There are many board games that want to tell a back story. However, only a few of them actually manage it. At the International Game Days 2018 in Essen, many publishers offered board games that were intended to introduce players to a new type of board game with dense background stories.

Board games with storytelling, also known as “serious games”, should burn themselves into the minds of the players with bold ideas - without sacrificing playful qualities. This works often and even surprisingly well, as you can see from the following board game trends.


Brave, touching, terrifying: Holding On by Asmodee

Using a palliative care ward as the central location for a board game seems macabre. The storytelling board game Holding On: The eventful life of Billy Kerr von Asmodee takes advantage of a terrifyingly realistic scenario to provide players with a lasting memory. 

At the center of the touching story is Billy Kerr. He has a serious heart condition, sometimes in pain, and only has a few days to live. It's up to the players to learn the life story of Billy Kerr while finding the balance between treating pain and being human. The protagonist's state of health is one of the central elements of the game: the medical staff has to decide again and again whether the administration of medication should relieve Kerr's pain or whether they would rather listen to excerpts from the patient's eventful life. Both are not possible at the same time, because the drugs cloud his senses. On the other hand, if you forego drug treatment in order to find out your life story, your health deteriorates - up to and including death, which is inevitable anyway.

Storytelling in board games: the courage to tell a story!
Board games with serious backstories must also have an entertaining game mechanism. With Holding On: The Eventful Life of Billy Kerr from Asmodee, this works well. (Photo: André Volkmann)

Finding such a basic theme in a board game is shocking. This is due to the proximity to reality. As 1 to 4 players battle for Billy Kerr's life - or his memories - that's exactly what happens in real-world hospitals. Every day. Merciless. With an unsatisfactory outcome, which poses physical and emotional challenges for nursing staff and doctors.

And yet it seems incredibly brave to take on the subject in a playful way. In this way everyone can learn how precious humanity is in the face of death - and how stressful everyday work can be for employees in hospitals around the world. Maybe it is Holding On: The eventful life of Billy Kerr from Asmodee from this point of view as a prime example of the difficult tightrope walk between ethics and law that goes hand in hand with such situations. The fear of dying in pain is widespread. That a board game can capture this social mood is terrifying and astonishing at the same time. 

The greatest strength of this game is that it is actually not a game at all. At least not a classic one. Instead of constantly optimizing point values, Holding On: The eventful life of Billy Kerr regularly made important decisions that directly influence the progress of the story. If you want to experience every key moment in Billy Kerr's life, you have to be ready to endure loss and suffering - playfully, but always against the background of actual, everyday occurrences. This affects you in a special way and you as a player are grateful that you only have to make such decisions at the gaming table. 

Holding On: The eventful life of Billy Kerr from Asmodee will be released in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Board games with storytelling: emotions instead of points

It seems as if Asmodee discovered the idea of ​​storytelling in board games. That besides the mentioned Holding On: The eventful life of Billy Kerr also the board game Discover: To undiscovered landsappears at the publisher based in Essen, should hardly be a coincidence.

Discover: To undiscovered lands is kind of an experiment. This board game is a so-called unique game, a title that has unique content with each sales box. This works by putting together the game material from a large pool of available components. What is the same in every version, however, are the rules.

Otherwise is Discover: To undiscovered lands a more typical survival story. Players fight for survival alone or with up to three other comrades-in-arms in the wilderness: this can be, for example, in a desert, along snow-covered peaks or on a lonely island.

Storytelling in board games: the courage to tell a story!
In the board game Discover: To Undiscovered Lands of Asmodee, every single game should be unique. Sometimes the action takes the player through snow-capped mountains, sometimes through green valleys. (Photo: André Volkmann)

In the course of a game, the story unfolds step by step, which is driven by the fulfillment of quest objectives. The longer players can ensure their survival, the more likely it is to successfully complete a scenario. 

Because also the compilation of the group of survivors in each copy of Discover: To undiscovered lands is randomly put together, the possible game strategies are always different. Each character has individual bonuses that influence survival in the natural regions.

Discover: To undiscovered lands will be published by Asmodee in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Crime scene gaming table: Chronicles of Crime and Co.

Crime board games aren't new. Crime board games that combine board games, apps and even virtual reality with a dense background story, on the other hand, are a real novelty. Chronicles of Crime from Corax Games relies on an innovative, cooperative gaming experience in which players have to solve crimes. The free app provides feedback on the investigative approaches.

Chronicles of Crime is more of an interactive crime film than a classic parlor game, but with the basic idea it provides a breath of fresh air in the somewhat outdated crime segment. A total of six scenarios, including one as a tutorial, are available for 1 to 4 players. The focus is on traditional investigative work in a playful way: securing evidence, looking for witnesses, arresting suspects. All of this works with the smartphone in virtual 360 ° environments. Six to eight hours. The presentation is suitable for young people (age 14+), sometimes nicely overdrawn.

Storytelling in board games: the courage to tell a story!
Chronicles of Crime is published by Corax Games. (Photo: André Volkmann)

A similar concept comes from Pegasus Spiele. Detective: A modern crime board game plays like an hour long crime thriller. The storylines are about more than maintaining national security. As a member of the special investigation unit “Antares National Investigation Agency” a total of five related criminal cases have to be solved. In this board game, too, evidence must be secured and witnesses questioned. The highlight: the results are in one Online database entered, which was created especially for the game. 

As in real life, time is on the neck of the investigating players. While the solution to the case is being tinkered with at home, the framework conditions may already have changed. This is exciting, invites you to think, and shows a level of interaction that has never before been achieved for board games.

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