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You might have guessed – based on the fact we have a whole category dedicated to them – that we at Renegade Outplayed love board games. We each have our each have our own favorite type of board game, as well.

Personally, I love board games that allow you to develop your character over the course of the game. After horror, my favorite kind of video game is an RPG because that’s where I usually have the most say over who (or what) my character becomes. Board games that incorporate this same kind of character development are a weakness of mine for that very reason.

Sound like you? Then you’ve stumbled across the right page, because I’ll be discussing the best board games with character development that I could find, and what makes them worth your time.

What Does “Character Development” Mean in a Board Game?

I want to begin by defining what the concept of character development looks like in a board game. You usually won’t be able to build your character from the ground up, after all (and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re honestly better off playing a tabletop RPG).

Character development can mean different things to different people. For me, the most important aspect is the roleplaying/story element. I like board games that allow you to play out a change in motive or mission.

Another way character development manifests is much more traditional: by leveling up stats. There are plenty of board games that have you simulate battles and missions that grant you experience as you complete them. Still others allow you to adjust your stats much more frequently, such as with Arkham Horror.

I’ve made sure to include board games on this list that include all of the aforementioned qualities. That way, no matter what your development preferences are, you’re likely to find one here that fits the bill perfectly for you.

Best Board Games with Character Development

Betrayal at House on the Hill

In the event you’re someone who has experience roleplaying already, or you’ve played a TTRP before, then Betrayal at House on the Hill is one I’d recommend for you right out of the gate. You don’t have to be an experienced role player to enjoy it, but it does help make the game way more entertaining.

Betrayal is a heavily story-focused game. Players take on the roles of investigators cautiously exploring a cursed and haunted house. The reason for the curse changes each time you play, based on a number of pre-written scenarios. Additionally, because players draw random tiles to add to the map each turn, the very layout of the house changes whenever you play.

My favorite part, however, is the final quarter of the game. Eventually, someone is forced to betray everyone else – hence, the name of the game – and works to ensnare the other investigators inside the house forever.

Pros:

  • It feels different pretty much every time you play it, since the map and stories vary.
  • Fun for role-playing purposes, as it encourages you to get into character and think both from an investigator’s and traitor’s point of view.
  • Games can generally be finished in around an hour.
  • You can play with anywhere from 3-6 people, so there’s plenty of room for the whole friend group or family.
  • Each player has stats they can shift during the game to give your character a play style best suited to your preferences.

Cons:

  • If you’re not into horror, you probably won’t like the stories in this game.

Gloomhaven

Ever been interested in playing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with your friends, but you couldn’t find someone to run it? The good news is that lack of a voluntary GM doesn’t mean you can’t experience a rich, fantasy-based roleplaying experience, thanks to games like Gloomhaven.

Gloomhaven is a grim dark fantasy board game that supports up to four players – a decently sized party! Players step into the roles of mercenaries completing quests in exchange for cold, hard cash. There is a surprising amount of flexibility in this setup; with around 17 different classes, you can bet there’s a character you’ll want to play.

Additionally, with numerous different scenarios, there are over 200 hours’ worth of gameplay in just this base box. If you want more, though (and who could blame you), Gloomhaven offers plenty of expansions to sate your roleplaying cravings.

Pros:

  • It’s like a TTRPG in a box, including different scenarios, classes, and miniatures.
  • Each scenario gives the party leeway to make decisions and shape the outcome, making sessions feel unique every time you play.
  • Supports up to 4 people, which is a moderately sized party for adventuring.
  • Includes a beautiful board and pieces.

Cons:

  • The box says that games only take an hour or two (or longer, should you decide you want to keep playing), but I know from experience that it’s got a bit of a high learning curve. It will likely take new players longer to pick up the game, set up the board, and gain even basic familiarity with the rules.
  • Not a good choice for young children.

Mansions of Madness

If you’re a fan of all things Lovecraftian, then man do I have the game for you: Mansions of Madness. Like the previous game on this list, Mansions of Madness has that same kind of TTRPG feel to it, except to an even greater degree due to the companion app it uses. The game comes with a free app that is basically an automated Game Master, running your characters through scenarios and random events.

In terms of tone, Mansions of Madness is closer to Betrayal at House on the Hill. Your unfortunate group of players is comprised of investigators exploring the ominous interiors of Arkham mansions. Each mansion is filled with terrifying secrets and encounters that are sure to drive the characters insane.

The box is packed full of colorful map tiles, cards, and miniatures to represent the monsters you’ll encounter along the way. It also includes four different scenarios to play through, each one a couple hours long. Should you find yourself wanting more, there are expansions you can purchase.

Pros:

  • Great choice for horror fans or anyone who’s played the Call of Cthulhu TTRPG.
  • Uses a free app to run the sessions for you, so no one has to sit out as a GM.
  • You can play with up to five people.
  • Includes hundreds of extremely detailed pieces, such as map tiles, miniatures, and cards.
  • Abilities and items players discover along the way can vary every time, leading to unique characters each time you play.

Cons:

  • Not suitable for children.
  • The game is designed to be used with the app, and there are concerns about what happens, then, when developers stop updating the app.

Mage Knight

Mage Knight is another fantasy-themed board game that focuses on magic and combat in a medieval-inspired setting. What I like about Mage Knight, however, is the many ways you can go about making your own knight stronger.

For instance, you can recruit units to command if you imagine yourself as a general leading an army. Alternatively, you can learn new and powerful spells that you discover along the way. Just like in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, you can even discover priceless ancient artifacts to use on your journey.

In other words, this one could be a good choice for you if you want lots of options for developing your character. There may not be varied classes like in Gloomhaven, but there’s enough here to create someone you enjoy playing.

Pros:

  • There are tons of unique ways for sculpting your character.
  • Features fun deck-building and traditional board game mechanics.
  • Great for long game nights, as each game session lasts for hours.
  • You can play it solo if you don’t have anyone else to play with.

Cons:

  • Like many of the others on this list, it’s not really suitable for children.
  • It has a steeper learning curve, so make sure to really take time to read the rules.

Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth

I can’t even count how many times I’ve wished I could be an elf in Middle Earth. If you’ve also caught yourself wishing you could escape the mundanity of reality by slipping into Tolkien’s prodigal work, then you’re in luck: Journeys in Middle Earth will help you do precisely that.

Fans of the movies or books will be pleased to find that they also get to play as familiar characters, such as Bilbo and Aragorn. To keep the game from becoming predictable, it also comes with an app which procedurally creates scenarios for your party. (This is likely because it’s made by Fantasy Flight, which also made Mansions of Madness!)

The drawback, I suppose, is that you’re not getting to create your own characters or imagine unique backstories. But in some ways, this takes a lot of pressure off players who aren’t as creatively inclined and just want to jump right in.

Pros:

  • You get to play as one of several familiar faces from Tolkien’s lore.
  • Each character has their own unique role that makes them useful for the scenarios.
  • Through cards representing discovered loot and abilities, you can shape how your character develops over the course of the game.
  • A companion app creates differing scenarios for you every time you play.
  • Who doesn’t want to explore Middle Earth?
  • You can technically play it by yourself.

Cons:

  • Also unsuitable for young children.

How to Choose the Right Character Development Board Game for You

Your Definition of Character Development

At the beginning of this post, I discussed a couple different ways to define character development. Now that you’re actually considering choosing a board game, it’s time to define for yourself what character development means.

If you’re not entirely sure, all you need to do is think about what playstyle you enjoy the most. Do you love in-depth story and flavor that allows you to really get “into character?” Then you’re looking for a board game that incorporates more of that role-playing, like Betrayal at House on the Hill or Mansions of Madness.

On the other hand, all you min-maxers out there will love board games that give you more control over your hard stats. Gloomhaven will likely be an excellent fit for your tastes.

Learning Curve

I talk about this in literally every single article I write about board games. I write about it so dang much, in fact, that I honestly kind of feel bad for bringing it up yet again…unfortunately, I don’t think you can have a meaningful conversation about board game recommendations without discussing learning curve, so assuming you haven’t read any of my other posts, I’ll be talking about it again here.

Basically, learning curve refers to how difficult it is for a total newcomer to pick up the game. A lower/shallower learning curve means it’s easier, whilst a steeper/higher one means it’s harder.

This is something that’s always worth thinking about before getting any board game. If you’re kind of on the novice end of the game spectrum – say, you’ve only ever played more “casual” games like Monopoly – then a highly complicated game like Gloomhaven will probably be a shocking experience for you.

Theme

This is another subject I touch on a lot because it’s vital. In this case, theme refers to the overall mood and stylistic components of the game. What kind of universe does it take place in? Does it seek to inspire a particular mood (such as horror or fantasy)?

Games centered around character development in a more roleplay-oriented sense or by leveling up stats have a tendency to be fantasy. (Maybe this has something to do with the popularity of fantasy-based TTRPGs.) However, this doesn’t have to be the case, and I’ve included more than a couple development-rich games on this list that focus on other genres.

If none of the games on this list appeal to your interests, there are tons of other games out there with other thematic elements. You won’t need to look too hard to find them.

Duration

Like certain genres in development-rich games being omnipresent, I think the duration tends to be similar, too: these games are usually on the long side. How else are you supposed to be experience a fulfilling character arc and growth?

That being said, the exact time each game takes to play from start to finish varies widely. It’s still worth checking out how long the manufacturer and players say the average game takes, so you can choose one you have the patience and time to complete.

Considering Alternatives

A board game can’t account for every possible scenario that might occur. Board games, by their very nature, need to adhere to a generally strict, inflexible set of rules – how else would they be able to run so smoothly?

Their flaw, if you’re looking for real, deep character development is that they lack the flexibility and narrative nature to support such a character arc. If you’re looking for something more, and you haven’t already given them a try, then I strongly recommend tabletop RPGs, such as Dungeons and Dragons.

First, you’ll get to make your own custom character from scratch, so you can ensure you’re playing someone you want to. Second, as your character gains experience in-game, you’ll be able to shape them into whatever you want them to become. It’s a win-win situation.

That being said, TTRPGs aren’t for everyone. Some people find them needlessly complicated, others simply don’t want to invest time in them. And, aside from the occasional one-shot (a short-term campaign, usually completed in one session), there’s no denying that TTRPGs are simply lengthier. I just wanted to make you aware of the option if it’s a more intimate narrative that you’re looking for.

Wrap Up

Every board game on this list offers you some kind of character development. I should know – I’ve played pretty much all of them.

Unfortunately, I’m really biased here. I want to point you towards Betrayal at House on the Hill, because it has an amazing, well, betrayal mechanic that completely flips the story on its head towards the end of the session. What’s more, there are different stories to play through (the game comes with a whole rulebook full of them), so each time you play it can feel vastly different from before.

Looking past my own personal bias towards horror, Gloomhaven is always worth consideration. It takes place in a nice grim-dark fantasy setting, and there are tons of expansions to play through if you find yourself looking for more content.

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