Love Stranger Things and D&D? Here are 10 Tabletop Games to Add to Your Collection.
Stranger Things, the Netflix phenomenon that has made the fantasy genre cool again, has returned for an epic fourth season. The first seven episodes launch on Netflix today, with the final two episodes available from July 1.
One of the most successful boons as a result of the popularity of the series, and the nostalgia kick it offers to many, is interest in Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and other tabletop role playing games (RPG).
At its simplest D&D is a fantasy RPG where participants create their own character, then go on a adventure together in a fictional world. Dungeon Masters (or Game Masters, Storytellers) are the elected game organizer and the participant in charge of creating the details and challenges and maintaining control of the continuity of events.
The game perfectly foreshadows what’s to come in the first season of Stranger Things. The kids, relying on their different personalities, skills and instincts, each play a unique role in saving Will from the horrors of the alternate dimension. It is the theme of camaraderie, the longing for adventure, the search for answers and the acceptance of the otherworldly that fuels this series.
The thing about a town like Hawkins, Indiana in the ’80s is that there weren’t that many tabletop games available. Stranger Things, inspired by the works of Steven Spielberg, Steven King and John Carpenter, incorporates many pop culture references from the decade. There’s a sense of nostalgia for people of a certain age in seeing your childhood represented on screen. I’m sure there were many that dusted off the old D&D, or introduced it to their own kids, after remembering how it enlivened their childhood. Nowadays there are an overwhelming amount of options; online play is a viable alternative with the development of creatively-respectful apps, and group video chats aid interaction. But D&D, and the many many expansions and variations of the core premise, is still just as popular.
But D&D isn’t just a weird game that kids play in their basements – just ask Magic Mike star Joe Manganiello, who regularly hosts an elaborate campaign with an expanding gaming group, including Vince Vaughn, Tom Morello, Paul “The Big Show” Wright and D. B Weiss. Many tabletop games – but particularly these appointment-play RPG adventures – to enthusiasts like Manganiello offer a “creative and social outlet”. They present an escape from the norm that can challenge people of all ages to develop new skills and quash anxieties, while bringing them out of their comfort zone within a friendly environment.
If you’re a D&D fan and have been seeking out some games to curate into a collection, or if you’re interested in some of the fantasy themes in Stranger Things and want to participate in more screen-free activities with your friends, check out our list.
Arkham Horror: Living Card Game (2016)
Something evil stirs in Arkham, and only you can stop it. Blurring the traditional lines between role-playing and collectable card game experiences, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a living card game of Lovecraftian mystery, monsters, and madness.
Since the release of the living card game, the designers have introduced just about every character, weapon and monster from the Arkham Files universe. Multiple deluxe expansions have been released with re-playable narrative-driven mysteries as well as offering a broad range of investigators with unique deck-building options to suit any play style.
Other Options: Eldritch Horror (2013), Mansions of Madness: Second Edition (2016)
Accompanying Movie: Dagon (2001) – Suitably gruesome adaptation of Lovecraft’s classic novella ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’. Fans can play out this story in the deluxe Arkham Horror expansion, The Innsmouth Conspiracy (2020).
Stream Dagon on Prime Video.
Betrayal at House on the Hill (2004)
Explore a haunted house as a team…until one of you turns against the rest.
The players, participating as one of six possible characters, build their own haunted house room by room, tile by tile, creating a new game board every time. Then, secretly, one of the characters is instructed to betray the rest of the party, forcing the innocent members to identify and defeat the traitor before it is too late.
Other Options: Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate (2017)
Accompanying Movie: House on Haunted Hill (1959) – This Vincent Price horror classic is surely what inspired this hidden-traitor game, bringing together a group of strangers in a possibly haunted mansion. Price stars as an eccentric millionaire who offers $10,000 to each of his guests if they can survive a terror-filled night in the mansion.
Stream House on Haunted Hill on Prime Video.
Build the most awesome fort while making new friends and eating pizza.
A perfect little strategic deck-builder for an after school hangout. I’m sure there are underground Fort tournaments out there somewhere. There’s no denying the success of the theme here – players feel like a kid trying to grow their circle of friends, while collecting toys and building the coolest fort. Victory points reward picking the right kids to hang out with, and a curated hand of cards allow players to follow the actions of opponents. Unused cards (your friends) can be poached by a rival if they aren’t used, creating a fast and dynamic pace.
Other Options: 7 Wonders (2010)
Accompanying Movie: The Goonies (1985) – A classic of the ‘kids get up to mischief’ genre.
Stream The Goonies on Stan.
Lords of Waterdeep (2012)
Deploy agents and recruit adventurers to go on quests on your behalf, earning rewards and increasing your influence over the city of Waterdeep. Expand the city by purchasing new buildings that open up actions on the board, and hinder your opponents by playing Intrigue cards. This classic worker-placement game serves as the most thematically-linked and streamlined gateway between D&D and wider tabletop gaming. It has a stunningly smooth and balanced round system that scales brilliantly for all player counts.
Other Options, Raiders of the North Sea (2015), Lost Ruins of Arnak (2020)
Accompanying Movie: The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – This world of taverns, ports, arcane power and skullduggery feels very much like the sort of shady location that Tolkein’s characters would have to pass through on their quest to, you know, destroy a ring.
Buy or rent The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the Movie Store.
Cosmic Encounter (2008)
Conquer the galaxy with shifting alliances and the unique powers of your Alien race.
This classic game of Alien politics is as unpredictable, re-playable (there are 50 different Alien races to control) and entertaining as the participants allow it to be. The rules are loose. The object of the game is to establish colonies in other players’ planetary systems. Players must use force, cunning, and diplomacy to ensure their victory, while alliances can form and shift from one offensive encounter to the next.
Other Options: Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure (2016)
Accompanying Movie: Starship Troopers (2007) – Like this game, which has no interest in taking itself seriously – relying on risk-taking and the often blind confidence of players – what better way to wind down the night than with the unpretentious sci-fi slime-fest that plays as both a fun, kick-ass monster movie and a hilarious yet damning satire on authoritarianism.
Stream Starship Troopers on Disney+.
Star Realms (2014)
Compete head-to-head to create the most powerful deck of spaceships and bases.
This fast paced deck-building card game of outer space combat also has a terrific free iOS and Android app. Players curate their deck – using trade value to acquire new ships and bases from the cards in the Trade Row – and use the powers and abilities acquired to either generate more trade or to attack their opponent and their bases.
Other Options: Ascension (2010) and Dominion (2008)
Accompanying Movie: Star Trek (2009) – Need to scratch that intergalactic conflict itch? What better franchise to turn to than Star Trek?
Buy or rent now in the Movie Store.
Gloomhaven, one of the most popular and highly-acclaimed games in the hobby, feels like another natural gateway into more elaborate RPG-driven tabletop gaming. The price tag is daunting, but the content within the box is immense. The playable hours is perhaps unmatched.
It is a game of Euro-inspired tactical combat in a world of persistently shifting motives. Players will take on the role of a wandering adventurer with their own special set of skills, crafting a unique progression narrative as they work through the many many conquest challenges.
Other Options: Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion (2020)
Accompanying Movie: Annihilation (2018) – There aren’t too many movies (yet) that can recapture the experience of playing Gloomhaven but there’s something about the tension of exploration in this movie – a sense of overwhelming peril, an unpredictability, and an openness to the interpretation of the uncanny – that captures some of the features of playing a game like Gloomhaven.
Stream Annihilation on Netflix.
Mage Knight Board Game (2011)
Build your hero’s spells, abilities, and artifacts as you explore and conquer cities.
Mage Knight puts you in control of one of four powerful Mage Knights as you explore (and conquer) a corner of the universe under the control of the Atlantean Empire. Participants – and this plays differently solo, co-operatively or competitively – build their army, fill out a card deck with powerful spells and actions, explore caves and dungeons, and eventually conquer powerful cities. It is widely respected as one of the great solo gaming experiences, if you can’t get the band together for social play.
Other Options: Spirit Island (2017)
Accompanying Movie: Monster Hunter (2020) – Based on the video game of the same name, but this mindless monster mash is pure fantasy action and will surely please fans of the genre.
Buy or rent now in the Movie Store.
Too Many Bones (2017)
Too Many Bones taps into a fascinating subgenre: the dice-builder RPG.
This game takes everything that one understands about dice-rolling games and upends those assumptions. This highly-strategic fantasy-based RPG puts players in control of a new race, taking them on an adventure to their northern territories to root out and defeat a growing enemy force, culminating in a meeting with the infamous “baddie” responsible.
Other Options: Roll Player (2016)
Accompanying Movie: Goosebumps (2015) – Do kids still read Goosebumps books these days? Whether R.L Stine’s classic spooky tales have broken this far into the 21st Century or not the extremely fun movie inspired by these books is well worth re-visiting again and again. A sleepover special.
Buy or rent now in the Movie Store.
Shadows of Brimstone: City of the Ancients (2014)
Shadows of Brimstone: City of the Ancients is a fast-paced, fully cooperative, dungeon-crawl board game set in the Old West, with a heavy dose of unspeakable horror. Players create characters, taking on the role of a classic Western Hero Archetype, such as the Law Man, Gunslinger, or Saloon Girl. Forming an adventuring posse, the Heroes venture down into the dark mines, overrun with all manner of ancient demons and foul creatures from another world.
Other Options: Descent: Journeys in the Dark: Second Edition (2012)
Accompanying Movie: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) – The one that still gives us nightmares. There are myriads of insects, dark mines and hearts being pulled out of chests. Really gruesome stuff and definitely the sort of thing you can imagine transpiring in a game of City of the Ancients.
Buy or rent in the Movie Store.