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Five Board Games for Fantasy Fans

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Five Board Games for Fantasy Fans

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Published on December 8, 2023

Looking for a way to make devastating competitive moves against your friends while occupying an imaginative fantasy world? Look no further!

I play board games any chance I get. My friends and I have an unwritten rule that every hardcore gaming session must include at least one new game. This has resulted in a recent onslaught of new board games, many of which take place in unique fantasy worlds or use fantasy concepts in intriguing ways.

Here are five of my favorites—and I hope you’ll recommend your own top fantasy board games in the comments!

 

Small World

In Small World, the world is… too small.

You select a fantasy race to start the game. There are a few dozen in the game, including giants, dwarves, skeletons, ghouls, and more. Every type has unique abilities.

Each race also comes with a random power attached to it. You might get Giants who excel at bivouacking. Perhaps you will draw flying sorcerers. These powers are shuffled in each game, so the combinations will always be different.

You use your selected race to conquer portions of a map that’s made to be crowded. Eventually, you’ll realize you’ve stretched your crew too thin. At that point, you put your race into “decline” and pick a new one.

Small World has elements of Risk, but the battle mechanics are simpler. The purpose of the game is to conquer as much as you can and earn the points that come with your conquest. It makes you feel like the commander of a small but mighty fantasy army, putting you in a tough spot when you suddenly have to abandon your forces for a new battalion.

Of all the games on this list, Small World has the toughest learning curve. I recommend using an instructional video to get the basics down before you play.

 

Mysterium

I absolutely love Mysterium. It is chaotic and frustrating as all hell. It’s also the only cooperative game on this list, so pick it up if you want to test a group’s propensity for teamwork.

In the game, one player takes on the role of a ghost, using abstract art on cards to give “visions” to the other players, who must use those visions to determine who murdered the ghost, where they were murdered, and the weapon used. If you’re thinking it sounds like reverse cooperative Clue, you’re on the right track.

Mysterium’s art stands out among its playing materials. Each card is beautifully illustrated with wacky and whimsical scenes. I’ve played the ghost many times, and it’s incredibly fun to dole out cards thinking the other players will make one obvious connection, only for them to make an equally valid one I never noticed.

Though Mysterium is technically a race against the clock (the players need to correctly guess each category before seven turns end), the pressure is low, and it’s fun to see what fantastical images catch the eye of your fellow players.

 

Century: Golem Edition

Century comes in various forms—all the same game, but with different aesthetics. It’s an engine-building game in which you construct a deck that helps you exchange and upgrade gems in the hopes of buying cards with points on them.

Fantasy doesn’t really find its way into Century’s game mechanics. Instead, I appreciate this pick for its art and presentation. The gems you collect are shiny plastic simulacrums of the precious stones they emulate. The cards all have wonderful depictions of fantasy characters harvesting these gems, sometimes from treacherous locales and sometimes in the shadow of the hulking titular golems, which loom menacingly over the diminutive gem collectors.

 

The Quacks of Quedlinburg

It’s quirky! It’s novel! It’s QUACKS!

You’re a potioneer/alchemist, and you’re trying to build the biggest, best potion without the volatile mixture exploding in your face.

Quacks is played in nine rounds. In each round, players blindly draw ingredient tokens one by one from a sack. You place each token on your board based on the number it contains, and some have special powers that advance you further or give you a post-round advantage. Beware, though! Draw too many garlics and your potion will explode, ending your round and forcing you to choose between collecting points or purchasing more ingredients between rounds (players whose potions don’t explode are allowed to do both).

In between rounds, you collect points and use your progress on the board to purchase more ingredients. Will you go for lower numbers but a higher volume of ingredients? Or more powerful tokens? It’s up to you.

I enjoy Quacks for its sheer uniqueness of concept: how many other games involve creating a potion by pure chance? The clever presentation and the chaos that tends to result augment the game’s premise, pushing it atop my list of favorites.

 

Sheriff of Nottingham

Some play board games to relax. Some play to prove they’re the most strategic. Others—like me—want a socially acceptable forum for lying to my friends’ faces.

Enter Sheriff of Nottingham.

You’re a smuggler. One of your fellow players is dubbed the Sheriff for a round, and the remaining smugglers have to attempt to pass goods through the Sheriff’s watchful outposts. Players put cards into a bag and announce the products they’re bringing into the cities: chickens, apples, sheep, or perhaps contraband like whiskey or crossbows.

The Sheriff tries to sniff out the smugglers. If the Sheriff searches your bags and there’s nothing but above-board goods in it, you’re in the clear and the Sheriff will be reprimanded. If he catches you with contraband, though, you’ll lose a hefty portion of your resources.

There’s a catch, though. If you can tell the Sheriff is onto you, you can offer a bribe and try to sneak your goods through without inspection.

When I’m the Sheriff, I feel like a snooty noble sniffing out the lawless riffraff encroaching on my city. When I’m a smuggler, I feel like a Rogue deploying my skills of stealth and deceiving the idiotic bureaucrats who would stop me.

Best part? You get to be the Sheriff and a smuggler in each game.

***

 

That’s the list! Have you played any of these games? Are there others you can recommend to fellow fantasy fans?

Originally published April 2023

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

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Cole Rush

Author

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are the Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.
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