brimstone: City of the Ancients."

In each mission, characters will venture deep into the mines of Brimstone, battling demons and exploring the darkest corners of the realm. Players roll dice to hold the forces of darkness at bay, roll dice to scavenge material from the map tiles, roll dice to shoot and dodge enemies — there's a lot of dice, and you're going to roll the hell out of them.

As an action-first dungeon crawler, "Shadows of Brimstone" may not be the first choice of many campaign-oriented players, but with so many miniature games offering variations on a central fantasy theme, the Western setting of "Shadows of Brimstone" may be appealing to those looking for a more cinematic experience. A slight variation can often go a long way, especially for those who need a break from medieval villages.

Stuffed Fables

Complexity: Medium Light, Price: $69.99 (Amazon)

One of the most important decisions a parent will make is knowing when to introduce their kids to the hobbies they love. Not everything will be a hit, of course, but picking the suitable gateway game can often make a big difference in the years to come. Thankfully, Z-Man Games is here to hook a new generation of roleplayers with "Stuffed Fables," a storybook-based RPG that prepares them for a lifetime of "Dungeons & Dragons" addiction.

In "Stuffed Fables," your group plays as a collection of toys (stuffies) who work hard to protect their human while she sleeps. Anchored in everyday childhood experiences that range from making the leap to a grown-up bed to braving a late-night potty break, "Stuffed Fables" combines elements of a dungeon crawler RPG with kid-friendly themes and storytelling. You will still engage in turn-based combat, shop at vendors, and manage an inventory of items, but everything is catered to family campaign play.

If you are a more experienced player who loves the theme and wants to play an adult version of "Stuffed Fables," original developer Plaid Hat Games maintains an alternate ruleset for "Seasoned Stuffies" on their website that will ramp up the difficulty. This advanced ruleset includes true scenario failures, fewer opportunities to replenish health, and more difficult minions to fight. When your kids are ready to learn the agonies and ecstasies of character sheets and dice, "Stuffed Fables" will be waiting for them.

Swords & Sorcery: Ancient Chronicles

Complexity: Heavy, Price: $70.77 (Amazon)

If you are a player who values complexity and the decisions that come with it over streamlined gameplay, then look no further than "Sword & Sorcery: Ancient Chronicles." In their latest release, publisher Ares Games has taken their popular RPG series to the next level, offering a wealth of choices to characters and a vast world to explore in the process (alive or dead).

The original "Swords & Sorcery" is often hailed as one of the best dungeon crawlers on the market, and the new version of the game only builds on that reputation. You play as one (or more) legendary heroes resurrected to take on the forces of evil threatening the land. In a nod to MMORPGs — a genre of video games that "Swords & Sorcery" proudly compares itself to — players are given a variety of actions each turn with the ultimate goal being a collective victory for the party.

If you are not one of the many Kickstarter backers waiting for their total fulfillment in 2022 (COVID has undoubtedly hit some projects harder than others), you can snag a copy of the Core Set online or at the game store of your choosing. With a campaign mode that lasts 30+ hours, "Swords & Sorcery" has the weight of a AAA video game title, making it an excellent solo endeavor in your household — as long as you have a dedicated gaming space to maintain it.

Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon

Complexity: Medium, Price: $209.24 (Amazon)

Behold board game publisher Awaken Realms, the crowned king of crowdfunding! Having nailed Kickstarter campaigns for games like "This War of Mine" and "Nemesis," not to mention the launch of Gamefound, their popular crowdfunding platform, Awaken Realms is now synonymous with high-end board gaming at its finest. Those in the mood for a grand fantasy adventure would do well to check out 2018's "Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon," the studio's $6.25 million blockbuster success.

If you have dabbled in modern adventure games, some of the mechanics will already be familiar. Similar to games like "Gloomhaven," "Tainted Grail" features a dense storybook that will determine how the world around your character evolves over time. "Tainted Grail" also features a modular card map and a deckbuilding element that allows each player to improve their standing in combat and diplomacy. There's a lot to manage: The base box comes with a hefty 9.5 pounds of stuff. But like any game, the systems become more intuitive the longer you play.

And if punishing games are your thing, you may enjoy the different death scenarios present in "Tainted Grail." Your character has a chance to ward off death with the game's special "You Are Dying" card. Use those final few actions poorly, and you may be forced to pick a new hero for your party as your companions loot your corpse. More games should embrace permadeath, I say.

Too Many Bones

Complexity: Medium Heavy, Price: $129.95 (Chip Theory Games)

Sometimes, the most important thing you can do for your board game collection is knowing which games you won't buy. I have eyed "Too Many Bones" by Chip Theory Games for years now, trying to convince myself to pull the trigger on the game's mountain of dice and delightful character development. The truth is that "Too Many Bones" (and its many, many expansions) is a bad fit for my board game group. So, for now, I will satisfy myself with YouTube videos and the occasional re-read of the rulebook.

This is a shame because so much of "Too Many Bones" caters to my preferred playstyle. As a fan of engine-building (I've never met a game I wouldn't lose if it meant I could spend more time on technology trees than victory points), the combination of character progression and storytelling in "Too Many Bones" is a perfect match. In each game, you and your party will try to use the time allotted to overcome baddies and fight your way to an evil tyrant.

If some of the games on this list capture the dungeon-crawling experience of RPGs, then "Too Many Bones" perfectly captures the grind, though not in a bad way, of slowly leveling up your character. With so many skills and backup plans to upgrade throughout a campaign, you and your party will tackle countless battles and experience the slow joy of perfecting your little death machines.