Tabletop RPGs provide some of the most memorable experiences you can have at the table, whether it's cheering at a clutch dice roll, gasping after a dramatic payoff or laughing at the charming antics of Tim the Goblin. But tabletop RPGs require a substantial time commitment, a dedicated game master and proper planetary alignment for everyone's schedules.
Thankfully there are an ever-increasing amount of RPG board games aiming to recreate different parts of the roleplaying experience. Legacy games mimic ongoing campaigns played over the course of multiple sessions, offering choices and decisions that permanently affect the world. Dungeon-crawlers are all about battling monsters and grabbing loot using cards, dice and/or tactical battle maps. Storytelling games provide a chance to develop characters, roleplay and ultimately drive the narrative.
Best RPG board games
- Gloomhaven: Level up, unlock and retire multiple unique fantasy heroes in an epic legacy campaign with over 90 tactical scenarios.
- Mage Knight: Journey across a randomly-generated land battling monsters, hiring mercenaries and building your deck in co-op, competitive and solo gameplay modes.
- Betrayal Legacy: The classic haunted house exploration game is given the legacy treatment, creating a multi-horror campaign that spans generations.
- Stuffed Fables: Arm your party of stuffed animals with plastic gear and toy weapons as they fend off the nightmares plaguing one little girl.
- Near and Far: Travel across fantastical lands finding treasures, making choices and exploring your characters' stories.
- The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth: Form your own fellowship and journey through Tolkein's fantasy world with the help of a companion app.
- One Deck Dungeon: Battle monsters, roll dice and unlock new abilities as you delve deeper toward a big boss encounter in this compact dungeon-crawler.
- >D&D Adventure System board games: Encompassing several different games and themes, the D&D Adventure games transform the classic tabletop RPG into a classic dungeon-crawl of random monsters and events.
- Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Build your deck of equipment, spells and allies as you take on classic monsters and villains from the RPG in a highly expandable card game.
- Roll Player: Draft dice to create the perfect version of your character's unique combination of race, class, background and alignment.
These games might not fully replace your favourite tabletop RPG any time soon, but they should slate the thirstiest of dragon-slayers.
The acclaimed RPG board game packs an epic campaign into a hefty box
There's a reason Gloomhaven remains at the coveted top spot on BoardGameGeek's rankings years after its release: it's that damn good. The infamously gigantic box features a scenario book with 95 different scenarios, 17 character classes and over 30 monsters, not including bosses.
One to four players create their characters, build their deck of abilities and purchase equipment. Between scenarios players draw from event decks to make choices that can provide boons, penalties or unlock new content, including new characters and scenarios.
Encounters feature tactical combat on hex-grid maps, with monsters governed by their own deck of action cards. While most tabletop RPGs rely on dice rolls, Gloomhaven draws from strategic Eurogames to create a more balanced, tactical experience using cards instead of dice.
Gloomhaven is designed to be played over dozens of sessions as characters complete their personal quests and retire, with players unlocking new characters to continue the campaign. It may be the biggest and most expensive game on this list, but you're getting dozens if not hundreds of hours of satisfying RPG goodness.
2. Mage Knight
Epic exploration whether you're with friends or by yourself
Dungeon crawls are typically the most used element for RPG-like board games, but Mage Knight boldly scoffs at delving into a single dungeon. Players’ spell-slinging heroes are tasked with journeying across an entire overworld filled with multiple towns, dungeons and monsters in a single epic game that often lasts longer than many tabletop RPG sessions.
Like Gloomhaven, Mage Knight favours cards over dice rolls. It's a deckbuilder, with new spells and abilities added to a growing list of cards, while skills and hired mercenaries act as useful sidebars. A single game consists of multiple days and nights, allowing players to cycle through their deck to maximise each turn of exploring, recruiting and battling.
The world is randomly-generated as players explore each tile, uncovering spell circles, mage towers and ancient ruins, with the ultimate goal of sieging an entire city of baddies. Mage Knight includes both cooperative and competitive modes - a rarity in RPGs - though ironically it's best known as a stellar solo game due to lengthy turns and advanced tactical planning. Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition, released in 2018, includes all three expansions, making it a good place to jump in.
3. Betrayal Legacy
The classic horror adventure game is given the campaign treatment
Betrayal at House on the Hill remains one of the best horror and emergent storytelling games ever made, with its unique mid-game haunts shifting the cooperative exploration of a haunted mansion into a full-blown terrorscape, often with one player becoming a surprise villain.
Betrayal Legacy mixes the memorable gameplay of the original with designer Rob Daviau's explosively popular legacy system, creating a multi-session horror campaign. Like other legacy games, Betrayal Legacy includes specific instructions on which cards remain closed until unlocked - and occasionally destroyed.
Instead of playing as a single character, players choose a family. Betrayal Legacy takes place over the course of several decades and generations, with family members becoming older or passing on their deadly curiosity (and acquired heirlooms) to their descendants. Nothing like a little generational trauma to bring people together in a haunted house.
4. Stuffed Fables
Who needs wizards and warriors when we have stalwart stuffies?
Remember the scene in Toy Story where Buzz and Woody find themselves in the twisted neighbour kid's room of deformed toys? In Toy Story they end up making friends, but in Stuffed Fables players prepare for battle.
Stuffed Fables is a uniquely kid-friendly RPG board game starring stuffed animals as heroes protecting a young girl from childhood nightmares. The theme is drenched in charming components and ideas, including using stuffing as hit points and buttons as currency to purchase equipment, such as wooden spoons, toy blocks and rubber bands, alongside stalwart heroes like Lumpy the elephant and Flops the bunny.
The campaign is made up of multiple sessions using the spiral-bound adventure book, which contains the grid maps and immersive stories. Players draw five dice from a bag, with the colour of each die indicating what kind of action can be performed, such as melee attacks, healing or a search.
The dice-based gameplay is intuitive enough for kids to understand and equally enjoyable for adults, making Stuffed Fables a rare treat for gaming families looking for a meatier (fluffier?) campaign.
5. Near and Far
An RPG that emphasises storytelling and exploration in a beautiful spiral-bound book
Near and Far is the follow-up to RPG board game Above and Below by designer and artist Ryan Lakaut. Near and Far is played with a spiral-bound map book featuring 11 different lands and a story book with dozens of vignettes.
Near and Far is one of the few RPG-like games to eliminate traditional combat and dungeon-crawling in favour of exploring each land, earning resources and experiencing its many well-written stories. Games can be played as one-off adventures in Arcade mode, or as part of a larger story in either Campaign or Character mode.
Campaign mode features 10 sessions, with players unlocking new abilities as they complete stories, find treasure and place their camps in the world. Character mode allows players to dive further into the lovely character designs, following a specific set of stories and paths for each character over a handful of sessions. Near and Far is a uniquely story-focused game that should not be missed by anyone who likes the "RP" in RPG.
6. The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth
Tolkien's beloved heroes join forces once again, armed with a helpful companion app
Journeys in Middle-earth is the next evolutionary adventure game from Fantasy Flight Games, following in the wake of Mansion of Madness and Descent: Journeys in the Dark. For RPG-like board games, it doesn't get much more classically-themed than Tolkien's epic fantasy series.
In Journeys in Middle-earth players form an adventuring party with familiar heroes like Aragorn, Bilbo and Legolas, along with some newcomers. Players build their decks to balance the amount of successes possible to draw during tests with the abilities they want for the round - cards cannot be used for both. The fellowship travels across the world completing quests and battling monsters generated from the free, but required, companion app on mobile and PC.
The app also acts as each character's virtual character sheet, tracking acquired experience, equipment and skills as you progress through the campaign. The app cuts down tremendously on setup and tear-down between games, letting you spend more time adventuring in Middle-earth.
7. One Deck Dungeon
A dice-building dungeon-crawler that uses a single deck of cards
One Deck Dungeon manages to stuff a ton of game into a very tiny box. It's a dice-based dungeon-crawler for one or two players, using only a single deck of cards to generate the dungeon, the monsters and all the equipment and spells.
Every turn players flip over a dungeon card and face either a monster or a trap. Players roll a number of dice according to their character's stats, then place those dice on the monster card, losing health or time for any unfilled boxes. Defeated monsters can be used as equipment (granting additional dice), abilities or experience points.
The base game includes five different dungeon bosses that slightly re-theme each dungeon, along with five different heroes, all women. Games can be played separately or as part of an overarching campaign as you unlock new talents to survive the more challenging dungeons and bosses. With its small box and relatively quick playing time, One Deck Dungeon is the perfect lunch-hour dungeon crawl.
8. D&D Adventure System board games
The tabletop RPG’s adventures take on a new form
The D&D Adventure System board games have been around longer than the latest edition of D&D, dating back to the Fourth Edition rules that they're based on. Six different games have been released to date, with the latter half based on different storylines and campaign books from Dungeons & Dragons 5E, such as Tomb of Annihilation and Dungeon of the Mad Mage.
While each of the D&D Adventure System games vary in theme, locations and monsters, the core gameplay remains the same: players choose a D&D character and adventure through a dungeon by searching rooms and placing tiles. Random events include monster spawns, traps and treasures. The later releases provide campaign modes for levelling up characters and progressing through multiple scenarios.
The D&D adventure games are popular among the tabletop D&D crowd as they provide a ton of miniatures and map tiles for a relatively low cost. The games themselves can be a lot of fun if you're looking something a bit more hacky and slashy, and serve as solid introductions into the classic dungeon-crawling themes that anchor so many tabletop D&D games.
9. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game
A deckbuilding RPG that's entirely card-based, set in the fantasy universe
If the D&D Adventure System games distills tabletop D&D into a dungeon-crawling board game, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game transforms the Pathfinder RPG into a dungeon-crawling card game.
Players choose one of several pre-generated characters and build their personal decks according to their character sheet before selecting an adventure, which spans multiple scenarios.
Each scenario features a number of locations depending on the number of players, and each location has its own deck of loot and monsters. Players take turns exploring locations, drawing cards and resolving challenges by playing cards and rolling dice.
Pathfinder maker Paizo continues to release new expansions for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game every year, adding additional campaigns, characters and equipment. The publisher recently released an all-new core set that includes 12 characters and over 400 cards, making it the perfect entry point.
10. Roll Player
Roll and draft to design the perfect version of your RPG character
We've got RPG board games that simulate roleplaying, combat, exploration and character progression, but what if we just wanted to make some fun characters? Roll Player takes the first step you make in every RPG - character creation - and makes it the entire game.
Roll Player is a dice-drafting game in which players fill out their character board to maximise their starting attributes. Not every character is equal; your goals for each stat depend on your class, race, alignment and background. A fighter will gain extra points for having a higher strength, while bards are all about that charisma.
While planning for each of the three dice slots for all six attributes with different numbers and colours, you'll also be fighting over starting skills and equipment that provide new abilities and goals, such as collecting a certain armour set or gaining bonus points for particularly low stats. Just be aware that not every winning character in Roll Player would fare well in an actual tabletop RPG - as my sociopathic, reckless, raised-by-wolves monk can attest.