Those who know board games know that board games are great for telling stories. It’s a classic formula: a small group of people sitting down together, sharing their experiences. The right board game can make storytelling much easier, more interactive and personal than even a movie. Board games can tell any kind of story – science fiction fantasy, horror, and especially crime and mystery. Here, we’re presenting a roundup of several mystery games that we love.
Many of the entries in this roundup are actually a series of games. Since storytelling is at the heart of these games, they focus on telling one story well instead of retelling it. So, publishers like to make storytelling games in series, using the same system to tell different stories. In addition, all of the games presented here are co-operative. That means, all the players work together to solve the mysteries and resolve the story. Additionally, these games can be played solo, if a player desires, or with a large group.
What sets story games apart from one another?
Every storytelling game is different and these points of criteria describe their major differences.
Reusability. Here we’re not referring to replaying a game a second time to experience the story again. Instead, some story games can only be played once in total. These kinds of story games require players to alter game components, like writing on cards, cutting cards up to make jigsaw puzzles, opening envelopes, et cetera. In contrast, a reusable story game can be played by a different play group.
Smartphone App. Integrating smartphone apps into board games is a relatively new innovation, and some story games use this technology to give a better experience. Some story games require an app, sometimes the app is optional but useful.
Game Style. The way that the game works, and how players interact with it.
Theme. The atmosphere and setting that the game’s story inhabits.
After the table summary, we’ll describe each game in a little more detail and why it’s on the list.
Mystery Game Roundup
|Name||Price||Length per story||Stories per box||Age||App||Game Style||Theme||Buy Here|
|Adventure Games||$20||75 mins||1||12+||Optional||Interactive story with puzzles||Various||Link|
|Arkham Horror: The Card Game||$45||60-90 mins||3||14+||No||Living Card Game||1920s comic horror||Link|
|Chronicles of Crime||$40||60-90 mins||5||14+||Required||Interactive crime-solving story||Cartoon modern||Link|
|Detective||$50||2 to 3 hours||5||16+||Required||Interactive crime-solving story||Gritty modern||Link|
|Escape Tales||$35||2 to 4 hours||1||16+||No||Interactive story with puzzles||Various||Link|
|EXIT||$15||60+ mins||1||12+||Optional||Escape room puzzles||Various||Link|
|Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective||$50||90-120 mins||10||13+||No||Interactive crime-solving story||Victorian London||Link|
|T.I.M.E. Stories||$60||4 to 6 hours||1||12+||No||Interactive story with puzzles||Science fiction, various||Link|
|Unlock!||$30||60-90 mins||3||10+||Required||Escape room puzzles||Various||Link|
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. Going hand-in-hand with this, the focus is on the story first, and the challenge comes from clue finding and deduction. Components include decks of cards, small boards, and mostly a staple-bound story book. There are only 2 titles in the series so far, but more on the way.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Published by Fantasy Flight Games, the Arkham Horror card game is a Living Card Game that 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. This is one of Fantasy Flight’s most popular product lines, and after 4 years, has dozens of expansions with new stories and new character options.
Chronicles of Crime
Chronicles of Crime is an award-winning crime-solving game that takes full advantage of its smartphone app. Almost all the components in the game have QR codes that the app can read. Using these QR codes, players can combine relevant clues to discover more story and more clues. Also, when investigating a crime scene for physical evidence, the smartphone app acts as kind of an augmented reality experience, where players have to pan their phone around to discover crime-related details. The game comes with 5 stories, and more stories are available to download in the app. If that wasn’t enough, there are 2 physical expansions, adding noir-themed and child-detective elements to the game.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is a more serious-minded alternative to Chronicles of Crime. Instead of using the gimmicks that a smartphone app can provide, Detective relies on solid, realistic, believable storytelling. The game uses boards, cards, and tokens like more traditional board games. However, instead of an app, Detective provides a website that players use as their criminal database, accessible on smartphones, tablets, laptops, whatever. After playing the 5 cases in the main game, an 80s-themed expansion with 3 more cases is available as well.
This series is the winner for longest-playing story game, and definitely the most value for your dollar, if time is your biggest criteria. Each of the two available Escape Tales stories are meant to be played over several hours, but deliberately paced to be played in about 3 sessions each. The Escape Tales games use standard board game components to present puzzles to players. They provide an experience that’s balanced between puzzles and storytelling, that challenge and entertain players in almost equal measure. Two editions of Escape Tales are currently available, and a third on the way.
Small and affordable, EXIT makes the bold move of requiring players to irreversibly alter the game components to provide interesting puzzles. The game asks players to punch out shapes from perforated cards, cut cards up to reassemble like a jigsaw puzzle, write on components to reveal hidden details, use their ubiquitous code wheels, even the box itself to solve its puzzles. Like an escape room, the puzzles chain together to tell a story – but the puzzles are the focus of the experience here, and the story is mostly just theme and backdrop. Even though each game is “consumable” and unusable after play, the low price point and well-designed puzzles make the game worth the modest investment.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
One of the earliest progenitors of interactive physical storytelling, even before Choose Your Own Adventure books or How To Host A Murder games. The new editions published by Space Cowboys are a step up from the original 80s versions of this game, and Space Cowboys have published 2 additional boxes with 10 more cases each. Players look for clues in the provided text to determine their next move, and when they think they have a solution, they approach Holmes himself to compare answers. Consulting Detective is a classic that can still captivate people today.
T.I.M.E.Stories may be the most immersive storytelling game in this list that doesn’t use an app. It gets the most out of its physical components to deliver atmosphere and ambience. The base T.I.M.E. Stories game not only includes the components to tell a story, but also generic components to tell many stories. T.I.M.E. Stories has a framing story where players are like time cops, dispatched to time travel to a variety of eras to set things right. The base game comes with one adventure, but T.I.M.E. Stories has almost a dozen expansions to explore.
One of the first entries in the escape room board game genre, the Unlock! series rivals EXIT almost directly. Unlock! sets itself apart by being affordable and reusable. Instead of using arts-and-crafts style puzzles like EXIT, Unlock! uses a free smartphone app for many of the puzzles. The focus of Unlock! games are puzzles first and story second, providing players more challenge than most other games on this list. Affordable, reusable and with over a dozen individual titles available, Unlock! is almost as much fun to collect as solve.
The common, mainstream conception of board games is one of players struggling for victory over one another. Often a lucky card draw or a roll of the dice determines who enjoys the win and who languishes in defeat. However, board games are capable of so much more than that, and these mystery-driven storytelling board games bear that out.
These games can tell a story just as satisfying as any movie or TV show, but on a more personal level as players work through them with their family and friends.