5 Storytelling Board Games to Satisfy Your Inner Bard
Storytelling board games have grown in popularity over the past few years. Providing a loose structure, storytelling games rely on the players to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. This may be by giving the players options, like in a choose your own adventure game, or by providing aspects of a story that the players need to link together in their own way. Storytelling board games don’t always require a board, and nor do they always have a firm scoring structure. Instead, they are not about the destination of completing a game, but the journey in which you get there.
For this article, I thought it was worthwhile to recount a few storytelling games we have in our gaming group’s collection. These are games we like to break out with friends on occasion to laugh away an evening or a Sunday afternoon. They are games that really aren’t about winning, but more taking part and having fun. Not all of these games traditionally fit under the storytelling genre; however all have enhanced game play if storytelling is incorporated.
Please note that on this list I have not included tabletop RPGs like D&D. This is because, although about storytelling in a sense, they are a sub-genre of games in their own right. These, instead, are games that are just cold, hard, fun for those who like telling tales or completing stories.
Also note that storytelling games as a genre need everyone to invest in the game. If you are not the kind of person who enjoys making things up, or role playing, or telling stories then this list probably isn’t for you. That being said, if you prefer more of a challenge I have created a list of games that melt our brains over here.
No storytelling list could be complete without Gloom, and Gloom is one of those games that everyone should have on their shelves. It is creative. It is funny. Most of all, it is dark, and so if you like dark humour this is a must.
In Gloom, which is a game for 1-4 players in the base and countless others with additional expansion packs, you play the parts of Gothic families looking to make their way in the world. Your goal, should you choose to accept it, is to make your family as miserable as possible, whilst telling a story. As such, there are fantastic cards like “was pursued by poodles” and “was shunned by society” for you to play on your own family, worth negative points. Likewise, there are good cards like “was popular in parliament”, which you can play on your opponents.
Once your opponents are as happy as you believe you can make them, or once you are as miserable as you think you can be, you can kill a character off. Once all of one family’s members are dead the game is over and the points added up. As one final cruel twist of fate, whoever has least points (or most negative points) at the end wins.
Some of the best and most memorable times we have ever had playing games come from when we had just graduated and Gloom was a cheap evening in. It is well worth a buy.
Braggart is an unusual game because it is a take-that style storytelling game. Of all the games in this list, Braggart probably has the firmest structure, as each turn you must use a hand of cards to spin tales about marvellous deeds you have witnessed. Of course, as you are a bard telling the tale, people can always interrupt and change the stories you are telling, calling you a liar or calling your bluff.
In Braggart the stories you tell are made out of a series of cards in your hand. These include Scenes, Deeds, Foes, and Results. A minimum story comprises of a deed and a foe; however they can become more complex and convoluted as the game progresses.
What Braggart is, although not hugely revolutionary in how it plays, is good innocent fun. It is one of the most family friendly names on this list, and can be played with younger teenagers as well as adults. It is also a good gateway game for getting players or a gaming group into some of the heavier storytelling games out there.
Braggart is a fun storytelling game that is worth a look if you like the fantasy theme.
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Tales of the Arabian Nights is the heaviest game on this list, and is an epic story telling game designed by Anthony J. Gallela, Eric Goldberg, Kevin Maroney and Zev Shlasinger. In it you play as one of the characters from Scheherazade’s 1001 Nights.
Tales of the Arabian Nights is a unique multiplayer choose-your-own adventure game in which your choices really do matter to the way the game pans out. Each person travels around a map telling stories about themselves as they go – choosing paths that only they travel, unique to them.
Tales of the Arabian Nights is a fantastic large board game for a group of three to four looking for a collective storytelling experience. Although, technically speaking, the game can hold eight players, it definitely benefits from smaller groups of people. This is because it is an immersive storytelling experience, with three players at any one time taking part in the story or story administration. This keeps it engaging with smaller groups and a really fun game for players wanting a choose-your-own adventure style game.
Tales of the Arabian Nights, although you don’t make the story up yourself, is absolutely huge. It has a book filled with references, stories, and options. You spin your own tale, using tropes from the classic legends.
Bucket of Doom
Arguably the first party game on this list, Bucket of Doom is a game in which players are dealt a hand of items. A collective card is then drawn depicting a scenario in which you need to escape your inevitable and impending doom. You must then tell the story of how you escape from the scenario using one of the items in your hand.
Naturally enough – comedy ensues. Bucket of Doom is a game by Big Potato Games, meaning it is an entertaining and quirky adult party game. Not suitable for work, and definitely not suitable for younger families, Bucket of Doom helps represent the evolution of the party game. It has become something way more than what it is, transcending the family-time-playing-with-your-grandmother format and become a fresh new and exciting genre filled with humour. It can be dark, it can be dodgy, and it is definitely fun.
Bucket of Doom becomes one of those games that is really easy to recommend for the right group of people. It isn’t hugely competitive, but is convoluted enough to keep a group of friends entertained for a whole evening. Bucket of Doom thrusts some really unusual situations out into the room, and with only a card and your imagination you need to tell the story of your escape.
You are the last lobster in the tank, and someone has just ordered lobster. How do you escape?
Top Hats and Treachery
Finally, we end this list with a composite game that takes a lot of different elements on this list, and thrust them together with a strong structure.
In Top Hats and Trechery, you play the roles of hotel owners at the turn of the 20th century, looking to have the best possible guests in your hotel. To ensure that you have the best guests you play events on them that change their lives. These can be positive cards on your own guests or negative on everyone else’s.
What Top Hats and Trechery offers is a more structured storytelling game. It takes concepts similar to Gloom and adds more of a framework. The game, for instance, only lasts 10 rounds. It can take 30 minutes to play, in a way making it more accessible than its gloomy cousin. Even the storytelling is optional; however, some cards do encourage it more than others. I would recommend storytelling and roleplaying for those who really want to make the most out of the game.
Top Hats and Treachery is a fun little game we originally played at the 2016 UKGE before backing it on Kickstarter. Now it is one that regularly makes our table.
So there we have it – five games that incorporate storytelling and that are worth looking at. As mentioned at the start of this article, they aren’t all traditional story telling games but they are enhanced when storytelling is involved.
On a side note, this entire article was written on my phone in various different department stores whilst my girlfriend went shopping. My apologies if it rambles at various points, I’m literally travelling from boyfriend chair (that single chair they put near changing rooms for husbands and boyfriends to sit in whilst their other halves are trying on clothes) to boyfriend chair.
Back on point – what is your favourite storytelling game? Let me know in the comments below.