There's never been a better time to get into storytelling board games
June 13, 2024 6:06 AM   Subscribe

"Storytelling has been a social activity since the dawn of time. Board games can add another level to it with nuanced strategies for decision-making and objectives with epic stakes."

People like to make lists of storytelling board games. Designing a narrative board game is a distinct form of game design. TV Tropes, weirdly, covers Narrative Board Games. There are, of course, books about the stories built into boardgames. Board games have a robust history of recreating and validating imperialism, genocide, and slavery, which David Massey takes on in "Slave Play, or the Imperial Logic of Board Game Narrative." [SLPDF] Flanagan and Jakobsson take on the future of the board game in their book Playing Oppression: The Legacy of Conquest and Empire in Colonialist Board Games. Storytelling has, of course, appeared on MetaFilter previously.
posted by cupcakeninja (9 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
choose your own adventure books were a revelation; happy to see there's now a game
posted by HearHere at 6:29 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]

There's a very broad definition of "storytelling" covering the games in that first link. There's a lot of space between "improvise a story based on the icons on these dice" and Gloomhaven, which is a tactical wargame with the trappings of an RPG bolted on. Personally, I enjoy board games that are halfway to an RPG, that have personas you can imagine reacting to the situations they find themselves in. Stuff like Dead of Winter or Betrayal at the House on the Hill. But my family and the other people I boardgame with mostly don't love the genre, and if I'm going to invest the time in another group I'd rather play a full-on RPG, so I haven't gotten to dig very deep into it.
posted by rikschell at 6:31 AM on June 13 [5 favorites]

I like that there's plenty of narrative variation in what's published, and that I have become more game design literature, such that I can appreciate a range of narratives built into different games. Aurelian: Restorer of the World is a wargame set in the 3rd century, dealing with the challenges of reconsolidating the Roman Empire during the chaos of that century. It's hard to win, at least for me, and I haven't yet won it. Which is, to me, a way that the mechanics of the game tell the "story" of the challenge faced by the emperors of the period. Likewise, but in a much different game, Eldritch Horror can be quite difficult to win, depending on the Ancient One chosen as an adversary, among other things. While it rarely conveys anything like the "eldritch" atmosphere common to Golden Age weird fiction, the mechanics do convey the serious challenge faced at defeating alien gods, while wrapped up in a fun globetrotting story. It's light years away from similar games where the challenge of defeating the Big Bad is modest.
posted by cupcakeninja at 6:42 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]

possibilities for this form of narrative in terms of design space are infinite
emergent narrative as an element of eurogames (& the like) versus zero-sum is a neat insight. thank you for these story-worlds
posted by HearHere at 8:40 AM on June 13

Any list like the CBR one that does not include Tales of the Arabian Nights, the first narrative board game that mattered and still a colossus in the field, is inherently incomplete. On the other hand this one says nice things about Once Upon a Time, which I co-designed, so I'll give the author a pass due to their extreme youth ("Once Upon a Time is an older title that holds up remarkably well" is it, you whippersnapper?)
posted by Hogshead at 8:57 AM on June 13 [7 favorites]

The link to the Massey article appears to be borked?
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:37 AM on June 13

This was an interesting set of links! I was expecting more in the vein of single player games like 1000 year old vampire, but perhaps that stretches the definition of “board”.
posted by hlagol at 1:40 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

I must strongly recommend this AP for Thousand Year Old Vampire.

I really want suggestions for storytelling games to play with family and kids. It looks from these lists like 7th Continent and Once Upon a Time might be good candidates.

But Gloomhaven is not really a storytelling game! Nor Pandemic Legacy. So these lists seem to be ranking games that are doing very different things!
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:37 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

Saxon Kane, sorry about that. Here's the article on the journal's site. Here's a Google Scholar search with a direct link to the Academia version.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:04 AM on June 14

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