Who doesn’t love a good story? I know I certainly do. Back in my childhood days, I’d love to sit under a tree and read a good book, immersing myself into the story. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is an increasing number of story driven board games around these days. These games include some kind of narrative element which drives the game forwards, differing from a legacy game in that a legacy game leads to a permanent change to the board or rules in some way. In that way, the “story” is often the way to drive the rules change. My City is a perfect example of this. Certain rules come up and there is a narrative behind why this is the case. A story driven game though usually has an on-going arc to it. Locations may change, or certain choices will be provided to you, but often in the form of a book another player reads to you. There are exceptions to this, as there always is. In fact, our first game is a huge exception, but no two stories are the same, after all.
Through The Ages: A New Story Of Civilisation - Neil Parker
Do you like civilisation themed games? Are you tired of games that give you a fixed set up or a narrow path of development? If you want more from such a game, then Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilisation delivers. It’s game that gives you a real sense of development and varied play, maybe not always in the way you want, but I always feel it allows me to create my own story of civilisation. This is my empire shaped and grown according to the fickle winds of fate on the one hand but with choices based on gameplay on the other.
This is a game where you grow your population, but you need to feed the population and keep them happy. This is a game where you need to build up your resources, because you need this to fuel your building growth and research. More importantly, on the subject of storyline, this is a game where you need to choose which leaders will lead your empire’s development and what wonders you will build. All of this in conjunction with keeping armed forces developed enough to deter aggression or enough to go on the offensive yourself. Ultimately, whatever story you write, you are aiming to be the civilisation that history records as being the greatest on earth, represented by having the most culture points at the end of the game.
One of the key features of this game, is the great choice of options. I love how Caesar can lead an empire in one age, then Shakespeare will lead later on. I love how the Eiffel Tower can sit side-by-side with the Pyramids. As you play, you are building a unique story, from ancient times to the modern day. Every game is different, every player will build a unique flavoursome story and all aiming to be the greatest civilisation
Sleeping Gods – Frederick Cronin
When it comes to games that are steeped in story, Sleeping Gods has to be one of my top picks. Not only does this behemoth of a box contain seemingly endless components, it also packs over 170 pages of narrative punch. Released back in 2021, Sleeping Gods tells the story of a crew of lost adventures who are transported, along with their trusty vessel ‘the Manticore’ from 1929 to a strange and unfamiliar world. Starting out with a map segment, up to four players have to explore their new environment while getting into character as the various crew members.
As players explore the world around them, they turn the pages of the atlas, uncovering new treasures and terrors beyond their comprehension. Each turn, they must interact with the weird and wonderful characters, locations, and the very monsters that stalk them to try and find a way back to the world they call home. The sheer volume of story contained in this already jam-packed box is what keeps me coming back to Sleeping Gods. No two sessions are the same, let alone two campaigns, and there is enough narrative to keep everything feeling as fresh as the day you start out. Plus, the game provides all the resources for you to bank your progress so you can easily reset after a campaign, meaning you don’t need to purchase any additional reset kits.
Having got a good few hours of gameplay under my belt, I still know that there is an entire world I am yet to explore with Sleeping Gods, one equally full of danger and delight. To those looking for a meaty story driven experience, I cannot recommend Sleeping Gods enough.
Near And Far – Camille Hindsgaul
Sticking to the world created by Ryan Lauket, we travel Near and Far, where you will journey through the world of Arzium on the hunt for ancient ruins. How you make it there depends on the choices you make.
In campaign mode, you play through a book of ten maps. Certain spaces on these maps give you entries in the storybook which describe a scene and give you two options of what to do, each with a dice roll challenge. If you succeed, you get a reward. Sometimes that’s resources but it can also be keywords or side quests. Keywords give you additional options if you find the right entries on later maps, whereas side quests continue the entry you just did on your next book space.
You can also play character mode where you only play through three maps but all story entries are about a specific pre-made character whose story you see through to the end.
Near and Far was my first campaign story game and it holds a very special place in my heart. y favourite story mechanic are the keywords. During my first campaign, I got the keyword RED early on, and for the rest of the maps I was constantly on the look-out for locations that might develop that side of the story. It even gave me a special ending, which I was very pleased with.
The gameplay has a lot of other aspects to it than “just” story. To win a game, you might hire adventurers, gather resources, fight threats, improve (or destroy) your reputation, or set up trade routes. For this reason, I think Near and Far is a great introduction to story games if you are already used to playing board games in general, as there are a good few things to keep track of but the story side itself is quite simple, yet very satisfying.
The Adventures Of Robin Hood – Luke Pickles
What’s more fitting for a list about stories than a game about one of the biggest stories in British history – Robin Hood. KOSMOS produced an excellent game a couple of years ago called the Adventures of Robin Hood, by designer Michael Menzel. For those who don’t know, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a game with a really intriguing movement system and advent-calendar style board where you flip over different tiles to reveal rewards, enemies, story elements and the like throughout the game. The whole narrative is driven by a big red book, which introduces the chapters, sets up the pieces on the board, and gives you your goals and any information you need to play through. I really enjoyed playing through the story, and the expansion, Friar Tuck in Danger when it came out. The sessions are nice and snappy, meaning you can play through two or three in a night and not really notice the time passing.
As it often is with Robin Hood, the story keeps you coming back for more and the manipulation of board and the randomness of the bag drawing keeps each play of the story interesting. Some would say you have a limited replayability with the story, but I think you could easily play the story several times, just a bit spaced apart.
Vagrantsong – Craig Smith
On my journey with story driven games, I have hopped onto the Silver Ferryman train and been taken along for an absolutely wild ride.
Vagrantsong takes place on a train that your characters have climbed aboard, clearly unaware of the trials and tribulations ahead. The train also has spirits on them, known as haints. Haints are beings that need help having their humanity restored so they can pass over into the afterlife peacefully. As the stowaways on the train, it is your responsibility to give them their humanity back through any means possible. It may be from junk that you find on the train. It may be through some of the decisions you make along the story. It may even be from giving the haints a good old-fashioned wallop!
At the start of each round, players decide which order they want to take their turns, understanding of course that the haint takes a turn after each player, not simply once per round. Your actions can also influence the behaviour of the haints – as they often change their mood during a scenario!
Restoring a haint’s humanity is often key to winning the scenarios, but there are event tokens that can be added to the tracks, or item bindle. These can also change the course of the game if players choose to investigate them.
There’s a lot to really like about Vagrantsong. Not only is the production and component quality excellent, but the scenarios are really well written. Whilst the story isn’t necessarily the driving force as it is with games like Stuffed Fables and Sleeping Gods, the determination to get those haints peacefully into the afterlife becomes the main driver of the game.