10 Best Dungeon Crawler Board Games for 2021

Board games focused on fighting monsters, completing quests, and leveling up your character are among the most popular. This article introduces you to the 10 Best Dungeon Crawler Board Games for 2021. I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking.

Some thoughts on Best Dungeon Crawler Board Games

With Dungeons & Dragons being the almighty father of all dungeon-crawlers, it’s no surprise a lot of them used and still use the generic fantasy theme (Inspired of course with the workings of the father of modern fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien.). But this is ever-changing. Modern board games use all sorts of iterations of the theme, add horror, sci-fi, zombie, cartoon, or IP elements. We live in a great time for board gaming as there’s a game for every taste.

One-vs-many mode (dungeon master versus players) is another reminiscence of D&D. While it can be fun (i.e. Imperial Assault or Conan) it can also be a hindrance because you need an extra player. Several modern dungeon-crawlers have done away with this by using clever AI that drives the game and enemies. This can be cards, charts, dice, or even digital app controlled.

Best Dungeon Crawler Board Games Main Image
Dragons are often the ultimate enemy.

A level of uncertainty is an unwritten rule in dungeon-crawler. After all, you never know what lies in the darkness of those tombs, will your bolts land on the forehead or the fore-shield of that goblin, and so on. There are two main ways of introducing a random element: dice or cards.

But at the core, both work in a similar fashion. They can be weighed with items and abilities, re-rolled or re-drawn, or otherwise manipulated. The goal is to give players’ actions meaning (that new sword you got has to account for something), while still leave them in suspense.

How to Recognize a Good Board Game? (5 Steps)

Although a lot of dungeon-crawlers try to make sense of all the killing by connecting the scenarios into a sensible story-driven campaign, there are also more loosely connected skirmish games like Conan, Doom, or Arcadia Quest (to an extend), that allow more freedom and variability in the set-up.

Both sides have pros and cons, of course. Story-driven campaigns can be a great experience, but they demand a lot of commitment from several people. Skirmish games focus more on tactical gameplay and are often competitive, not cooperative.

Whether you like it or not, this genre is infested with miniatures. Granted, you would be hard-pressed to find bad looking miniatures these days, especially with those bloated Kickstarted exclusives. They are a work of art, especially when painted by a skilled artist.

But for players that have no desire, time, or skill to paint them, I’d argue they would be better off with a beautifully illustrated standees. Not to mention those would slash some of those prices to a much more affordable level.

best dungeon crawler board games colorful dungeon
Dungeons come in all shapes and colors.

One final remark is that each of these games demands a lot of time and money from a player. Rare are people who have both of those in abundance, so you should choose one at a time and focus on that. You can easily sink hundreds of hours in any of the following titles (there are numerous expansions and editions available for most of them). Jumping from title to title, only scratching the surface will just be a waste of time.

Table of Contents

This list is a combination of several mechanics, themes, and approaches to dungeon-crawlers. I tried to find something for everyone and that also means I left out some important titles from the past (like Descent) and focused more on the present, especially since some of the older games have been surpassed when it comes to gameplay, presentation, or are simply no longer available for purchase.

In my research, I relied on several sources, most notably BGG, which is always a good start when searching for something board-games-related. Inevitably, there’s also a personal note in there. I tried to be as objective as possible, but we all have personal favorites and games we like less.

Note that there are affiliate links by the games. If you click on an affiliate link, it will take you to the Amazon store. If you then buy something, I will earn a commission – I am a member of the Amazon Associates program, as well as some others.

RankImageClick on the title to quickly jump to that section of the article.TagsCheck Price
10best dungeon crawler board games mice mystics boxMice and Mysticsstrong story, family friendly$$
9best dungeon crawler board games conan boxConancinematic combat, freedom on turns$$$
8best dungeon crawler board games hellboy boxHellboy: The Board Gameinvestigation, narrative$$
7best dungeon crawler board games doom board game boxDOOM: The Board Gametrue Doom feel, assymetric combat$$$
6best dungeon crawler board games shadows of brimstone boxShadows of Brimstone (series)Old West, horror, dice$$$$
5best dungeon crawler board games arcadia quest boxArcadia Quest (series)competitive, tactical, playful theme$$
4Sword & Sorceryminiatures, good AI$$$
3best dungeon crawler board games zombicide boxZombicide (series)accessible, Hollywood-like action$$$
2best dungeon crawler board games star wars imperial assault boxStar Wars: Imperial Assaultstrong theme and narrative$$$
1gloomhaven-boxGloomhaven (series)dark fantasy, action queue, decisions matter$$$$

10. Mice and Mystics

Year Published2012
DesignerJerry Hawthorne
Players1-4
Playing Time60-90 minutes
Complexitymedium
best dungeon crawler board games mice mystics box
Image from zmangames.com

Theme and Setting

If there’s one particular strong point of Mice and Mystics, then it has to be the theme. You play as warrior mice, fighting rats, cockroaches, rats, and spiders. It’s original, intriguing, and appealing. The theme is further supported by the fantastic artwork and miniatures.

The games are linked into a campaign, which is another highlight, especially the immersive and compelling story.

Gameplay Overview

After scenario tiles are set up, each player chooses a mouse to play with. Each has a different role in the party. You can equip your rodent with starting equipment and special power.

Each round, initiative cards are shuffled, determining the order of play for the players, as well as active enemies. This is a very cool approach, that goes well hand-in-hand with the light-hearted spirit of the game. It randomizes things up, preventing analysis-paralysis and makes the gameplay smooth.

On your turn, you will move and take an action. Movement is done by rolling a die and you add that to your speed stat. After that, you have an option to Move again (Scurry), Battle, Search for items, Remove negative effects, or Explore a new room.

The battle is nothing special – it’s resolved by dice. The cheese system (you can get cheese symbols as a side-product of dice-rolling) is a mechanic used to level-up and also to use your special abilities. It’s a very interesting system that relies a lot on the luck of the dice. Using XP to power special abilities makes players rarely using them.

After the last guy (player or enemy) is done with his turn, the scenario objectives are checked. If it’s not yet fulfilled, another round is played. There’s also a time tracker to make sure players don’t take too long.

best dungeon crawler board games mice mystics board
Image from zmangames.com

Expansions and Editions

In addition to promo cards and downloadable Lost Chapters, two larger expansions are worth mentioning.

Mice and Mystics: Heart of Glorm (2013) and Mice and Mystics: Downwood Tales (2014) are both fully-fledged expansions, adding new storybooks, characters, enemies miniatures, cards, mechanics, equipment, and so on.

It’s good to have something to play after the base game. And with the story as strong as in Mice and Mystics, you should definitely play them in order:

  1. Sorrow and Remembrance (Base game)
  2. Cat’s Cradle (Lost Chapter 1)
  3. Heart of Glorm
  4. The Ghost of Castle Andon (Lost Chapter 2)
  5. Downwood Tales
  6. Portents of Importance (Lost Chapter 3)
best dungeon crawler board games mice mystics characters
Image from zmangames.com

Mice and Mystics

  • Easy to learn, family-friendly dungeon-crawler.
  • Strong theme and story.
  • Good components.
  • Shallow game mechanics.

9. Conan

Year Published2016
DesignersFrédéric Henry and others
Players2-5
Playing Time90 minutes
Complexitymedium
best dungeon crawler board games conan box
Image from monolithedition.com

Theme and Setting

A strong intellectual property theme is what makes a game stand out on the shelves, but making a good game within the boundaries of the theme is a whole different challenge for designers. These games are mainly aimed at the core fanbase, but that doesn’t’ mean they are not good enough, mechanics-wise.

Conan, a legendary barbarian is one of such IPs. Being a man of simple joys (like killing), he doesn’t care much about a story. No, this one is a tactical combat board game. There are 9 skirmish scenarios in the rulebook (more available to download). The game is asymmetrical, with one side controlling Conan and his buddies, and the Overlord controlling the enemies.

The objectives in scenarios differ, but it’s usually that the heroes have to accomplish a goal (rescue the Princess, find a key, steal the jewel), with the Overlord there to stop them.

best dungeon crawler board games conan components
Image from monolithedition.com

Gameplay Overview

With the game focused on fighting, it does not disappoint in this area. It’s based around a gem system. Each character has a certain number of gems, that he uses for his actions. The more gems you use, the more actions you can perform. Move farther, attack more times, use more dice in combat, re-roll dice, and so on.

You can spend as many as you like, resulting in long, powerful turns. The trick is that those gems also represent your hit points, so the more you use, the more vulnerable you are. You can regain some of them by skipping your turn (resting). Careful timing for unleashing those movie-like combos, while meticulously taking care of the number of gems in the meantime is crucial to success.

Weapons and character skills help, too. And there are many available, each coming with its own set of mini-rules. This, combined with re-rolling really supports the dice-based combat system and makes it into something you can affect and build your tactics around.

The Overlord works slightly differently, but it still follows the gems principle. It’s more expensive to activate your best units, but if they’re in the right spot and can do some real damage to the heroes, it may be worth it.

best dungeon crawler board games conan minatures
Image from monolithedition.com

Expansions and Editions

Conan comes in two shapes, Kickstarter and retail. The KS edition is absolutely stuffed with content. Characters, scenarios, enemies, you name it. The retail edition is significantly slimmer (and cheaper), yet still fairly rich.

Conan

  • Thematic (and cinematic!) combat.
  • A lot of content (especially in the KS version).
  • The gem system gives players a lot of freedom on their turns.
  • The barbaric theme is occasionally sexist and definitely not family-friendly.

8. Hellboy: The Board Game

Year Published2019
DesignersJames M. Hewitt, Sophie Williams
Players1-4
Playing Time60-90 minutes
Complexitymedium
best dungeon crawler board games hellboy box
Image from manticgames.com

Theme and Setting

Talking about an IP implemented properly, Hellboy is a prime example. The detailed miniatures, stunning artwork, and most of all, immersive cases make this an excellent addition to the comic book collection.

Of course, Hellboy is the main figure, but you can also control Abe Sapien, Johann Strauss, and Liz Sherman. They all come with miniatures, as do their enemies, Rasputin included.

Hellboy: The Board Game is focused around individual cases – 6 of them come with the base game. They are very thematic: first, you’ve got to explore the environment, search for clues, reveal encounter cards, and fight minor enemies before it all culminates in the final boss fight.

best dungeon crawler board games hellboy components
Image from manticgames.com

Gameplay Overview

The game doesn’t try to invent the hot water here. Each turn, you start with 3 action points that you spend on movement, exploration, and fighting. The dice play an important role in resolving tests and, of course, battles.

All the standard details are also accounted for in battles: character stats, monster stats, immunities, abilities, items, weapons, resting, healing. As said, Hellboy: The Board Game uses well-tested mechanics.

But it uses them very well and, most importantly, they serve the point of the game excellently. The narrative arch in cases is superb and they’re full of twists and surprises.

best dungeon crawler board games hellboy the board game cards
Image from manticgames.com

Expansions and Editions

Too bad then that there are only six cases included in the base game. Granted, they offer some replay value (especially if you fail for the first time) and can last up to two hours, but it’s still not a lot.

The Kickstarter version offers a lot more content. It comes with its price, but that’s, unfortunately, the only way to get a hold of more content. It all comes down to how big of a Hellboy fan are you.

Hellboy: The Board Game

  • Genuine Hellboy feel.
  • Good use of familiar game mechanics.
  • Intriguing cases.
  • Base game lacks replay value.

7. DOOM: The Board Game

Year Published2016
DesignerJonathan Ying
Players2-5
Playing Time120-180 minutes
Complexitymedium
best dungeon crawler board games doom board game box
Image from fantasyflightgames.com

Theme and Setting

The most legendary first-person shooter in PC gaming history deserves a good tabletop port and this game truly delivers in that aspect. The marines, weapons (BFG baby!), and especially the enemies are represented in all their glory, brutality, and evilness.

The miniatures (Cyberdemon, Cacodemons, Baron from Hell, and others) are insanely detailed and look exactly as in the game. Go on BGG and check out some of the paint jobs the players did … just wow.

As you’re used to, Doom is not about the story. It’s about killing monsters from Hell and the Board Game offers 12 different skirmish scenarios for doing just that. It may not sound like a lot, but taking into account the possibility to customize load-outs and the overall long gameplay, it’s plenty of content.

best dungeon crawler board games doom board game miniatures
Image from fantasyflightgames.com

Gameplay Overview

Doom: The Board Game is your typical one-vs-many board game. Up to four marines can face the Invader player and his army from Hell. Each marine comes with a deck of cards, representing his weapon loadout. These decks are highly customizable and trying out different presets and custom load-outs, combined with roles (Medic, Ranger, etc.) is another little game in itself.

The Invader, on the other side, relies more on the numerical strength. His job is to prevent players from achieving their goal (whatever that is in a scenario), but unfortunately, there are some balance issues with the difficulty. With one or two marines, the game is just too easy (or too hard for the Invader, if you like). You need a full team of four marines for the best-balanced experience.

Combat is pretty straightforward, with line-of-sights and dice for resolving. You can also go for Glory kills, which give you back health. Yes, just like in the game. If you’re a fan, you’ll be in seventh Heaven (or is that Seventh Hell?).

best dungeon crawler board games doom board game cards
Image from fantasyflightgames.com

DOOM: The Board Game

  • True Doom experience, second only to the video game itself.
  • Superb miniatures.
  • Some balancing issues and long playing time.

6. Shadows of Brimstone (series)

Year Published2014 onwards
DesignerJason C. Hill
Players1-4, can be increased with certain expansions and editions
Playing Timearound 2 hours
Complexitymedium
best dungeon crawler board games shadows of brimstone box
Image from flyingfrog.net

Theme and Setting

What do you get if you take the Old West and throw some Lovecraftian spice in it? Shadows of Brimstone throws you into a world where a magical darkstone has been discovered in the mines. After attracting all sorts of wealth-hunters and heavy-mining, things have started to get weird and all kinds of strange monsters started pouring into our world from the mines.

You’re one of the adventurers (Marshall, Gunslinger, Saloon Girl, Bandit in the base game) that these mines keep drawing in. The value of darkstone is just too great to pass. If there are some horrors standing in your way, they’re just gonna have to be dealt with.

The theme is a strong highlight of the game, well supported by the excellent miniatures, the overall artwork, and the narrative presentation of the world. It sucks you in, makes you feel like one with your character.

best dungeon crawler board games shadows of brimstone art
Image from flyingfrog.net

Gameplay Overview

Shadows of Brimstone offers both campaign and skirmish play. The scenarios offer some fresh approaches to the dungeon-crawler world. From Cthulhu-themed games there’s insanity that you have to keep an eye on, not just your hit points.

Spawning monsters is done with the help of a threat deck, meaning there’s an element of unpredictability and randomness involved. New map tiles are also added with a pinch of randomness.

Searching, abilities, actions, and combat are all resolved with dice. There are a lot of factors to consider, like your character’s stats, monster cards, saves, hit rolls, defense, and so on. Grit points are used for special abilities and to reroll the dice.

As you progress deeper into the mines, Depth and Dread will increase, making terrible things much more likely to happen (spawn more monsters in the boss fight, make them stronger). Again, dice rolls are made to check whether that happens. If you’re unlucky, some really big monsters can be spawned.

The campaign mode is done with permanent characters that gain experience, level up, and grow with you. There are options between the missions to upgrade equipment and abilities with the looted darkstone. You can also visit the doctor and heal your wounds. But nothing in this mode is set in stone – everything is dice-based. Darkstone can corrupt you and cause terrible mutations.

The element of randomness may not suit everyone, but it makes a lot of thematic sense. It also helps to make the games, battles, and interactions memorable. Remember that time the doctor made a mistake and caused a permanent injury instead of a heal?

best dungeon crawler board games shadows of brimstone character sheet
Image from flyingfrog.net

Expansions and Editions

There are three base games available. All can be played as stand-alone games, but are fully compatible with one another and the expansions. I won’t list all of them (because there are a lot). You should start out with one of the base games (City of the Ancients is a good entry point) and when you’re done, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where you want to go from there.

  • Shadows of Brimstone: City of the Ancients (2014) (portals underneath the city lead to the frozen otherworld on the Plains of Targa)
  • Shadows of Brimstone: Swamps of Death (2014) (portal to a swampland with dinosaurs and feral tribes)
  • Shadows of Brimstone: Forbidden Fortress (2018) (Japanese/samurai themed)

Shadows of Brimstone

  • An original mash of themes with top-notch components.
  • Memorable characters, story, and events.
  • Dice-based gameplay creates a lot of variance.
  • A lot of value in the base games plus a lot of expansions available.

5. Arcadia Quest (series)

Year Published2014 onwards
DesignersThiago Aranha, Guilherme Goulart, Eric M. Lang, Fred Perret (and others)
Players2-4
Playing Time60-90 minutes
Complexitylight/medium
best dungeon crawler board games arcadia quest box
Image from arcadiaquest.com

Theme and Setting

After a long day of hardcore board-gaming, all of us need a bit of lighter fun. That’s where Arcadia Quest steps in. Its joyful theme and bright colors are a sign of a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

But that’s no reason to skip this title, even if you don’t initially like the art style. What Arcadia Quest does, it does excellently – being a super fun and competitive board game. The notoriously excellent presentation (miniatures and other components) from CMON also helps.

best dungeon crawler board games arcadia quest board
Image from arcadiaquest.com

Gameplay Overview

Arcadia Quest is a tactical skirmish game, where scenarios are connected into a campaign, but you can also play them separately. Players each control a guild of three characters, competing against each other for scenario goals. These can be anything from killing certain monsters, finding treasures, escaping, etc. Your typical stuff.

As said, the players are not the only targets in a scenario. Yes, in the end-game it more often than not comes to a direct confrontation, but before that, you’ll be building up your characters by accomplishing (and killing) objectives against AI monsters.

On your turn, you will activate one of the three characters, then perform a combination of moves and attacks. A weapon card is used for attacks (an item on your guild sheet) and dice are used to resolve battles. It’s very simple and accessible, even to new players.

But there’s more under the surface. Scenarios usually turn into direct and indirect battles between guilds. Positioning, timing, blocking, and persuading others to do what suits you are the name of the game now.

The gameplay is fast and scenarios fly by in a flinch. You can easily play several games in a row and spend coins on new weapons, armor, and abilities, all in form of cards. The campaign layout has several forks and offers a great deal of replay value.

best dungeon crawler board games arcadia quest miniatures
Image from arcadiaquest.com

Expansions and Editions

No surprise Arcadia Quest is a very successful universe and the reimplementations and expansions prove that. If you’re new to the world, you should consider one of the two standalone base games (which can also be combined).

  • Arcadia Quest (2014) – the original.
  • Arcadia Quest: Inferno (2017) – “Devil” themed remake introduces a few extra game mechanics.

On top of those, some noteworthy titles are:

  • Arcadia Quest: Beyond the Grave (2015) – undead expansion for Arcadia Quest.
  • Starcadia Quest (2020) – a new standalone space-themed base game.
  • Arcadia Quest: Pets (2017) expansion for both of the base games.

There are also numerous smaller expansions, introducing new characters, enemies, and similar stuff. But as said, start with one of the base games (the very first title is a good place to start), see if you fall in love with the universe, and take it from there.

Arcadia Quest

  • Very accessible and attractive.
  • A competitive tactical skirmish that can also be a campaign.
  • Fast-paced and thrilling gameplay.
  • A lot of replay value and additional content available.

4. Sword & Sorcery

Year Published2017
DesignersSimone Romano, Nunzio Surace
Players1-5
Playing Time60-90 minutes
Complexitymedium/heavy
best dungeon crawler board games sword and sorcery box
Image from sword-and-sorcery.com

Theme and Setting

The kingdom is in trouble, evil is on the rise and it’s time to call in our champions to defeat it. You know the drill, you’ve heard it a thousand times before in these fantasy games. You play as a group of those heroes, crawling through dungeons, slaying enemies, and unraveling the story of the campaign.

Your group can contain up to five heroes, but the game becomes a bit chaotic with that many (since more enemies are spawned when there are more heroes). Two or three heroes is an ideal number.

Gameplay Overview

There are seven story-connected scenarios long campaign in the base game. After a bit of flavor text, you set up a dungeon, as is instructed in a scenario. When you complete it, you go back to the storybook and read what happens next.

A scenario consists of a dungeon, that must be cleared of monsters and/or fulfill other objectives. You can also discover weapons, items, and secrets helping you on your quest.

Exactly what you can do in a turn depends on your hero’s stats, but normally, you will:

  • Move for a certain number of tiles.
  • Combat enemies.
  • Perform actions like dash, focus attack, open chest, open door, pick up or drop items.
best dungeon crawler board games sword and sorcery components
Image from sword-and-sorcery.com

After each hero’s turn, it’s the enemy’s turn. You draw Encounter cards to determine how many of them will activate, and then they will be controlled by their cards, which act as a very clever artificial intelligence.

Depending on the distance to heroes and what items certain heroes carry (some creatures like to attack wounded heroes, other target heroes that have coins on them), conditions on the card will tell you whether to move or attack. Also who and how to attack.

Combat (attacking and blocking) is resolved by dice. But it’s not down to just luck, there are shields, armors, weapons, and abilities that all impact the dice and can turn the fortune to your favor. A player with good armor can still be hit if he’s unlucky, but I think they’ve hit the sweet spot with how much luck affects the game – it brings excitement and uncertainty but it’s not a rule-all.

This creates great cooperative gameplay, where you have to plan, depending on your characters and map. You also can’t play it too safe and risk running out of encounter cards, because then you lose the game. Sometimes you just have to take a risk and move into an unexplored room to see what you wake up.

Expansions and Editions

If the base game comes with a limited number of scenarios, expansions more than make up the content. Hero packs, new campaign quests (with new enemies, playing modes, items, weapons, etc.). The list is never-ending and only limited by the depth of your wallet.

Sword & Sorcery

  • Excellent miniatures and artwork.
  • Every character feels unique, offering a lot of replay value.
  • Good AI.
  • Quite accessible for a game of such scope.
  • Feels handicapped without expansions.

3. Zombicide (series)

Year Published2012 onwards
DesignersRaphaël Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, Nicolas Raoult
Players1-6
Playing Time60 minutes
Complexitylight/medium
best dungeon crawler board games zombicide boxes
Image from zombicide.com

Theme and Setting

If zombies are your thing, then this is the series you should be looking at. Zombicide is the most popular and successful cooperative zombie-killing game. In fact, after the original crowd-funded title in 2012, it has become a whole franchise of numerous alone-standing board games and expansion.

Each player takes the role of a survivor with different skill sets. Moving on the (modular) board, finding weapons – and then using them wisely along with your abilities to kill zombies is your job.

Gameplay Overview

Zombicide editions all use slightly adapted game mechanics and all of them are well-received by the community. They’re pretty standard for the genre: moving, attacking, using items, resolving by dice.

The outcome of the fights is decided by dice, but it’s heavily affected by the weapons you hold and your character level. Zombies are controlled by the game (a deck of cards) and, although not very smart, outnumber you a lot, making the fights tense and exciting.

The game really comes alive towards the end, when you have leveled-up a couple of times and have a better weapon, making you a true zombie-killing machine. The carnage you can inflict is a lot of fun. There are different random objectives in every game, increasing replay value.

best dungeon crawler board games zombicide board
Image from zombicide.com

Expansions and Editions

  • the original Zombicide from 2012,
  • Zombicide Season 2: Prison Outbreak (2013): with more close-up melee brawls,
  • Zombicide Season 3: Rue Morgue (2015): introducing more powerful zombies,
  • Zombicide: Black Plague (2015): zombies in the middle ages,
  • Zombicide: Green Horde (2018): fantasy world fighting orcs and goblins,
  • Zombicide: Invader (2019): aliens as zombies,
  • Zombicide: Second Edition (2020).

Zombicide

  • Simple rules create a fast-flowing game.
  • Excellent miniatures and components.
  • Feels like a Hollywood blockbuster.
  • The mechanics may feel too simple for the hardcore crowd.

2. Star Wars: Imperial Assault

Year Published2014
DesignersJustin Kemppainen, Corey Konieczka, Jonathan Ying
Players1-5
Playing Time60-120 minutes
Complexitymedium
best dungeon crawler board games star wars imperial assault box
Image from fantasyflightgames.com

Theme and Setting

When talking about a strong theme, few can match a fully licensed epic space story. Imperial Assault is set in the original Star Wars trilogy. You play either as the Rebels or the Empire. As Rebels, players will go on cooperative missions to harm the Empire, acquire information, or sabotage things.

Standing against them will be only one player (a Dungeon Master) controlling the Empire’s forces. The one-versus-many asymmetrical setting creates both camaraderie and competitiveness. The Star Wars feeling is strong throughout the game.

best star wars board games star wars imperial assault board
Image from fantasyflightgames.com

Gameplay Overview

As said, Imperial Assault is a 1-vs-many dungeon crawler type of game. It takes its game mechanics from Descent, a very successful dungeon crawler with countless expansions (it’s in the honorable mentions section).

Imperial Assault is not just a bunch of skirmishes, but a cohesive campaign, where your characters progress, acquire new skills and items, and make important decisions on how to spend money between missions.

The other side acts similarly – is not just a dungeon master, but an active player, trying to hinder Rebel’s progress by throwing enemies at them. But he has to carefully weigh which soldiers will he enlist. The cheapest storm troopers or something more powerful, like Darth Vader?

The gameplay in missions is pretty straightforward. You activate a unit and spend two action points. Most of the time, you’ll move and attack. Combat (both offensive and defensive) is resolved with custom dice, taking into account character stats, abilities, items, and weapons.

Missions are a combination of fighting your way through the forces and rushing. Empire will often outnumber you so you can’t kill every Empire troop, but you must get to the objective and complete it before the Empire overruns you. This creates tension up to the very end of a mission, as you never know if you’ll succeed or will all of your Rebels die.

best dungeon crawler board games star wars imperial assault cards
Image from fantasyflightgames.com

Expansions and Editions

There are 50 expansions available, both small and large. They include new miniatures, heroes, enemies, allies, map tiles, cards, and whole new campaigns. The choice is large and you can spend a lot of money on them. I’d recommend starting with just the base game and customize the game to your liking later.

One expansion that I should mention is the free Star Wars: Imperial Assault – Legends of the Alliance app. It works as the Dungeon Master (the Empire player), which allows the remaining player(s) to play co-op or even solo.

Star Wars: Imperial Assault

  • An engaging experience for both sides where your decisions really matter.
  • Star Wars theme creates an immersive and tense experience.
  • Game mechanics are not overly complicated. (And also vastly improved compared to Descent.)
  • Plenty of expansions available (can get expensive).

1. Gloomhaven (series)

Year Published2017 onwards
DesignerIsaac Childres
Players1-4
Playing Time60-120 minutes
Complexitymedium/heavy
best dungeon crawler board games gloomhaven box
Image from cephalofair.com

Theme and Setting

Gloomhaven is truly a modern-day board gaming phenomenon. Just a single title a couple of years, it has now turned into a very successful series. Whether it’s the original Gloomhaven, the mainstream Jaws of the Lion, or the Kickstarter-record-breaking sequel Frosthaven, you’re sure to find the games on the top of all the ranking tables.

It’s set in a fantasy world, centered around the city of Gloomhaven, while Frosthaven takes you up north. The theme is dark-flavored, so a lot of grim creatures, spirits, and undead. A gloomy atmosphere is present.

Primarily a dungeon crawler, it also comes with numerous activities that you can do in preparation for the next dungeon. Gain experience and acquire new abilities with experience, find, buy and sell items, progress the story, making meaningful decisions in the process (a legacy element).

best dungeon crawler board games gloomhaven board
Image from cephalofair.com

Gameplay Overview

Each of the scenarios requires you to build a map, set out enemies, treasures, doors, and other objects. Then it’s your job to explore it, clear it, escape it, or whatever the scenario demands. Objectives vary greatly, are very thoughtful and clever. It’s never a straightforward kill-all, there are objects to destroy, rooms to search, some are “time-limited”, and so on.

You start each scenario with several cards in your hand. That depends on your character. Cards determine what you can do: move, fight, loot, heal, etc.

Each character plays 2 action cards per round and reveals them face-up. The initiative number on the cards determines the order of play. Low-initiative cards are usually weaker than high-initiative cards.

Including monsters, players act from the lowest initiative value to the highest. Actions are carried out immediately and are affected by combat modifier cards (you can customize this deck during the campaign in your favor). Action cards have top and bottom action (typically the top being for attacking and bottom for moving) and you have to decide on one top action and one bottom action from each card.

Used cards are discarded, and you can only regain them by resting, but that means you have to give away one of the cards for good. And beware – if you run out of action cards, the scenario is over for you – you are exhausted. That means there’s a total end-number of actions you can perform in a scenario, so you have to think twice about whether to stray off the path and loot that treasure chest.

Deciding what combination of cards to use, when to use them, and what is the most effective way of doing that, is the core of Gloomhaven’s gameplay, creating a giant puzzle. How do you come through a dungeon with your hand?

Monsters are controlled by drawing from an artificial intelligence deck of cards, so you’ll never know how exactly to approach a certain monster since it can behave differently as last time. They come in different shapes, levels, abilities, immunities, and numbers.

best dungeon crawler board games gloomhaven character card
Image from cephalofair.com

Expansions and Editions

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a standalone prequel. It takes the best bits of Gloomhaven, simplifies setup and fiddliness, and makes itself accessible to less-hardcore players. It features 4 characters and 25 scenarios and, with its tutorial scenarios, it’s an excellent way to delve into the Gloomhaven world.

In 2021, Frostahaven, the true sequel is bound to be released. It will be a big game – like the original – and it promises to further enhance the inter-scenario gameplay with features like building, settlement development, and so on. We will see how it turns out and if it fulfills the high expectations.

Gloomhaven

  • Superb game mechanics (card selection, attack modifier deck, items).
  • Immersive story and characters you can connect with.
  • An abundance of content right out of the base box.
  • Jaws of the Lion is an excellent (and a lot cheaper) option to get to know the world.

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