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15 Board Game Gateways to Tabletop Roleplaying

Tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) are enticing to any child at heart. Who among us didn’t play pretend with our friends growing up? How about a little more pretend, but with a few rules? But maybe a 300-plus page player’s handbook is not your idea of fun on a Saturday evening, or you’re looking for something slightly more accessible. Love Thy Nerd has you covered with fifteen board games we think will slake your thirst for adventure if you’re not quite ready to surrender to the siren song that is TTRPGs.

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Above and Below

Euro-style games and roleplaying encounters may not sound like a likely combination, but Above and Below brings these two concepts together in a way that adds flavor and nuance to both. While some of your villagers will build your above-ground dwellings and harvest crops, others are skilled enough to explore caverns below-ground. Their encounters are read out of a storybook and could net you coin, supplies, or even new villagers to further expand and explore. If you like the idea of having adventures more than building a Euro-style village, check out the sequel Near and Far which replaces the village with campaign elements and map-based adventuring. Madeline Turnipseed

 

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Before There Were Stars

Improvising a story on the spot and sharing it with other people can be intimidating, but Before There Were Stars makes it easy and takes away a lot of the stress. 3–6 players take turns rolling six-sided dice and using them to select cards depicting imaginary constellations such as “The River” or “The Thief”. They then use those cards to craft creation myths using prompts like “In the beginning…” and “At the dawn of civilization…” Each of the four segments of every player’s story is only 30–60 seconds long, and at the end of the game players are given the opportunity to share their favorite parts of each other’s stories. Every time I’ve played I’ve loved seeing people begin the game uncertain, and end the game surprised and delighted by their own—and each other’s—capacity for imagination. This is a great introduction to the improvisational storytelling that makes tabletop RPGs come alive. – April-Lyn Caouette

 

Betrayal at House on the Hill

You are one of six explorers, locked in a haunted house. The first half is simple: explore on your own to reveal rooms with events, items, or omens that may raise or lower your stats. Halfway through the game, you’ll reveal the Haunt, a specific story where one of you has turned traitor and the rest have to work together to escape your doom. Betrayal at House on the Hill, also available with a Widow’s Walk expansion, a Baldur’s Gate-themed standalone, and a legacy version, is a great, lighthearted introduction to story-based gaming, stats-based die rolling, and dungeon crawling… even if it does encourage you to go against the roleplaying adage, “Don’t Split the Party.” Lisa Eldred

 

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Call to Adventure

Sometimes the idea of roleplaying games is enticing, but the idea of coming up with a character and backstory is daunting. While there are numerous pre-made characters on the internet, Call to Adventure takes the task of character development and turns it into a game. Each player is dealt cards that illustrate their origins, motivations, and destinies. They will develop their backstories by casting lots (lots!) whose results will determine whether they succeed and add that piece to their story or fail and must attempt another adventure. Players can attempt to gain story cards based on their existing skills, challenges that they feel would fit best with their existing story, or a combination of the two. At the end of the game, each player will have an interesting character that would be welcome in any TTRPG adventuring party. Madeline Turnipseed

 

Chronicles of Crime

If your uncle enjoys Clue or your mom watched every season of CSI, Chronicles of Crime is sure to get their attention. It is a race against the clock in this mystery solving tabletop game with a twist. Search crime scenes, interrogate witnesses, expose scandal, thwart corruption, and of course solve murder mysteries. It utilizes a tabletop setup of QR based character, clue and location cards, combined with an intriguing VR experience. While the box recommends 1-4 players, you are really only limited by the number of seats in your space. All of your decisions are based on your collaborative deduction skills, giving every person at the table a role in solving these mysteries. The engaging subject matter, rich story, cooperative problem-solving and lack of player limit make Chronicles of Crime a non-intimidating introduction to the world of tabletop roleplaying. Anna Stallcup

 

Dead of Winter

Every good zombie story eventually has to deal with the question: “Who are the monsters: the zombies or the people?” Dead of Winter presents zombies as a massive, though predictable, threat with the players trying to manage the risks in order to maximize the rewards all while one player may be a traitor. Each player uses dice to determine the success of their actions. This system helps players to learn to look at characters in roles with some better at fighting and others being better at exploring to find needed resources. Dead of Winter also features a system called the “Crossroad Cards” which can provide interesting decisions for the players or give context to characters in play. These cards can help to provide great ideas for character backstories and encounter ideas for GMs. Cameron Franklin

 

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Gloomhaven

Gloomhaven is a whole roleplaying game in a box. It comes with hundreds of scenarios, character and enemy miniatures, game board, environment pieces, and so much more. Gloomhaven is a mix of roleplaying game and card/deck management game. Each scenario you play lets you choose which two cards you’ll play from your hand. One card lets your character move and another does some form of attack. You must work with your fellow players to work together to complete the goal before you run out of cards. Further, you are not just playing a linear story. Like a roleplaying game, you and your team can choose what scenarios you will take on. Will you help or work against the lady who hired you to get an item for you? Will you help the poor homeless boy find his cat or brush him off? Each choice has effects that shape your game of Gloomhaven and can even lead to new player classes you could play. Be warned, it costs around $100. However, it will take you and your friends MANY hours to complete the game and you’re getting over 2,000 components. An organizer is highly recommended. Apart from these two drawbacks, Gloomhaven is an amazing game that is a great gateway to deeper roleplaying games.  Zach Carpenter

 

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HeroQuest

HeroQuest is long out-of-print, but it’s a classic that was my own gateway to tabletop RPGs—if you see it for cheap at your local thrift store or yard sale, it’s worth picking up! One player takes on the role of the evil sorcerer Zargon, who controls all the monsters and oversees one of fourteen quests, revealing more of the scenario as the adventurers explore the board. 1–4 other players take on the roles of adventurers (Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf, and Wizard), searching for treasure and traps, fighting off monsters, and working towards the goal of that quest (such as recovering a specific treasure or killing a boss monster). Everything Zargon needs to run each quest is summarized concisely in two pages in the Quest Book. It may not be an amazing game by today’s standards, but it’s a fun, no-fuss introduction to some of the core concepts in D&D and similar games. (Plus, the miniature doors and furniture and monster figures are just fun.April-Lyn Caouette

 

Legacy of Dragonholt

Legacy of Dragonholts “choose your own adventure” is a great starting point for people looking to get into Tabletop RPG’s and for people who are interested in the worldbuilding part of the genre. Legacy of Dragonholt starts with everyone making a character and deciding on the abilities you want to bring to the table. There are no dice and most of the abilities help to flesh out what actions you have to choose from for the situation at hand. After the introduction, players find themselves in the town of Dragonholt where the majority of the narrative centers around time management and storytelling. Even without mini’s or maps the Legacy of Dragonholt feels alive; shops are only open at certain times of day and successive actions can wear out the player characters. For prospective GMs, Legacy of Dragonholt is a great way to get ideas of ways to create mysteries and pull your players into your world, from its intricate clues to interesting NPCs. What Legacy of Dragonholt does best is present the players with a way to take the characters they have created and make a mark on the world.  Cameron Franklin

 

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Mansions of Madness (2nd edition)

In Mansions of Madness, players explore a modular map, searching for clues that will help them investigate strange and unsettling occurrences within the Lovecraft mythos. While exploring they’ll also fend off cultists, angry mobs, and monsters, and attempt to remain sane in the face of horrifying realities. The game is largely cooperative, but lose your grasp on your sanity and you may find that your new paranoias or psychoses put your goals at odds with those of the rest of your team. Players roll dice to resolve encounters and the game uses a unique card-driven system to determine wounds and sanity checks. The second edition of the game features app-driven play, with details such as monster health, encounter outcomes, and narrative being controlled and tracked within the app. This makes for an enthralling story-driven game experience without the need for a GM. April-Lyn Caouette

 

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Mice and Mystics

Take on the roles of mice racing towards an enchanted king and away from bugs, rats and other things in the castle that’d be happy to eat you. Every mouse has different strengths and abilities that allow players to work together fighting against forces of evil and helping each other through the castle. Each session tells another chapter in the story of an enchantress that would take the kingdom for herself and the mice loyal to the king. If you’re looking for a game that gives you a taste of cooperatively crawling through dungeons and overcoming enemies, with a story that doesn’trequire a GM to tell (not that we don’t love them!), Mice and Mystics is worth your consideration. Madeline Turnipseed

 

Someone Has Died

In Someone Has Died, one person takes the role of a will arbitrator, and the others play friends and acquaintances of the recently deceased, arguing for why they are most deserving of their loved one’s most prized possessions. It sounds like it would be grim and dark, but in reality, it’s hilarious. Hands of cards detail each player’s identity, how exactly they were related to the deceased, and what secrets they know.  This is a game about ridiculous personalities and even more ridiculous “fortunes.” Players build their stories upon each others’ and are given the opportunity to throw a wrench in each others’ arguments. This hilarious game will give you a taste of group improvisational storytelling without the more complicated aspects of many tabletop games such as lengthy rules, charts, maps, or character sheets. April-Lyn Caouette

 

Stuffed Fables

Stuffed Fables is a storybook adventure game where each player is a different stuffed toy fighting to protect the little girl that loves and owns them. Every page of the storybook game board is filled with new encounters and unsettling enemies to overcome. Pulling different colored dice from the bag makes every turn suspenseful and different. While this game is designed to be played by both kids and adults, don’t let the setting lull you into complacency. Victories aren’t easy or guaranteed, and the toys may not make it back before their little girl wakes up. If you want a game that lets successes and failures dictate story outcomes that you could play with the entire family, but aren’t ready to commit to a TTRPG campaign, this is one to add to your collection. Madeline Turnipseed

 

Tales of the Arabian Nights

Greetings traveler, have you heard the tale of Ali Baba and the forty thieves? Or perhaps heard tell of the cunning Scheherazade? Aladdin and the lamp? What about the tragedy of Mike and the troll, or the time Chris challenged a lion to a drinking contest? All these and more await you in the (massive) Book of Tales! Tales of the Arabian Nights has players quest through a world of powerful genies and ambitious viziers, letting them choose how to manage encounters with the distressed, the dangerous, and the deranged. Will you woo your way into the palace, or lie your way to the treasury? You decide, but beware: Fate can be cruel (or hilarious) when you don’t have the right skills. Arabian Nights gives players a taste of roleplaying by focusing on decisions and outcomes, not stats and modifiers. Dramatic reading of the consequences is highly recommended. Matt Civico

 

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T.I.M.E Stories

It may be surprising for a seven-hour game to be on a listicle of TTRPG “gateway” games, but I think that it fits quite nicely. Each of the 4 players takes on the role of a Temporal Agent based on the scenario you are playing. As one of these agents, you travel through time attempting to repair temporal faults on both sides history. T.I.M.E Stories utilizes an exploration mechanic called “decksploration,” in which each area has its own set of cards and divergent pathways for you to discover.  Instead of a GM watching you struggle behind their tri-fold screen, your boss, Bob, will give you withering looks when you fail to resolve the anomaly again. With, currently, 8 official scenarios and countless community stories to work through, you can either dive headlong into the lore and follow the story as it weaves its way through time and said campaigns, or be satisfied with a single playthrough. Your party will succeed together. They will fail together. But most importantly, they will try to make the best decisions together in order to solve the mysteries in that timeline and—hopefully—see Bob smiling at the end of your game and read the two greatest words an agent could possibly hope for; “Well done.” Bubba Stallcup

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