Joseph works as an editor in one of the magazines dedicated to video games. Here, at RecRoomPick, he’s given the opportunity to enjoy the reverse of the medal – the no less engaging world of offline games.
Ryan knows everything when it comes to gaming, both online and offline. Since his early years he’s been in love with arcades, air hockey, and foosball. Finally, he’s given the opportunity to share his knowledge and opinion on the hobby of his life (and even get paid for it!).
Last updated: February 28, 2021
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The board game industry has really developed in recent years. The advent of technology has brought boards games alive from the conventional ‘one game every so often’ to a continual experience that brings players back to play regularly. Role-playing games (RPG) have been at the forefront of the development of the board games industry. By having a narrative at the centre of the game, these games have become increasingly popular with fans of the fantasy, horror and history genres.
But what are the best RPG board games currently available to purchase? If you are new to these types of board games the choice will likely be quite a difficult one as there are an ever-growing number of good quality games flooding the market. This article that features 10 product reviews and a buying guide attempts to help you navigate this complex process. In our buying guide, we highlight certain aspects that you should consider before purchasing an RPG board game. These include game type, understandable rules, number of players and strategic elements.
The article combines a mixture of online sources and customer reviews to help guide you in your search for the best RPG board game. The article begins with a comparison table, followed by 10 in-depth product reviews that cover key features, pros/cons and a detailed product description. The buying guide begins with an overview of tabletop RPG games and is followed by the specific factors you should consider before purchasing a game as well as a brief FAQ section. In the conclusion section, we rank our top three RPG board games.
Gloomhaven by Cephalofair Games Players is a tactical combat game that will keep everybody interested from beginning to end. Each player in the game adopts the role of a wandering mercenary who has their own unique skill set and their own justifications for venturing into this remote corner of the world.
The game requires players to work together to navigate menacing dungeons and forgotten ruins. During this process, players develop various skills and abilities while discovering new locations and an ever-changing storyline. This game is designed to be played over a number of sessions to form something resembling an adventure book. In this cooperative game, players come up against automated monsters and order of play is determined by a unique card system.
Gloomhaven requires players to play two cards from their hand, with each card indication a top and bottom power. Players must then decide whether to use the top power of one card or the bottom power of another when aiming to clear a dungeon. Watch out, if you take too much time clearing the dungeon your player will become exhausted and less powerful in the game.
Designed for ages 14 and above, Gloomhaven provides great family fun RPG board game that is jam-packed with twists and turns that will keep everyone entertained. Game time varies from an hour to two hours, which is long enough for the substantial experience and not too long to bore everyone. The game can be played individually with a maximum of four players being able to play the game at one time.
What we liked:
Substantial game features and content
Great for families
Ideal game time
What could be better:
Slightly complicated – requires a few run-throughs
Dark Souls: The Board Game is a complex miniatures exploration game for 1-4 players. The game requires players to select a number of core characters that they will follow into a variety of different dangerous and challenging locations where there endless amounts of ‘dark souls’ waiting to meet them, including monsters and treasures. The core characters that are selected have various strengths and weaknesses which players may wish to think carefully about before making their choice.
One of the best aspects of the Dark Souls board game is its ability to simulate the real gaming experience. Providing players with a variety of different levels of difficulty to satisfy hard-core gamers while at the same time being accessible for newcomers. The strategic element of Dark Souls also adds to the overall appeal of the game. If you are classic ‘button-pusher’, you will not be rewarded in this game. Success requires deep examination and understanding of enemy behaviours.
Every time you decide a new location on Dark Souls there are new and unique dangers for you to explore. This keeps the game consistently stimulating and challenging. It is no wonder Dark Souls is known for being such a tough game to excel at. To be successful, players need to be very strategic and have a good awareness of their player’s stamina.
Dark Souls is targeted at players from the age of 14 years and above and if played with multiple players is a cooperative game. The game is particularly challenging and is perhaps best suited to those who relish a challenge. This is not for those wanting a relaxed board game experience.
The WizKids Mage Knight Board Game: Ultimate Edition is a game designed by some of the best-known game designers. The game contains a combination of conventional board game elements, RPGs and deckbuilding, and the same time they are able to accurately capture the full and potted history of the Mage Knight Universe. The Mage Knight Board Game has been very popular with solo gamers as well as groups of up to five.
After the original version received critical acclaim, the ultimate addition of Mage Knight adds to the original game by including three expansions: The Lost Legion, Krang and Shades of Tezla. In addition to these expanded locations, the ultimate edition also includes a detailed rules text, five completely new cards and new paint jobs.
One of the best additions to the Mage Knight Ultimate Addition is the accessibility of the game in a variety of different languages. This new version is available in English, Spanish, Polish, Czech, German, French, Russian, Korean, Portuguese, Chinese, and Italian. That is pretty useful for the game to gain a stronger global audience.
While the game contains different parts, it is renowned for being relatively straightforward to understand. The game comes with a really easy-to-understand instruction manual for new players to follow. The game takes a minimum of one hour, with no specified end time. If you love a long game, the Mage Knight Ultimate Addition could satisfy your tastes.
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords is a fun adventure cooperative strategy game that is perfectly suited for children due to the relative simplicity of the game. The game involves players launching a campaign to strike against the evil forces that have infiltrated the fictional land of Varisia.
Players adopt ‘heroes’ who are required to defeat a variety of evil forces, ranging from traps, monsters, evil magic and other foes. The excitement is sustained by having many different scenarios for players to encounter during the course of a game.
The replay-ability of Rise of the Runelords is particularly high because of the continual nature of the game. After each game, characters from the game gain in experience, strength and knowledge. They acquire certain magic skills, equipment and special powers designed to enhance their overall character in the face of future battles. The game can really be a draw for those gamers who look to be part of a narrative.
A great aspect of the Rise of the Runelords game is that it is straightforward to understand and play. The game features approximately 500 cards with 7 different class of character to choose from. These cards also detail the skills, attributes and enemies that you will encounter. Turns are determined by 5 polyhedral dice.
Rise of the Runelords is the perfect game for children who like magic or the fantasy genre more broadly. Having such a variety of characters and scenarios is undoubtedly helpful in forming and developing the imagination of those who play the game.
The Mansions of Madness Board Game is an app-enhanced horror game that draws inspiration from the work of H.P. Lovecraft, the writer of The Dreams in the Witch House. Geared towards adults and children above the age of 14, this RPG board game takes you and your fellow players through a deeply distressing adventure through the dark and eerie streets of fictional Arkham.
This version is the second edition of the game brings the enhanced app feature to forefront of the experience, as players playing the role of investigators seek to tackle four different scenarios containing mystery, intrigue and a little bit of horror. This edition of the game follows many of the successes of the original edition but adds new and unique maps, complex puzzles and updated versions of the harrowing monsters that await your arrival.
As players/investigators, the aim of the game is to collect information, tools, weapons, engage in combat and solve puzzles. This is no small task. Being successful requires a strong degree of versatility, requiring players to be handy at a variety of different aspects. For those who like some brain stimulation when playing a board game, Mansions of Madness certainly delivers in this regard.
The game comes with 32 plastic figures, totalling over 450 different components as well as one rule book to guide all players. Mansion of Madness can either be played individually or groups up to five. Be warned, this game normally exceeds two hours, often verging on three. If you prefer shorter games, this particular horror RPG board game may not be suitable.
What we liked:
Perfect for fans of the horror genre
Intellectually stimulating with different challenges
Runewars: the Revised Edition is an epic battle fantasy game that is designed for 2 to 4 players. Unlike many other RPG boards, Runewars cannot be played individually because of its cooperative nature. The game is suited for players age 14 years and above and contains a variety of confrontation scenarios.
The purpose of the game is for players to build armies, engage in resource-gathering activities and compete to gain the highly acclaimed dragon runes which are very difficult to come by. The universe in which the game operates is known a Runebound.
Playing Runewars can be quite a time commitment. The minimum time for a standard game tends to be at least two hours, with many games lasting up to four hours. The game comes with a large number of components, including 196 plastic figures, 235 tokens and markers…in addition to 204 cards.
Runewars is certainly intellectually stimulating and is perfectly suited for gamers who love strategy and tactics. For video gamers, those who like to play Call of Duty may well find the strategic and battle confrontations appealing in this board game.
If you are unfamiliar with the Runewars setup, the game may not be ideal for beginners to easily grasp. This is due to the detailed nature of the universe that has been created which is so well done that experience of the Runebound universe can give players an advantage. After one game, you’ll soon get the hang of it.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of The Past Board Game is a scenario-oriented board game that contains narratives from the well-known comic. Featuring the iconic Ninja Turtle brand, this game inevitably attracts huge interest globally.
The aim of the game is for players to adopt the role of their favorite Ninja Turtle and to take this character through a series of missions lasting approximately 60 to 90 minutes. During these missions, the characters used by the players develop their strengths, style of combat as well as gaining equipment to assist them during missions.
The game features fan-favorite characters such as Casey Jones and Alopex throughout the game concept which certainly comes as welcome news to those who love the comic. The game is designed by highly-respected designer Kevin Wilson. Knowing that this level of expertise has gone into the design concept, should leave you reassured that every last detail of the game has been thought about in-depth.
The Shadows of The Past Board Game features over 40 miniature sculptures, 12 different maps as well as over 100 cards which have been designed with new and original artwork. The attention to detail in the game design is something certainly worth respecting.
The Shadows of The Past Board Game cannot be played individually. It is suitable for 2 to players which should make the game fun and sociable experience for all involved. For kids who love the comic, this game can be a really great opportunity to explore their favorite characters in greater depth.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark Second Edition is a multi-player board game that sees one player adopt the role of treacherous overlord who is pitted against up to four other players who are known as heroes. The aim of the game is for the heroes to stop the overlord from succeeding in carrying out his evil plot.
In their attempts to stop the overlord, heroes have to embark on various quests, engage in combat with monsters, navigate ancient ruins, dungeons and cursed forests.
For those who love a strong narrative board game, Descent: Journeys in the Dark will certainly float your boat. This game is a fully immersive, story-driven campaign in which the fantasy world is very rich in detail, vibrant and unpredictable. The heroes team must have good teamwork in order to overcome evil forces.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark has been one of the most popular RPG games created by Fantasy Flight Games in the last decade. This is due to the high standard of gameplay and attention-to-detail of the various components. The detailed components have been created by leading designer Kevin Wilson, leaving game experts relaxed in the knowledge of the quality of components. The game is known for being highly engrossing, with players almost guaranteed to play it again.
The game lasts a minimum of 2 hours and a maximum of 3 hours, leaving players with a substantial game duration to explore the fantasy world. The game is really geared for lovers of the fantasy genre and those who love a great narrative.
Zombicide: Black Plague is an affordable cooperative scenario game that places the zombie apocalypse phenomenon into a medieval setting. The game requires players to defeat the Necromancers who have brought on a zombie invasion. As some of the few survivors, players embark on a journey where they have first of all remain alive and second attempt to reclaim the realm that has been so cruelly taken from them. Players can also seek to punish those responsible for creating the zombie apocalypse.
The ‘survivors’ vary from dwarves, magicians, knights and paladins who are armed with a mixture of crossbows, swords and magic spells. As players navigate the game they have to equip their survivor to be able to cope and defeat the undead. Items survivors can pick up include armor, shields and books containing crucial magic spells.
Zombicide: Black Plague is really suited to those who love zombie apocalypse, doomsday-style fantasy, as well as fans of the medieval era. This edition is a revamped version of the original game but maintains most of the classic features and components that made the original such a popular game. Known for its endless action sequences, incredible tense atmosphere and straightforward rules, the game is perfectly suited for those who want an uncomplicated fantasy RPG board game.
Zombicide: Black Plague can be played individually or in a group of up to 6 which gives the game great flexibility in terms of numbers of players. Playing time is a minimum of one hour which is also suited for those who do not like board games that take forever to complete.
Legacy board games have been a famous go-to for many gamers. The betrayal legacy is the newest release of the series, and it kind of gives the vile, blood-soaked tales vibe that lovers of horror movies would like to play out with their friends.
You know how terrifying and stressful moving to a new place can be? The transition can be a little devastating as you have to get used to doing stuff differently. Well, brace yourself because betrayal legacy is about moving into a new house over and over again until forever.
This new house is filled with sordid stuff like portraits that leak blood, ghosts with skeletons in their spectral closets, and an attic filled with sleazy things like infested gremlins.
The game requires 3 to 5 players to take the roles of families obsessed with the house to uncover its terrible truth. It can be played by anyone above 12 years, and its set up is quite promising for a legacy game.
There are over 14 games that should be played to create the unique story of the house. Each new play adds or destroys cards that require you to write on the board and make permanent changes to the components. Like a series or movie, every game has thematic ties to the last one, and you wouldn’t be burdened by elaborate mythology or consistent characterization.
Overall, betrayal legacy is the kind of game that can satisfy a gamer with interests in adventure with cool fights, a one-versus many horrors, traitors, or spooky jokes about ghosts. It fills a unique niche and gives the thrill of consistent frustration-filled fun.
What we liked:
Easy to play
All-around satisfaction for gamers with different interests
What could be better:
Some gamers complained that the game is a bit dull because its basic mechanics are super-easy to follow
Things to Consider
The buying guide below presents all the information you need to know when purchasing the best RPG board game to suit your playing needs. Take time to read through the information in order to maximize your chances of selecting the best value RPG board game
Why tabletop RPG is so much fun?
The main advantage of RPG is the thinking, acting and imagination development that comes with it. Board games are all about becoming a different character.
Board games bring out the aspect of diplomacy, where players have to negotiate and make deals with one another. This involves players convincing others to team up and deal in order to defeat another player.
RPG is able to teach the players very important lessons of life.
With RPG, there is no time for procrastination, it teaches how to make choices and decisions in a specific moment. Making you trust your gut and instincts and make decisions in order to advance to another stage rather than just remaining in the same stage.
RPG requires you to assess every situation in the game, study it and take note of the clues, which will enable you to play well using your strengths and strategies.
In some games, it is all about making collaborations with other players, while in others, it is an individual challenge. Whichever the case, maximize your strengths and work on your weaknesses to be the best.
What about the price?
The price for the best RPG games will vary depending on your preferences and the type of game. It normally ranges from $50 to $200. Purchase a board game that is under your budget.
Features to consider while buying the best RPG board game
Let’s move to the important characteristics you shall learn before you choose the perfect board game that will be amusing you for many days to come.
There are different types of board games, the main ones are combats and strategies. A combat game is where one side of players is against the other or a team of players play in a united situation. An example of this game is Runewars. Strategies, on the other hand, is a cooperative game where players come together to solve a certain mystery, like in Mansions of Madness.
Number of players
Board games have a different number of players. Some games only require one player such as Dark Souls while others require multiple players such as Journeys in the Dark.
You need to consider whether the game can be played by the whole family or not. You don’t want a situation where not everyone is able to play during family game night.
Even if the game strategy is complex, the rules should be easy to learn. There are other great and more challenging games if you are ready to progress beyond our choices. The game difficulty is normally shown on the side of the box. You should know the players who you want to play the game with and judge whether that difficulty level is suitable for them. It is also good to choose a game which is easy to understand. Some games in the fantasy genre can be hard for beginners to understand.
Most games reviewed in this article cater for ages of either 12+ and 14+. This is a generic age which normally reveals information about the complexity of the game. For example, Ninja Turtle is a 12+ and the comic theme is often associated with younger children who may be more likely to play the game. Mansion of madness is more horror themed and is suitable for younger children. It is important for you to know the content of the game before deciding which is best for you to buy.
Are the strategy elements simple or complex? Strategy elements could be about battle strategy if you are in combat with an opposing individual or team. A strategy could also be about players as a group deciding how best to tackle a certain mission. It can either be a combat strategy or cooperative(team) strategy.
Will you play it again
Replay-ability is a common term in the gaming world. Games that have an ongoing narrative and show character development each time you play have a higher chance of being played again, for example, Gloomhaven.
How long do you want to be playing the game? Some people love short games while others love longer games. Minimum time for a board game should be 45 to 60 minutes long. Some games, for example, Runewars, can last up to 4 hours. Know what your suitable game duration is before you can commit to a specific game.
Who is the designer of the components? For example, Ninja Turtles have a high-quality design, which means that the quality of miniatures sculptures is great. Many RPG board games contain miniature models. Some people like having great quality sculptures in order to enhance their gaming experiences. Make sure to check out the designer before purchasing if you want to avoid purchasing tame plastic.
Does the game come with any add-ons? Some games have offers that come with in-store vouchers, pens etc. check the purchasing specs for a game for any add-ons.
Tips to create your own RPG board game
Board games have become popular over the past decade in the game industry. Board games share the same ideas as video games, but their development comes with different challenges.
If you are looking to create your own RPG board game, the following tips will help you:
The first thing you need to do is to come up with an idea. You can do this by adding or removing a major element from a game that you like playing or one that inspires you. Also, have a theme from the real world or technique to help you get started. This will make you view the game from a different perspective.
Secondly, you need to give some flesh to your idea. Once you have chosen a theme for your game, you need to understand what it is all about and how one can play it. Write down on paper any ideas that you can think about the game. You can ask yourself a few questions to help you such as, how many players are involved? How long is the game? How the players make their choices? How can a player win? How can a player interact with others? You may not know the answers yet but it will help you get started.
The next step after understanding the game is to develop its content such as the rules, and pieces for abstract games like chess, and scripts, actors or directors for games with heavy content like movie games. Whichever your game of choice, always understand the type of content and how much of it you need.
Next, you need to simplify your content much further so that it can be easily understood by the players.
Now, come up with a list of all the possible interactions of your game. You will use the list to make the elements of the game. This includes coming up with the rules for the game or even how some cards work.
The next stage is to build and design your prototype. Remember it doesn’t have to be a perfect one since it takes time to actually build a perfect product.
When you have your prototype ready, you need to decide how people are going to get it, is it physically or digitally?
Play-testing is the next crucial stage for developing a game. This is seeing how the game is being played. If you have a team of developers, you can play-test the game together and see if it actually works. If it is possible you can record the play-testing sessions so that you can use it as a reference when improving the game.
Ask for feedback about the game from those that have played the prototype, to be able to improve the product.
The next stage is to finish and release your game. Play-testing may take a while, but eventually, you will finalize your rules, designs and layouts of the game.
Now you need to do personal print runs so you can actually sell the game through a business or a personal website. Another option is getting a publisher who can release the game for you on their websites.
The following video gives tips on how to write board game rules.
To help you decide on which game will be best for you and your playing group, here are some of the most frequently asked questions, answered.
Hopefully, this article has given you all the information that you need to know before purchasing the best RPG board game to suit your playing needs.
Our verdict on the top three RPG board games currently available to purchase are:
Gloomhaven finishes top in our ranking because of its detailed content and that it is ideal for families to play. Having board games that support family social time is a really crucial element to a successful RPG board game.
Dark Souls: The Board Game comes second in our ranking because of the sheer variety of challenges available to players as well as its ability to be played individually.
When picking the best RPG board game to suit your playing needs, you should take time to consult our buying guide to make sure you do not waste money on a game that will not bring any enjoyment. Board games are for having fun after all!