I grew up an avid video gamer. I played pretty much everything: shooters, RPGs, action/adventure, stealth, puzzles, platformers, etc., etc. It’s only in the last 3 or 4 years that my interests have gradually shifted to board games, but that’s not to say my love for the alternative has gone away completely. Rather, I’ve become far more picky about the video games I buy because I’d much rather buy a new board game to play around the table with friends. That’s something that I think the modern age of video games has lost – local play.
In the advent of the internet, online play has completely replaced local co-op and competitive gaming. Fewer and fewer games come out each year that support split-screen multiplayer because the online market is far too lucrative not to capitalize on. And while many board games can be played online via iOS and Android devices or on PCs through Steam, nothing beats getting a group of friends together to play a hard copy of a tabletop game.
If you’re someone who has spent your life playing video games and yearns for the experience of friendly face-to-face entertainment that you’re just not getting from your favorite hobby anymore, then perhaps look toward board games. In the last 15 to 20 years, the board game industry has seen a tremendous upswing of games that forego the archaic, redundant mechanisms of the classics. Yes, there’s more to the hobby than just Monopoly, Scrabble, and Risk.
If you’re just looking for something to get your feet wet that feels similar enough to those older games, check out my other post here, in which I list a handful of games that build upon the fundamental formula laid out by those classic games and expands them with modern mechanisms and concepts. But if you’re coming straight from video games and want to dive right in, then look no further. Below you’ll find a list of games that I feel adequately captures the feeling of many video game genres and spins them into fun and exciting tabletop experiences.
#1 – Shooters
(Examples: Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, Gears of War)
Shooters are perhaps the most popular modern video game genre, with those examples listed dominating the market. If you’re looking for board games that capture the same visceral feeling of the run-and-gun style of something like Call of Duty and Halo, then give Adrenaline a shot. This fairly new game emulates the feeling of a third-person shooter, where 3 to 5 players each control characters locked in a game of deathmatch.
The object of the game is to gather ammo from the various resource tokens on the board to reload your weapons and kill your opponents – simple enough. But the way scoring works creates a self-balancing solution whereby ganging up on one or two players (in other words, camping) creates a diminishing return of points. Each player is worth an identical amount of points the first time they are killed, and points are awarded to all players who dealt damage to you in a descending scale. In other words, the first time you are killed, the player who dealt the most damage receives 8 points, then the next 6, then 4, and 2, and so on. After you are killed the first time, you receive a skull token which covers up the 8-point mark on your player board, meaning the next time you are killed, the most amount of points one player could receive is 6, then 4, etc. Therefore, going after the same 1 or 2 players every time will only hurt you more in the end.
Alternative Game: Cash ‘n Guns
#2 – Japanese Role-Playing Games
(Examples: Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Tales of)
I’m making the decision to separate Japanese RPGs with Western ones simply based on the plethora of games that could fulfill either of these two categories. jRPGs typically focus more on the combat and individual player characters, while western RPGs have a broader story arc and fewer restrictions on progression. So first up, we’ll discuss jRPGs, the most famous of which being the Final Fantasy series. The most immediate recommendation I can give for this style of game is Arcadia Quest by Cool Mini or Not. Right from the cover of the box, fans of jRPGs will notice strong similarities in character design and color palettes. The game itself is a competitive combat-driven campaign wherein each player controls a guild battling to dethrone the vampire lord. Players must not only fight each other, but also the horde of foes that stand in the way of their quest to gather loot, complete quests, equip yourself with stronger gear and eventually lead the kingdom.
Alternative Game: Krosmaster Arena
#2.5 – Western RPGS
(Examples: The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, The Witcher)
Western RPGs are a completely different beast. Of course, the easy recommendation for this would be D&D, but that’s not a board game, so we’ll ignore that. But effectively, what you’re looking for in a good wRPG-to-board game translation is a sense of freedom, discovery, and gradual accomplishment – a feeling that your progress through the game has visible consequences. To that end, I can find no better game than T.I.M.E. Stories. While Pandemic Legacy also fits the bill to a lesser extent, its story is entirely linear and only the events of each individual gameplay session are in your control. T.I.M.E. Stories, on the other hand, is like a classic pen and paper RPG come to life. It’s a game whose mystery is part of the experience, and for that reason I won’t say a whole lot about it. But playing T.I.M.E. Stories equates flawlessly to the same sense of awe and discovery millions of people have felt playing games like Skyrim and Fallout. Both have stories they want to tell, but your path toward that end game is entirely up to you.
Alternative Game: Mice and Mystics
#3 – Action/Adventure
(Examples: Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, Batman: Arkham series)
The action/adventure genre is a hard one to nail-down because so many games feature elements typically associated with these games, but generally fall under another category. But while the definition is a loose interpretation, there are plenty of games that give you the same sense of excitement that playing the Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed games can give. Combining action with gripping narrative is paramount to their success, and while board games with a larger focus on story tend to lack that same kind of visceral excitement, Mechs vs. Minions should do the trick.
This new game by League of Legends developer Riot Games packs a tremendous punch. Mechs vs. Minions is a fully cooperative programming game, whereby players will simultaneously plot their actions and then carry them out in sequence in an effort to achieve some sort of mutual goal. The game is scenario driven, with a total of 10 different missions in the box, each complete with unique stories and tons of flavor. Highly thematic and incredibly tense, Mechs. vs. Minions should easily satisfy that itch.
Alternative Game: King of Tokyo
#4 – Strategy
(Examples: Sins of a Solar Empire, Civilization, Total War)
Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate. The 4x Strategy genre is certainly among the most intense of the group, with its players devoting hundreds of hours to building their empires. In board games, it hasn’t quite translated as smoothly largely because of the complex nature of these games and the tendency for these games to run long. That said, there are quite a few of them that have breached mass appeal and become staples in their own right. The first of which is of course the infamous Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition, a game so filled to the brim with possibilities it takes no less than 4 hours to play. Seriously. And that’s a quick game.
TI3 offers a galactic range of choices for a player to make throughout the course of the game as they seek to claim the Imperial throne via warfare, diplomacy, trade, or technological advancement. How you choose to expand your empire is entirely up to you. On the more earthly side of things, let’s take a trip to an alternate 1920s Eastern Europa, where weaponized machines linger following the Great War, the aftermath of which is still being felt across the country. I am, of course, speaking of one of 2016’s biggest hits, Scythe.
In Scythe, each player controls one of several factions seeking to rebuild their civilization following the destruction wrought during the war: send workers out to gather resources and in turn use those resources to rebuild your infrastructure; explore the ravaged tundras and farmlands to claim what has been left behind; or attack – strike while your foes are still weakened and take what’s rightfully yours. All paths lead to mutually viable victory.
#5 – Puzzle
(Tetris, Bejeweled, Candy Crush)
Let’s face it – this is a money printing machine for mobile devices. But it’s not all bad, because these tend to translate into exceptionally clever board games. Perhaps my favorite of the bunch is Super Motherload, which in itself is based on a video game of the same name. Players control various government-sponsored digging crews as you attempt to drill into the surface of Mars looking for valuable metals and whatever other secrets the Red Planet is hiding. The gameplay is super fast and incredibly simple, and because of the way the pieces are played – in a pseudo-Tetris style descending manner – this creates a unique and intricate maze of tunnel systems that’s enjoyable to watch grow as each player can build off of one another’s.
Alternative Game: Potion Explosion
#6 – Stealth
(Examples: Metal Gear Solid, Dishonored, Thief)
The stealth genre is all about patience and persistence. While many of these games can certainly be played in a more aggressive fashion, true enjoyment comes from the art of the silent approach. And one game that captures that feeling effortlessly is Specter Ops. This is Metal Gear Solid in-a-box if there ever was such a thing. One player takes on the role of a secret agent infiltrating the top secret Raxxon corporation to sabotage or steal some highly confidential technology. The other players – anywhere from 2 to 4 additional people – control the Hunters, super-enhanced humanoid creatures who must seek out and kill the Agent before he or she completes his or her mission and escapes.
Each Agent that a player can choose from – a total of 4 – is unique and possess special powers, and when playing as the Agent, this player keeps their identity a secret and tracks their movement on a scaled down version of the map provided in the box. The Hunters, as well, are all unique, and compliment each other nicely. With a game of 5 players, the Agent also hands out loyalty cards to the 4 Hunters and secretly chooses one of them to be a defector, who must try to help the Agent without allowing their actions to reveal themselves as the traitor.
# 7 – Platformers
(Examples: Super Mario, Ratchet & Clank, Prince of Persia)
Here’s where the line between action/adventures and platformers typically gets hazy. But screw it, I’m distinguishing the two. Platformers are, at their core, a game about going from A to B via obstacles and puzzles that test your spatial awareness skills. In other words – jump up or down a lot. While this is one of the harder genres to translate into board games, I believe something like Santorini, a game by Roxley – who also designed Super Motherload – that re-imagines an abstract game of the same name from several years ago fits the mold just nicely.
In Santorini, players are trying to get one of their two figures to the top of a 3-tier building. On their turn, each player moves one builder to a neighboring location and then must build an applicable floor in any adjacent location to the piece they just moved. When moving, you may move up 1 level or down any number of levels, and if you are building on top of the third floor, you place a dome piece, which blocks access to that location for all players. The rules are deceptively simple and yet the game offers an exceeding amount of strategy. Throw in a couple of the 40 included variable player powers to spice things up, and things become a whole lot more interesting.
Alternative Game: Junk Art