There sure seem to be a lot of these nowadays. I’m going to list the ones I’ve played, own, or know about, or at least that I can remember. Please comment on these or add more! I do dig these sort of games, so I’m interested in finding out which ones are good!
Gloomhaven – I guess I have to include this most popular one. Full co-op (1-4 players), linked tactical dungeon combats using a campaign overworld. Card-driven, pseudo-deckbuilding style combat (characters can upgrade/replace cards when they level up). I’ve played the early access digital version. I find the fights to be a bit claustrophobic, the choices a bit constrained, and the combat a bit random. I can’t speak to the campaign, since the digital version doesn’t include it yet, so I don’t know how much actual story there is to it. Anyway, it’s super popular, so I guess there must be something going for it.
Tainted Grail – Another very popular one, but I don’t know much about it. Full co-op (1-4 players), campaign built of linked chapters. Deckbuilding (each character has a combat deck and diplomacy deck, I think). It does contain what I think is a paragraph book.
Middara – This is a kickstarter that just shipped. Full co-op (1-4 players), tactical combat encounters linked by a HUGE campaign book. There is an app which has recorded audio of all the campaign text, and also a Tabletop Simulator module which is fully supported and very easy to use. Dice-driven combat, cards to represent equipment/spells/etc. No idea what the campaign is about.
Sleeping Gods – The latest Ryan Laukat game. Full co-op (1-4 players, which is odd since there are 9 characters, all of which are used in every game). A single campaign which can be saved and continued at any time. Uses a paragraph book. Actions resolved using card draw to get a random number.
Near and Far – since I mentioned Sleeping Gods, I’ll also mention this previous Ryan Laukat game. This one is fully competitive, and has a series of linked games (each of which occurs on a different map) that comprise a complete campaign. A paragraph book contains adventures and side-quests which may carry over from game to game, and characters can buy minor skills between games of the campaign. This one was a surprise hit with my group, and is notable for being one of the only fully competitive games in this genre (although it does have a co-op mode, I’ve never tried it).
Forgotten Waters – 3-7 player semi-cooperative game (all players can lose, but if you complete the adventure, some players can win more than others). This is an app-driven game with fully voice-acted adventures. There are several adventures which are semi-linked into a campaign (the stories are connected, but there’s no character advancement between adventures). I own and have played this, and it’s pretty cool (although it maybe leans more on narrative storytelling than strategic depth), although it does have some serious flaws – first, that it is very likely you will die right before the end of the adventure, which means you don’t get to find out how it ends (unless you cheat), and then you’d have to start all over from the beginning going through mostly the same adventure to try again. Secondly, you might lose based on some random choice you made earlier in the campaign. Basically, my advice is – don’t care too much if you win or lose, just go with it.
Sword & Sorcery – 1-5 player full co-op, tactical encounters linked into a campaign. Dice-driven combat. Characters level up and gain skills. The campaign book has some story text. I’ve played this, but it was a while back and don’t remember much. I think it was alright.
Journeys in Middle Earth – 1-5 player fully co-op. Linked adventures into a campaign. Characters use deckbuilding mechanics to level up between adventures. This is another app-driven one. I own and have played this. I found the adventures to be a bit bland, especially considering the LotR license. I kind of like the way the deck-based resolution works, but leveling up isn’t as exciting as it ought to be.
Imperial Assault – Ok, this one is a bit older, but I own it and have played it, so I’m including it. Semi-co-op (1-4 rebels vs. 1 imperial), tactical combat encounters linked into a campaign which can have side-adventures. Dice-driven combat. Does have a campaign book which has some text to read before and during encounters, but there’s not a huge amount of story there. There’s also an app-driven mode for full co-op or single player (the app is clearly related to the Journeys in Middle Earth app). There’s also a head-to-head skirmish ruleset, but that’s not what this thread is about!
Magic Realm – 1-16 players, semi-competitive (multiple players can win, but one is the “victor”). Ha ha only serious. This game is over 40 years old and has an incomprehensible 300 page rulebook, making it effectively impossible to learn or teach. Also it sort of doesn’t belong on this list in that it doesn’t really have a campaign – each game is independent, and characters don’t really develop over the course of a game (although there are optional rules that let each character level up from 1 to 4 during the game, and you can run a game for as long as you like). However, I’m mentioning it here because there are things in this game that still no other game in this genre has done. Combat can involve any number of characters, hired denizens, unhired denizens, (any of which can be on horses, have armor, melee or ranged weapons), and monsters (which can be player-controlled). Any of them can be attacking any other of them. You might be teaming up with another player to take down an enormous troll, only to have them backstab you in the end. Fighting a pack of wolves feels completely different than fighting a dragon. The 16 included characters all play very differently. The magic system is subtle and interesting (although admittedly many of the spells are so situational as to be useless). The victory conditions are garbage, but that’s why somebody invented the Book of Quests. I’m not really recommending you play this game, but I’d like to see some of the ideas modernized instead of just filed off.
What did I forget? What have you played? What’s good?