One of the biggest innovations in board games has been the growing importance of storytelling. Games are excellent at portraying characters and plots, weaving narratives out of strategic experiences. A style of story that seamlessly complements tabletop gaming is the mystery story. From solving puzzles to solving crimes, mystery games are immersive and engrossing. Here are 9 of our favorites:
Interactive story with puzzles - 1 story per box - 75 mins per story - app optional
Published by Thames & Kosmos, this is a sister series to their EXIT escape room games (see below). The biggest change in Kosmos’ Adventure Games series is that they are reusable. The focus is on the story first, and the challenge comes from clue finding and deduction. Each box has a different story, with different themes and tones.
ARKHAM HORROR: THE CARD GAME
Living card game - 3 stories in core box, 1 per expansion - 60 mins per story - no app required
The Arkham Horror card game is the most complex game in the roundup here. It’s much closer to a card-based role-playing game than anything else. The Arkham Horror card game is firmly rooted in the Lovecraft mythos, where regular people must fight madness to drive back the doom of cosmic evil.
CHRONICLES OF CRIME
Interactive crime-solving - 5 stories per box - 60 mins per story - app required
Chronicles of Crime makes the most of the combination of board game and smartphone app. Using these QR codes found on game components, players can discover clues, travel to new locations, and interrogate witnesses. The app also uses an augmented reality mode, so players can use their phone to scan crime scenes for evidence.
DETECTIVE: A MODERN CRIME BOARD GAME
Interactive crime-solving - 5 stories per box - 120 mins per story - app required
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game channels the mood and tone of modern TV crime procedurals, like CSI and NCIS. In addition to the regular boards and cards and such, Detective has a publicly-available website that functions as the players’ criminal database.
Interactive story with puzzles - 1 story per box - 180 mins per story - no app required
Escape Tales takes tabletop storytelling in a whole new direction. There are puzzles and interactivity, but these games use the format to tell long-form stories with a much more serious tone. While each story can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, they are designed to be played over multiple sessions, giving players a chance to breathe between chapters.
Escape room puzzles - 1 story per box - 60 mins per story - app optional
One part story, one part puzzle, and one part crafting project, the Exit games put a focus on puzzle-solving first, and dress up the puzzles to match a theme and story, much like an IRL escape room. To enhance their puzzles even more, Exit has players altering and changing components permanently, like opening envelopes, punching out holes, writing on components, and tearing things up.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: CONSULTING DETECTIVE
Interactive crime-solving - 10 stories per box - 90 mins per story - no app required
The modern Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective game is actually a reprint, with the original first being published in the 70s. This new version has been so popular, the publisher has published several new sets with all-new cases. These cases are entirely text-driven, with players discussing descriptions of crime scenes, evidence, and social interactions, searching for clues.
Interactive story with puzzles - 4 hours per story - 1 story per box - no app required
Using time travelling history police as a framing device, T.I.M.E. Stories allows players to explore a wide variety of time periods, settings, and tones while solving puzzles and restoring history as it should be. T.I.M.E. Stories uses board game components like pawns, tokens, boards and decks of cards to present the locales, characters, and artifacts of the time period to players.
Escape room puzzles - 60 mins per story - 3 stories per box - app optional
Whereas Exit isn’t shy about being one-shot experiences, Unlock games do the same job, but are reusable. Unlock games require an app for play, but uses the app to really make puzzles interesting.