Brimming with dragons, fiendish traps, and grisly minions, dungeon crawlers have always been at the heart of tabletop games. In their most classic form, they follow that legendary combination of fantasy-esque minions, vast winged beasties, and, of course, the dark overlord waiting at the end. However, dungeon crawlers have evolved from their fantasy origins over the years.
No longer confined to the dank (yet utterly delightful) dungeons of times past, these days there are myriads of dungeon crawlers to explore outside of the standard fantasy mould. That said, the vast and complex Gloomhaven still remains one of the most popular dungeon crawler board games out there — and it’s utterly steeped in all the joys of traditional fantasy.
Whether that’s moving out across sci-fi horrors in the worlds of Star Wars: Imperial Assault and Alien-inspired Nemesis, or the slavering zombies of Warhammer Quest: Cursed City, dungeon crawlers for all tastes are out there for you to explore. At its core, a dungeon crawler sees a group of heroes navigate an ever-changing area loaded with puzzles, traps, and of course, monsters. Many include emergent storytelling, with plenty of dungeon crawler board games featuring ever more complex narratives discovered both through play and text sections.
Here are the best dungeon crawler board games you can play right now:
- Star Wars: Imperial Assault
- Warhammer Quest: Cursed City
- Mansions of Madness
The mammoth Gloomhaven is considered one of the best dungeon crawlers. As well as taking you on a wild, magical adventure through fantasy lands, it’s also a legacy board game. This means you have a long-term impact on the world around you (exemplified physically on the board game via stickers and secret envelopes), and you also play as part of an ongoing campaign spanning over a hundred hours.
In Gloomhaven, your group plays cooperatively as one of a selection of heroes, fighting your way through various quests and a branching storyline covering more than 90 scenarios. These include exploring an ancient crypt, vast mountains, and a dragon’s lair. Unlike many other dungeon crawlers, Gloomhaven uses a eurogame-style card system over dice rolls to determine combat outcomes.
If that all seems a little intimidating, beginner-friendly Gloomhaven ‘lite’ board game Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is an excellent standalone entry to the series. It covers a smaller number of scenarios and even includes an in-depth tutorial to help players new to dungeon crawler games.
Star Wars: Imperial Assault
Journey to the thrilling centre of a Galactic Civil War in Star Wars: Imperial Assault, which follows the Rebels just after they’ve destroyed the legendary Death Star. Featuring plenty of iconic miniatures (big Wookie, anyone?) and tactical combat, Star Wars: Imperial Assault includes not only a detailed campaign consisting of a multitude of missions, but also a competitive skirmish mode that sees you duke it out with a friend in a galaxy far, far away.
Perfect for fans of the Star Wars universe or sci-fi board games in general, up to four of you control the Rebel heroes — which include the likes of a rage-fuelled Wookie, a haunted Twi’lek and of course, a gung-ho smuggler — against one Empire player, who, when the time comes, can even summon Darth Vader to the table. Until then, they’ll be hurling plenty of Stormtroopers at you.
Along with the menacing combat, which sees you generally outnumbered and low on resources, each mission is part of an ongoing Star Wars saga, making story events a key part of enjoying Star Wars: Imperial Assault.
Warhammer Quest: Cursed City
A standalone follow-up to popular Warhammer dungeon crawler board games Silver Tower and Blackstone Fortress, Warhammer Quest: Cursed City sees you rolling dice, sneaking around streets warped by hellish entities, and wiping out swarms of ferocious bats.
Roam the tiles of the Cursed City of Ulfenkarn, which is ravaged by zombies and facing almost certain doom underneath its new murderous overlord. A cooperative game, you pick a hero and, in typical dungeon crawler board games style, take on a series of missions. As well as cutting down vampires, you’ll also be stalked by the bringer of Night Unending himself, Radukar the Wolf.
Including 60 of the detailed miniatures so prevalent in the Warhammer series, you’ll need to assemble and paint a vampire lord or two before you sink your teeth into the campaign. Warhammer Quest: Cursed City is an excellent choice for both fans of the series and dark fantasy-themed dungeon crawlers overall.
The classic fantasy adventure game, HeroQuest is an oldie but a goodie that’s been recently relaunched and revised. A cooperative board game, one of you will play game-master-cum-evil-sorcerer Zargon, while the rest take on the mantle of your typical D&D-style classes.
Pick a quest, build up rooms with items, treasures, traps, and monsters all of a fantasy ilk (think skeletons, gargoyles, and goblins), and get playing. The item miniatures in particular are just adorable – including tiny doors, tables and skulls that look awesome repurposed in D&D campaigns.
Ideal for getting the little ones involved in some dungeon crawler board game antics, HeroQuest is suitable for kids over nine years old. And once you’re done with the main game quests, there are plenty of expansions to wield axes, wand, and bow at.
Enjoy the bleak horrors of the cosmic void in the Alien-inspired dungeon crawler board game Nemesis, in which you and your crew fight for your lives on a spaceship infested with alien intruders. However, there’s a catch: not all of you have the same objective.
If you enjoy some light backstabbing, you’ll be pleased to hear Nemesis turns some players into traitors. While the traitors are busy leading their brethren to a blood-soaked death, the rest of the group play sci-fi stalwarts like the smart scientist and shooty soldier.
And, of course, no xenomorphic experience is complete without some Alien-esque beasties to roam the ship. Between these and your rather untrustworthy crewmates, you may find completing objectives and keeping the ship afloat rather challenging. Nemesis is filled with eerie atmosphere and gut-wrenching moments, so it’s ideal for fans of horror dungeon crawlers.
Mansions of Madness
One of the more advanced dungeon crawler board games out there, recent editions of the Lovecraftian-inspired Mansions of Madness come with their own app. This cuts down on admin, making your passage through cursed cosmic wastes, shimmering tentacles, and cursed mansions all the more immersive. If you’re looking for eldritch themes, look no further than Mansions of Madness. Each adventure sees you building up a location using tiles and using actions cooperatively to solve whatever unspeakably horrifying mystery it throws at you.
As well as interacting with objects, finding pathways, and getting locked into desperate battles with all sorts of otherworldly baddies, you’ll also need to cooperatively solve puzzles, break codes, and sweet talk the NPCs to get ahead. Chances of death with each campaign are high, as the end of the player phase not only triggers a turn for all your enemies, but also can set up more enduring effects. An absolute must for fans of horror board games, with its app assistance Mansions of Madness is also perfect for folks new to dungeon crawler board games.
One of the best dungeon crawler board games set within the modern era (unless you try out the fantasy expansions), Zombicide casts players as a motley crew of survivors desperate to stay alive in your typical undead apocalypse. It’s a collaborative board game, and you each play a survivor with different skills and specialities.
The zombies themselves, which vary in strength, speed, and miniature design, are controlled through decks of cards and primitive AI responses. For example, your standard zombie horde will always head towards noise — so it’s not always wise to jump into combat with your rifle locked and loaded.
As well as the fun teamwork Zombicide encourages (it really is brutal surviving out on its menacing death-strewn streets), it also levels up with you, meaning that the stronger you become, the nastier and more hectic the zombie threat gets. This can lead to some truly epic gameplay moments and gives this dungeon crawler tons of replayability.