Throw on your Indiana Jones hat and grab your whip. It’s time to delve deep into the unknown with our list of the best exploration board games.
Exploration board games have a unique mechanic in which you don’t actually get to see the full board from the start of the game. Things could drastically change from what you originally thought and could throw some serious curveballs your way.
As players progress through the game, they’ll uncover more areas to explore, usually in form of flipping and revealing tiles to show explored areas.
It’s one of the more interesting mechanics that adds a lot of replayability to any game, but only if it’s done well. Let’s dive in and explore some of the best Exploration Board Games we could find.
Table of Contents
Our Top Picks for Best Exploration Board Games:
In a hurry? Check out our favorites below.
Mage Knight & Star Trek: Frontiers
Playing Time: 150 min
Mage Knight is one of my favorite board games and it’s also one of the most intimidating games I’ve ever come across. Fortunately, the Ultimate Edition fixes a lot of the issues and inconsistencies in the rules of the original, so it’s a much more cohesive game now.
In Mage, Knight, players explore the realm — either wreaking havoc or saving the day. Mage Knight allows players to explore an ever-changing landscape with fantastic RPG elements. Each scenario has a different set of tiles used and how they get played changes the entire landscape of the game every single time.
The entire system took me about a day to learn but after I got going, it’s become one of my favorite exploration games (and one of my favorite solo games).
Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
Playing Time: 60 min
DON’T WORRY — NO SPOILERS
Pandemic Legacy broke the mold and basically created another genre of board games: legacy board games. Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 continues that evolution by bringing in similarly innovative mechanics in a world you know and love… but with a new twist.
The events of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 are ancient history and in Season 2, players will need to deal with the aftermath. Years have passed and survivors will need to venture forth and see what has happened to the world after a period of isolation. There’s plenty of twists from the legacy mechanics and your decisions while exploring will have actual meaning throughout the lifetime of the game.
Mansions of Madness
Playing Time: 120-180 min
Step into a mansion full of eldritch horrors…
Our intrepid investigators will explore Arkham Asylum while battling mind-shattering monsters, puzzles, and elder gods. During their stay in the mansion, players explore through the various rooms, while trying to pick up equipment without losing their lives or sanity in the process.
One of the more interesting aspects of Mansions of Madness is that the game is dependent upon a free app. The app controls the flow of the game and randomizes the encounters that players must face. Normally, traditionalists tend to frown on technology-enhanced board games but Mansions of Madness is one of the shining examples of how to do it right.
Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft
Playing Time: 60 min
The Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System drops players right into the middle of a D&D campaign set in Ravenloft, home of the dreaded vampire lord Strahd.
Castle Ravenloft is the first in the D&D Adventure series in which players run through various objectives based on themes of the official D&D campaigns.
The best part? During your dungeon-delving adventures, nobody has to be the Dungeon Master (DM).
Each series also comes with a box full of beautiful unpainted miniatures that can pull double-duty during your traditional D&D campaign.
All in all, if you’re looking for a Dungeons & Dragons game because you can never seem to get your party together, the D&D Adventure board games are a fantastic way to get your fix. Start with Castle Ravenloft for an exciting exploration into the unknown.
Shadows of Brimstone
Playing Time: 120 min
I love the concept of Shadows of Brimstone. It’s cowboys vs. eldritch horror and meanwhile, everyone is going mad.
In this awesome mashup, players will delve into the mines to search for mysterious crystals that have been hidden within the mines. They’re incredibly valuable and yet extremely dangerous. Inside the mines, horrifying creatures have been spotted, and even handling the stuff can start to ‘transform’ your heroes.
Endeavor: Age of Sail
Playing Time: 60-90 min
Naval exploration has always been an important part of any civilization’s history. Endeavor: Age of Sail takes a look at one of those eras and allows players to set out from Europe to explore the world.
Players will need to seek out new lands, establish trade routes and forts, or straight up occupy their lands. Endeavor Age of Sail has many exploration elements to it, but at its core, it’s an engine-building and area-control board game.
It has a surprising amount of strategy for a simple game to learn, which is always a welcome combination in the board gaming world.
If you’re looking for a great game that’ll hit the table often and stay there, there’s always something new to explore in Endeavor: Age of Sail.
This War of Mine
Playing Time: 45-120 min
Possibly the saddest game I’ve ever played thematically, This War of Mine lets players step back from the insane run-and-gun-style games that typically personify war games and look at it from the war refugees’ perspective. Players assume the roles of average Joes. No super soldiers here.
In order to survive, players need to explore the war-torn country and face several difficult decisions throughout the game. It’s a balance between survival and your own humanity.
Is it worth it to take supplies if it means killing someone else just like you?
Players must venture out and explore a devastated city, scavenging for supplies, and try their best not to be just another casualty of war.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Playing Time: 60-120 min
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island is the granddaddy of all exploration and survival games. Like the source material, players have crashed onto Robinson Crusoe’s deadly island and must explore to find resources to survive.
It’s a rather brutal game and has sometimes been called the Dark Souls of board games. There’s a constant struggle for resources and keeping the survivors alive. Even simple exploration will often lead to horrifying consequences that cripple the entire party.
You, of course, need to explore — otherwise, you’ll simply end up starving to death at the base camp. But more often than not, there’s something lurking in the jungle, waiting at every turn.
Above and Below
Playing Time: 90 min
Above and Below is probably one of the most adorable games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. I absolutely love the artwork and the exploration aspect is my favorite part of the game.
In this quirky little worker placement board game, players build a settlement and collect trade goods but in order to expand their settlements below ground, they first need to explore the below world and clear out some space. One of the actions players can take is to send a team of workers to the below and go on an adventure.
Depending on the dice roll, players will read a short scenario from the adventure booklet and decide on their course of action. It’s usually a choice between an easy, medium, or hard decision or it’s a simple good vs. evil choice. How the adventure plays out is determined by the people you bring with you and how lucky you are with dice.
My only complaint is that although there are wonderful mini adventures to go on, you rarely get a resolution other than “receive x or y amount of resources/reputation”.
Playing Time: 90-120 min
Players race to explore the Caribbean for trade, money, or glory. It’s a rather impressive worker placement game that randomizes certain spots to keep the action flowing and ensure that no two games are alike.
There’s a lot to set up and a lot of moving parts in the beginning but once players get going, they’ll have full access to ships, trade goods, combat, and, of course, exploration of the entire Caribbean at their disposal.
Star Trek: Fleet Captains
Playing Time: 90-120 min
Star Trek: Fleet Captions is one of the most Star Trekkie games I’ve ever seen.
Fleet Captains pits the different Star Trek factions against each other in an unexplored universe. Fleets are represented using HeroClix-style miniatures with rotating bases while the entire board is randomized and hidden.
As players explore the galaxy attempting to complete their objectives, they’ll run into hostile planets, races in need, and outright war.
Playing Time: 45 min
The desert is a formidable unforgiving landscape. This is especially true in Forbidden Desert.
In the second installment of the Forbidden series, players have crash-landed their steampunk airship into the desert and the pieces needed to repair it are scattered throughout the desert, hidden beneath the sands.
Players need to work together to explore the landscape before the incoming sandstorms bury the parts beneath the shifting sands.
Constant sand storms blow around the map, burying areas. The longer players linger in one place, the harder it will be to uncover the tiles and ultimately find the airship parts needed to escape.
Betrayal at House on the Hill & Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
Playing Time: 60 min
Betrayal at the House on the Hill is one of my favorite board games. It does have a lot of mixed reviews out there but I think it was one of the quintessential games that pushed the boundaries of what a board game could do.
Players pick one character from a group of ragtag members to explore a mysterious house on the hill in a Scooby-Doo-esque whodunit. As players explore the house, they’ll pick up some gear, try not to lose their sanity, and hopefully boost their stats up before the big reveal, the HAUNT!!!
During the haunt, depending upon the special items found and in what room, a scenario will be given to all players. Everyone could be working together against an unknown evil, but more often than not, one player becomes the traitor and seeks to destroy everyone else.
The scenarios are all different and some are more balanced than others, but I’ve never had a bad game of Betrayal. The layout of the mansion shifts with every game, leading to some interesting layouts, and as they’re explored the objectives of the game become more apparent.
If mystery mansions aren’t your thing, you can always try the D&D version with Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, in which the mechanics are basically the same, but instead of chainsaw maniacs and a world-eating snake, you’ll be facing more traditional Dungeons & Dragons-inspired monsters and world-ending scenarios.
Playing Time: 30 min
We always pull out Saboteur during family gatherings at our place. Saboteur is a simple card-laying game in which players are dwarves trying to get to the riches at the end of the mine before the cards run out. Everyone is working “together” in theory, however, at least one greedy dwarf with dragon sickness may try to steer the rest of the group in the wrong direction.
Players consist of miners or saboteurs and, each turn, they’ll lay a tile card, play an action card, or simply pass. Miners explore the mine to find the hidden gold and saboteurs try to lead everyone astray so they can get the gold for themselves.
Escape: The Curse of The Temple
Playing Time: 10 min
This is one of the more hectic games on this list. As you may imagine, players attempt to escape from a cursed temple, (who would have thought?) and need to cooperate to make it out alive.
The trick with Escape: The Curse of the Temple is that the game happens in real time. There are no turns here — just dice rolls and shouting.
In the beginning, players start in a safe room before venturing out to explore the cursed temple. Along the way, they’ll need to find gemstones and work together to unlock ancient doors. The more gemstones they find, the easier it’ll be to open the final door and escape.
Oh, did I mention that if anyone dies while exploring, it’s ‘Game Over’ for everyone? Good luck.
Playing Time: 120-240 min
Eldritch Horror is the globe-trotting cooperative board game set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s the successor to Arkham Horror and forces players to work together to stop the ancient evils from awakening and destroying humanity as we know it.
As players jet-set across the globe, they’ll explore the various regions to look for clues and elder signs to banish the ancient ones. The thematic experience in Eldritch Horror is phenomenal. Each location has various encounters. Sometimes you’ll cross the local mob, and sometimes you’ll be sucked into an alternate dimension full of mind-bending horrors.
Playing Time: 60-90 min
For something a little bit different, take a step into the world of Inis.
Inis is an area-control and exploration game set in Celtic history and lore, reflected beautifully in the artwork and theme. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Inis is its modular board and incredible artwork.
Inis has a gorgeous map to explore and fill with troops and the strategy becomes apparent once you start to explore the mechanics. Inis manages to elegantly combine area control, card-drafting, and exploration into a mechanically sound board game about Irish cultural myths.
Playing Time: 30-240 min
Welcome to the Archipelago, a new land to explore…and exploit.
Designed as an interactive Eurogame, Archipelago does not have a heavy focus on player interaction but instead is a mashup of 4X, exploration, and Euro.
In Archipelago, players can focus on expanding their trade routes and influence throughout the archipelago, but push too hard and the archipelago will push back.
As with much of the Age of Exploration in Renaissance Europe, an area that’s been “discovered” is already fully populated by indigenous cultures that, if pushed too far will revolt… leading to ‘Game Over’ for everyone.
Mice and Mystics
Playing Time: 60-90 min
Mice and Mystics wins the award for one of the most adorable games on my shelf. Players take the role of a prince and his loyal vassals as they attempt to retake their stolen kingdom.
Oh yeah, also they’ve all been turned into mice.
Mice and Mystics plays as if you’ve been pulled right into the pages of a storybook. In this game, players can look forward to exploring a fantastical world filled with compelling storytelling and sound RPG mechanics.
Playing Time: 30 min
Incan Gold is a fast-paced, small box game in which players explore the forbidden Incan temple in search of loot!
As with any temple, it’s (of course) filled with traps and dangers around every turn. Our intrepid adventurers (that’s you) dungeon delve as far as they dare. The first player to chicken out and bolt gets to snag some treasure on the way out, but the last player standing gets all the treasure that’s left.
Delving too deep isn’t without danger, however. During the exploration expedition, if two of the same dangers pop up, everyone left in the temple must flee for their lives and leave empty-handed.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our picks for the best exploration board games out there. Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried any of these and which others you might recommend as well! We’d love to hear from you.
Looking for some similar games? Check out our Best Adventure Games below:
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.