Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games

Storytelling games (also known as story book games) are games with an adventure book full of descriptive text.   The prototypical storytelling game is Tales of Arabian Nights (TOAN).  TOAN has a huge book of text (see below):

The Book of Tales - all 300 pages worth!

On each turn move around the board, then make some “choices” which another player reads from an adventure/story book with the results.

You see a black pool of water.  Do you (a) drink it (b) cross it (c) ignore it?

This is very much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my youth: you make a choice and something happens: you can get married, sex-change, ensorcled, cursed, blessed, and so many things.  There is nominally a “game” underneath Tales of the Arabian Nights (as you have to get 20 points in Story points and Destiny points, then return  home), but it’s really just an experience where players read to each other out of a storybook after they make stupid choices (“I drink the black water!”)

Paperback The Cave of Time (Choose Your Own Adventure #1) Book

There’s been quite a number of cooperative games that take this story book idea and expand it, making it better!  We’ll take a look at the Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Storytelling games!  (My friend Greg would like to point out that Tales of Arabian Nights in almost a cooperative game, as you really are just all adventuring together and seeing who gets back first … there is not really much player interaction other than reading to each other).

As we discuss each game, we will qualify each entry.  For example, for Tales of Arabian Nights:
Tales of the Arabian Nights
(Does the game play solo?)
Playable Solo
?  Yes (you can, but it’s much more fun with a group)
(How much do the choices after a story block matter?)
Choices Matter
? Not at all
(Is there an ongoing story over multiple games?)
Ongoing Campaign
? No
(How much maintenance am I doing per turn to keep the game going?)
Maintenance
?  Some
(How is the text of the story book presented?)
Text
? In a giant story book

Let’s get to the list!

Honorable Mentions

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? There’s no choice on the cards: all choice is in which locations you go to
Ongoing Campaign? No
Maintenance?  Lots
Text? On the cards

Whaaaat?  Arkham Horror (2nd Edition) is a storytelling game?  Hear me out here: as you play the game, each player gets a lot of flavor text around a challenge: it’s almost impossible to separate the flavor text from the challenge when you visit a location!  You can play so that each player just reads to themselves (boring) !!!! OR!!!! You can play where every player reads their flavor text on Locations and is overly dramatic!!!

If you and your group are in the mood, you can turn Arkham Horror (2nd Edition), into a story telling game.

10. Robit Riddle

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? Somewhat
Ongoing Campaign? Sort of; there’s an overarching story, but games don’t continue previous sessions
Maintenance?  Some
Text?  In Three Books: players choose which book to play

I did a full review of Robit Riddle here (Part I and Part II).  Basically, it’s a storytelling game for families and younger kids.  It’s very cute, but it has some reasonable decisions. We enjoyed it for what it was.

9. The Legacy of Dragonholt

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? A lot
Ongoing Campaign? Yes
Maintenance?  Quite a bit as you keep track of statistics, keywords, turns, etc.
Text?  Scattered across seven story books: each book encapsulates one “adventure”

I mentioned Legacy of Dragonholt in Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games: It’s basically Dungeons and Dragons (with its character creation and fantasy setting) meets Choose Your Own Adventure books (with the choices and reading).

There’s quite a bit of maintenance per turn, as you have to keep track of what day it is, when time has passed, what keywords players have (such as persuasive, agile, etc.) and many other statistics.  Even though there is an element of luck in the game (“Are you persuasive?  Read entry 12 … otherwise read entry 200″), the game tells an Epic story over about 10 sessions.  You can save the game after a session, or you can keep going as long as you want.  There’s a lot of text to read.  I enjoyed it quite a bit solo.

8. Agents of SMERSH

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? A lot
Ongoing Campaign? No
Maintenance?  Definitely some
Text?  In a giant story book players pass around

Agents of SMERSH made my Top 10 Cooperative Games Off The Beaten Path:   It’s a neat game that feels like Pandemic (moving around a world map) meets Arkham Horrror (2nd Edition) (doing challenges) meets Tales of Arabian Nights (with its huge storybook).    Players take on the role of ridiculous 70s era spies trying to take down “the Big Bad” Dr. Lobo.    The rulebook’s a little wonky, but the game is a fun romp with a real game (albeit a bit light) behind the huge story book.

Our international team in action!
It’s unfortunate that 8th Summit is out of business: it’s unclear if you can get this game or if it will be reprinted.

7. Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (early campaigns can inform later ones…)
Maintenance? None required, but you should be taking a LOOOOT of notes
Text? In Ten (separate) case books

I have the YStari version (see cover above).   The game comes with a map of London, a directory, a rulebook , some newpapers, and ten case books: I would also recommend a pencil and paper to take notes.   Your job is to work together with your teammates to solve the mystery described by each case book.  Each case is about 60-120 minutes long, and once you have gone through a case, you are done with that case forever.

Getting ready to play case #1

During the game, players decide on places to visit around London (based on the information available), and players read to each other from the case book.  Reading about new Location is how you “discover” clues and information about the case.  Once you think you have “solved” the crime (in as few moves as possible), you turn to the end and see how you did (in the form of some questions).

One of my friends really doesn’t like the scoring mechanism: You compare your score (based on how many locations you visited) with what Sherlock Holmes did.   It’s usually ridiculous how few spaces he visits.  But, if you ignore the scoring and just see this as a mystery to solve, you can enjoy your time “embracing London and its stories”.

The major problem with this game is that once you are done with a case, you can’t really replay it because you know the answer.  Luckily,   later games (Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures and Carlton House & Queen’s Park) give more content (10 cases in each new standalone game).  There is even a newer expansion (The Baker Street Irregulars) due out soon, as the time of this writing (June 7, 2020).

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series (2017 edition ...

6. Near and Far (with Amber Mines)

Playable Solo?  No (but you can scale the co-op rules to one, even though it’s not official)
Choices Matter? This is a game first with storybook second
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (early campaigns can inform later ones…)
Maintenance? Yes, quite a bit on each character sheet
Text? In a separate storybook (1 for each section in the game).

This also appeared on my Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively: You need the Amber Mines expansion to play cooperatively.

To be clear: this is basically a worker placement/resource gathering game first, and it just so happens to have storybook which augments the game.  There are 10 worlds you can travel through in the game, and each world has it’s own section of the storybook.

5. Adventure Games: The Dungeon and/or Monochrome

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes (there’s an ongoing campaign with 3 arcs)
Maintenance? Some
Text? In one fairly small storybook, but tons of text.  There is also an app which will read for you (but it wasn’t available at the time I played it).

This game made the #2 position of my top 10 cooperative games of 2019!

This game is probably the shortest of all the games on the list: it’s 3 arcs, and each arc is about 75-90 minutes.   It’s a pretty small box and pretty cheap ($15?) but it has so much story and fun!  We loved this! (And also the other one in this series: Monochrome Inc. which we liked almost as much) .

An arrangement for The Dungeon!

This is the closest thing to a point-and-click adventure game I’ve ever seen. Players combine objects (almost like an Escape Room game) and read the corresponding entry to the combined items: it’s like trying to “get torch; light torch” in the old adventure games.

This game was a blast and you might even play through it all in one night!  We ended up reading the text ourselves (with funny voices and amusing ourselves), but supposedly an app can handle reading it for you as well: the app has the advantage that you can’t accidentally read a passage you shouldn’t (as you are looking for your entry).

4. Mythos Tales

Box

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (early campaigns can inform later ones…)
Maintenance? None required, but you should be taking a LOOOOT of notes…
Text? In 8 (separate) case books

Mythos Tales is basically Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (see number 6 earlier on this list) meets the world of Arkham Horror!  Just like Holmes, it has a map, a directory, newspapers, and case books (only 8).   You are exploring the city to solve a mystery (like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective), but this mystery takes a macabre turn and may drive you mad!!!

The first Kickstarter edition is riddled with errors, but you can find the errata on board game geek.    Unfortunately, the company that made Mythos Tales (8th Summit) went out of business, but it looks like Grey Fox has picked up this game.

3. Forgotten Waters

Playable Solo?  Yes (but it’s more fun with lots of people).  The box says 3-7, but the app  comes with 1 and 2-player rules.
Choices Matter? Mostly, although you can still die easily
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (you can save the game and continue: some of the scenarios are too much for one play)
Maintenance? Quite a bit per turn!  The more people you have to deal with this, the better!
Text?  In the app: either on-screen or read by actors (with sound effects!)

I did the first part of a review here: This is light, pirated themed game with a Monkey Island sensibility.    There’s quite a bit of maintenance per turn, but the more people you have, the more this burden can be shared among the players.

Game Layout

The sounds effects and the app reading the text makes this game so much more fun!  Although me and my friends like reading aloud (with accents and silly voices), there’s something kinda cool about professional actors with professional sounds effects guiding your games.  If you really want to, though, you can read the text from the app.  (In fact, you can all be on the same web page and have multiple pads/phones on the same app so you don’t even have to pass around a storybook).

2. House of Danger


Playable Solo?  Yes (but it’s more fun with lots of people)
Choices Matter? Somewhat, not really
Ongoing Campaign? Yes (there are 5 chapters to complete)
Maintenance? Not very much at all
Text?  On larger cards

This is a very light game.  You will make choices and die regularly.  Why is it so high on my list?  Because it’s stupid fun!  If you die, it is almost trivial to reset the game, so it’s not a big deal.
game layout

This was the ‘end of the night’ game for my game group when we wanted a game with very little thought.  We’d pull it out, make stupid choices and laugh at the dumb things that happened.  When we died, we’d laugh and immediately reset the game.

This game has worked great over Zoom and Discord: one person can read the cards or each person can buy a copy of the game.  Since it’s widely available (Target) and pretty cheap ($25?), a bunch of people can buy it.  I am currently playing this with my friend and his niece and family.  And this is AFTER I have already played it once!!!  It’s okay to play it multiple times: you won’t see everything the first time.

1. Detective: City of Angels

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (later games are informed by previous games)
Maintenance? Definitely a lot of writing, but it’s structured to a single sheet
Text?  In eight case books

The full game setup for Detective: City of Angels.

By default, this is not a cooperative game (see Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully  Cooperatively), but the fully cooperative mode comes built in.  I love this game!  It was my 2019 Game of the Year!!  (See my review here).  If you want a storybook game where every decision matters, this is the game for you.  Players work together to solve a mystery.  It’s kind of like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and Mythos Tales, but in a noir environment.  The game also structures the mysteries a little more.  You still move around the city, but the choices are bit more managable than Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (which is much more free form).    Each players take notes very methodically on a grid paper (matching people and places and stuff) and it’s a very structured way to keep track of stuff (again, compared to the more free form notes of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective).

The box cover for the Smoke & Mirrors expansion for Detective: City of Angels.

Like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Detective: City of Angels has a limited life.  Once you solve a mystery, you are done with it (because you know the answer). Luckily, there are two more expansions available for more context (Smoke and Mirrors and Bullets Over Hollywood).

If you like the idea of Sherlock Holmes but want a simpler game in a noir environment, Detective: City of Angels is the right storytelling game for you.

4 thoughts on “Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games

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