The best RPG board games pop you in the role of an adventurer, vampire, princess, or all three, letting you make choices and pick how to progress through the game. Some have you battling monsters, others focus on exciting exploration – and before long you may even find yourself slipping into character.
We’ve selected our favorites from various genres and themes, from dungeon crawlers to story-based games with elements of gamebooks – it’s a strong crop, including some of the best board games of all time.
The best RPG board games in 2024 are:
- Gloomhaven – most ground-breaking in modern times
- Frosthaven – simply the best RPG board game
- Arkham Horror: The Card Game – best storytelling
- HeroQuest – best classic RPG board game
- Detective: City of Angels – best for chaotic roleplay
- Escape the Dark Castle – best for beginners
- Kingdom Death: Monster – best for Dark Souls fans
The most ground-breaking modern RPG board game is Gloomhaven.
What can we say about Gloomhaven that hasn’t been said already? This behemoth of a board game could last you a lifetime. A cooperative dungeon crawler for one to four players, in Gloomhaven you’ll journey through fantastical lands, completing quests, battling fiends, and tackling a whopping 95 scenarios and sidequests.
Gloomhaven is also a legacy board game, your choices letting you permanently change the game’s world with stickers as you clear out dungeons and unlock new locations in Gloomhaven’s central hub city.
One element of Gloomhaven that really sticks out is its diceless card-based combat system. This gives real weight to both the moment to moment strategic gameplay and to character customisation – granting the game a strong deck-building component.
For full details, read our Gloomhaven review.
The undisputed best RPG board game available is Frosthaven.
With 2017’s Gloomhaven, publisher Cephalofair set the new standard for RPG board games, successfully combining strong elements from almost every type of tabletop game, to create a fantasy campaign experience that eclipsed all rivals. In five years, no other big-box game came close to outdoing Gloomhaven.
So, in 2023, Cephalofair came along and outdid itself, delivering in Frosthaven a sequel that doubles down on Gloomhaven’s best bits, fixes some of its weaker spots, and ultimately just adds more. More depth in its storytelling; more character and party building flexibility; more chances to impact the world through player choice and strategy; and of course, more bits in an even bigger box.
If you’ve already adventured in Gloomhaven, you’ll have very little new to learn gameplay-wise in Frosthaven – but a whole new, months-long campaign to lose yourself in; plus 12 new character classes and a ton of all-new ability cards to play through it with.
If you’ve never played either ‘haven game before, don’t panic – Frosty doesn’t make Gloomy obsolete, and they’re both still fantastic, world-beating board games. We’d recommend Frosthaven, though, since its canny refinements make it more accessible to new players, despite being wider in scope. Just make sure you’ve got a trusty party, and a lot of time to play!
For the full lowdown, check out our Frosthaven review.
3. Arkham Horror: The Card Game
The RPG board game with the best storytelling is Arkham Horror: The Card Game.
There are lots of Cthulhu board games that aim more explicitly for an RPG feel, but none of them nails it quite as well as Arkham Horror: The Card Game, which does an admirable job of telling an engaging story mainly through the flavour text on cards.
It’s helped a great deal by the fact that each player has a customisable deck that forms a vivid portrait of a character – from their gear, to their problem solving approach, to their friends, and their traumas. AHTCG manages to straddle multiple genres and moods – from escape room games to deck builders – and excel in nearly all of them.
Arkham Horror really embraces a narrative, with branching paths, the results of one scenario impacting the next. In the core set, one to two players will tackle three scenarios, visiting locations, uncovering clues, and probably getting eaten by something horrible. Like all of Fantasy Flight’s living card games, though, there are endless expansions to keep you busy, if you like what you see in the base box.
The best classic RPG board game available is HeroQuest.
Another dungeon board game, this one cuts closely to Dungeons and Dragons, while still remaining distinct. In HeroQuest, four heroes work as a team, kicking down doors, dodging traps, and taking names.
Originally released by Milton Bradley in 1989, then lovingly recreated by Avalon Hill via crowdfunding in 2021, HeroQuest is a simplistic game by today’s standards, but it’s a towering landmark in gaming history.
Its aesthetics ooze 19th-century swords-and-sandals fantasy, and its classic miniatures were originally made by Games Workshop, which would later adapt the format into its own Warhammer Quest board game series. Here’s YouTuber BardicBroadcasts’ iconic, er, ‘review’ of the game:
HeroQuest packs in far fewer quests and classes than Frosthaven or Gloomhaven, but it still has a healthy number (14). It also boasts over 65 miniatures to bring the adventure to life, and requires one player to serve the role of the gamemaster embodying the dread sorcerer Zargon.
Many cooperative board games these days rely on systems to run their bad guys, but not only is this sometimes a bit fiddly, it also deprives someone of excellent cackling opportunities. Besides, it’s good practice for the altogether more involved task of being a Dungeon Master.
5. Detective: City of Angels
The best board game for chaotic roleplaying is Detective: City of Angels.
In this distinctly Movie Noir-flavored outing, players are glory hungry detectives working against one another to try and solve a case. Most mystery games can’t really be classed as RPG board games, because the focus is very much on the puzzle, not the players.
The difference in Detective: City of Angels? Well firstly, it’s not a cooperative game, so instead of table talk being dominated by the clues, you get a chance to embody the characters you’re playing. Secondly, you get to make deliciously tense choices around a risky ‘challenge’ system – putting more pressure on a suspect you think is lying, which can unlock crucial answers, or cause your suspects to clam up. It’s roleplaying gold.
The detectives in Detective are a hilariously roguish bunch, getting in each other’s way as they attempt to come out on top – grabbing evidence and keeping it for themselves, paying each other for clues, or hiring snitches to listen in to another cop’s interview. Best of all, one player is ‘The Chisel’, a gamemaster who’s entire purpose is to mislead, deceive, and make the other players’ lives hell.
6. Escape the Dark Castle
The best RPG board game for beginners is Escape the Dark Castle.
Some RPG board games are sprawling things, but not this ‘un. A lean, mean, thirty minute card game, Themeborne’s wildly popular Escape the Dark Castle is half roleplaying experience, half shared storybook.
You play as prisoners attempting to flee the titular dark castle, making choices and rolling for challenges on the way. Each round, you pick a player to turn over a chapter card, and they must deal with the peril that awaits them.
We love Escape the Dark Castle’s black and white retro aesthetic and horror atmosphere. It’s a beginner friendly game and a cooperative version of gamebooks like Fighting Fantasy.
It has good replay value, as you only use a fraction of the story cards in each game. There’s also a scifi version, if you’d prefer a space board game.
7. Kingdom Death: Monster
The best RPG board game for Dark Souls fans is Kingdom Death: Monster.
One of those Kickstarter board games that seemed to have endless stretch goals, Kingdom Death: Monster is a monster fighting RPG that’s hugely complex and packed with content.
This is almost three different RPG board games in one – a more traditional choose your own adventure section where you’re on the hunt for a monster, a complicated arena battler that makes up the meat of the game, and a civilisation guiding game where you craft gear and buildings out of bits of beasts you’ve slain, and prepare for your next dance with death.
It’s not a game for everyone. KDM is hugely expensive due to the number of detailed, chonky miniatures within; it’s a big time sink with a campaign that’ll eat up hour after hour; and it’s horribly unforgiving – characters you’ve spent days alongside can get gobbled up after a couple of unlucky rolls.
But for a certain type of gamer, that brutality will make telling stories in Kingdom Death’s intriguing, unpleasant world all the more enjoyable.
If you’ve made it through these RPG board game heroes, you might also find some delectable treats among our all-time favorite horror board games, the best co-op board games to team up with pals, or the best strategy board games to face off against them.