10 best dungeon-crawler games you should delve into next
Treasure! Traps! Tiles! Table space! Probably a dwarf somewhere! Whether you’re looking for a D&D-lite experience or just want to hit some kobolds with a big axe, dungeon-crawling board games are the perfect portal to a self-contained adventure. What’s more, many of the games in the list below use either rules or app-based AI for the monsters, and emergent or pre-written storytelling, so they’re perfect for those times where nobody feels like being DM.
If you haven’t touched a dungeon-crawler since HeroQuest, or are more familiar with Diablo than Descent, you’ll be pleased to learn how varied and ambitious the genre has become. Here are ten of the best dungeon-crawling games (and crawl-adjacent) tabletop games you can buy.
- Star Wars: Imperial Assault: A campaign-based, asymmetrical co-op/competitive hybrid. With wookies.
- Escape the Dark Castle: An elegant, atmospheric tribute to dark ‘80s fantasy.
- Mansions of Madness: Second Edition: An app-driven Lovecraftian horror story.
- One Deck Dungeon: A bitesize dice-filled dungeon delve.
- Descent: Journeys in the Dark - Second Edition: A fantasy-flavoured, action-packed classic crawler.
- Gloomhaven: The mammoth legacy cult hit.
- Warhammer Quest: A storied part of dungeon-crawling history.
- Mice and Mystics: A fairytale adventure perfect for younger players.
- Doom: The Board Game: The influential tabletop iteration of the classic shooter.
- Deep Madness: An atmospheric homage to sci-fi survival horror.
1. Star Wars: Imperial Assault
A campaign-based, asymmetrical co-op/competitive hybrid. With wookies.
In the box, there is a very big wookie, with a very big axe. If you’re into classic Star Wars, there’s likely no need to sell you on this. If not, you may be surprised to find that behind all the midichlorians and morally simplistic melodrama of the setting there’s an exciting, expansive and impeccably-designed dungeon-crawler.
Up to four players control Rebel heroes against an Imperial player in the joint role of antagonist and dungeon master. Combat is dynamic and strategic, with elements of pushing your luck and managing your available resources to mitigate and enhance dice-based combat.
Imperial Assault is a great game not just for the overarching narrative that joins together its campaigns, but for the stories that emerge in the constant push and pull between the Empire and Rebellion. Rebel heroes become incredibly powerful as the campaign progresses, able to pull off extensive, complex moves, while the Imperial player is given access to an ever-increasing tide of minions. Also, sometimes Darth Vader shows up and you get to grin menacingly at the secret scenario book, making everyone else around the table uncomfortable.
If the huge campaign wasn’t enough, Imperial Assault contains rules for a complete competitive miniature skirmish game, plus fully co-operative and solo campaign modes using a free app. That’s a whole lot of ways to wookie.
Playtime: 1-2 hours
Best for: Star Wars fans on either side of the Force
Buy Star Wars: Imperial Assault on Amazon UK/Amazon US.
2. Escape the Dark Castle
An elegant, atmospheric tribute to dark ‘80s fantasy
Most dungeon-crawlers are, simply put, a lot. A lot of rules, tokens and cards. A lot of miniatures. A lot of time, and a lot of table space. Here, the titular Dark Castle is a single deck of 13 randomly selected chapter cards, an introduction card and a boss card. You and up to three other players select a character specialising in one of three attributes, then “escape” the castle by resolving the chapter cards one by one until you reach the boss. Sometimes you face off against some hellish monstrosity by rolling to match the attributes printed on its card. Sometimes you’ll try to escape various fiendish hazards. Either way, you’ll always be treated to succinct, atmospheric text and art that perfectly evokes the darker entries in the Fighting Fantasy series that here serve as inspiration.
Less than 100 cards, 15 dice and a scorepad means that you can Escape the Dark Castle set up, played and packed away in under 30 minutes. It’s also one of the nicest, most cohesive-looking dungeon-crawls out there, combining crusty fantasy and gothic excess with modern graphic design sleekness.
Playtime: 20-45 minutes
Best for: Revisiting childhood nostalgia
Buy Escape the Dark Castle on Amazon UK/Amazon US.
3. Mansions of Madness: Second Edition
An app-driven Lovecraftian horror story
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind, it’s said, is the boredom of having to read that bloody Lovecraft quote again. Yes, Fantasy Flight has made cosmic horror feel quaint through overuse in its Arkham Horror Files series, but it's also the cephalopod-slime-soaked set dressing of some of its best offerings.
Admittedly a dungeon-crawl in the same way that Imperial Assault is a dungeon-crawl - they both absolutely still count, leave me alone - Mansions of Madness: Second Edition is one of the finest examples of how Fantasy Flight’s companion app integration can enhance a tabletop experience without overlooking the tacticility and socialising that make the hobby so enjoyable to begin with.
The app here really does two major things: enhances the horror game's atmosphere through audio and descriptive text, and simplifies setup and bookkeeping. The rest is pure exploration, action management, teamwork and combat. Also, spookies.
Playtime: 2-3 hours
Best for: Scary stories with a tech twist
Buy Mansions of Madness: Second Edition on Amazon UK/Amazon US.
4. One Deck Dungeon
A bitesize dice-filled dungeon delve
Rejoice, ye of little table space, because One Deck Dungeon comes in a package roughly the size of one of Gloomhaven’s character boxes.
Perhaps a bit less atmospheric than Escape the Dark Castle, but with far more enjoyably complex (though still simple) dice-allocation combat, One Deck Dungeon is an excellent alternative, and much more suited to younger players. It’s also an especially neat touch that all the heroes in both the base game and its standalone expansion Forest of Shadows are women. Why? Why not.
Playtime: 30-45 minutes
Best for: Quick and compact questing
Buy One Deck Dungeon on Amazon UK/Amazon US.
5. Descent: Journeys in the Dark - Second Edition
A fantasy-flavoured, action-packed classic crawler
While Imperial Assault is, in many ways, an iteration and refinement of the Descent formula, this venerable box is still an undeniably influential and enjoyable classic-style dungeon crawl. Plus, swords are still cooler than lasers. Nobody campaigned to give Carly Rae Jepsen a blaster.
Like Imperial Assault, one player assumes the role of evil Overlord. Also like Imperial Assault, there’s an app available to make Descent fully co-operative. Unlike the Star Wars game, however, there are approximately 38 billion expansions (in contrast to a mere four billion) for Descent - so if you want to go hard, the option is there.
Playtime: 2 hours
Best for: A modern classic crawl
Buy Descent: Journeys in the Dark - Second Edition on Amazon UK/Amazon US.
The mammoth legacy cult hit
Quite good, I hear. Big, too.
Okay, fine. What to say about Gloomhaven that hasn’t been said already? You already know it's huge; that it's packed with dozens of scenarios, story events, monsters and characters; and that you can permanently alter its world through your actions.
What perhaps isn’t said enough is that none of this would matter if the core of Gloomhaven’s card and tile-based combat wasn’t so solidly designed. Each character has varied, defined roles in combat, brought to life with personalised decks. You won’t just be aiming for higher numbers than the AI-controlled monsters - you’ll be using area denial, spatial navigation and debuffs to try and absolutely ruin their day, all without over-exerting yourself and getting poked with a spear while you're trying to catch a breath.
This, alongside a staggering amount to discover and influence in every facet of Gloomhaven’s design make it, for many, the quintessential dungeon-crawling experience.
Playtime: 2 hours
Best for: Epic adventure in a changing world
Buy Gloomhaven on Amazon UK/Amazon US.
7. Warhammer Quest
A storied part of dungeon-crawling history
As great as the original Warhammer Quest is, you shouldn’t go out and buy it because it's effectively a relic at this point - and incredibly expensive to boot. Even so, while combat was fairly, uh, Warhammery, the actual campaign and roleplaying mechanics did a lot of neat stuff, some of which went on to inspire things like Kingdom Death: Monster’s ‘roll on this huge table to see how doomed you are’ systems, and are also reminiscent of Gloomhaven’s road events.
Luckily, if you want a modern-day Warhammer dungeon-crawling experience, your options are plentif- nope, wait, both the sequels are out of print and incredibly expensive too. But hold on! There’s still Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress. It’s Warhammer 40,000 this time, rather than fantasy, but still has all the tense, tile-and-dice-based combat and techno-gothic richness you’d expect from the setting. Games Workshop has put a lot of focus in recent years to providing more accessible, bite-size entries into its universes. Not only is this much kinder on both wallet and table, but it gives individual models a chance to shine - and these ones are especially gorgeous.
There’s also the out-of-print but still reasonably priced Warhammer Quest: Adventure Card game, a living card game take on the original.
Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress
Playtime: 2-3 hours
Best for: A sci-fi spin on the fantasy favourite you can actually find
Buy Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress on Amazon UK/Amazon US.
8. Mice and Mystics
A fairytale adventure perfect for younger players
Storytelling fantasy crawler Mice and Mystics is still in print and widely available despite being almost a decade old, and there’s a good reason for that: it’s consistently listed as one of the best tabletop games for getting younger players into the hobby.
It doesn’t hurt that players take the role of a party of anthropomorphic mice in classic adventurer archetypes, brought to life by adorable miniatures. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a ton of thematic, fairytale-style prose that weaves each scenario into an overarching narrative. It absolutely helps that time is measured in cheese.
Usually listed as one for younger gamers, there’s also the more recent Stuffed Fables - the difference being that where this has mice, Stuffed Fables has nightmare spiders that look like the Meccano baby from Toy Story.
Playtime: 60-90 minutes
Best for: Family-friendly bedtime stories come to life
Buy Mice and Mystics on Amazon UK/Amazon US.
9. Doom: The Board Game
The influential tabletop iteration of the classic shooter
The demon-infested grandaddy of Descent and Imperial Assault, Doom is another dungeon-crawler that’s great not only for its sharp design, but for the crossover appeal potential in luring friends into tabletop.
The reboot of the original 2004 board game takes stylistic and mechanical cues from the video game’s own 2016 reboot, resulting in much more streamlined and speedy card-and-dice combat based on choosing your actions carefully, managing your deck of cards and balancing luck and risk. Con: Unlike Imperial Assault and Descent, there’s no app support, so one player will have to take the role of the demons. Pro: Someone gets to take control of the demons.
Playtime: 2-3 hours
Best for: Ripping and tearing your way through Hell
Buy Doom: The Board Game on Amazon UK/Amazon US.
10. Deep Madness
An atmospheric homage to sci-fi survival horror
This one isn’t widely available in local game stores yet - although two successful Kickstarters means there are a few copies kicking about. Still, while Deep Madness doesn’t do a whole lot to innovate, its presentation and refinement make an extremely solid option for anyone drawn in by the theme.
Sitting somewhere between BioShock and Dead Space, Aliens and The Thing, Deep Madness sees a team of five investigators exploring a cursed deep-sea mining facility infested with tentacled alien horrors.
Structurally, it's a fairly simple team survival game. Players can move, fight, search and activate objectives. It’s the attention to detail here that really elevates things. A push-your-luck style ‘sanity’ mechanic tied to audio diary-style flavour cards and horrific debuffs, along with depleting oxygen in drowned areas of the facility, mean Deep Madness has a lot of thematic touches that come together into something much more thoughtful than the focus on tons of lavish miniatures might suggest. They are very nice minis, though.
If you can’t get hold of this one, Zombicide: Black Plague shares some DNA and is a bit less fiddly, though also less interesting.
Playtime: 1-2 hours
Best for: Swapping delving underground for underwater