Ever wanted to role-play a nefarious super-villain complete with fawning minions, create fairy tales collaboratively, or play your part in a doomed heist? Take a look at these wildly imaginative storytelling games, where thinking fast, dramatic improvisation and letting your creativity run rampant will get you ahead.
As a bonus, most of these storytelling games don’t require a board or pricey pieces, with simple rules that even the least seasoned tabletop rookie can follow. Leave the loot behind with our round-up of the best creative storytelling party games available to play right now.
Gloom card-game: delightfully grim improvisational storytelling
There are tragic misadventures aplenty to be had in Gloom. Each player assumes control of a freakish family of misfits and eccentrics, who are controlled through randomly selected Events cards – haunted Sims style. Among them is sinister clown “Mister Giggles” of the circus-folk clan, and Lord Slogar: a literal brain in a box who doubles as a mad scientist. Unlike the Sims, you win by making your family as miserable as possible and then releasing them unto sweet death.
In order to play an Event card, the player must tell a story explaining how the (usually unfortunate) occasion happened, playing off their own imagination and previous player stories. Events range from the seemingly innocuous “pursued by poodles” to the strange “mocked by midgets”, encouraging the spinning of plentiful far-out stories. The alliterative language and illustration on the cards provide excellent story prompts, and the madcap improvisational mechanics can yield hilarious and horrifying mishaps completely unique to each play-through.
Additional expansion packs (which can also be played separately) include Gloom in Space, which features bleak sci-fi adventures, and Cthulhu Gloom, for fans of cursed artefacts and tentacled monstrosities.
Aye, Dark Overlord!: Be an evil villain or out-manoeuvre other minions
Super fast to learn and even easier to play Aye, Dark Overlord! is a hilarious fantasy party game that smoothly balances strategy with insane improvisational shenanigans. One player takes on the role of His Evil Excellence – a player picked super-villain – and the others, his minions – which depends on your villain pick (you get free reign to do whatever you please here) could range from goblin minions to disco-mancer acolytes. The minions must explain to the Overlord who and what screwed up his latest Evil mission or pass the blame onto another player. Should a minion fail to appease the Overlord, they are duly smote. Players are randomly assigned cards that serve as story prompts for their excuses, such as the Jar of a Thousand Demons or The Invasion of Giant Crabs, as well as techniques they can use to sling other players unto the righteous wrath of the Dark Overlord. Perfect for a mixed group of gamers and non-gamers, it’s fast pace ensures no-one is left out.
Fiasco: Play out an ill-fated Coen-esque criminal disaster
This is ideal if you’re looking for a less complicated role-playing adventure in the mechanical vein of Dungeons and Dragons. All that’s required is the book, a set of six-sided (normal) dice and heaps of imagination. Inspired by films like Fargo, players collaboratively engineer and perform disastrous situations motivated by heist staples such as greed, lust and revenge. A game lasts about two to three hours and requires little preparation or an assigned Game Master. Some have described it as a make-your-own Coen Brothers movie kit, as an inciting object and character relationships, motivations, and locations are uniquely generated each session with book prompts and dice rolls. Things can get a little wild – Fiasco moves along fast- so this game is likely best suited to a close-knit group looking for some memorable and mischief, and less your grandparents on Christmas eve.
Tales of Arabian Nights: Choose-your-own-adventure board game set in a mystical land
Sinbad, powerful genies and evil viziers abound in Tales of Arabian Nights, which is effectively a choose-your-own-adventure story transmuted into a group board game. The Book of Stories – a truly vast tome filled with lore and legends – is consulted to verify the outcome of player decisions, which can lead to fortune or failure, depending on how you pick (and how your luck holds out). The tales naturally spin out of each other: an encounter with a friendly hunchback could lead to travels to a distant island and glory, or destitution and insanity. Although there are elements of strategy, it is random luck due to card draws that ultimately drives game-play, making it more of a story-telling experience than a traditional competitive game. This is an ideal entry-level board-game with entertaining events and questionable decision making. Although it looks elaborate, it’s simple and straightforward enough to play once you’re setup.
Once Upon a Time: Create your own fairytale adventures collaboratively
With a play-time of roughly 20 to 40 minutes, Once Upon a Time is a straightforward storytelling game where players must construct a fairy tale with assigned prompt cards. Each player can also take control of the overarching story and drive it to their own end: making for a smart, wickedly creative and inspiring game that is extra-fun with a large group. The abstract content makes it suitable for all ages, as its themes are effectively designed by its players within each unique session.