The Skyrim board game is disappointingly faithful to a fault - preview
Dunmer and dusted.
Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the fifth mainline installment in one of the most popular RPG video game franchises in existence. This month also happens to mark the launch of the Gamefound crowdfunding campaign for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Adventure Game, a tabletop adaptation of the from Modiphius - the publisher responsible for other tabletop games based on Bethesda properties, including skirmish miniature games The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms and Fallout: Wasteland Warfare.
A demo of the upcoming board game is currently available to play for free on Tabletop Simulator - a video game that enables players to interact with dice, cards and other tabletop components digitally - which myself and Wheels were recently guided through by Chris Birch, co-founder of Modiphius. It’s almost exactly what you’d expect from a completely faithful tabletop adaptation of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
The game’s board is a recreation of the map found in the original video game, with each section of the board containing the appropriate cities and a collection of rural areas for players to explore, such as wildernesses, caves and Dwemer ruins. Playable characters include species such as Dunmer, Khajiit, Altmer, Nord and Imperial - with other species contained in an expansion based on the Dawnguard campaign for the video game - which all start off with skills and equipment themed around various character builds that players of Skyrim will often favour, such as the sneaky melee attacker or dedicated spellcaster.
The narrative clicks together in a way that echoes the original Skyrim, which is both a compliment and a criticism.
The main way that players interact with the game is through pursuing quest lines that are triggered by players drawing campaign cards at the beginning of the game. This aspect of Skyrim: Adventure Game is actually quite impressive, as quest lines are randomly assigned to players - as if their character has stumbled across this storyline in their own unique way - before smoothly leading from one quest into the next via a kind of choose-your-own-adventure-style system.
Completing quests requires players to be in the right location with the right dice results, which can be potentially improved if characters have certain skills, otherwise players can fail them - which still advances that quest line, but without the rewards. Regardless of how well players roll, they’ll be able to choose from one of two different ways of proceeding the current plotline, which will have them drawing specifically numbered cards that will take them elsewhere on the board. All these cards feature a narrative that clicks together in a way that very much echoes the kind of experience a player would have with the original Skyrim, which is both a compliment and a criticism.
Whilst the storyline was undeniably fun, there isn’t much there to draw players in besides novelty and nostalgia.
I’ve always thought that storylines in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are incredibly shallow, designed to fit with whatever choices players decide to make. The Skyrim: Adventure Game follows this approach to narrative to the letter, offering players little tidbits of story that feature fantasy-sounding names that mean almost nothing outside of the context of the game. Whilst it was undeniably fun to learn about how both my and Wheels’ characters were each drawn into a storyline revolving around a plot against the remaining members of a secret society called The Blades, ultimately there isn’t much there to draw players in besides novelty and nostalgia.
The very clear draw of the Skyrim: Adventure Game, apart from the licence, is in how players can develop their characters throughout their playthrough. There won’t be any Dragonborn on the board - the first campaign takes place 25 years before the original video game, whilst the next happens concurrently with those events but not directly part of them - but players will be able to choose what kind of character they want to cultivate, regardless of which starting species they begin with. Players can certainly lean into the advantages their species have, which are unfortunately a continuation of reductive ideas that many RPG-inspired board games have around race, but they’re not restricted to them.
Players are not restricted to certain paths; instead, they are free to develop their characters however they wish.
Gathering experience can open up new skills for player characters - to help them in specific situations - whilst gaining new equipment and spells can grant fresh ways for characters to engage with combat, quests and other aspects of the game. Players are not restricted to certain paths; instead, they are free to develop their characters however they wish. This ensures that the Skyrim board game stays true to the original video game in the best way possible, as character creation and building in Skyrim has undoubtedly always been its strongest aspect.
Exploration, one of the most essential elements of the video game, is also included in the Skyrim: Adventure Game, with players free to travel wherever they want to on the board. Cities feature specific quests that are similar to the kind of side-quests found in the video game, which unfortunately means that they are once again lacking in the narrative department. Should players decide to tackle the multiple dungeons featured on the board, then they’ll find a gauntlet of enemies to fight and loot from.
Rather than expanding upon the foundation that Skyrim built, the board game feels like it’s trying to recapture the original video game.
Dungeons are also where the majority of the player interactions take place, with characters able to tackle them together to share the load and the loot. It is disappointing that this is the only way that players can really interact with one another, besides getting into the odd fight or two, as this could have been the main way that the Skyrim: Adventure Game deviated from the video game.
This lack of innovation and seeming unwillingness to take advantage of the tabletop makes the Skyrim: Adventure Game a mostly uninspiring experience to play. It is undeniably a faithful adaptation of the original video game, but to a fault. Rather than expanding upon the foundation that Skyrim built back in 2011, the Skyrim: Adventure Game feels like it’s trying to recapture the original video game into a format that has already surpassed it in RPG-inspired dungeon-crawler games such as Gloomhaven and Descent: Legends of the Dark. I wish that the Skyrim board game had thought to look around at its tabletop contemporaries, rather than staring moon-eyed at a 10-year-old video game.
The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim: Adventure Game is on Gamefound until December 5th.