The Best 14 Dungeon Crawlers for When You Don’t Have Time for Gloomhaven

We’ve all been there — you’ve had a hard week, Friday is here and your mates are coming over for a games night. The thing is, whilst they might be expecting to spend four hours slogging through a heavy eurogame, you’re just not feeling it. Or perhaps worse still, they want you to drag that copy of Gloomhaven that you’ve never been able to find the time to punch and sort out onto the table.

When you’re having a night like this, but you still want that face to face interaction with your friends, a really good, one-shot dungeon crawler can be just the tonic. All the games in this list are fast-paced and satisfying, with varying degrees of dice rolling and card play that you should be able to get set up and played in about two hours, or at worst a little longer.

There’s no particular order to this list, it’s just thirteen good games that are well worth checking out, and where possible I’ve tried to choose games that have different gameplay styles, albeit still under the banner of dungeon crawling in general.

Marvel Zombies

Based on a collaboration between the titular Marvel Zombies comic series and the CMON Zombicide game system, Marvel Zombies is a 2023 Kickstarter that comes to retail with two core boxes (one for Marvel Zombies itself and one for X-Men Resistance) plus four decent character and tile expansions. 

This is the first of several Zombicide games in this list and I’ve included it for two reasons that make it unique. Firstly, the inclusion of superheroes and zombie superheroes makes it very different to other games that use the system, and secondly because the main game here actually has the players take on the role of the zombies — meaning that you’ll be trying to devour the S.H.I.E.L.D troops and the good guys, rather than the other way around.

Each of the core boxes and every expansion comes with a range of both hero and zombie hero units though, and with the X-Men Resistance box, you can play in hero mode (which is my preference). The sheer number of heroes available as well as the range of missions and variations make Marvel Zombies a versatile addition to your collection, and the perfect way to kick off this list. 

Star Wars: Imperial Assault

It’s an old one, but it still checks out — that’s what I’d tell anyone who asks me about Star Wars: Imperial Assault. You can read more about it in our full review here, but to give you the quick rundown, Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a very, very classic dungeon-crawler – the likes of which anyone who played games like Space Crusade or HeroQuest in the 1980’s will recognise. 

The base game contains plenty of heroes and villains from the series that you’ll be familiar with, but just in case that’s not enough, the list of expansions and character and ally packs available for Star Wars: Imperial Assault is virtually limitless. New scenario boxes add to the tiles, settings and scenery, whilst there are even app-driven and skirmish modes for players to explore.

Oathsworn

In Oathsworn, players join a sacred brotherhood who must delve into the deep woods that surround their home — protecting the innocent and driving back the darkness. This is the largest and most expensive game here, and whilst it verges on Gloomhaven size, the 21 (and a half) scenarios in the core box are easier to get into and easier to box off as episodes in a campaign that you might play over several months.

Each adventure takes place in two separate sections, with the first half taking the form of a choose-your-own-adventure that involves party-based decision-making and skill checks. This part isn’t a dungeon crawl per se, but at the end of that section, players will have an encounter which is almost always a huge battle with a big bad and a range of minions.

Oathsworn is a more thought-provoking experience than most of the other games in this list, but the extremely strong story elements and excellent voice acting (from Game of Thrones’ James Cosmo) link superbly with the card-driven combat to present a fantastic overall package. You can grab Oathsworn as a single-box “standee” version as well as a multi-box miniatures affair that will take over your entire house. Take my advice here and just buy the standee version, it’s more than adequate.

Project Elite

Another unique entry in this list and sadly quite hard to find these days is Project Elite. This is a real-time game that has players frantically throwing dice to try and hold off ever-advancing waves of vicious aliens. We reviewed it in full back in 2021, and I have to say that I still rather enjoy it today. 

Available at retail for a while and via a CMON Kickstarter, Project Elite was considered quite niche by consumers because real-time games are generally quite a difficult sell. In the context of your games night experience, this is one you might want to look out for if you want to set pulses racing – because it really is relentless and if you use the timing rules as you’re supposed to, it can be pretty tough as well.

Clank! Catacombs

Again, in the interest of offering lots of variety in this list, let’s talk about Clank! Catacombs. This iteration of Clank! follows on from both the original Clank! (and its many expansions) and Clank! in! Space! (which also has many expansions), but uses a very simple change in the core components to deliver a completely different experience.

Where the other versions use a pre-printed board (or one of several if you do have those expansions) Clank! Catacombs introduces tiles that are randomly placed as players explore the dungeon. This isn’t unique among dungeon-crawlers, but what sets Clank! Catacombs apart from the other games on this list is the mixture of push-your-luck and deckbuilding gameplay that make it a load of fun. 

Who will explore the deepest? Who will find the dragon’s most valuable treasure? Who dares to keep on pushing to grab just one more item — and risk a cube of their colour being drawn from the bag when the dragon attacks? That’s what Clank! Catacombs is all about — and believe it or not, it’s almost always over and done with in just about an hour.

Massive Darkness 2

Massive Darkness 2 is another gigantic Kickstarter from CMON — and I have no shame in including yet another of their IPs in this list, since frankly, they seem to know what they are good at and who am I to disagree? Whilst there are about ten boxes of stuff to work through if you have the whole thing, I just have the retail box and I believe there’s plenty in there to be getting on with — in fact if anything, I think Massive Darkness 2 might actually have the best CMON miniatures that I’ve yet seen.

Whilst many CMON games boil the dungeon crawler concept down to its most basic, Massive Darkness 2 is actually pretty clever. Each character has not just unique statistics and abilities, but a unique board or minigame that is used to help them deal damage to enemies, heal or buff their friends or otherwise affect the game. This is clever, unique and fun, edging Massive Darkness 2 towards the slightly longer and more complex end of this list.

There’s lots of other clever stuff as well – enemies scale in number based on player count and come at the player in mobs – groups of creatures with a leader. Each mob has one or more items and loot tokens, and much as it does in Zombicide, CMON gets the abundance of loot and advancement through experience just right in Massive Darkness 2, making it feel generous and increasing the power of both players and enemies constantly throughout.

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate

A cooperative game based on a collaboration between Dungeons & Dragons/Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill (the original publisher of Betrayal at House on the Hill), Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate is absolutely raucous fun. As we described in our 2017 review, this is a game that can simply break at times — but it never outstays its welcome.

In short, Betrayal at House on the Hill begins as a cooperative experience, but it uses a system called “haunts” which typically results in at least one player (but often more) changing sides and often either changing into something else entirely. This results in very random consequences and a totally unique experience every single time. 

Zombicide: Black Plague

The second (but not the last) Zombicide game to feature in this list is 2015’s Zombicide: Black Plague. This is the first of three games (so far) that build around the concept of a melee focussed Zombicide game. The second of these is Zombicide: Green Horde, whilst the third is the as yet unreleased Zombicide: White Death. For me, Green Horde is way too hard, but Zombicide: Black Plague strikes a great balance and as a result, has become somewhat evergreen.

With a huge set of Kickstarter expansions available should you have deep pockets, or a smaller number of retail expansions if you don’t, there’s loads of content here as well. The core game includes six hero characters and a whole ton of zombie and monster figures, although it only has one abomination. This lack of “big bad” enemies is somewhat mitigated by the ever-frustrating Necromancer, who summons enemies in ever greater numbers if you let him.

When I talk about the Zombicide melee system, the main thing that differs is that the players have armour — which helps them stay in the same zone as enemies. This is never the case in other Zombicide games, and so in terms of how Zombicide: Black Plague feels, there’s much more of a sense of chopping through hordes of enemies and breaking their lines than there is in some of the other games here. 

Dark Souls: The Board Game

Dark Souls: The Board Game is another game that we reviewed a few years ago, but we also covered a more recent pair of core boxes that came out at the end of 2022. Created by Steamforged Games (who do a lot of videogame-to-board game adaptations), Dark Souls: The Board Game is a very solid representation of the digital game — with tough, strategic combat and punishing consequences for failure.

Perhaps the best thing about getting into Dark Souls: The Board Game now is that the new versions include a lot of improvements and minor tweaks that streamline the experience hugely. You can get into the game quickly, the new checkpoint system makes the game feel easier (but a better word might be fairer) and the enemies have been balanced a little more to enable players to actually gain some souls (and power up) before taking on the bigger baddies.

Cthulhu: Death May Die

With the abundance of CMON games already here, for some reason Cthulhu: Death May Die is the one game that I considered cutting from this list. I don’t know why that is, either, since I think this is probably my favourite game here — and it is absolutely the archetypal dungeon crawler. This time, the Kickstarter content on offer is modest and you probably don’t need it, whilst at retail there’s a core box, a second season box and a couple of standalone Elder One enemies.

What makes Cthulhu: Death May Die so good is the way that players can create a modular experience by choosing a scenario, adding an Elder One (with a choice of two in the core box) and then choosing their player characters. This creates highly variable experiences that really do tell stories. 

The main gameplay hooks in Cthulhu: Death May Die revolve around the player characters descending into madness. Each player has three ability tracks that define how they play, and each of these has four levels. As the player takes madness tokens (which is what happens when your fighting Cthulhu and pals) these skills level up, but if a player reaches “full” madness, every loses… Another absolute cracker for your 90 to 120-minute game night, with loads of lovely dice rolling and all the monster madness you could wish for.

CoraQuest

Here’s another guest appearance really, as I am not even sure if CoraQuest has come to retail — but it may well be Kickstarted for a third time. CoraQuest is a true labour of love created by a dedicated dad called Dan Hughes, along with his daughter, Cora. With that frame, you may have guessed that CoraQuest is more focused on younger players — and you’d be exactly right.

Sometimes, my Friday game night is actually just me and my eldest children (aged seven and nine). There’s nothing they want more than to crack out CoraQuest and see what happens in the next simple-to-setup scenario concerning a missing gnome, some stolen cheese, and an array of other serious-sounding, but not exactly apocalyptic quests.

With dice to roll in combat, items to collect and equip, and an array of fun characters to both play as and fight against, CoraQuest is every bit a valid dungeon crawler, and it’s the perfect game to use in order to get your kids into the genre. One for specific audiences only, but still perhaps one of my most played games in this list. 

Zombicide: 2nd Edition

Well, I make no apologies for including yet another Zombicide game in this list, but I do promise that this is the last one. Really. We reviewed Zombicide: 2nd Edition in full here a couple of years ago, and it remains a very solid dungeon-crawling experience, especially for those who want a traditional, modern day setting rather than the fantasy or superhero setting as seen in either Zombicide: Black Plague or Marvel Zombies. 

The gameplay in Zombicide: 2nd Edition is also a little easier than you’ll find in the most of the spin off games – because the core experience needs to have broader appeal. This makes Zombicide: 2nd Edition a really nice, straightforward game to get to the table if you have less experienced gamers. The rules in this edition are fewer and simpler, and the action is fast-paced, rewarding and fairly generous. 

Borderlands: Mister Torgue’s Arena of Badassery

Whilst Borderlands: Mister Torgue’s Arena of Badassery has a stupid name, it’s not a stupid game. This is more an arena shooter than it is a true dungeon-crawler, but the effect is very similar. Up to four players will each control one of Borderlands iconic Vault Hunters as they work cooperatively to blast their way through hordes of enemies.

This game is all about tough decisions in combat and then the loot that explodes liberally from every dispatched enemy. Bigger and more dangerous foes (including bosses and variants) spawn continuously until the end of each mission, and if played as intended, Borderlands: Mister Torgue’s Arena of Badassery is a campaign game that allows players to take their characters from one mission to the next.

This is another example of how a games night can be both lighthearted and yet filled with interesting decisions at the same time. The combat is tactical and clever, the loot feels satisfying and if you’re a fan of the videogames, then you’ll appreciate how close most of the Vault Hunters feel to their digital counterparts. 

DOOM (2016)

I include Fantasy Flight Games 2016 edition of DOOM here more as an homage than anything else, since you can’t buy it new now and have little chance of finding it second hand for anything less than an arm and a leg. When we reviewed this game back in 2017, I remember waxing lyrical about how the Glory Kill system had been translated onto a tabletop so expertly – and six years later, I stand by what I said.

If you can actually find it, DOOM may be the best game on this list — after all, it feels so authentic to the videogame and has there ever been a better dungeon-crawling videogame than this made? I don’t think so — at least not with the technology available at the time. And, the board game reflects that same level of genius – superb level design, incredible gameplay mechanics and perfect enemy placement to bring it all together. 

Love board games? Check out our list of the top board games we’ve reviewed.

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