7 Tabletop Games To Play If You Like D&D
Published on September 10, 2020
Photo by Dan Gentile - beeradvocate.com -
We here at Arcane Eye have played a lot of board games and tabletop games. Out of all of those games, we still think D&D 5e holds the top spot. And yet, there always comes a time where we want a little diversity in how we spend our leisure time, or maybe you’re a DM and you don’t feel like prepping a session.
Sure, lots of these types of lists already exist, but we thought we’d give our own opinions on the matter. Below are some board games and tabletop games similar to D&D, or options that might at least scratch that itch until you play again. In any case, don’t expect them to be just like the game we’ve all grown to love. Instead, take a look at what they’re all about, see what we think of them, and then decide if they might be for you. Note that many of them can even be played by yourself and still be fun!
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Players: 1 – 4 (more than 2 players requires a second core set)
Playing Time: 60 – 120 minutes
Arkham Horror: The Card Game just oozes its theme with every game piece, card, and token. Set in the fictional city of Arkham, Massachusetts, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a love letter to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and is the most faithful interpretation of his works of any tabletop RPG. You take on the role of an investigator, tasked with discovering the mysteries and horrors haunting your town.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game is what publisher Fantasy Flight Games describes as a “Living Card Game” (LCG), meaning that new scenarios are released periodically, including new adventures, investigators, and cards to put in your deck. Deckbuilding is a core component of what makes the game fun, and really starts to shine when you get expansion products. Another is the stories that make up each campaign, which are always incredibly well written and diverse throughout the different expansions.
It is a cooperative game, and is one of the best tabletop experiences I have ever had with my significant other. True to H.P. Lovecraft’s vision, failure is inevitable and is part of what makes this game so great. Instead of simply “losing” and starting over, failure can mean that your story takes an unexpected turn as you carry onward, leaving lasting trauma on your poor investigators.
Remember, this game is not the same as Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror, both of which are board games. If you would prefer a board game in the same setting, we would recommend checking out Eldritch Horror. In our opinion, Eldritch Horror has more replayability but is less successful in terms of its storytelling and gameplay.
- Riveting storytelling and theme that makes you want to keep playing to see where the story goes
- Your choices matter, resulting in difficult decisions that affect your story and the town itself
- Many options for deckbuilding and investigators to cater to your preferred playstyle that allows for roleplaying
- This game requires expansions for further scenarios and deckbuilding options, accompanied by monthly releases for those expansions to continue their storyline
- Limited replayability after the first playthrough if you don’t like repeating scenarios and deckbuilding
Players: 1 – 5 (there is an app so you can play alone)
Playing time: 120 minutes
Descent: Journeys in the Dark is an RPG board game that builds on its predecessor in many ways, and is in our opinion a better experience than the first. It is a dungeon crawler at heart, so expect your time to be filled with exploring dangerous locations and fighting monsters in a typical fantasy setting. You can play either competitively (one player will be the “Overlord”, or bad guy) against the rest of the players, or cooperatively.
If you need a break from the creative angle of D&D, check this game out. Scenarios are written for you, with a simpler set of rules than other RPGs, so just relax and chuck some dice with your friends.
- Fan made content provides near limitless replayability
- Many options in terms of campaigns, heroes, and enemies
- RPG elements are present, but the game feels streamlined while still maintaining a tactical feel
- Good quality board pieces and robust miniatures
- Outcomes often depend on dice rolls and can lead to feel bad moments
- The expansions feature much better campaigns than the base game
- Set up time can be lengthy, especially if the pieces aren’t organized
Players: 2+ (more is recommended)
Playing Time: 60+ minutes
Dungeon World is a game for those that love story and character development, and are okay with letting actual gameplay mechanics take a backseat. It is the ideal game for people who love D&D, but want to experience shorter campaigns with less crunch. If you only love tactical combat and yawn when it comes to everything in between, maybe look elsewhere.
The focus of the game is on the roleplaying aspect, and the rules strongly encourage immersion. Therefore, playing Dungeon World relies heavily on having a good GM. If you are experienced at taking on this role in D&D, and like to run story-driven campaigns, you should feel right at home. To top it all off, Dungeon World has a very old school RPG feel, a point of nostalgia for many older gamers.
- Easy to pick up, streamlined gameplay
- Rules and systems can be modified to your liking
- Roleplay is rewarded with XP through acting based on your bonds and alignments
- Rules are loose and can be interpreted differently depending on your GM
- Characters reach their full potential quickly compared to D&D
- Can be difficult to picture in your mind if you are used to playing with battlemaps
Players: 1 – 4
Playing Time: 60 – 120 minutes
If you love an oppressive, dark fantasy setting, where the threat of death is present every time you play, Gloomhaven is definitely the game for you. It is an RPG board game similar to D&D in the areas focused on dungeon crawling and combat, with a branching storyline directly influenced by the decisions you make. Decisions you make in combat are as important as they are complex, creating a deep sense of satisfaction when you beat some tough enemies.
Due to the lengthy nature of the story, the game is at its best when you can play many sessions with the same group. Gloomhaven is extremely immersive, and can quickly become the only thing you want to play with your friends for months on end. Ranked #1 overall on BoardGameGeek, this is a game you need to check out.
- HUGE amount of content in the box with tons of replayability
- Very strategic gameplay
- Great monster AI that makes them feel alive and different from one another
- Will make your wallet cry, although it’s only a one-time purchase!
- Long set up time
- Steep learning curve and a long list of rules
- Each player is given “secret” personal goals that can hamper cooperation
Players: 1 – 4
Playing Time: 60 – 90 minutes
If you want a more lighthearted game, or perhaps you want to play with some younger family members, check out Mice & Mystics. The game puts you in the (small) shoes of a group of warriors who have been turned into mice by the evil Vanestra. You must fight your way through the castle as you tackle foes such as rats, cockroaches, and cats.
The game isn’t particularly hard, but it has a lot of charm. Chuck some dice, fend off household pests, and save the kingdom. What more could you want?
- Great for the whole family
- Easy to pick up
- Paintable miniatures
- The theme is less mature than other games and some may find it juvenile
- Combat may start to feel repetitive
- Luck from dice rolls create a lot of variance in your chances of success
Players: 2+ (more is recommended)
Playing Time: 60 minutes +
Yeah, yeah. It’s almost blasphemous to mention Pathfinder on a D&D website, but here we are. Pathfinder and D&D have much in common, namely because Pathfinder is actually based on the ruleset of D&D 3e. While maintaining many of the core concepts that make D&D the greatest roleplaying game ever, Pathfinder also diverges enough to be its own stand-alone game.
D&D 5e was created to streamline the gameplay to make it more accessible, and it has definitely succeeded in that regard. Some people do miss the days of complexity offered in older versions of D&D, and that’s where Pathfinder shines. There are more interesting and varied feats available in Pathfinder, and taking them isn’t punished, so they become a tool available for any build. You also pick from different races, classes, and ancestries, offering even more variety during character creation. The bottom line is that Pathfinder 2e wants to give you as many choices as possible, for better or for worse.
Perhaps the most interesting difference present in Pathfinder is the combat system. Characters get three actions per turn, as opposed to the one in D&D. Combat can feel more tactical because characters and enemies have more mobility on the battlefield by taking additional Stride actions, but still leaves them open to performing another action like attacking. Attacks of Opportunity are also much rarer, allowing you to safely disengage an enemy without wasting an action.
- If you love crunchy gameplay and customizable characters, there is a lot to dive into
- Will feel familiar to D&D while offering a whole new experience
- Deep and tactical combat
- Many systems at work so your GM must be extremely competent with the rules
- Steep learning curve with a lot to remember
- More math than D&D
Players: 1 – 4
Playing Time: 120 minutes
Shadows of Brimstone is a co-op dungeon crawler with a twist. Instead of a stereotypical fantasy setting, you will be battling monsters in the Old West while playing as fun, tropey archetypes like a Law Man or a Gunslinger.
Perhaps the most similar aspect to D&D of Shadows of Brimstone is the flexibility when it comes to creating and leveling a character. After choosing your class, starting items, and a personal item, you have to choose starting upgrades. This choice matters because it will influence how the character is played, with the other upgrades becoming unavailable to your character. Characters also have stats and other traits that can be improved upon through skill trees as you level up, forcing you to make more trade-offs that really make the character your own. Character development is deeply embedded in the roots of Shadows of Brimstone, creating a fulfilling feeling of progression.
All in all, Shadows of Brimstone is an absolute blast if you want to decimate some monsters and roll some dice without overly complex rules.
- Assembly and painting of minis can be lots of fun and is a hobby in and of itself
- The theme is unique
- Expansions add a breath of fresh air and improve the game in a multitude of ways
- Characters can be tailored to your liking with a ton of customizability
- If you don’t like to paint minis they look bland on their own
- The amount of dice chucking and simplified rules compared to similar games can be uninteresting to some players
- Low monster variety in the base game
There you have it, these are just some of the games that have graced our tables in the past. Not all of them have been pulled out recently, but we’ve still gotten a ton of fun out of them. If you’re feeling like a change of pace there’s no harm in trying one out. Besides, there’s always more D&D to be played.
Thanks for reading! Are there any other board games and tabletop RPGs like D&D you think we should check out? If so, go ahead and comment below. Subscribe to Arcane Eye for more articles on everything Dungeons & Dragons!