If there's anything I love more in board gaming than a campaign I'm struggling to think of it. Back when I first started gaming we played D&D and the idea of interlaced stories with lasting consequences has always been something that I loved in my games. However in 2008 when I rediscovered board games it was their compact nature, their short playing time and their wealth of experiences that I loved.
This is at odds with my love of campaigns. I love to play lots of different games and have different experiences, but a campaign game needs to be played over and over. Of course the best campaign games offer both, a series of very different sessions but ones with stories that hopefully you'll tell forever.
Now that 2020 is over and the world is gradually moving closer to returning to normal, I present my top ten campaigns that I own and would like to play in 2021, but even if I only get to play one of these I'd still be happy!
Comanauts comes in at the bottom of this list only because I am nearly at the end of the campaign. My friend and I began playing Comanauts a week or so before the UK went into lockdown in 2020. We picked the campaign back up for a week in the summer when the restrictions lifted, with plans to finish just as another lockdown was announced.
Comanauts is an epic tale from designer and storyteller Jerry Hawthorn (#MiceandMystics #StuffedFables) about a group of Comanauts travelling into the mind of the only scientist capable of saving the world to free him from the nightmares that have taken him hostage.
Each time you enter Martin’s mind you will travel to one of five dreamscapes that will be linked to one of Martin’s negative emotions. However to complete the sequence you must find which inner demon is currently attacking Martin, by hopping between dreamscapes and gathering clues about the inner demon’s identity, eventually tracking it down and defeating it.
Each dreamscape offers a completely different world, be it old west, film noir or seventies disco. And the player characters you inhabit range from futuristic cyber warriors to winnie the pooh and everything in between. This game is a celebration of imagination and it's one I’m hoping to finally finish when our own world returns to normal.
9. Heroes of Terrinoth
While not strictly a campaign game, Heroes of Terrinoth sneaks in here at number 9. I loved Warhammer Quest the Card Game (which was a campaign game) but that title was cut brutally short when the rift between Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop erupted scattering their best IP games to the eight winds.
When FFG announced they were reworking the game into their own homebrewed universe, Terrinoth, we all waited with baited breath of news that the line would be expanded and that there would be expansion content to keep us ravenously devouring whatever the Sadler brothers could cook up.
Sadly that was never to be and we were left with just eight scenarios, which while not part of a campaign could and should actually see table time.
Heroes of Terrinoth is an adventure card game where each player takes on the role of one of four archetypes, Warrior, Mage, Healer or Scout. Over the course of an adventure they will battle monsters, travel through locations and unlock narrative interludes as they work their way to the conclusion of the adventure, typically a final boss fight.
8. TMNT - Change is Constant & City Fall
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles should be so much higher on this list. The Turtles are one of my favourite intellectual properties, I’ve sampled nearly every version and variant over the years and IDW’s excellent comic series is probably the best. The series marries a new version of the turtles with iconic samplings from their other iterations like the world's greatest tasting menu. It manages to be both faithful to the original comics line while providing a fresh take on characters that have been charming the nation for nearly 40 years.
Change is Constant sees the players take on the roles of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Casey Jones) as they battle their way through a bunch missions that can be played cooperatively or competitively, taking on the cunning Old Hob and the conniving Baxter Stockman. They will also face off against AI opponents in single player side missions and run out table space playing a six player mission across 4 tiles.
In City Fall the players do the same thing but using characters you’ve possibly never heard of such as Angle Bridge and Old Hob (Spoiler alert, he plays both sides!) but against more familiar villains such as Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady. At its heart TMNT is a side scrolling beat ‘em up with special moves and a cool dice sharing mechanic on which the entire “Adventures” line rests.
This reboot then of Shadows of the Past, lovingly brought back from the edge of extinction by Pete Walsh and Daniel Lansdown should be the perfect game for me. I loved Shadows of the Past and bringing those mechanics and marrying them more closely to the IDW narrative should be lighting my world on fire but I’m just not getting the fizz.
Part of the problem here is the platform that brought the game back, Kickstarter. This one feels rushed out the door with errata and misprints and a co-op system that is ho-hum at best. Change is Constant and City Fall both feel like they needed another round of proofreading and playtesting and don’t get me started on the complications of using the Thug Gunners. It’s an incredible fan project, a brilliant love letter to the Turtles, but it’s not a polished product and that makes me less excited to play it.
7. Zombicide Washington Z.C
Zombicide Washington Z.C. sits down here at number 7 because a #Zombicide narrative campaign has never been done before, this one could easily go either way. Zombicide missions are very light on any kind of story, each mission has a paragraph at most, a touch of flavour, some salt and pepper lightly sprinkled over your chainsaw wielding fun. The narrative in a game of Zombicide comes from the players, “Remember when I did that thing and we blew up those guys and it was like totally awesome?”
Zombicide Washington Z.C is an expansion for Zombicide 2nd Edition set in Washington D.C after the end of the world. The story will take place with a group of survivors scavenging the ruins of the White House and potentially discovering that not everyone inside is gone. Across 10 mission players will discover the story of Washington Z.C through a series of event cards that are placed as overlays on the board which can be interacted with by performing special actions.
Alongside the narrative additions Washington Z.C. adds new mechanics for night and day, leveling up your heroes and going all out with your weapons.
So the idea of a more story focused Zombicide campaign has me intrigued. Don’t get me wrong, the previews still seemed light on the story aspect but it also has the potential to be one that I can get to the table easily and have fun with.
6. The Crew and the Quest For Planet 9
It feels like a day has not gone by this year when someone hasn’t told me how amazing The Crew is. I’ve played the first 10 missions, it’s a trick taking game. I like it, it’s not incredible, I’d certainly have a hard time saying it’s “Game of the Year” or anything. The unique selling point for the Crew is the fact that it is cooperative and that it has 50 missions intended to be played as a campaign.
It is this part that intrigues me. Each mission presents a challenge, a puzzle to be solved. For example an early mission might simply require the first player to win a trick containing a certain card, easily done. But as the missions progress they become harder, requiring specific players to win tricks in certain orders and all without being able to communicate.
Given the game's small number of components I am fascinated as to how they created 50 different and unique ways of collecting tricks, I would have run out of variants after the first few dozen.
The Crew hits this list however because I want to play it with the Game Night boys. Our crew of plucky casual gamers should meet once a month to eat pizza, munch doritos and shoot the breeze, all while digesting a tidy pallet of family weight euro games with the occasion amerithrash game thrown in to liven things up, like a hand grenade at a garden party. In January I was very much looking forward to closing out the next 12 game nights with a few hands of The Crew as we bumbled our way through the campaign. Sadly COVID-19 had other ideas!
5. Descent Road to Legend
I spent a long time during Lockdown completing painting my Descent Collection so I’d really love to get it on the table. My friend Dave and I have played through the first Descent Road to Legend campaign, Rise of all Goblins and while this campaign is only just long enough to wet your whistle, we had a blast.
Honestly I’d love to get the next campaign to the table with four players, the way it’s meant to be played, but I can’t see me managing to get a group dedicated enough to commit to eight sessions to play out a full campaign.
Descent Road to Legend takes Descent 2nd Edition and makes it a fully playable cooperative experience against an app. Descent is a dungeon crawler where players choose a hero and a class deck and then fight their way through a series of story missions, while also taking on side quests and the occasional shopping trip.
Each mission varies in the tasks you need to complete. Some may be simply stomping on a boss but many require you to rescue civilians, stop a magical ritual or transport a bomb into a spider infested hellhole. The app provides instructions on which monsters activate and which heroes they will attempt to maul. It also has some nice sound effects and music and the occasional voice over to deliver important plot points.
Descent for me sits nicely into the Dungeons and Dragons shaped hole in my life, it still gives me all the fantasy combat I need while taking away the obligation of game mastering and making sure everyone has a good time.
4. Super Dungeon Explore Devil Island
Super Dungeon Explore is another dungeon crawling extravaganza but this one takes place in a deliciously cute 8-bit world of heroes and monsters. In Devil Island players take on the roles of one of four mystical ninjas arriving on Devil Island to put a stop to the evil wrongdoings of Bomechan and her pirate ninjas from the Ijin Clan.
Beyond that I don’t actually know much more about this one because it hasn’t actually arrived yet. The campaign, which is known as the “Legends” system will allow your heroes to power up earning new cards they keep from game to game as they play across multiple stories. The campaign missions are also reportedly shorter often played across two tiles instead of three as in a standard game of SDE.
I first started painting Super Dungeon Explore in 2017 and since then I’ve grown my collection to over 300 miniatures. I’ve played half a dozen games using the print and play rules but I really want to play the game with actual printed components and experience this first true narrative adventure in the Legends systems.
3. Imperial Assault - Tyrants of Lothal
When Fantasy Flight Games first acquired the Star Wars license we knew they were going to make some good games and the best of those may very well be Imperial Assault. With Imperial Assault FFG took their extremely popular Descent 2nd Edition system and mashed it together with Star Wars to create a campaign game of galaxy spanning proportions.
In Imperial Assault players take on the role of a galactic hero with their own unique deck of weapons and upgrades along with a series of different abilities that only their hero can perform. Meanwhile another player takes on the role of the imperial emperor, commanding his forces in deadly skirmishes with the heroes in locations across the known worlds. Each campaign of Imperial Assault comprises a series of story missions interrupted by forced missions, such as Captured, a mission where the heroes having previously failed to complete a quest are attempting to escape an imperial detention center; or optional side quests, some of which are tied directly to the chosen heroes backstories and provide glorious rewards.
As the missions unfold the players earn credits and experience points to spend on new weapons and abilities until they finally reach The Finale, an epic confrontation typically stacked in the villains favour. Win or lose the story is over and it’s time to play again.
Tyrants of Lothal is the final campaign for Imperial Assault, taking place on the dusty desert planet of Lothal first introduced in Star Wars Rebels and the adopted home of the spectre crew. While Tyrants of Lothal is a small box expansion, which typically only contained a short campaign, it can be combined with the missions from the Spectre expansions into a fully fledged campaign. At this point we have played every campaign to date and Tyrants was on the docket to be next in line before Covid happened and everything changed.
Finally finishing Tyrants though may be bitter sweet, after what will likely be 100 games of Imperial Assault we might never return to that galaxy far far away...
2. Dice Throne Adventures
Dice Throne Adventures is the cooperative dungeon crawling, boss battling, adventure game that uses the wonderfully asymmetric characters from Dice Throne Seasons 1 & 2 as heroes, battling AI controlled opponents and grabbing loot.
Yet another dungeon crawler is on the list, when you try to describe them as abstract concepts they all sound the same, play heroes, fighting villains, getting treasure, powering up, defeating the big bad. But it’s not the formula that separates them but the stories they tell and the way they tell them. Dice Throne, more than the others is all about the character you play.
In Dice Throne you inhabit the role of your chosen character, learning how their multiple abilities function together. The Barbarian for example is all about bouts of massive damage followed by rounds where he might slink away to lick his wounds. The Moon Elf on the other hand is all about denial. Her attacks might do smaller amounts of damage but they blind and entangle, while other abilities make her more evasive allowing her a chance to dodge incoming attacks.
You see, while other dungeon crawlers focus on terrain, movement, line of sight, Dice Throne is all about combos and upgrades and power plays. And it’s this high on the list because this literally just landed on my doorstep and it’s beautiful and I want to play it (and cradle it while I sleep) It’s probably going to be a while though so for now I’ll settle for just staring lovingly at it on my shelves.
1. Lord of the Rings LCG - Saga
Lord of the Rings the Living Card Game is my second most played game of all time. Last summer we began to play the Saga expansions for Lord of the Rings, in these campaign boxes you take on the role of the Fellowship as you progress through iconic scenes from the story until eventually you lead the ringbearer to Mount Doom to destroy the one ring once and for all.
We had crossed the river Anduin and were about to encounter our treacherous guide Gollum who would lead us through the Dead Marshes and on into Ithilien, when life took an unexpected turn. And unlike for Bilbo, or Frodo, our unexpected revelation did not lead to adventure, quite the opposite in fact.
Confined to our homes the Fellowship was forced to take a hiatus, one we hoped would be over by the summer so that our furry footed friends could continue their march through Middle Earth, but here we are six months later and there is still no sign of Sam and Frodo simply walking into Mordor.
In Lord of the Rings the Living Card Game players gather a party of heroes drawn from four spheres of influence, Lore, Spirit, Tactics and Leadership. Each hero generates resources that can be used to pay for cards in hand which can be events, attachments or allies.
Each round heroes and allies can commit their willpower to the quest, advancing the story, exploring locations and avoiding dangers, or they can be used to fight and defend against the numerous enemies that will spawn from the encounter deck. Each game of Lord of the Rings uses a specific encounter deck built by shuffling together sets of cards, in this way the games all offer a unique and different way of progressing the story.
In some scenarios you might be defending a besieged village, in another you might be exploring a mine or pursuing a foe through a darkened forest, you could even be sailing to distant lands aboard your own mighty vessel. In the Saga expansions your stories are drawn directly from the source material. You’ll gather your friends and escape the Shire, hounded by Black Riders. In Rivendell you’ll meet new allies and set forth as the Fellowship of the Ring. In Moria you fight the Balrog of shadow and flame and ultimately sacrifice one of your heroes to make it out alive.
Lord of the Rings is one of my all time favourite stories and when I get the chance to live in that world I will always jump at it. We’ve played dozens of scenarios, hundreds of games but actually playing and completing the saga, start to finish, would be something else entirely, a feat worthy of a song and a story we will remember for years to come. So that is why this is my number one campaign game that I’m looking forward to playing when we can finally get it back to the table and save Middle Earth.
What Campaign games are you looking forward to? Why not let us know down in the comments...