Are you looking for a board game which would offer you a D&D experience? That’s great, as you’ll find some amazing board games like D&D in this article.
D&D is one of the greatest games ever made. The stories and memories you create while playing are hard to find anywhere else. Many developers have tried to recreate this experience in the form of board games, but equals are rare. For one reason or another, games with typically more restrictive rules tend to fall short of D&D’s freedom.
Some games, however, manage to just hit that mark. They adapt the best elements of D&D into a fresh new shell, bringing variety into your board game nights. The following is a list of the five best board games if you can’t get enough of D&D.
Overview: 5 Board Games You’ll Like if You Like D&D
Here’s a quick overview of the games we’ll talk about:
|#1||Betrayal at House on the Hill||horror-fueled, half-cooperative, half-competitive jaunt in a haunted house|
|#2||Tales of the Arabian Nights||grand adventure in a classic story-driven world|
|#3||Return to Dark Tower||cooperative, party-like battle against great foes|
|#4||Agents of SMERSH||game of spies, sabotage, and subterfuge|
|#5||Boss Monster||simple, humorous rendition on classic board games|
Elements of D&D in Board Games
In order to find the best D&D-esque board games, you must first determine which D&D element you like the most. There are certain things players value that make D&D what it is. These are the things you tend to take into consideration in evaluating games from a D&D perspective.
D&D allows for immense freedom in decision-making. Players can do basically whatever they want, which means they have direct impact on the direction of the story. This makes players feel like they are involved in the narrative, as opposed to observers or casual participators. As a result the story has more meaning and impact. This also removes many of the restrictions on players’ actions due to strict rules; the story develops organically through play.
By the very nature of board games, this is a difficult aspect to emulate. Board games typically have stricter rules in order to have a clear flow of gameplay. Each game is expected to last X minutes, once players reach X goal through X means. Board games have to provide players with their options. In D&D, only creativity limits players’ options. Still, some games manage to achieve the best of both worlds.
Creating Characters and Role-Playing
Meaningful connections to the characters in the game are one of the most important aspects of D&D. The character creation process, coupled with the longevity of said characters, is often lost in the translation to board games. Some board games allow you to select characters, while others allow you some measure of creation. Depending on execution these can be great substitutes, especially as they speed up the set-up process.
The ability to embody the characters you play is another attractive aspect of D&D. Again, it makes you an involved actor as opposed to a passive observer to the game’s events. It also allows you to engage with other players and characters in more meaningful ways. Many games lack this due to firm restrictions, but some games manage to include roleplay in an effective way.
The gameplay of D&D is heavily focused on a progressing series of quests. While board games often have clear-cut goals and methods of progression, players love something about receiving quests that come from their decision-making, and that lead to future quests and goals.
Having varying quests throughout gameplay, especially when different players have different goals, leads to interesting dynamics within the group.
Some board games achieve this well by providing players with different win conditions – sometimes opposing ones. Quest-based gameplay, as opposed to generic goals such as “become capitalism” in Monopoly, makes games far more interesting and exciting. Quests also tend to increase the replayability of board games, as players often get different goals each time.
Randomness and Variety
Players praise Dungeons and Dragons for its freedom of choice and player-determined outcomes, but it doesn’t always go to plan. One important aspect of the game is the threat of failure, often determined randomly or semi-randomly. Board games achieve this through dice or cards.
Randomness helps increase the stakes of the game, the unpredictability, and the replayability. While it’s a critical aspect of many if not most board games, some do it better than others.
These are some of the most important aspects of D&D. Board games like D&D need to emulate these qualities in their own way in order to be successful. Thankfully, some games do an excellent job of incorporating these features into gameplay.
#5 Boss Monster
Boss Monster is a fun and unique card game that can scratch that D&D itch in a humorous way. It takes the typical fantasy RPG-style tropes and turns them on their head in a backwards, villainous quest.
Your objective, as the boss monster, is to build a deadly dungeon, lure in heroes with the promise of treasure, and take their souls. You compete against other boss monsters to design the best dungeon. You build traps to defeat the most heroes, and sometimes aid other heroes in getting rid of your opposition.
While it’s very different from D&D in gameplay style, it’s going to be a lovable choice for D&D-lovers. It references many typical D&D tropes in a humorous way. Heroes come in the form of four classic archetypes:
They get stronger as the game progresses. Some classic events, like bottomless pits and trapped treasure chests, will bring back memories of any RPG veteran’s favorite moments.
Design Your Own Head-Canon
The game’s design itself features many of the great qualities of D&D. Most cards come with flavor text that allow you to develop your own head-canon for the game’s events. The game also provides you with a series of quests, of a sort. It requires you to stock different types of treasure to lure in heroes, create better obstacles, and defeat your opponents.
The randomness aspect is covered by the three different decks you draw from during gameplay, as well as the randomly-chosen boss at the beginning of the game. Finally, the game allows you to approach victory with a high degree of freedom. You can choose to focus on spells, on traps, or monsters, and you can design your dungeon with high synergy despite simple mechanics.
Boss monster is a great choice if you’re looking for a short, fun, light game to scratch that D&D itch while waiting for all the players to show up, or between weekly sessions. You can purchase it here.
#4 Agents of SMERSH
Imagine an RPG game set in a cold-war era, James Bond-adjacent story. This is Agents of SMERSH, where players play as UN Secret Service spies, striving to survive against SMERSH, Russia’s anti-spy agency. Players travel around the world, completing assignments and reacting to events that occur. Players can help or hinder each other, granting them a wide range of freedom in achieving their aims. They respond on a reaction matrix which guides players to a conclusion for the event. The variance induced by both random cards, dice, and player responses adds a great deal of replayability to the game.
You choose between a number of characters to whom you can append your own personality and backstory. With several traits – such as attractiveness – and a plethora of gadgets, there is no end to thematic character customization.
The game is filled with pop-culture and James Bond-esque references. It’s a far cry from the more serious fantasy world of D&D and other tabletop RPGs, but serves to be a nice break from the genre while retaining many of the most enjoyable aspects of the gameplay.
#3 Return to Dark Tower
Return to Dark Tower is the soon-to-be-released reboot of the classic Dark Tower board game. Having launched the game on Kickstarter, Restoration Games is currently in the fulfillment phase. It should soon be available in game stores.
In both the classic and rebooted versions, players explore the world around the looming, central Tower, completing quests while fighting to fulfill their ultimate objective: to conquer the Tower. There are both competitive and cooperative versions. In each, players have to combat a great enemy who resides in the tower. As the game progresses, your enemy grows stronger, your tasks more difficult.
The game grants you a great variety of decision-making points, allowing you to choose how to proceed. The accompanying app allows for a great amount of variation while making it easy to follow the story points. There is a ton of replayability in the various heroes, enemies, objectives, events, and players to choose from. The characters themselves are mere shells to mold with personality as you see fit.
Not only does Dark Tower resemble D&D in the epic foes players must conquer and the classic fantasy setting, but it very much plays like it. The companion app acts like an autonomous dungeon master, allowing everyone at the table to play the game as an active character. These characters have a scant amount of flavor attached to them, so you can play them as you see fit and act them out based on your created personalities.
While Return to Dark Tower is a board game unlike tabletop RPGs such as D&D, it shares enough similarities to be a great alternative. The huge Tower in the center of the board, coupled with the miniatures and the consistent narratives throughout make it a great game to play between weekly games and one you’ll always be excited to bring out to awe new guests.
#2 Tales of the Arabian Nights
Tales of the Arabian Nights is similar to Agents of SMERSH in many ways. As classic figures from the era of the 1,001 Nights, Tales helps you explore wondrous lands, powerful artifacts, fantastic creatures, and dangerous magics.
You craft a story while competing with other players, completing quests and attempting to fulfil your Destiny. While it gives you a plethora of objectives, you have tremendous freedom in which you wish to complete and how you wish to complete them. The game’s events present a lot of narrative value, as there is a ton of variety in both cards and players’ reactions. Because players respond on a matrix, the game allows you to choose how to respond but keeps the game organized and flowing.
You choose from several set characters. While they each have backstory attached due to their real-world histories, it’s easy to eschew that and play your character as you please. There is also a measure of customization, in that you can choose to play as male or female, and customize your abilities, and of course choose how to play your character.
Drawing Cards, Rolling Dice
Finally, the game involves both drawing random cards from decks and rolling dice, meaning nothing is ever pre-determined. The feature that causes the most variance in the game, however, is simply the presence of other players: especially with a large group, it’s impossible to predict how other players will react and how that will alter the game’s trajectory.
It’s a great example of a D&D-adjacent game featuring both cooperation and competition, and is one you’ll be happy to pick up.
#1 Betrayal at House on the Hill
Betrayal at House on the Hill is perhaps one of the best games like D&D out there. The gameplay of Betrayal allows for a ton of freedom in player decision-making: the exploration aspect of the game allows you to choose where you want to go, respond to the House as it develops, and react to events in any way you please.
When the Haunt begins, you’re given a quest-like objective. You may work as a team or against the “party”, as in D&D, in order to achieve this goal, but you have a lot of freedom in how you wish to do so.
While you don’t get to create characters per se, you’re given a choice between several character options that have very basic information – allowing you to append your own backstory and personality. Lastly, randomness is infused into the very fabric of the game: the House generates randomly, events happen in a random order, and a random Haunt occurs each game. Event outcomes are also often generated with a random die roll, as are combat outcomes.
Not a Clone
Betrayal at House on the Hill is its own unique game, certainly not a “D&D-clone”. Regardless, it’s an incredible option for those who love D&D because of how naturally it matches most of D&D’s greatest features.
It’s a game any avid D&D player should check out; it can be a great substitute for the weekly game when somebody can’t make it or when you want to have a break from your year-long campaign.
You can find my in-depth Betrayal at House on the Hill review here.
Many board games attempt to emulate the best parts of D&D. While none are quite the same, and many miss the mark, the best D&D alternatives find ways to adapt the most attractive part of the popular RPG while applying their own unique spin on the genre.
When deciding which game is for you, try to consider which aspects of D&D are the most meaningful to you and compare that with the qualities of the games above.
If you want more DND articles, maybe you’ll like some of the following ones:
Good luck exploring the world of role-playing board games, and as always, try to support your local game store when purchasing new games! If they don’t have what you’re looking for in stock, they can often order it in for you.