The 5 best fantasy board games

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by Anne Loreto Cruz

You may not realize it, but there are actually plenty of health benefits to playing board games. Studies have shown that the act of playing games with others can boost interpersonal skills while improving cognitive function, and fantasy or role playing games can also help improve attentional control and task switching. The best fantasy board games are immersive and compelling enough to play again and again, with challenges that provide an enjoyable level of difficulty.

Depending on who you're playing with, you’ll either want a game that has an intricately designed world, or a fantasy-themed game with lore that doesn’t heavily influence gameplay. If you’re playing with a casual group or younger players, keeping track of character skills, attributes, and reading cards might be a bit overwhelming, so simpler games may be a better choice.

Games that require some role play (think Dungeons & Dragons) will benefit from players who are fully invested in their characters, so they're better for consistent playgroups rather than one-off game nights. Some fantasy board games also come in legacy editions, which means that a player's choices in one play-through can affect later games, and sessions are more like episodes that make up a longer season of the game.

Other factors you should consider when shopping for a fantasy board game are your available table space and preferred playing style. Many fantasy board games include a lot of tokens, cards and figures, which may not fit on smaller playing spaces. If your game nights usually devolve into skirmishes over who won, you may want to choose a cooperative game that encourages teamwork to achieve the game’s win conditions. But if you'd rather not strategize as a team, a competitive game might be a better fit.

Ready to explore a new world on your next game night? Here are six of the best fantasy board games you can buy right now.

1. A low-effort introduction to Dungeons & Dragons

  • Number of players: 1-5
  • Ages: 13+
  • Gameplay: cooperative
  • Game length: 1-3 hours, depending on scenarios

If you're looking to try Dungeons & Dragons but are intimidated by jumping into the deep end of the game, Dungeons and Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon is the perfect entry point. It allows players to explore the world and characters of D&D without the time and energy required to commit to a full campaign. If you do decide to take the plunge and start playing D&D, you can repurpose the figures that comes with this game for other adventures. Potential players should note that this board game does require a bit of set up, and the game itself takes more than an hour to play through.

One reviewer wrote: “We bought this to start a weekly family game night and are so glad we did! The rules are quick and easy to learn. The adventures take little time to set up. Each adventure last about an hour or so - which makes it perfect for not being too short, but not too long where people get bored. It can also be combined with other games from the same series. The adventures can be played as one offs or a campaign - which is how we are doing it. The miniatures are great and a blast to paint if you are into that hobby. The price might seem a little steep, but is well worth it thanks to everything that comes in the box. Highly recommend.”

2. A game for those who aren't over Game of Thrones

  • Number of players: 3-6
  • Ages: 14+
  • Gameplay: competitive
  • Game length: 3 hours

Rewrite the history of Westeros with this popular Game of Thrones board game. Each player commands a house vying for the Iron Throne, and players make (and break) alliances with other characters to acquire castles and strongholds over the course of 10 rounds. While the game is largely competitive (this is Game of Thrones, after all) there are moments when players must work together to face a larger threat. Note that this is not a quick board game — reviewers say games can take up to four hours to play all the way through. If this is your first foray into longer strategy games, it's a good idea to thoroughly read the rule book or watch a video tutorial before diving in.

One reviewer wrote: “If you're not careful, this game will turn you and your friends into the cast of Game of Thrones. It's incredibly fun playing the Risk-style war games, but it's even better vying for the Throne, the Raven and the Sword. These tools can tip the game for or against you at pivotal moments, and if the wildlings attack that just makes the game more interesting as it briefly turns from competitive to cooperative. Just don't trust your friend who says she'll help you defeat the army invading you. She really just wants your land for herself! Great fun!”

3. A complex, cooperative legacy game

  • Number of players: 1-4
  • Age: 12+
  • Gameplay: cooperative
  • Game length: 1-2 hours

This fantasy role playing board game has a near-perfect 4.8-star overall rating on Amazon, with over 3,000 ratings in total. It’s easy to get immersed in the intricate world of Gloomhaven, where you work together with other players to fight monsters and explore the world's various settings. This version of Gloomhaven is a legacy game, meaning that players' choices will influence future challenges and later sessions in a choose your own adventure style. Reviewers say that while this game takes a while to set up and break down, the exciting game play is well worth the effort.

One reviewer wrote: “A great board game for those who enjoy all of the complex systems of a video game RPG (like Skyrim or the Witcher). It takes up a LOT of space on the table and it takes a considerable amount of time to set up (15-20 minutes) and another 15-20 minutes to re-box after playing, which is the only downside. You have to get out the character cards, the monster cards, create the game board, look up the scenario, identify any particular rules that apply to your team, etc...and managing through all of that just takes time. Eventually you get the hang of it but again, it's an ordeal. If you have a few hours to play and your party is willing to wait for the setup process (or if you can do it ahead of time before they arrive), then you will have a great time. It's a spectacular game and I love telling friends about it. Most who have played it can't wait to play it again and prefer it over all other board game options.”

4. A simple tabletop game that’s easy to learn

  • Number of players: 2-8
  • Age: 8+
  • Gameplay: competitive
  • Game length: 15-20 minutes

This path-finding game doesn’t have a ton of fantasy lore or role playing involved, but it’s simple to pick up and games are pretty quick. Each player controls a small totem, and the aim is to be the last one standing on the board. However, the board is created with randomized tiles that are placed by the players — you must do your best to stay on the path and not run into other players. Since the game’s outcome has to do with a mix between strategy and random tile placement, anything can happen to even the most calculating players. It's an accessible and low stakes option with fun fantasy details.

One reviewer wrote: “This game is great! I've played it among several different groups of people, and ended up playing several sequential rounds each time. I think it appeals to a lot of people because it strikes a happy middle in regards to luck and strategy. The game is also really beautiful. The board and the instructions are attractive and easy to understand/intuit, and the little stone-like player pieces are lovely too. They're made of a very smooth material that feels great, they're weighted and shaped nicely so that they stand well on the board but aren't heavy to hold/move, and they come in a really lovely variety of colors, the shades of which are a nice change from most other game pieces. Overall, the aesthetic of the game is superb.”

5. A challenging fantasy game for strategy buffs

  • Number of players: 2-5
  • Age: 8+
  • Gameplay: competitive
  • Game length: 30 minutes per player

In this strategy game, players control one of 14 factions vying for power, land, and resources in Terra Mystica’s world. If you’re well-versed in other strategy games and looking for a challenge, this game delivers. Each player in Terra Mystica has access to its faction’s skills and abilities. That means the faction you choose can affect gameplay, and each game can be a new experience if you choose a new faction. After watching a play-through, my roommate described Terra Mystica as “Catan meets Agricola, meets chaos.”

One reviewer wrote: “While this game works great with 3-5 players, my girlfriend and I play this multiple times a week as a two player game. We had played lots of Catan (particularly the Cities and Knights expansion) but this has completely overtaken that for us. The different races make for novel gameplay each time, and learning how to best use each one adds a lot of replay value. I will note there are a lot of rules that are easy to miss in the rulebook, but all of the ones we initially missed didn't massively change gameplay and didn't break the game. Even after probably 50 games we're still loving this!”

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