So, You Want to Play a Campaign Game?

Welcome brave adventurer! It’s time for a quest. Choose your starting weapons, fill a bag full of berries and follow us now as we discuss the greatest campaign board games you can play…

SLEEPING GODS

Not long after lockdown ended, a good pal and I did a writing retreat in a rural cottage by the sea. The writing quickly gave way to drinking wine and playing all of the brilliant “Sleeping Gods”, no regrets! Players take control of all the people onboard a 1920s ship called the Manticore when it is whisked into a strange new world in unknown waters. Can you find a way home?

As you explore cities to trade and clamber through jungles to chase quests you’ll get new tools, abilities, weapons and most importantly, recipes to keep everyone happy. The bulk of the game is in a choose your own adventure style book of narrative choices, be you at sea or having disembarked for an explore. In our play through of the game we only saw about half the map (a book with pages to turn as you advance) and only stumbled across one of many possible endings.

Combat takes a little getting used to and is probably not ideal for more than 2 players but at 2, one of the best on the market. There is a newer campaign just out called “Distant Skies” I haven’t tried it but am looking forward to it!

Now, take this shield and head to level 2 as we talk about…

OATHSWORN

Nothing lends itself to a campaign game quite like an epic, fantasy setting. Think Hero Quest but dialled up to 100. There are so many in this genre to choose from, and many I’m yet to play, but my favourite has to be the fairly recent, big box experience that is “Oathsworn”. A coop boss battler set in a fantastically well realised dark fantasy setting. In it, 1-4 players are members of the Oathsworn, a gang of heroes determined to save the cities and towns of the Deepwoods from whatever weird giant monsters face them. And face them you will!

Each scenario in Oathsworn is a set story that follows on from the last, with whatever new weapons and armour you may have acquired carrying over in classic style. Where it immediately deviates from other dungeon crawlers is that the first half of each scenario is a choose-your-own-adventure style booklet (or app if you prefer) where you look to gain knowledge and advantages for the battle ahead, then in part two, the brave warriors face whatever giant creature is in the deep woods this week… From giant rats to (actually no, any more would be spoilers….)

The writing is genuinely excellent and the art, especially the city maps do a great job of building the world. The battle mechanics are familiar but with enough new twists, there are loads of great loot items and different cities to explore. It’s an epic in all the right ways!

But now, brave adventurer take this steed and ride to the capital…

KING’S DILEMMA

This one might be familiar from a campaign of it run right here on NRB. If not, may we heartily recommend the video of that to you all!

The King’s Dilemma sees players as heads of different noble families in a fictional medieval land. Your job, nay, your duty, is to guide the hapless King on the best way to deal with whatever fresh dilemma has been presented that round. Perhaps food supplies are running low. Will you divert funds from the army to help? Ah, but, my Lords and Ladies, what of this news of a distant land with golden riches beyond imagining, can you spare a task force to investigate?

Take this simple set up but add that each noble House has certain things they most wish to see happen and you end up with players arguing and negotiating fiercely to get the outcomes they want. The crux of the game comes down to a vote sending the emerging storyline down either path A or path B. You add one set of cards to an event deck and the others, you just bin em! Gone! Thus each kingdom’s story will start the same but branch out in totally different ways.

The narratives are excitingly realised, the world is richly imagined and the voting is a fun mechanic but, where this game undoubtedly shines is the chance to lean into roleplaying as your faction. When we played the faction that liked to stare sadly at the sea we managed to fund the arts enough that someone invented a flute that made people cry.

The end scoring after maybe 6 or 7 sessions is a bit weird but the journey there is collaborative storytelling gaming at its best. The follow up, “The Queen’s Dilemma” is in production now and we cannot wait to try it!

But now, a shadow in the sky, time to level up one stat and prepare for failure as we discuss…

ARKHAM HORROR: THE CARD GAME

1920s America is the setting now! The Lovecraftian world will be well known to anyone that has been watching NRB’s “Call of Cthulhu” video series (and again, if you haven’t… well… you’re in for a treat!) “Arkham Horror TCG” sees you face off against ancient godlike horrors armed only with a flashlight, a knife and, if you’re lucky, a few books.

This is a coop card game where 1-4 players take on the role of an investigator and build a deck of cards to represent their skills and tools. The game has a huge amount of different campaigns, most of which run as 8 different scenarios where you’ll search for clues whilst trying to dodge a deck of treachery cards which can hurl you around the board, freeze you in fear or just drop a whole new monster in your path.

With so many expansions now, “Arkham Horror” can be daunting to new players, but you definitely don’t need everything to enjoy it, just the base game, maybe another investigator box and then pick a campaign you like the look of! XP earned can be spent upgrading cards, buying flamethrowers, grenades and maybe even better books. You’ll need them! The game is notoriously difficult and failing is the likeliest outcome but that only makes the wins feel even better. I do a fortnightly 4 player campaign I am constantly impressed by how different each single scenario plays and just how many mad deck building options there are.

And with that, brave adventurer, your journey is over. Oh, but what’s that? You want two more that I haven’t played but have heard good things about? Well, go on then, but first, take this potion…

GLOOMHAVEN: JAWS OF THE LION

For a long time the Gloomhaven, the huge box dungeon crawler had been deemed top of the pile of best ever board games, but I never got on with it. The core card game mechanics were good, but set up took forever, side quests like city decks slowed you down further and despite the good world building, each mission seemed to come down to “go in that dungeon and kill some guys.” I just wanted to open the box and get my adventurers exploring, so, step forward Jaws of the Lion, a stripped back version of Gloomhaven that has all the maps prebuilt in a book, a more focused story and just 4 characters off on a lovely quest. Even the most diehard Gloomhaven fans say this is the place to start. It’s cheaper, smaller with simplified rules and you might even get to play as a little gnome guy with loads of bombs.

EARTHBORNE RANGERS

Lot of buzz about this one you guys, a lot of buzz… An open world fantasy adventure game made by some of the team behind Arkham Horror the Card Game and reusing some of the same great card mechanics, “Earthborne Rangers” has been designed as a fully sustainably built game and the theme matches that, you must protect a wilderness of the far future that was designed to save the Earth. I backed the last crowdfunding round and can’t wait to try it!

If you want to pick up any of these games, check if they’re in stock at Zatu. Buying them there supports No Rolls Barred via our affiliate partnership. Read more here.