Board games definitely have a reputation for being a little… slow. The terms ‘chess-like’, ‘strategy’ and ‘Eurogame’ don’t exactly conjure exciting images of heart-pounding action, death-defying stunts and breathless tension.
Exciting board games
But it might surprise you to learn that tabletop games aren’t just slow-paced, plodding, strategic affairs anymore. For every grey-and-beige historical wargame that takes five hours to play, there’s a balls-to-the-wall, rip-roaring, pulse-racing, exciting board game experience out there too.
This selection of some of the most exciting board games is in service to those thrillseekers and adrenaline junkies out there, looking for the next rousing gaming night shared with friends full of frantic shouting and energetic debates.
1. Escape: The Curse of the Temple
Play out your own Indiana Jones movie in this thrilling board game with its own soundtrack
What if the whole “dramatically escaping the temple after pilfering the priceless treasure” bit of Indiana Jones was the entire movie? What if that Hollywood rule of “the hero always comes out on top in the end” didn’t apply? Escape: Curse of the Temple puts you in a high-stakes race against the clock as you and your fellow thieves - I mean, archeologists - try to scarper from the ancient temple before time runs out and the doors close for good, leaving you all to perish in the dark, dusty depths below.
To make it out, you’ll need to work as a team, searching through winding tunnels and narrowly avoiding traps to activate the mysterious green gems that will help you to break free from the temple’s cruel grasp. Once you’ve found enough to get you out, you’ll also need to locate the exit and leave as a team before your time is up.
Finding those gems will be tricky, as not only does the temple you’re exploring start as a pile of square tiles that you’ll have to uncover as the game goes on, but you’ll also be rolling dice and looking for matching symbols to perform any of the actions in the game - whether that’s moving, exploring new tiles or trying to activate those tricksy crystals. You’ll need to roll and reroll your dice as fast as you physically can to find the right combination of symbols to perform whatever action you’re attempting.
To further complicate things, one of the faces on each of your dice bears an ominous black-and-white mask symbol which will lock that die when rolled, stopping you from using it until you manage to roll a gold mask symbol on one of your other dice to counteract it. These malicious, monochromatic mask symbols are an absolute nightmare for your chances at winning the game, forcing you to stop and roll until you can get rid of them. If you’re unlucky enough to roll a black-and-white mask on every single one of your dice, you’ll be locked in place shouting out for help from one of your fellow players - who will have to trapse all the way over to your position and gift you one of their own gold masks.
Every distraction further chips away at the time you have remaining to escape from the temple. Getting stuck at the wrong time could leave you behind, unable to break free. If even one of the players around the table is still in the temple when the time runs out then everyone loses. So, how much time do you have to complete all these tasks and get the heck out of there? Just 10 minutes!
Included in the Escape box is an audio CD with a 10-minute soundtrack to play during your game, full of audio cues and atmospheric, tension-filled foley. At times during the track you’ll hear a gong sound out, signalling that something bad is about to happen to anyone who doesn’t seek shelter. Once that gong has struck you’ll need to rush back to the tile you started the game on in the centre of the table and wait for the sound of doors slamming to signal the all-clear. If you didn’t make it in time and the doors slam shut with you on the wrong side? You’ll remove one of your 5 dice from play for the rest of the game. Ouch.
This gong will ring out three times before the end of the game, with the final slamming of the doors signalling that your time is up. If anyone around the table hasn’t escaped by the time they slam closed then it’s game over.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple is one of the most frantic and slapstick experiences you can have on a tabletop. You’ll find yourself desperately shouting for help as you find yourself stranded on the outskirts of the map, watching your friend hurry over to try and save you only to lock themselves out as well. It’s genius comedy and genuine heart-pounding tension in a fantastic real-time game.
If you’ve got the heart and stomach for it then Escape is an absolute must-buy. You can even find a Benny Hill version of the soundtrack on YouTube - if that doesn’t tip you over the edge then I don’t know what will.
2. Blood on the Clocktower
A modern successor to Werewolf that’s packed with exciting tension
Blood on the Clocktower is a social deduction game that has had quite the presence at most gaming conventions and board game cafes around the world for several years now, despite not actually being available to buy in stores yet.
If you ever noticed a circle of about 15 chairs at a convention, with a person in the centre holding a rather large tome, there's a good chance it was the team of Blood on the Clocktower publisher Pandemonium Institute weaving their storytelling magic for excited punters around the globe.
Much like other social deduction games, your roles throughout the game are secret, each with their own special abilities that can either aid or hinder your team to victory.
Set in the quiet town of Ravenswood Bluff, every player has a role to play - from the Washerwoman to the village Drunk to the Mayor - but there is also a demon among you. A demon who will kill one of your villagers every night unless you can catch them and put an end to their bloody tyranny.
Blood on the Clocktower introduces several game mechanics to make it stand out from the crowd, such as giving special importance to the person leading the game, known as the storyteller. As the storyteller, you are in possession of the grimoire, the special game box that doubles up as a kind of seating chart for all the players and their special roles in the game. With this information to hand, you are able to shape the game to make it as interesting and dramatic as you choose. What information or misinformation to give to players is up to you at the end of the day - their fate is in your hands.
As well as giving special importance to the moderator of the game, Blood on the Clocktower also allows for latecomers and people who are not sure they can stay an entire round to get involved through a special role called the Traveller that has its own special abilities, such as gifting extra votes to players, changing the seating chart, saving a life or just outright shooting someone who’s gotten on the wrong side of you. While everyone will know you to be the Traveller, they won’t know which team you are on - the storyteller will make this decision for you.
While player elimination is a regular occurence, as it is in many social deduction games, Blood on the Clocktower allows dead characters to remain an intricate part of the game by still being allowed to be involved in discussions. Eliminated players even get a vote to use once for the rest of the game, meaning getting the dead on your side can be vital to winning the game.
Having already had a successful Kickstarter campaign, Blood on the Clocktower is set to be available just in time for Christmas this year - so if you haven’t had a chance to catch a game of this at any of the many events it’s been at, you’ll hopefully get a chance soon.
Buy Blood on the Clocktower direct from publisher Pandemonium Institute.
3. House Flippers
Try to keep up with the market in this hectic property-trading game
Do you remember the heady days when it was possible to buy a house without selling your soul to some infernal creature? Well, if you don’t then House Flippers might seem a little far-fetched to you because you’re going to be buying a lot of houses.
Starting with a single sand timer each, you and your friends will be able to slowly generate grey cubes every time the sand runs out and you flip the timer. Those grey cubes are your starting point for the absolute mess that is about to unfold before you.
House Flippers is all about trading up, and swapping something crappy for something progressively better with each trade. You’ll start with that single grey cube and grab yourself an old rundown shack, which you can then trade up for a red or brown cube that you can spend on something a little more respectable.
Those respectable houses might give you a whole load of red or brown cubes that you can then swap for more and more and more until your single cube has turned into a sprawling retail empire.
The final colour of cube is yellow which is pretty useless apart from grabbing yourself the final type of card in the game: holiday packages. As with all capitalist endeavours, the ultimate goal of House Flippers is to make so much money that you never have to do it again. The first player to grab enough matching holiday packages at the top of the board will retire from their life as a house flipper to sun it up on some distant beach. It’s not clear what happens to the rest of the players - presumably they have to live through a global recession as the housing market inevitably crashes. Hurray!
House Flippers is a board game that plays at absolutely break-neck speed, with cards and cubes flying across the table as everyone rushes to grab the most lucrative houses on the board. With only nine piles of cards and up to four people playing at once you’ll inevitably end up going to grab cards that are immediately snatched up by someone else right before your eyes, sending your entire plan into ruin. That’s made even more likely by the fact that hidden among the cards are power-ups that allow you to grab new timers - which will generate even more cubes for you in different colours - and multipliers that will double one of your timers’ output.
House Flippers is loud, bombastic, cut-throat chaos that can see you fall from flying high to being left in the dust as someone grabs the one card you need to finish your set and jets off on holiday, leaving you scrambling for other options. So grab your white paint and leave your morals at the door because it’s time to slightly fix up some houses and sell them for way more than they’re worth. Just try not to accidentally smack your arms against each other as you all flail all over the place.
4. Stay Cool
Multitask in this exciting trivia game like no other
READY, GO! WHAT’S A FLAT FLOATING STRUCTURE WITH NO WALLS? SORT THE DIGITS IN 5,309 IN ORDER. DON’T FORGET TO COUNT TO 30. WHAT DOES CLAUSTROPHOBIC MEAN? SLAP THE TABLE AND CLAP YOUR HANDS. WHAT WORD IS LONGEST: GIRAFFE, CROCODILE, LION OR HIPPOPOTAMUS? DON’T PANIC, STAY COOL!
Phew. Stay Cool is a hectic party game about doing everything at once. You might remember it from an especially frantic Let’s Play we did on the YouTube channel last year.
Stay Cool challenges players to multitask against the clock, answering two different sets of questions in two different ways at the same time. If that doesn’t sound tricky enough, you then have to try and keep track of the time in later rounds. Think you can do all that and stay cool? Good luck - this is the most intense quiz game you’ll ever play.
One set of questions have to be answered using letter dice in front of you, which you use to spell out the word. The other set of questions have to be answered out loud. At the end of each two-minute round, your separate scores for each set of questions are multiplied together - meaning if you let one set slip, your score will suffer.
That’s hard enough, but in the second round you’ll have to flip the sand timer every 30 seconds or instantly end your chance to score more points. In the extremely stressful third round, you’ll have to do the same thing - except you can’t see the sand timer, so you’ll have to count to 30 while also answering two sets of questions in two different ways. Told you it was tough!
Stay Cool has become a favourite of the Dicebreaker team for a good reason. It’s a firework of excitement packed into only a couple of minutes. It’s also a quiz game that doesn’t care how good you are at trivia - only how well you can do three things at once. The individual questions and instructions are easy, but together they’re a brain-melting cocktail. But they’re just as difficult for everyone who plays, making it fun rather than frustrating as you forget what a raft is called or struggle to remember the alphabet.
If you like your games to feel like explosive bursts of energy around a table, look no further than Stay Cool - it definitely won’t keep you cool, but you’ll come away with a massive smile on your face all the same.
Air hockey meets table football meets magnets in your new favourite tabletop sport
What do you get if you cross air hockey, table football and some pretty powerful magnets? The answer is “one hell of a time”.
Klask is the brainchild of Danish carpenter Mikkel Bertelsen, who struck upon the idea one day in his garden while hungover. Yes, really - how’s that for making the rest of us look bad.
The game is as simple as its name, which means ‘smack’ in Danish. Each player controls a plastic that’s a bit like an air hockey puck, except you control it from under the table using a magnet. You’re trying to knock a tiny ball into your opponent’s goal, which is a hole cut into the pitch. Score enough times and you win - it’s dead easy.
Like table football or air hockey, being simple doesn’t make Klask boring. In fact, it’s one of the most exciting games you’ll ever play as the ball shoots between halves, you accidentally propel your magnetic piece at your opponent or - the ultimate embarrassment - you get stuck in your own hole and concede a point. The sudden SMACK as you snap into the pit during a frantic defence is up there with the KLONK of an air hockey puck sliding into a goal or the PING of a football off a goalpost - as thrilling for the person who gains as it is gutting for the loser.
Making things even more exciting are three smaller magnets placed along the halfway line, which will stick to your puck if you slide too close. Get two stuck to you and you’ll hand your opponent another point, but you can also try to send the pieces flying at your rival with a well-aimed shot, leading to some cheeky strategies for winning outside of just rocketing the ball around.
Klask is, to put it simply, bloody brilliant. It’s an instant crowd pleaser, the perfect thing to break out at a party or to set up on a bench in a pub garden. (It helps that you can learn how to play in about 10 seconds - or four pints in.) As well as being huge fun, Klask’s miniature wooden table is a fraction of the size of something like a table football or air hockey table, meaning you can take it with you on the go too. It’s also gorgeous.
Klask is one of those games that feels like a proper modern classic that you’ll always want to introduce to someone new - or play with those who’ve already been enlightened. It’s fast, frantic and exciting as they come.