The best campaign board games are a recent addition to my tabletop gaming shelf. Up until recently, I favored quick games I could play in a group or one-on-one — I never even considered the idea that there were immersive story games out there to rival the appeal of the single-session games I’d been playing.
That all changed when Gloomhaven came into my life. This is a bit of an exaggeration — I haven’t actually played it yet due to time and table space constraints, but the adventure it promises has me excited about all sorts of games that scratch the same itch.
Since I’ve already done so much research into these games, I thought I’d share my findings with you! Read on for our recommendations of the best campaign board games of 2021.
What Are Campaign Board Games?
Campaign board games (also known as legacy games) are a sort of half-sibling to TTRPGs. As their name suggests, they include a pre-written campaign that spans multiple sessions, telling an immersive story from start to finish.
While many TTRPGs have pre-written campaigns and starter kits with all the supplies and information you need to play, there are a few key differences that make campaign games unique. Firstly, campaign games don’t require a GM — the story is outlined in rulebooks available to all players, and progression is entirely gameplay driven. No more bickering with friends over whose turn it is to wear the GM cap, as everyone gets to be a player!
Campaign games also often contain significantly less roleplay — it’s used more as an accessory to gameplay than a feature. More emphasis is placed on the mechanics, which are more varied across games than TTRPGs (which tend to follow similar-ish structures across the different systems).
Finally, most campaign games are designed to be one-and-done. While the rules and resources of most TTRPGs allow for repeat stories with new characters and questlines, campaign games frequently have you make permanent changes to game pieces and the board itself, sometimes even having you rip up cards or throw out old rules. Some games have mechanics that allow you to continue playing the game after the campaign is over, but you won’t get the full experience on repeat playthroughs.
The 10 Best Campaign Board Games
With all of this in mind, let’s get to our list of the best campaign board games!
The best campaign board game overall
Designer: Isaac Childres | Players: 1–4 | Session Duration: 60–120min | Difficulty: 4/5
Gloomhaven is a fantasy RPG filled with enough exploration, combat, and dungeon diving to satisfy even the most ambitious adventurer. You and your fellow players take on the roles of several different pre-written characters, using their background and special skills to make your way through a massive story of fantastical intrigue and monsters galore.
The game’s branching story structure means that players have a lot of control over where the adventure goes, even though the campaign is pre-written. They’ll work cooperatively over multiple sessions, using the game’s card-based combat system to get through each scenario and onto the next.
2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
The best co-op campaign board game
Designers: Rob Daviau, Matt Leacock | Players: 2–4 | Session Duration: 60min | Difficulty: 3/5
We’ve talked about Pandemic Legacy before in our list of the best resource management games, but it belongs on this list as well. The story is set in a world plagued by a rapidly spreading disease (doesn’t that sound familiar?), and you and the other players must get ahead of the outbreak before it dooms humanity.
You’ll follow the campaign over 12–24 in-game months, taking careful actions to track the disease, develop treatments, and more. You’ll want to be careful and strategic, as the stakes are high. Will you manage to get the upper hand on the pandemic, or will the world fall into chaos?
3. Betrayal Legacy
The best campaign board game for large groups
Designers: Rob Daviau, Noah Cohen, JR Honeycutt, Ryan Miller, Brian Neff, Andrew Veen | Players: 3–5 | Session Duration: 45–90min | Difficulty: 3/5
Betrayal Legacy takes the haunted house exploration of Betrayal at House on the Hill to a new level, streamlining gameplay and adding a deeper story. The narrative persists beyond a single game, with characters moving in and out of the story as the tortured families continue to revisit the house that plagues their darkest memories.
You’ll explore the house, discover and use items (or pass them down to your descendants as “heirlooms”), and prepare for the inevitable betrayal during “The Haunt.” Lives are on the line during this stage of the game, so watch your step — your closest friend may become your greatest enemy.
4. Risk: Legacy
The best campaign board game for beginners
Designers: Rob Daviau, Chris Dupuis | Players: 3–5 | Session Duration: 60min | Difficulty: 3/5
Risk: Legacy was one of the first legacy board games, taking the classic game of Risk and adding elements of intrigue and permanency that ultimately created a whole new genre. It’s another game designed by Rob Daviau, so the setup takes a similar approach to Betrayal — it retains a lot of the gameplay elements of classic Risk while adding a few twists that broaden the story and allow for a longer campaign.
The campaign is typically played across fifteen sessions, though you can continue to change the game even after a winner has been determined. At the start of the game, you’ll gain control of one of five factions, each with different powers and in-game rules. Your goal is to either eliminate the other players and their opposing factions or earn enough victory points to get ahead.
Each session counts as an independent game of Risk, but there are larger implications at hand. The decisions you make in one session may permanently affect the game, as some rules don’t become available until later in the campaign, and others are literally tossed out entirely. The best strategy helps you win in the long term and the short term, so be careful about the risks you take.
The most replayable campaign board game
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier | Players: 1–6 | Session Duration: 45–75min | Difficulty: 3/5
If you’re a fan of worker placement games (or if you enjoyed any of the games on our best games like Catan list), Charterstone may be the campaign game for you. You and your fellow players have been tasked with founding a new village in the kingdom of Greengully. Though you’re all working together on the same village, Charterstone is a competitive game — each player has their own unique abilities and must try to maintain their advantage as the village continues to grow.
It may seem a bit strange to brand a campaign game as “most replayable,” as many of the games on this list are designed to be played only once. Charterstone differs in that gameplay doesn’t have to stop once the twelve-session campaign is complete — by the end of the game, players will have created a completely unique worker placement game that can be played time and time again.
If you miss the legacy elements and want to give it another go, you can even purchase one of the game’s available recharge packs and play the whole campaign again from the start using the double-sided game board. Since the game can be played solo or with a group, this is a great way to create your own custom version of Charterstone, as well as a version you put together with friends.
6. Aeon’s End: Legacy
The best campaign board game for small groups
Designers: Nick Little, Kevin Riley | Players: 1–4 | Session Duration: 45–90min | Difficulty: 3/5
Fans of our tabletop roundup series may recognize Aeon’s End from our list of best deck-building games. You’ll dive deeper into the story of Gravehold and the mages who protect it, learning more about the terrifying monsters that plague the city and the breaches that threaten them all.
Aeon’s End: Legacy is still a cooperative deck-building game, just designed for a larger campaign. The variable turn order of the original game is scrapped in favor of a more organized system in which players cast spells, purchase new cards, and perform other actions that improve their chances of survival as the game gets more difficult over time. We consider it the best two-player campaign board game — just like with the classic version, it’s better to play it with a smaller group.
As a quick note, you don’t necessarily need to have a copy of Aeon’s End to play Aeon’s End: Legacy. However, some players have recommended having at least some familiarity with the classic game to make things easier. The campaign can be played as a standalone game, but the choices you make result in a deck that can be used for regular Aeon’s End gameplay or as an expansion to the version you already have!
7. The 7th Continent
The best solo campaign board game
Designers: Ludovic Roudy, Bruno Sautter | Players: 1–4 | Session Duration: n/a | Difficulty: 3/5
The 7th Continent is an exploration game in which you and your adventuring party revisit the mysterious, eponymous seventh continent. Your last expedition ended in horrible failure, so you’ve returned to the continent’s shores once again to discover its secrets and free yourself of the terrible curse that settled in the moment you admitted defeat.
This is a game of survival as much as exploration, as each new corner of the continent unveils a new potential threat. Event cards may bring either weal or woe, so strategizing and using your skills and wit to stay alive are a must if you plan to see your adventure through to the end.
We’ve named The Seventh Continent the best solo campaign board game because, while it can be played with up to four players, it’s got a fun and fulfilling one-player adventure built in. It’s got an easy way to save your place, meaning you can put it down whenever you’re done exploring for the day and easily pick it up when you have time to spare.
8. First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet
The best campaign board game for advanced players
Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek | Players: 1–4 | Session Duration: 60–90min | Difficulty: 4/5
First Martians is an immersive adventure game in which players take on the red planet and all the challenges it offers. The game is played in relatively short, separate sessions that can be linked together into a greater campaign with the help of an integrated app that guides you through the whole experience.
Take note, however: this game is considerably more difficult than the other games on this list. Even the simplest campaign games can be taxing to keep up with, and First Martians introduces moving pieces that are better suited for players with a bit more practice under their belts.
9. Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated
The best dungeon crawl campaign board game
Designers: Andy Clautice, Paul Dennen | Players: 2–4 | Session Duration: 90–120min | Difficulty: 3/5
Clank! is yet another deck-building game that’s been given a legacy makeover, and we couldn’t be more excited about this one. Classic Clank! is an incredibly fun and thematic dungeon exploration game full of treasure and tribulations, and the legacy version only adds to the immersion with the introduction of Acquisitions Incorporated, a fantasy fetch-quest company whose whole business model is based on the kind of loot-seeking adventures Clank! offers.
In this game, you and your fellow treasure hunters found your own branch of Acq. Inc., playing a uniquely tailored campaign that’ll have you quickly climbing the corporate ladder…provided you can survive the ordeal.
At the end of the game, you’ll also have a complete Clank! deck of your own making, letting you play the classic game with a special fantasy twist!
10. Shadowrun: Crossfire
The best campaign board game for midsize groups
Designers: Mike Elliott, Rob Heinsoo, Jim Lin, Gregory Marques, Sean McCarthy, Jay Schneider, Rob Watkins | Players: 1–4 | Session Duration: 30–60min | Difficulty: 3/5
Shadowrun: Crossfire is another game that previously made our list of best deck-building games. This cooperative adventure drops you and your friends into the middle of a cyberpunk fantasy dystopia called Sixth World, where you must fight for survival against the game’s many magical and technological threats.
As you proceed through the game, you’ll unlock benefits that permanently affect your character and gameplay. You’ll want to use your Karma wisely over the game’s many sessions, investing in upgrades that will help you in the long run while still giving you the leverage you need in your current mission. We recommend playing this with the max number of players, as it’s the best campaign board game for four players on our list.
The Shadowrun universe is a massive, sprawling world — if you like the adventure, you can also check out the TTRPG, novels, and video games!
High Ground View
That’s it for our list of the ten best campaign board games — thanks for reading! If you have any suggestions for games or genres you’d like us to cover in the future, please let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to subscribe to our email list for more tabletop recommendations!
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