Video game fans have recently ventured into two enormous open worlds in the form of Horizon: Zero Dawn sequel Horizon: Forbidden West and the latest punishing adventure from the makers of Dark Souls, Elden Ring.
Whether you’ve been taking down robotic animals as Aloy or touching grace as a Tarnished, the sheer breadth of Horizon and Elden Ring’s vast fantasy worlds means you might occasionally want to step away for a bit - say, if you’ve just died for the dozenth time to Margit, The Fell Omen - and crack out a board game with friends to cool down.
While Horizon: Zero Dawn and Dark Souls have both come to the tabletop as board games, their more recent sequels are yet to be translated into cardboard - meaning fans will need to wait for a direct adaptation of either game for a truly faithful tabletop experience.
Luckily, if you’re simply hankering for a sprawling world that lets you explore at your own pace without staring at a screen, there are a number of open-world board games that offer a sandbox for players to experiment in.
Whether it’s an entire galaxy full of planets to traverse, the sprawling plains of the Wild West or an island chock-full of mysterious secrets to discover, these open-world board games pack sprawling lands and hours of exploration into a cardboard box.
Red Dead Redemption: The Board Game in all but name
As close as board games have come to the epic western hijinks of Red Dead Redemption, Western Legends saddles up players in a Wild West they can explore as they like.
Characters take control of real-life cowpokes - from Bass Reeves and Billy the Kid to Annie Oakley - at the start of their rise to fame (or infamy). The aim of the game is to make your name as the most famous name in the West, but it’s entirely up to the players how they go about going down in the history books.
Players are free to roam the board, indulging in whatever activity they feel like - it all counts towards raising their reputation by earning legendary points. You could be prospecting for gold one turn, playing poker in a saloon the next, then herding cattle across the plains.
Players can also choose whether they rise as a lawful bounty hunter or notorious outlaw, with the option to rustle cattle, duel with rival gunslingers or even rob banks. Players that rack up a bounty can be hunted down by opponents looking to cash in the reward on their head, while those who outrun the law can earn just as many points.
Like the best open-world video games, Western Legends’ ample freedom provides plenty of opportunity for memorable moments and emergent storytelling around the table, all in the space of a couple hours. If you’re looking for an entertaining evening rootin’ and tootin’, this is the open-world board game for you.
Xia: Legends of a Drift System
A space sandbox ripe for chaos
Forget open worlds - open universes is where it’s at. Xia: Legends of a Drift System sets players adrift in a vast cosmos, as they travel the stars and planets of a sci-fi galaxy in search of jobs.
Like Western Legends, players’ interstellar freelancers are in search of fame and fortune, but can go about becoming their own Commander Shepard however they like. The universe itself is revealed as players travel between tiles, revealing new planets - and potentially deadly asteroids - as they go, along with more opportunities to earn points. There’s the chance to peacefully trade goods between planets to work your way up the galactic ladder, or you might decide to steal and destroy as a pirate instead.
As well as pursuing any contracts they take on, players must manage their ship, which can be upgraded from the sci-fi equivalent of a Vauxhall Corsa to something built to zoom between the stars. Players can freely customise their vessel - represented on the table by pre-painted miniatures - with better engines, shields, a bigger cargo hold or powerful weaponry, allowing them to take on more dangerous jobs and deal with rival players.
Xia keeps its space sandbox highly entertaining with a good dose of luck, with players rolling a different die to determine their movement range depending on the size of their engine. Combat is also resolved using dice, as are potential threats while moving between tiles - with the risk to crash into asteroids, black holes and even a sun. (It’s okay, you respawn on the next turn.)
A tabletop Mass Effect that offers a galaxy of potential for players, Xia: Legends of a Drift System is an open-world board game you’ll want to venture back into time after time.
A complex, crunchy open-world simulation dressed in cartoon clothing
Don’t be fooled by its cartoony artwork - Feudum is a whopping, hugely complex board game that hews closer to the deep simulation of Crusader Kings than the whimsical entertainment of Adventure Time.
A medieval sandbox dressed in bright fantasy clothing, Feudum features a complicated mesh of interlocking systems that bring its world of fiefs, serfs and subjects to life in often overwhelming detail.
Players play action cards in pursuit of earning favour with the six guilds that make up Feudum’s clockwork kingdom, from merchants to religious figureheads. Gaining enough sway with a guild sees that player gain the ability to influence its actions, including the movement of resources between guilds and taking a cut of any money.
The staggering complexity of designer Mark Swanson’s various systems throws open the world for some more entertaining possibilities on top of its crunchy economic and political simulation. Players can throw feasts to help convince their drunken opponents to temporarily grant them access to a guild, while wine can also be used to satiate subjects in place of food reserves - but with the downside that the intoxicated pawns will be less effective in battle. Darker aspects include manipulating citizens - and their rulers - by deliberately withholding food.
The subterfuge and scheming at its core put Feudum in the realm of Game of Thrones’ depiction of devious rulers out to seize power at any cost. Its gameplay hews closer to the slow plotting of complex strategy games and historical simulations than the moment-to-moment action of Elden Ring and Horizon, but the depth and complexity of its fantasy realm brings to mind the greatest open-world settings. If you’re willing to dive in at the deep end, Feudum has more than enough to offer.
The 7th Continent
A huge adventure board game inspired by video game classics
Inspired by classic point-and-click adventure games as well as choose-your-own-adventure books, The 7th Continent is the ideal board game for fans of classic video games like Myst.
Players are set loose on the titular island in search of a cure to the curse that afflicts them, with no obvious path to their success - not unlike the epic quests faced by players in Dark Souls and Elden Ring. It’s up to them to explore the mysterious land around them, using their wits - and a bit of luck - to make it through.
The island is made up of a number of cards, each with places to discover and helpful items to acquire as players explore. Like a number of open-world video games, The 7th Continent includes a crafting system that lets players combine collected items to form new tools and other helpful objects. Some cards also include puzzles and mysteries to solve, while others present dangerous encounters and battles that players’ explorers must try and survive.
A single playthrough of The 7th Continent can take over a dozen hours, reflecting the scale of the open world created by its exploration system. The board game includes the ability to save your progress, just like a video game, while losing can mean a permanent Game Over and having to start again. Starting again doesn’t mean seeing the same events and locations again, though, with almost 2,000 different cards creating lots of replayability. Like hitting a tough boss in Elden Ring, you can simply head in another direction to see what you find, building up your chances of making it all the way to the end on the next run.
Enormous in scale and ambitious in its attempts to create a mysterious world for players to spend hour after hour exploring, The 7th Continent is open-world board gaming at its biggest - and best.
Star Wars: Outer Rim
Explore and remix a galaxy far, far away
All of the open-world board games mentioned so far have given players a brand new setting to explore. Star Wars: Outer Rim takes us back to the familiar galaxy far, far away seen in the movies, but takes it in an unexplored direction.
Outer Rim focuses on the scum and villainy at the furthest edges of the Star Wars universe, putting players in control of roguish smugglers like Han Solo and Lando Calrissian or bounty hunters such as Boba Fett. Except there’s no need to stick with the characters’ appearance in the films - it’s up to you whether BobaFett hangs up his blasters in favour of carting goods between planets, while Solo tracks down wanted bounties, dead or alive. Characters can also swap their iconic starships for another famous fighter from the Star Wars garage - although they’ll need to earn enough to buy it first, starting out in a relative rustbucket.
Whether they’re capturing targets or smuggling dangerous goods, the players will earn fame and credits by taking on missions and turning in quests picked up on their interplanetary travels. Event cards often involve self-contained story moments for players to discover, with the chance to influence the outcome through a decision or dice roll. Players could end up raising a Rebel base as Greedo, or go for broke in a local sabaac match as Jyn Erso.
Outer Rim puts a delightful spin on Star Wars’ well-trodden appearance in board games, letting players tell their own memorable stories using the characters and places they’re already familiar with. It’s a fun open-world board game by itself, but for fans of the movies it’s essential.