• Uncategorised
  • 0

The Best Fantasy-Themed Board Games

Classic fantasy adventures, strategy, alchemy, and more.

Fantasy settings are a wonderful fit for board games. There’s something about orcs, elves, and magic spells that translates perfectly to cards and cardboard. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the venn diagram of people drawn to wizards and people drawn to board games is basically a circle.

As you might expect, board game designers have caught on, and there are so many good fantasy-themed board games out there as a result. There are plenty of sword and sorcery adventures. But in the world of board games, fantasy can mean anything from imaginative intrigue to alchemical academia.

So, grab a sword and a spellbook and head into the unknown as we explore what “fantasy” meant to a slew of different designers — and the best board games that came out of it.

Descent 2nd EditionThe Best Fantasy-Themed Board Games

Let’s start with a classic piece of fantasy adventure.

Descent pits one player, the overlord, against the rest, each of whom controls a hero. At heart, this is a tactical combat game where players need to make smart choices in movement, positioning and use of powers to succeed. In Descent, though, each fight is a piece of a larger puzzle, with sessions linking together to form a campaign.

All the players grow in power and experience as the action moves toward the finale of a titanic confrontation. With a vast range of additional adventures and expansions, Descent is essential fantasy for gamers with time to burn.

AlchemistsAt the other end of the scale we have Alchemists, a game about publishing academic papers on potion-making. Powered by a companion app, players must gather and test ingredients to determine what magic effects each might have.

Fittingly, it’s a strange brew of mechanics, borrowing bits and pieces from other heavy strategy games. The foaming head, though, is the race to publish, pressuring players to invent wild – and often incorrect – theories and hoping no-one will debunk them. It’s part satire and part strategy but all evocative of an unusual and engaging corner of fantasy life.War of the RingNo fantasy list would be complete without some Tolkien.

It took a few false starts but in War of the Ring, tabletop has delivered what might be the ultimate gaming version of Middle-Earth. It’s a game of two halves: mighty armies clash across the face of Arda, while the fellowship races to dunk the One Ring into Mount Doom. By keeping two sets of distinct but linked mechanics, the game offers an epic scope without skimping on detail and character.

The adventures of Gimli and Merry are every bit as important as the battles over Gondor and Mordor.A Game of ThronesWhile we’re on the subject of fantasy literature, it’s no surprise to find there’s a fine Westeros-themed game too. The tight, corridor-shaped map and deterministic combat rules make it hard to gain resources without help or without taking them off another player. And that ensures the focus of the game is, like the books, on dirty tricks and double-dealing.

Yet this isn’t allowed to detract from strategy, or the portrayal of a rich and realistic fantasy world. There’s plenty of mechanical levers to pull, and too much player squabbling will unleash the Wildlings to pillage the whole kingdom.GloomhavenGloomhaven is the ur-adventure, a game that packs the whole role-playing experience into a box, with a side of added strategy. It’s a legacy game, meaning you physically change your copy as you play, ensuring your adventures are unique.

It’s got a choose your own adventure style book for branching narrative. It’s got strategically challenging combat together with rewarding long-term campaign rules. About the only things it doesn’t have is competitive play and a reasonable price tag.

But if you can afford the time and the money, this may be the ultimate in thematic thrills.Warhammer Underworlds: ShadespireThe newest entry on the list shows fantasy doesn’t have to be epic. Simple and fast, Shadespire sees warbands duking it out for control of a lost city. But don’t let its accessibility fool you: amidst all the cards and dice is a tight, tactical engine.

It rewards advance planning, good positioning and clever card play. You can customise your play deck from the included cards, offering impressive replay value. And it’s speed is addictive, letting you play, tweak your deck and adjust your strategy then play again in record time.

With great components and a slew of planned expansions, this is one to watch.Terra MysticaIf you want a tortoise against Shadespire’s hare, check out Terra Mystica. The box blurb suggests it’s a fantasy empire builder and so it is. You’ll choose a race and then try to grow and develop them in a hostile landscape, altering the terrain to make it suitable for their needs.

At the same time, you’ll be overseeing their religious rites to please the Gods for points. What sets this game apart is its heavy strategy and lack of randomness. To win, players need to balance a host of different factors and make the best strategic choices.

Getting to build a realistic fantasy world as they do is just the icing on the cake.Mage Knight

Putting strategy into fantasy adventure has been a long-standing design bugbear. To have strategy you need player agency, and agency is the enemy of exciting, unexpected stories. Mage Knight is the only game to date which squares this circle, using a grab-bag of smart design tricks to do it.

Although slow and complex, it allows players to explore and conquer, fight and grow while still taxing their tactical nous. Perhaps best of all is the wealth of game modes. You can enjoy Mage Knight solo, competitively or cooperatively as you choose and still enjoy a thrilling adventure every time

Blood RageIf fantasy is all about the impossible, then Blood Rage is the ultimate fantasy.

It’s an area control game, which means you win by crowding out your opponent from key parts of the board. These games reward slow building and careful planning and Blood Rage is no exception. Yet with a fistful of clever design ideas, it also manages to be fast, slick and brutal at the same time.

Huge melees resolve themselves in a flurry of cards and catastrophic body counts. Armies rise, fall and get replaced in the blink of an eye. Most impossible of all, though, is the quantity of brilliant art and miniatures packed at this price point.Lords of WaterdeepIn fantasy, as in real life, success often means getting other people to do the dirty work for you.

Such is the case in Dungeons & Dragons board game Lords of Waterdeep. Instead of the adventure role-playing you might expect, it puts you in the role of people who hire adventurers. As a city lord, you’ll recruit heroes and send them off to troubleshoot the cities’ woes.

At the same time it’s down to you to build both the city and the game by paying for new buildings that add new strategies as you play. The result is an easy to grasp yet strategically nuanced game, with the added bonus of plenty of skulduggery and backstabbing.Fantasy wargames have a sad history of being far too much wargame and not enough fantasy. Runewars aims to give you both, with a tasty side of heroic adventure.

Players vie for control of dragon runes, but the classic approach of conquest is only one route to victory. You can also use powerful heroes to slip past the armies and nab runes, or buy them in bizarre auctions. Supporting all these styles requires a lot of rules, but the result is a gripping blend of strategy and tactics with story and diplomacy.

Long and complex, it’s an epic ask, but the result is an epic game.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *