A List of the Best Fantasy Board Games for 2019 – Our Guide & Review
We love fantasy. The genre has occupied a fair amount of our lives in all its iterations. Books, movies, comics, TV shows, board games, and video games — on all counts, fantasy wins out for us. As such, we are naturally drawn to fantasy board games and we’ve played lots.
Because it was impossible to cut down this list at all, we thought perhaps it would be helpful to organize the following fantasy games into broad categories for optimum utility. But…
Categories are hard. As an overly-organized human, Kendra likes to put things in their place, make lists, check boxes, and overall keep a very neat existence. Board games, although not immune to categorization, sometimes defy our best efforts. We did our best.
Also, since we couldn’t write about everything, we simply added some games to the list that absolutely needed to be on there. Don’t worry, we’ll cover them in-depth in future articles.
Sword & Sorcery
Sword and Sorcery, an epic-fantasy cooperative board game, where one to five players fight together against the forces of evil, controlled by the game system itself.
Each player controls one or more heroes – legendary characters brought back to life by powerful sorcery. Weakened by the resurrection, they grow stronger during their story-driven quests. By acquiring soul points during missions, the hero’s souls regenerate, restoring their legendary status with multiple powers, magic and soul weapons, and powerful artifacts.
Evil has descended upon the land, and heroes are needed. The legendary heroes have been resurrected to once again fight and save the land from darkness, but the spell is still new and the heroes will need time to restore themselves to their former glory.
Sword & Sorcery is a cooperative board game in which you will play as one of the legendary heroes. As you progress through the campaign, the heroes will regain their strength and level up throughout the campaign.
Sword & Sorcery is relatively simple to learn and comes with some fantastic cheat sheets in the game for when you get lost. During the course of the game, players will work through a scenario and fight their way through a dungeon.
The rules are fairly standard and easy to pick up. Each monster will have a card based AI that they will perform based on their location and how far or close they are to a character. Player equipment will allow you to roll more dice in combat, or negate damage entirely.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game is how it handles resurrection and character deaths. When a character dies, they’re not out of the game but instead become a ghost. Ghost characters can revive themselves by backtracking through the dungeon and getting to a respawn point at the entrance, and then having to retrace their steps back to where the action is.
The resurrection mechanic is one of the better ones I’ve seen and keeps players occupied and in the game. Instead of dying and leaving the table they’ll try and rush back into the fight as soon as possible, or try and revive themselves before the entire party is killed. If everyone in the party is a ghost, the game ends in a loss.
Sword & Sorcery is a solid addition to any board game collection and an all-around great dungeon crawl board game. This would be an excellent introduction for new players to the genre, and it’s still interesting and challenging enough for hardcore fans.
Versions & Expansions
- Vastaryous’ Lair (2017)
- Onamor and Volkor (2017)
- Hero Packs – Victoria the Captain/Pirate, Samyria the Druid/Shaman, Onamor the Necromancer/Summoner (2017)
- Hero Packs – Ryld Chaotic Bard / Lawful Blademaster, Morrigan Demon Huntress/Witch Huntress, Kroghan the Barbarian/Dreadlord (2018)
- Darkness Falls (2018)
- Arcane Portal (2018)
- Myths of the Arena (2019)
Mansions of Madness
Mansions of Madness Second Edition is a fully cooperative, app-driven board game of horror and mystery for one to five players that takes place in the same universe as Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign. Let the immersive app guide you through the veiled streets of Innsmouth and the haunted corridors of Arkham’s cursed mansions as you search for answers and respite.
“God! What wonder that across the earth a great architect went mad.” ―H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
In Mansion of Madness, players explore the cursed mansions of Arkham with the guidance of an app that provides narration and musical ambiance. This intense and immersive adventure involves solving puzzles, fighting monsters and collecting weapons, tools, and information to succeed. Inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, the game is set in the same universe of Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign.
Fantasy Flight Games has a bit of a monopoly on Lovecraftian Board Games. If you’ve played any of their other games, a lot of the artwork, themes, mechanics will start to look familiar.
One of the more interesting aspects of Mansions of Madness is the companion app. The companion app streamlines the whole process of the game. It’ll play some background music for ambiance, and it simplifies the setup and combat by walking players through the game and guides them through the rules.
One of the interesting things about the game is its insanity mechanic. This differs from some of the other Fantasy Flight games like Arkham Horror. In Arkham Horror, if you go insane, you end up at the hospital or your character dies. Here in Mansions of Madness if you go insane, it changes that particular player’s win condition, so you never really know what their new goal is.
Mansions of Madness is a compelling addition to the Lovecraft board game scenes. The mechanics have vastly improved and the exploration and storytelling have become much better in the newest addition. If you’ve played the first edition and weren’t impressed, it may be worth your time to take another look.
Versions & Expansions
- Suppressed Memories: Figure and Tile Collection (2016)
- Recurring Nightmares: Figure and Tile Collection (2016)
- Streets of Arkham: Expansion (2017)
- Beyond the Threshold: Expansion (2017)
- Sanctum of Twilight: Expansion (2018)
- Horrific Journeys: Expansion (2018)
Defenders of the Realm
Our Liege is in a desperate hour! From what grievous cause have these accursed races arisen? Orcs, Dragons, Demons and the Dead make haste towards Monarch City. The King and Countryside of Monarch City are in need of valiant Heroes! Will you answer the King’s call?
In the ancient Citadel of Monarch City, the King calls to arms the finest Heroes to defend against a Darkness that engulfs the land. You and your allies must embark on a journey to defend the countryside, repair the tainted lands, and defeat the four creature factions before one of them enters the City. And they approach from all sides! Fast populating Orcs! Fierce Dragons! Undead that bring Terror! And Demons! All tainting the land in their wake. There are several paths to defeat, but only one path to victory and only the most valiant Hero will be named King’s Champion.
Versions & Expansions
- The Dragon Expansion (2010)
- The Barbarian (2010)
- The Errant Paladin (2011)
- Hero Expansions #1-3 (2011)
- The Noble Dwarf and Relics (2014)
- Realm in Flames and Darkness Spreads (2014)
- Quest Deck (2014)
- Minions Expansion – Undead, Orcs, Dragonkin, Demons (2014)
- Legends Deck, High Council Cards, and Generals Expansion (2014)
- Winds of War and Sterling, Guardian Dragon of the Realm (2016)
- Hero Expansions #4-5 (2016)
- Companions and Catacombs (2017)
Gloomhaven is a game of Euro-inspired tactical combat in a persistent world of shifting motives. Players will take on the role of a wandering adventurer with their own special set of skills and their own reasons for traveling to this dark corner of the world. Players must work together out of necessity to clear out menacing dungeons and forgotten ruins. In the process, they will enhance their abilities with experience and loot, discover new locations to explore and plunder, and expand an ever-branching story fueled by the decisions they make.
Gloomhaven is a cooperative dungeon-crawler board game where your table will form a band of mercenaries for an epic campaign. I honestly think the word “epic” is thrown around far too often, but once you see the massive box this comes in and almost 100 different scenarios, it’s hard to come up with a different word.
* GameCows Recommendation: Best for Solo Gameplay *
Gloomhaven’s campaign is styled after the legacy system with persistent changes the longer you play. That does not mean you can’t reset it and play it from the beginning. You don’t destroy anything in Gloomhaven (like you do in some Legacy games). All cards remain intact and you’re never instructed to break your game. You place stickers on maps to indicate how the world changes around you, so many players have been able to successfully “reset” Gloomhaven’s legacy system and start from scratch. Some of the thematic and story elements will remain the same, but just know that the changes can be undone (with a little effort).
It’s hard to search for a fantasy dungeon-crawler board game and not stumble upon Gloomhaven. It’s probably one of the biggest games out there and not just in box size. It has a huge group campaign, a separate solo campaign, vast stores of lore, and an insane level of replayability. It does come with a hefty price tag, but don’t let that deter you. If you played a game every day for a year, I can guarantee you’d still find ways the game can surprise you.
Versions & Expansions
- The End of the World (Promo Scenario) (2017)
- Solo Scenarios (2017)
- Gloomhaven: Forgotten Circles (2018)
War of the Ring (Second Edition)
The War of the Ring is a grand strategy board game that allows its players to immerse themselves in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings™ and experience its epic action, dramatic conflict, and memorable characters. Face the evil minions of Sauron on the field of battle in a desperate attempt to delay their onslaught, while you lead the Fellowship of the Ring in the Quest for Mount Doom. This is your chance to forge the destiny of an age…
Out of doubt, out of dark to the day’s rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope’s end I rode and to heart’s breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
EOMER ÉADIG, King of Rohan, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
* GameCows Recommendation: Best Epic Wargame *
Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy spans generations of lore into one of the most epic stories ever written.
The War of the Ring places you in control of the fate of Middle Earth. One player will control the armies of Free People, and the other will control the Shadow Armies of Sauron. While the Shadow Armies fight the Free People and search for the One Ring, the Free People are divided between fighting Sauron and protecting the Ringbearer while he tries to get to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring.
War of the Ring at its core is a war game, but in the same way that The Lord of the Rings is just a collection of books. Of course, you can classify it as such… but it’s so much more.
Each force can win in two ways, through a military victory or through a ring victory. The Shadow armies need to conquer strongholds equalling 10+ victory points. This thematically shows such utter destruction to the Free People that even if Frodo was to destroy the Ring there would be nothing left to save.
If the Free People’s armies control strongholds equalling 4+ victory points they win. This thematically shows that the armies of Sauron have been beaten so badly that Frodo’s journey to Mt. Doom would be much easier.
Then there are the Ring victories. If the shadow army finds and completely destroys the fellowship, then they immediately win. If the Fellowship completes the journey and destroys the ring before the Shadow destroys everything then the Free People Win.
Complexity and Balance
The game is incredibly complex and balanced despite first glances. The armies of Sauron vastly outnumber the Free Peoples and are for all intents and purposes unlimited. When the Free Armies run out of reinforcements they are gone. There is no way to replenish them. Sauron’s armies although unlimited all originate from Mordor and must spend valuable resources and time to recreate and move all across the board into position to attack.
The Shadow also must conquer much more than the Free People to win and must divide all their resources into fighting, reinforcing, and searching for the Fellowship. The Free People need to defend and help hide the Fellowship.
The War of the Ring is so full of subtle balances and shifts in power that after one game, you’ll be sitting around talking about it for days to come.
It’s not without its flaws, however. A war game on this grand of a scale is bound to come with some confusion. The dice icons and multiple moving tracks of the game can be tricky to keep count of during the game, which will have you referencing the rulebook often on your first game.
With that being said, I have never seen a game that has captured the tension and tragedy of the novels as well as War of the Ring. You’ll be sacrificing the last armies of great nations to simply buy time slowing down the hordes of orcs and armies of Sauron. You’ll watch as the Fellowship is slowly whittled away as they die protecting Frodo. And, if you manage to deliver him safely to Mt. Doom, it’s completely out of your hands whether he succeeds or not.
Versions & Expansions
- Scenario – The Breaking of the Fellowship (2012)
- Lords of Middle-earth – Treebeard Mini-Expansion (2012)
- Lords of Middle-earth (2012)
- Warriors of Middle-earth – Tidings Not Burdens Mini-Expansion (2016)
- Warriors of Middle-earth (2016)
A Game of Thrones (Second Edition)
King Robert Baratheon is dead, and the lands of Westeros brace for battle. In the second edition of A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, three to six players take on the roles of the great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, as they vie for control of the Iron Throne. Based on the best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones is an epic board game in which it will take more than military might to win. Through strategic planning, masterful diplomacy, and clever card play spread your influence over Westeros!
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
* GameCows Recommendation: Best TV Series Fantasy Game *
In A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, players will issue secret orders to troops before executing commands and movements. Players are free to create alliances and gang up on other players, and players are also free to immediately turn around and break those alliances. In that regard, this game is hugely story driven, and the fun part is you are in complete control of how it plays out.
I’ve never hated my friends more than in A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (except maybe Monopoly). The game is designed for political intrigue and war, just like the novel and the show. It’s not called, “A Game of Friends” for a reason. Alliances in the game only last for as long as they are mutually beneficial. At the end of the day, it’s designed for players to betray and murder each other, and it is a hell of a lot of fun, even on the receiving end. It’s a game that lets you create your own stories in an incredible setting.
So you too can experience what it’s like to watch friends and family abandon each other for political gain… but seriously though, it’s an incredible experience. Just make sure your “friends” don’t hold grudges.
Versions & Expansions
- A Dance with Dragons (2012)
- A Feast for Crows (2013)
- Mother of Dragons (2018)
Mice and Mystics
In Mice & Mystics players take on the roles of those still loyal to the king – but to escape the clutches of Vanestra, they have been turned into mice! Play as cunning field mice who must race through a castle now twenty times larger than before. The castle would be a dangerous place with Vanestra’s minions in control, but now countless other terrors also await heroes who are but the size of figs. Every player will have a vital role in the quest to warn the king, and it will take careful planning to find Vanestra’s weakness and defeat her.
The king and his followers have been turned into mice!
Mice and Mystics is like stepping into a fairy tale or reliving one of Brian Jacques Redwall Novels. The king and his loyal followers have all been turned into mice, and his rule has been overthrown. The first scenario has you fleeing the castle and attempting to find refuge.
You’ll face off against insects, spiders, rat men, and the most horrifying enemy of all, the dreaded kitty.
* GameCows Recommendation: Best Fantasy Adventure Board Game for Kids *
Each scenario is presented as a story in a children’s book and each offers its own challenges and usually some kind of bonus objective that will help later in the game or campaign.
The game has a timer and scenario-builder built into the game based on pages in a storybook. Whenever the timer reaches zero, the game ends. How far along you are in the timer also determines how many enemies (and what type) spawn in the rooms.
The game is very simple to learn and uses a set of custom dice to resolve most actions. Players will be playing against the board, but someone will need to roll dice for the enemies.
The game tiles are all beautifully done and because you’re mice, you’ll sometimes go underground to explore the sewers or underneath the floorboards. When tiles are flipped, they represent the players moving from below ground to above ground, and vice versa.
I really enjoyed playing Mice and Mystics. The storytelling was phenomenal and reminded me of the Redwall novels from when I was a kid. The thematic elements all revolve around being a mouse, which is super cute. For example, in order to cast a spell/ability like “thundersqueak,” players will need to spend cheese points (mana) in order to successfully use a player’s special ability.
Versions & Expansions
- Lost Chapter – Cat’s Cradle (2012)
- Lost Chapter – The Ghost of Castle Andon (2013)
- Heart of Glorm (2013)
- Downwood Tales (2014)
- Lost Chapter – Portents of Importance (2015)
The Darkness has returned to the land. Answer the call, Heroes! In Massive Darkness, you’ll join forces with the other players to enter the underground lair of the Darkness. You’ll work together, jumping from shadow to light, engaging the enemy when the moment is right. The minions of the Darkness can be anything from orcs, to goblin warriors, to giant spiders. You’ll never know what creatures await you around every corner. The Lightbringers won this war once before. Now it’s your turn to add your names to the history books!
Massive Darkness is one of the newest dungeon crawl board games on the scene that has blown up on Kickstarter with 22,361 backers who pledged $3,560,642 to bring this project to life.
In Massive Darkness, players will need to take the dark very seriously. The darkness mechanic is something that I haven’t seen in any other game. Certain board locations will be lit by torches or other light sources on the board and depending on whether players are in darkness or in the light, they may be able to use special abilities.
The game comes with 2 play modes. The first is a campaign-style mode where players would gain persistent experience and abilities. The downside of this is slow game progression because the characters will be leveling and upgrading throughout multiple games.
The second play mode is a one-shot style. Players will level-up and gain power much more quickly, but you can play a new character every game. For your first few playthroughs, it’s probably best to play a one-shot game to get the rules down and see what kind of character you’d like to play for the longer campaign mode.
For a really in-depth review of Massive Darkness, you can check out our review here.
The miniatures of Massive Darkness are some of the best I’ve seen, and as the name suggests the box comes with a massive amount of options. If you ever truly get bored with the base game there’s a lot of expansions that each add even more miniatures, characters, and scenarios.
Versions & Expansions
- Black Plague Crossover Set
- Heroes & Monster Set – Warrior Priests vs The Spearmaiden Cyclops (2017)
- Heroes & Monster Set – Sorcerers vs Lord Tusk (2017)
- Heroes & Monster Set – Noble Warriors vs The Cockatrix (2017)
- Heroes & Monster Set – Bloodmoon Assassins vs The Hellephant (2017)
- Enemy Box – Troglodytes (2017)
- Enemy Box – Reptisaurians (2017)
- Enemy Box – Ratlings (2017)
- Enemy Box – Elementals (2017)
- A Quest of Crystal & Lava (2017)
Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
An ancient evil stirs in the black lands of Mordor, and the people of Middle-earth speak of a terrible doom approaching from the east. The Dark Lord Sauron is gathering his forces, and should he acquire the power he seeks, he will cast the world into eternal shadow. The only hope lies in a heroic few who must work together to stem the tide of evil…
“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
In Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, players choose three heroes and a deck of allies to combine forces and fight against Sauron, represented by an “encounter deck”. Players can also choose between completing quests to advance through the scenario in a more aggressive campaign or to stay in defensive mode and defeat enemies as they come.
If you haven’t noticed, we’re both Lord of the Rings nerds and love all things LOTR. The LOTR card game is no exception. Similar to Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game has players drafting a deck of cards and completing quests found in Tolkien’s lore.
Players will choose 3 heroes to create their deck from 4 categories: Leadership, Lore, Spirit, and Tactics.
You pick your favorite characters or you can try and combine hero categories to try and min/max your deck.
You need to be careful when choosing your heroes and creating your decks, however. Stronger players will have a higher “threat” number on their cards and during quests, if your threat gets to 50, you’ll lose the game.
The artwork is phenomenal. All of the cards all illustrated beautifully in fantasy style. These aren’t just stills from the movies and I really appreciate the effort that went into that.
The game is surprisingly hard, but it has such an amazing feel to the game. Attacking and completing objectives is very straightforward, but the game itself is a ton of fun especially if you love Tolkien’s work.
Versions & Expansions
- The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill (2012)
- The Heirs of Númenor (2012)
- The Hobbit: On the Doorstep (2013)
- The Black Riders (2013)
- The Road Darkens (2014)
- Khazad-dûm (2014)
- The Land of Shadow (2015)
- The Lost Realm (2015)
- The Voice of Isengard (2015)
- The Grey Havens (2015)
- The Sands of Harad (2016)
- The Flame of the West (2016)
- The Treason of Saruman (2016)
- The Mountain of Fire (2017)
- The Wilds of Rhovanion (2018)
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Wrath of the Righteous
Mythic Adventure Awaits! For decades, hordes of demons have ruled the Worldwound. Their Abyssal corruption has poisoned the land. Previous crusades did their best to contain the demonic invasion with the invaluable aid of a line of fortifications enhanced with magical wardstones. Yet of late, many of the crusaders have become complacent or simply fatigued from an endless war, while all along, the foul masterminds of the demonic invasion have built a deadly plan. They want to expand the Worldwound’s Abyssal corruption past the wardstones and spread their evil across the entire world!
Pathfinder was a traditional pen and paper role playing game inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and an open sourced rule system that was spawned after the ill-received 4th edition set of rules for D&D.
It has since become a powerhouse of an RPG with its own lore and settings loved by many, and it’s own set of diehard fans.
The Pathfinder card game attempts to recreate the feel of playing an old-school pen and paper RPG.
Each player will choose a character, that comes with their own character sheet (you can download printable ones off their website if you like writing on them), and they level up between games and gain new abilities, very much like a pen and paper role playing game.
The game also allows you to build a deck that is persistent between playthroughs. As you play through the game you’ll find upgraded weapons, items, and spells that will replace your starter deck. The box even has a space to hold your character’s deck in between games, so you’re not shuffling through a massive pile of cards trying to rebuild it before every game.
I really enjoyed this game. I’m a huge fan of upgrade mechanics and I like seeing my characters become stronger over time.
The game can be quite pricey, however. The base game comes with the first scenario which can be completed in about 6-10 playthroughs, lots more if you try multiple characters, and each scenario expansion adds new monsters, weapons and about the same number of scenarios, so although pricey I still think I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of it.
It does take quite a bit to set up, so we usually find ourselves playing several games in a row after we’ve gone through all of the trouble of setting everything up.
Versions & Expansions
- Rise of the Runelords – Base Set (2013)
- Skull & Shackles – Base Set (2014)
- Wrath of the Righteous – Base Set (2015)
- Mummy’s Mask – Base Set (2016)
- Plus tons of add-on expansion decks, with new characters, magic, and equipment for each version!
Burgle your way to adventure in Clank!, the new deck-building board game. Sneak into an angry dragon’s mountain lair to steal precious artifacts. Delve deeper to find more valuable loot. Acquire cards for your deck and watch your thievish abilities grow. Be quick and be quiet. One false-step and — CLANK! Each careless sound draws the attention of the dragon, and each artifact stolen increases its rage. You can only enjoy your plunder if you make it out of the depths alive!
Steal everything. There’s treasure hidden in that dungeon and all we have to do is take it! It’s just behind several locked doors, a few traps, a horde of monsters in the dark, and one… dragon. What could be easier?
Clank! is an interesting mix of dungeon-delver, press-your-luck, and deck-builder. Movement, sneaking, mercenaries, and any other ability you can find will come from a personal deck of cards you’ve drafted before you entered the dungeon.
Do you suck at picking locks? Hire a burglar (it worked for Bilbo).
Does going toe-to-toe with an Orc sound like a terrible idea? Hire a mercenary (aka meat shield).
In Clank! players will be going into a dragon’s lair (her name is Nicki) to steal her stuff. Artifacts and items that can be easily reached close to the entrance of the dungeon aren’t going to be worth much, but you can’t spend money if you’re dead.
Nicki isn’t just going to sleep through a home invasion. She’ll be stalking through the dungeon looking for intruders, and she has the home field advantage. You’ll have to be quiet if you plan on leaving the dungeon alive. If you make too much noise then Nicki the dragon will know exactly where you are, and she will eat you.
If you manage to swipe some loot and make it out alive, well then, congratulations! You’ve successfully stolen from a dragon.
I really enjoy the deck-building mechanic and Clank! deals with it in a fun way. The theme of the game is so well done and such a blast to play. I usually end up going too far into the dungeon because I’m greedy (and curious), but the game can offer some incredibly heroic and tragic moments as well. Very often I’ve had players at the table who make it steps away from escaping the dungeon, only to be taken down at the last second due to slightly too much noise, and it’s a blast.
Expansions & Versions
- Clank! In! Space! (2017)
- Clank!: Sunken Treasures (2017)
- Clank!: The Mummy’s Curse (2018)
- Clank! Expeditions: Gold and Silk (2018)
- Also available as an app on the App Store and Google Play
Dominion (Second Edition)
You are a monarch, like your parents before you, a ruler of a small pleasant kingdom of rivers and evergreens. Unlike your parents, however, you have hopes and dreams! You want a bigger and more pleasant kingdom, with more rivers and a wider variety of trees. You want a Dominion! In all directions lie fiefs, freeholds, and feodums. All are small bits of land, controlled by petty lords and verging on anarchy. You will bring civilization to these people, uniting them under your banner.
But wait! It must be something in the air; several other monarchs have had the exact same idea. You must race to get as much of the unclaimed land as possible, fending them off along the way. To do this you will hire minions, construct buildings, spruce up your castle, and fill the coffers of your treasury. Your parents wouldn’t be proud, but your grandparents, on your mother’s side, would be delighted.
Dominion is the original deck-builder game, and we go into a specific detailed review here. Although not a purely fantasy-driven game, there are many expansions where you can heroically quest into a fantastical realm.
Dominion is a deck-building game, which means that players will all start with their own identical deck of cards and throughout the game draft cards from a shared pool. By the end of the game, each player’s deck will be completely different.
You can buy several different types of cards in the game, but the basics are:
Action: Gives you some kind of bonus like extra money, extra actions, or cards.
Attack: Gives you a bonus, but hurts other players. Excellent for gaining the advantage, not so much for making friends.
Treasure: Cards in the supply pool cost money, so without it, you’re never going to win.
Victory: This is how you actually win the game. At the end of the game, all your victory cards will be tallied up and the player with the most victory points wins. The base game has 3 types: Estates (1 point), Duchy (3 points), and Province (6 points).
The game ends when 3 piles in the supply are empty or when the last Province has been bought. The victory points are tallied and the player with the most wins.
None of the other cards in your deck matter, unless a victory card explicitly says otherwise, so all of your awesome cards that you have don’t mean squat unless you have victory points. This adds a crucial strategic element to the game. If you buy victory points too early your deck gets filled up with cards you can’t do anything with, hindering your late game progress. However, if you buy too late, all the high-value cards might be taken and you won’t be able to catch up.
We love Dominion. It’s been a table staple ever since we first played it. The game has a huge amount of replayability and there’s no one right way to approach building your deck. There have been times when players at our table have won by simply picking cards they thought looked interesting. I’ve also managed to do ridiculous combos where my turn lasts a few minutes and mills through my deck.
Versions & Expansions
- Lots. For more info, check out our in-depth article on the Best Dominion Expansions!
In Small World, players vie for conquest and control of a world that is simply too small to accommodate them all. Designed by Philippe Keyaerts as a fantasy follow-up to his award-winning Vinci™, Small World is inhabited by a zany cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs and even humans; who use their troops to occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands in order to push the other races off the face of the earth.
The tagline is, “…It’s a world of Slaughter, after all!” and Small World really lives up to it.
In Small World, every player will select a fantasy race to play that’s teamed up with a random ability, giving it a very high level of replayability. You could have Seafaring Dwarves (weird), Berzerker Hobbits (funny), or Flying Orcs (horrifying).
Everybody will fight to control space on the board, but guess what? It’s not big enough for everyone to have their own space! Players will immediately find out that the world is too small…
* GameCows Recommendation: Best Family Fantasy Board Game *
The randomized race and ability combos are what makes this game really shine. Its goofy artwork and ridiculous abilities had us laughing, and then furious about constantly getting attacked. The game is designed so that all players will be struggling for area control of the board.
At the end of a player’s turn, they’ll tally up the number of territories they control and any extra bonuses they get from racial abilities. Players receive 1 coin for every territory plus bonuses. The object of the game is to be the one with the most money at the end of the game.
Every time your territory is taken over, 1 race token is put back in the box. After a few losses, it’s going to be very difficult to sustain any kind of momentum or points. The solution is to put your race in “decline”. Your species will die out and any territories you controlled will have all race tokens removed (except 1), which is then flipped to the grey side. They still count for scoring, but on your next turn, you get a brand new race and special ability to start rampaging through the world.
Small World is uniquely adorable. The artwork is goofy and cartoonish but behind it is a serious tactical game. When you choose to go into decline and what race/ability you pick all have a huge impact on the final score. If you get lucky, you sometimes get a complimentary race and ability that can rake in some serious points, but usually when that happens, you become the target of everyone at the table.
It’s a fantastic game that doesn’t take itself too seriously while simultaneously offering a ton of options and strategy.
Versions & Expansions
- Leaders of Small World (2009)
- Grand Dames of Small World (2009)
- Cursed! (2009)
- Tales and Legends (2010)
- Necromancer Island (2010)
- Be Not Afraid… (2010)
- Tunnels (2011)
- Realms (2012)
- Royal Bonus (2013)
- A Spider’s Web (2014)
- River World (2016)
- Sky Islands (2017)
The forest is filled with all sorts of monsters. They watched and waited as you built your castle and trained your soldiers, but now they’ve gathered their army and are marching out of the woods. Can you work with your friends to defend your castle against the horde, or will the monsters tear down your walls and destroy the precious castle towers? You will all win or lose together, but in the end only one player will be declared the Master Slayer!
Castle Panic is one of those games that falls squarely into (at least) two categories: cooperative and fighting. We decided to put it in the fighting category because that’s 99% of the action in the game.
Goblins, Orcs, and Trolls! Oh my!
In Castle Panic, you and your fellow players will be besieged on all sides by a very large, and very angry army of goblins, orcs, and trolls who are doing everything they can to tear down your castle walls and eat you.
The board is divided into 3 sections: Red, Blue, and Green. At its center is the player’s castle, which consists of 6 towers with 6 outer walls. The game ends when all of the towers are destroyed or all of the monster tokens in the game have been destroyed.
Each turn, players will pull tokens out of a hat that spawns monsters in the forest. As they move closer to the center of the board, they will come into range of the castle defenders and can be attacked.
The outer ring of the board is the forest, where the monsters are completely immune. At the beginning of every turn, they will move one space closer until they hit the center and start destroying your castle. The next ring in brings the monsters in range of the Archers. The middle ring will allow you to attack with Knights. The closest ring to your castle walls allows you to play Swordsmen. There’s 1 final unit called the Hero that can attack monsters in any ring other than the forest and can save your collective butts if you run out of options.
There are fewer cards to attack the closer the monsters get to your castle, so it’s in your best interest to kill them before they reach your walls.
This is one of the few cooperative games in which I never really get frustrated with my fellow players. The design is simple and the rules are very easy, especially for newbie players, and it still manages to be a lot of fun.
This is an excellent game for players who enjoy working together, and as an icebreaker or intro game for new players.
Versions & Expansions
- The Wizard’s Tower (2011)
- The Dark Titan (2015)
- Engines of War (2016)
Epic Spellwars of the Battle Wizards
Did you know that magical wizards are battling to the death … and beyond … right now!? “Why battle?” you might ask. “What have I got to prove, magic man?” Only who’s the most awesomely powerful battle wizard in the entire realm, that’s what! As a Battle Wizard, you’ll put together up to three spell components to craft millions* of spell combos. Your spells might kick ass, or they could totally blow — it’s up to you to master the magic. You will unleash massive damage on the faces of your wizard rivals in a no-holds-barred, all-out burn-down to be the last Battle Wizard standing.
*Not actually millions of combos … but like thousands or more, maybe.
I have never seen an angrier, more testosterone-fueled nightmare in any board game… and I love it.
Epic Spell Wars is a duel between immortal wizards.
Nux from Mad Max best describes the overall story of the game: “I LIVE, I DIE, I LIVE AGAIN!”
As a battle wizard, you’ll draw a handful of component spell cards and then play them together to form a 3-layered spell.
Each spell initially can have up to 3 parts: Source + Quality + Delivery
All spells will have a spell type as well, such as Elemental or Arcane. If you play the same spell types together on one spell you can potentially make them stronger.
Each section of the spell can target different opponents, and will usually have you roll dice to determine the effects. If you have multiple spell types you get to roll more dice.
For example, if your spell consists of a Source, Quality, and Delivery that are all Arcane cards and you need to make a roll to determine effects, you would roll 3 dice because you have 3 Arcane cards in your spell.
First off, it’s hard to take this game seriously. Second, it should never ever be taken seriously.
Epic Spell Wars artwork is all done by a man named Nick Edwards, and it’s some of the craziest looking imagery you’ll see ever, let alone in board games.
The ridiculous artwork combined with the crazy names of spells creates a completely surreal experience where you can cast spells with mutant chickens or disco balls. Where else are you going to be able to cast: SCORCHIA’S DELICIOUS TESTIKILL as a legitimate spell?
Versions & Expansions
- Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre (2012)
- Rumble at Castle Tentakill (2015)
- Melee at Murdershroom Marsh (2017)
- Panic at the Pleasure Palace (2018)
Lords of Waterdeep
Waterdeep, the City of Splendors – the most resplendent jewel in the Forgotten Realms, and a den of political intrigue and shady back-alley dealings. In this game, the players are powerful lords vying for control of this great city. Its treasures and resources are ripe for the taking, and that which cannot be gained through trickery and negotiation must be taken by force!
Dungeons & Dragons is synonymous with fantasy. In Lords of Waterdeep, players will become the leaders of various factions in the fictional city of Waterdeep, set in the Forgotten Realms universe of D&D.
As the head of a faction, you’ll be the one hiring adventurers to go forth and slay monsters, complete quests, save the city and obviously, to spread your influence.
Lords of Waterdeep is a resource-management game. Each player will take turns placing their meeples around the city and hiring adventurers for their faction to raise money or to build new facilities in the city.
To gain victory points, players will send the adventurers they’ve hired out on quests. Each lord will also have a hidden character that will give them bonus victory points at the end of the game. Usually, they give points for completing a specific type of quest. Characters that get points for completing Arcane quests will want to try and snatch them up before a rival lord can complete them.
There’s also the option to build in Lords of Waterdeep. You’ll spend your money and a meeple to put a new building out that everyone can use. The victory points aren’t usually stellar, but every time someone uses that new building, as the owner, you’ll get a bonus as well.
For example, one of the buildings will give whoever places a meeple on it, 2 rogues, to add to their adventurer pool. If you build it you’ll gain the victory points, and every time someone else uses it you’ll also gain a rogue adventurer for free.
Lords of Waterdeep is a fantastic example of a resource-management game done right. The game involves plenty of options that require strategic thinking and, overall, it doesn’t overcomplicate the rules.
I’ve played this several times with groups who have never played D&D and weren’t heavily into fantasy and they loved the game. It’s a great segue for complete newbies into more complex board games.
Versions & Expansions
- Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport (2013)
- Also available as a PC game on Steam
Red Dragon Inn
You and your adventuring companions have spent all day slogging through the Dungeon, killing monsters and taking their stuff. Now you’re back in town, healed up, cleaned up, and ready to party at the Red Dragon Inn. Drink, gamble, and roughhouse with your friends. But don’t forget to keep an eye on your Gold. If you run out, you’ll have to spend the night in the stables. Oh… and try not to get too beaten up or too drunk. If you black out, your friends will continue the party without you… after they loot your body for Gold of course! The last conscious adventurer with Gold wins the game!
Tired of playing serious board games? Lucky for you, Red Dragon Inn is here! You’ll jump in as one of four fantasy characters back from their most recent adventure. It’s time to relax, gamble, and drink too much at a local inn. Gamble, drink, fight, tip the bar wench and try to be the last one standing at the end of the night.
Almost every fantasy roleplaying game starts your adventurers off in a tavern hunched over a mug of ale. It’s a place to meet and greet before setting off on a journey. In Red Dragon Inn, however, you enter the game after the quests are all done. The monsters are slain, the bugbears tamed, and all that’s left is to celebrate your loot around a nice mug of ale… or seven.
The object of the game is to get drunk, but not too drunk. (I’m sensing some good life lessons here.) The last person standing wins the game. If you get too drunk and pass out, you’re out of the game. Or if you run out of money, you’re kicked out of the tavern and out of the game.
At the end of every round, you’ll have to take a drink. PEER PRESSURE. If your alcohol level ever matches or exceeds your fortitude, just like in the real world, you end up on the floor.
If you need more money, then you can gamble. There are several cards in the game that you can play while gambling. You can play a “winning hand” card to win a gambling round, but there’s also a “cheat” card that trumps a “winning hand”. You don’t actually gamble in the game, you use cards from your hand to determine who wins.
There are several types of cards in the game. Each character you’ll be playing will have their own deck of cards. You’ll find “Anytime” cards, which as you might have guessed, can be played at any time. Likewise, the “Sometimes” cards can only be played after the conditions on the card have been met. For example, one “Sometimes” card triggers whenever you are about to lose money, and instead of it coming from your purse, you can take money from the bank instead. If only real life were like that.
You’ll also need to spend your gold on drinks from the bar.
Red Dragon Inn plays with many of the classic adventuring party tropes. It’s light-hearted and a lot of fun. For you adventurous types (adults), you can try and turn it into an actual drinking game.
Versions & Expansions
- The Red Dragon Inn 1-4
- Pooky (2012)
- Erin the Ever-Changing (2012)
- Witchdoctor Natyli (2013)
- Cormac the Mighty (2013)
- Ozrik the Adept (2014)
- Brother Bastian (2014)
- Zariah the Summoner (2015)
- The Character Trove (2015)
- Wrench (2015)
- Halden the Unhinged (2015)
- Keet and Nitrel (2016)
- Adonis vs. the Lich King (2017)
- Villains (2017)
- Spyke and Flower (2018)
- The Tavern Crew (2018)
- Ohava vs. Murgath (2019)
Legacy of Dragonholt
Gather your band of heroes and journey to the edge of the Terrinoth in Legacy of Dragonholt! The first game to use the Oracle system, Legacy of Dragonholt captures the spirit of a roleplaying game without needing a game master. This narrative game for one to six players allows players to build their own unique hero and embark on six noble quests. Battle goblins, foil the plot of an evil lord, and add a new story to your tale!
Intrigued? Check out our full review of Legacy of Dragonholt here!
Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition
The Mage Knight Board Game throws you and up to three other Mage Knights into the sprawling and ever-changing world of the Atlantean Empire, a land that is but a distant memory since your transformation into a mysterious Mage Knight. Build your armies, defeat bands of marauding enemies, and eventually conquer cities in the name of the mysterious Void Council.
Mage Knight combines different elements of role-playing games, tabletop games, and card games to create a really unique gaming experience. Players must choose one of the four mage knights in order to explore and conquer the lands that lie under the control of the Atlantean Empire.
Versions & Expansions
- Mage Knight: Dungeons (2002)
- Mage Knight: Conquest (2002)
- The Lost Legion Expansion (2012)
- Krang Character Expansion (2013)
- Mage Knight: Ressurection (2013)
- Shades of Tezla Expansion (2015)
- Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition (2018)
We recommend Ultimate Edition if you haven’t tried Mage Knight yet. It comes with 3 of the expansions and is the best bang for your buck as far as Mage Knight goes. Check out our full review of Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition here.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark
Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) is a board game in which one player takes on the role of the treacherous overlord, and up to four other players take on the roles of courageous heroes. During each game, the heroes embark on quests and venture into dangerous caves, ancient ruins, dark dungeons, and cursed forests to battle monsters, earn riches, and attempt to stop the overlord from carrying out his vile plot.
* GameCows Recommendation: Best Fantasy Dungeon-Crawl Board Game *
Versions & Expansions
- Lair of the Wyrm (2012)
- The Trollfens (2013)
- Labyrinth of Ruin (2013)
- Shadow of Nerekhall (2014)
- Oath of the Outcast (2014)
- Nature’s Ire (2014)
- Manor of Ravens (2014)
- Guardians of Deephall (2014)
- Crusade of the Forgotten (2014)
- Crown of Destiny (2014)
- Visions of Dawn (2015)
- Treaty of Champions (2015)
- Mists of Bilehall (2015)
- Heirs of Blood (2015)
- Dark Elements (2015)
- Bonds of the Wild (2015)
- The Chains That Rust (2016)
- Stewards of the Secret (2016)
- Shards of Everdark (2016)
- Road to Legend (2016) – PC board game on Steam
We had a really hard time narrowing our fantasy list down to only 20 board games, so there were a few others that made the “honorable mention” list. They tend to fall into the Abstract Strategy category. We’ll talk more about them in the future, but would be remiss if we didn’t at least give them a shout out in this article.
Z-Man Games | 2012 | Playing time: 60-150 minutes | Players: 2-5
Enter a magical world where the inhabitants have the power to transform the terrain in which they live. In Terra Mystica, players strive to develop one of fourteen factions more successfully than their opponents. Each faction is bound to a specific type of terrain, and there’s not enough room for everyone. You must compete to claim valuable territory while altering the environment to meet your faction’s needs. Expand your influence and build structures that provide valuable resources like workers, priests, money, and power. Adapt to the evolving challenges and claim your territory!
Terra Mystical is a complex strategy game, where players control one of fourteen groups spread through seven landscapes. The group must exploit neighboring lands in order to grow and develop their skills. Success comes with carefully-crafted strategy and subtle influence.
Versions & Expansions
- Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice (2014)
CMON Limited | 2017 | Playing time: 45-60 minutes | Players: 2-6
Unite the Scattered Tribes of Ethnos and Lead Them Into a New Age! Ethnos is a mythical realm filled with creatures big and small. As the last Age ended, war and revolt left the inhabitants without someone to lead them into their future. Giants, Dwarves, Elves, and Centaurs have not traditionally gotten along, but a leader is a diplomat as much as a warrior. Now, you’ll have to bring the residents of Ethnos together under one rule. Over the course of three Ages, you will gather followers and convince them to band together to conquer the six Kingdoms. Only a steady hand and a pure heart will be able to lead the inhabitants of Ethnos into the future.
Greater Than Games (Fabled Nexus) | 2017 | Playing time: 90-120 minutes | Players: 1-4
In the most distant reaches of the world, magic still exists, embodied by spirits of the land, of the sky, and of every natural thing. As the great powers of Europe stretch their colonial empires further and further, they will inevitably lay claim to a place where spirits still hold power – and when they do, the land itself will fight back alongside the islanders who live there.
Spirit Island both a cooperative and complex strategy board game that is set in an alternate-history world around the year 1700. There’s a bit of a colonial vs. indigenous twist as players embody different spirits of the land, each with their own unique elemental powers. The goal is to defend your island from the destructive colonizing Invaders.
I’ve never played this game, but really want to. I’ve heard it described as a “bizarro-world version of Settlers of Catan,” a description which only intrigues me more.
Versions & Expansions
- Branch & Claw (2017)
The fantasy genre lends itself very well to board games. There’s nothing quite like dungeon-delving, and shooting off magic missiles with friends. Because of that, it’s also a very popular genre, and there’s no shortage of games willing to help you scratch that itch.
Because of the wealth of board games in this extensive category, it’s very possible that your favorites did not make it on our list. That doesn’t mean we didn’t like it. It means that I can only write so much before my eyes start to bleed.
If your favorite game didn’t make it on the list, or you just want to talk board games, leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.