RPG Board Games For Beginners

You might think that role-playing games need somebody to run things, a dungeon master or even a games console maybe, but you’d be mistaken.

Board games have embraced the world of role-playing in a way that can make these worlds come to life on your table.

Many of them can be complicated but there are plenty out there that are aimed at beginners, and that doesn’t mean that they are any worse, or less fun.

In fact, with less to keep track of you can just get on with making the decisions that matter and defeating the enemies on the way to the treasure.

However, choosing a role-playing game, to begin with, can be an overwhelming and intimidating experience, so in this guide, I’ll be talking about five great games to get you adventuring either on your own or with friends, with a bonus pick at the end.

My selections for the best role-playing games for beginners (in ascending order of difficulty) are:

  • One Deck Dungeon
  • Legacy Of Dragonholt
  • Legends Of Andor
  • Defenders Of The Realm
  • Mice And Mystics

and as a bonus pick…

Roll Player

One Deck Dungeon Is A Light Dice Chucker

onedeckdungeoncomponentslaidout

One Deck Dungeon and its stablemate One Deck Dungeon: Forest Of Shadows are card-based games for one or two players, and are classic dungeon delvers, meaning that the characters are exploring a single location in order to find treasure, defeating monsters on the way.

There’s a variety of classic RPG characters to play with – magicians, paladins, archers and others – each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and they all come with male and female artwork, which may sound like something that should be in every game, but you’d be surprised how often it’s overlooked.

The cards represent locations which contain traps and monsters and rewards, and the characters progress via dice rolls, trying to meet the right combination of colours and totals to defeat their enemies.

Each colour of die represents a different characteristic, such as magic or agility, and the stronger you are in each area the more dice you get to roll and the greater your chances of success.

Manage to survive past the third floor of the dungeon and you get to face off against the big boss, and if you make it past this encounter there are also options to beef up your characters from game to game and turn each play into a single episode of a larger campaign.

One Deck Dungeon lacks some things that you might expect from an RPG – you’re only ever exploring the one location, for example – but the main character elements are intact, and by the time your magician has acquired a few spells or your warrior has got hold of a large axe you might well be feeling part of its world.

It can also sometimes feel a little overlong, and fiddling with all the dice can occasionally get in the way of the atmosphere, but as a solid dungeoneering experience in a small box that will definitely give you the feel of a role-playing game One Deck Dungeon is a great place to start.

Combine the original box with Forest Of Shadows for a deeper experience, and more boxes also mean more players can take part in the fun.

Legacy Of Dragonholt Is Like A Choose Your Own Adventure Book

legacyofdragonholtboxcover

Of all the games on this list Legacy Of Dragonholt is the one that looks most like a traditional role-playing game, mainly because the box contains books, journals and character sheets.

In fact, at times Dragonholt hardly feels like a traditional board game at all and is definitely the closest to a pure RPG experience of all the games on this list.

It takes place in the Terrinoth universe and has a format not a million miles away from those choose-your-own-adventure books that were once all the rage.

You begin by creating your character, just as you would in a traditional role-playing game, and then by following the action that unfolds in the quest book or in the village book.

There are six quest books in total, and your character or characters will gradually acquire skills and items and they work through the story, and some of the decisions that they take early on can have far-reaching consequences.

Legacy Of Dragonholt, like all but one of the games on this list, is cooperative, meaning that the characters all work together as a team, but it can also be played solo.

In fact, because the action takes place over various quests it can be easier to play Dragonholt on your own, and this is not only possible but may just be the best way to do it.

There is one major downside to Dragonholt, and that is that once you have played it all the way through you will have experienced the main story, so while you can certainly run through it more than once it has limited replayability.

Why not take a look at the character creation booklet to see if this is the kind of thing that you might enjoy?

Legends Of Andor Is For People Who Like Puzzles

legendsofandor allcomponents

Okay – now we’re getting to the designs that you might recognise as more like board games with orcs and mages battling it out in some kind of landscape.

Legends Of Andor is a game that has all this and more besides, including a really gorgeous map of Andor that is a delight to behold and which has the dwarves’ mine on the other side as well.

This is another cooperative game, so your adventurers – who can be male or female – all work together to overcome various challenges that are included in the base box.

However, Andor isn’t quite as simple as going out and destroying every monster in sight and picking up any treasure that happens to be lying around as the game has a time limit, so the more you choose to do the less time you have.

This means that you’ll need to learn to balance what you want to do with what you need to do and work out what can be ignored in order to proceed to victory.

There’s one slightly odd thing about this game worth mentioning, which is that there is no proper rule book.

Instead, there is a set of quick-start rules to get you up and playing, and then you learn the ins and outs of the rest of the game as you go along.

This approach has its pros and cons, but at least it does feel like your characters are going on some kind of adventure!

Once you have finished the five adventures in the base box there are several expansions with extra heroes and quests to add to your collection, so you might find that you end up returning to Andor again and again.

Andor can be challenging, which is not a bad thing, and sometimes feels very much like a puzzle, but it is an appealing and vibrant entry-level role-playing board game that has enough adventures to keep you busy.

Defenders Of The Realm Is Like A Traditional Cooperative Game

defendersoftherealmmidgame paintedminiatures

Defenders Of The Realm is quite an old design in game years, first published in 2010, but it holds up well and has enough elements of a role-playing board game to qualify for this list.

It is also fun and colourful and full of challenges, so guaranteed to keep up to four players happy for some time.

Like the other games listed so far, Defenders Of The Realm is a cooperative game, so all the players are united against the darkness that is threatening to engulf the land.

If you have played a game like Pandemic then you will have some idea of what Defenders Of The Realm feels like.

Your characters get to take actions during the day, such as travelling, performing a special skill or listening for rumours, while at night the forces of darkness get to do their naughty stuff.

You and your team are trying to defeat all four of the enemy generals, but you will lose if any of them make it into your home base of Monarch City.

There are some other loss conditions as well to keep you on your toes, and the difficulty of the game can be raised or lowered if you find it out of balance with what you would like.

Although Defenders is a cooperative design it actually does something slightly different, as at the end of each game one of the players receives the title of King’s Champion – in other words, the winner!

This is a fun touch which means that everybody is working together against the enemy but also trying to outdo each other and win the game.

Of course, you might think that working together and still trying to win might feel a little strange, in which case you can just ignore that bit of the rules and the game plays exactly the same.

There are plenty of expansion packs available for Defenders with new heroes and enemies, so if the base game is something that hits the role-playing mark for you then there is plenty more to explore.

Follow this link to watch a playthrough video and get an idea of what Defenders Of The Realm has to offer.

Mice And Mystics Is A Fully Fleshed Out Experience

micemystics ratattack

This is probably the most involved game on this list, but it is an evocative and fun game with some interesting things going on, and also an ideal choice if you have any young role players in the family.

In Mice & Mystics you play as the prince and his friends who have been turned into mice and who must now race through a castle filled with new threats.

While enemies in a normal role-playing game will tend to include dragons and orcs, Mice And Mystics presents you with rats and cockroaches…and the castle’s cat!

Your heroic mice will undertake a series of adventures that play out on the gorgeous playboards, fighting enemies and dipping down below the floorboards from time to time.

The mice and the enemies are all represented by miniature figures and the basics of play are easy to remember – you either move and take an action or take an action and then move.

Combat is also simple, and is refreshingly free of too many exceptions and modifiers but still feels fully-fledged, making it the most involved system of any of the games listed here.

The game also comes with a beautifully written story that tells the tale of what your heroes do between the scenarios in the game.

It’s worth taking a little time to see how Mice And Mystics plays in this video by Rodney Smith and you can also see how great it looks on the table.

Mice And Mystics is the most complex of the games listed here, but is also the one that offers the richest experience, complete with combat, exploration, character development and an ongoing campaign.

It should probably not be the first role-playing board game you try, but is a brilliant stepping stone to the next level of this kind of gaming, and is really good fun as well.

Just as with Defenders Of The Realm or Legends Of Andor, there is a limited number of scenarios in the base game but there are expansions available which provide more material to explore and more adventures to experience.

Bonus Pick – Roll Player Is About Placing Dice

rollplayer

This one is a bit of an oddity, but you might be able to guess from the puntastic name that it has something to do with role-playing.

However, what Roll Player does is to focus just on the bit at the beginning of an RPG adventure – the creation of the character.

This is done by placing colourful dice on lovely thick boards in such a way that they hit the target values for the type of character you are trying to create.

Roll Player is a weird hybrid in that it’s a fun and challenging game, but it finishes just as the role-playing would be about to begin.

Thankfully the Monsters & Minions expansion adds in something for your characters to do once they have been created, but the extra box pretty much doubles the cost of the package, and it’s not as if Roll Player is cheap to start with, even if it represents good value for what it contains.

Think of this as an optional extra, a game that won’t necessarily give you an authentic role-playing experience but which riffs on the fun of putting together a character.

It is also the only competitive game on the list, as you are trying to create the best character and outscore your other players, so if you think you could do better without those other losers then give this a try.

Game Players Time Style Pros Cons More Info
One Deck Dungeon 1-2 cooperative 30-60 mins Dice chucker A dungeon in a small box! Can feel long Forest Of Shadows integrates
Legacy Of Dragonholt 1-6 cooperative As long as you like! Choose your own adventure Unique and involving Best with fewer players Limited replayability
Legends Of Andor 1-4 cooperative 60-90 mins Go on adventures Beautiful and atmospheric Can feel too much like a puzzle Expansions broaden the experience
Defenders Of The Realm 1-4 cooperative 60-90 mins Defend against threats Feels like other classic games Starting to show its age Loads of extra characters to collect
Mice And Mystics 1-4 cooperative 60-90 mins Exploration Full experience Complicated for beginners Good for families
Roll Player 1-4 competitive 60-90 mins Dice placement Colourful and different Quite abstract Just about creating the character

A Good RPG Board Game For Beginners Is About Balance

Finding a good role-playing game for beginners can be tricky, because you’ll want to have a full experience without having too many rules or moving parts to deal with so there needs to be some compromise along the way.

The games I have chosen have a little bit of everything, from dungeon delving to exploring the landscape to interacting with villagers…to mice (!) so hopefully they offer a broad range of experiences, and you could always try them all, of course.

Best of all, none of them is particularly tricky to learn or play and they lead up in difficulty to Mice & Mystics, which is the most fully-fledged experience of the lot.

Hopefully, I’ve given you something to think about and in the meantime may your sword be sharp and your ale hearty!

Final Selection

  • One Deck Dungeon is a fun dice chucker with a location to explore, monsters to fight, treasure to gain and a boss to defeat
  • Legacy Of Dragonholt is like a choose-your-own-adventure book where you create a fully-fledged character and take them out for some adventures in Dragonholt. It has limited replayability once you’ve played it all the way through, though.
  • Legends Of Andor is a beautiful game with five missions that will see you cross the land and defeat monsters to win the game, but be careful not to run out of time!
  • Defenders Of The Realm is not mission-based but has up to four adventurers take on the darkness (not the band!) in an attempt to save Monarch City.
  • Mice And Mystics sees your band of gallant mice take on different adventures as they make their way through the castle, fighting insects, cats and other dangers along the way.

…And for something slightly different:

  • Roll Player is a competitive dice placement game in which players try to create the best role-playing character they can…but you’ll need to buy the expansion if you want to fight anything!

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About the author

James Declan discovered board gaming via a one hour sesh trying to escape Forbidden Island with his daughter and has never looked back.