Side Quests

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – The Adventure Game Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Adventure Board Game Featured

Skyrim is on eight platforms: nine if you count both Xbox Series X and S. Is it on mobile yet? While the board game iteration isn’t a port, it remains faithful to the massively successful title in its theming. Aside from the sheen, is this a deep, rich experience or a cash grab based on names and images alone?

The board game takes place before the events of the Skyrim video game. High King Torygg hasn’t been killed yet, and the Stormcloaks haven’t rebelled. You and your fellow players are part of a faction of veterans known as the Blades. Following the war, you struggle to make ends meet and quickly contend with events that threaten the security of Skyrim.

This tabletop take on the Skyrim universe comes with two campaigns comprising three chapters each. Each chapter encapsulates major events occurring within the central plot, though the bulk of the storytelling happens through sidequests. How very Skyrim.

At the start, players choose one of six characters, and while each character has three special traits that suggest a build type, each one can be constructed any way the player wants. Now, I know you might be thinking: okay, that’s technically possible, but why would I build the mage class to be a tank or rogue? One of the greatest highlights of this board game is the customization. While three abilities certainly impact a direction someone might go—such as increased damage with destruction-based spells—it only defines one hand of a character’s build. The other hand can wield a sword, dagger for sneaking, shield, or a spell to summon undead. Nothing limits what a character can equip or abilities they can learn.

Most innate abilities on the six characters provide additional buffs to a learned skill, such as one point of heavy armor for holding a shield. While not interesting, it certainly adds incentive and helps launch the character from the early levels. In later levels, these advantages become less potent, as the player will have learned several abilities and bought or found so much advanced gear that that extra point of damage or armor isn’t going to matter as much.

Leveling up is a simple affair. After earning enough experience points, players gain a maximum stat point—health, stamina, or magic—and learn a skill with six options in each “house” (warrior, shadow, mage) for a total of eighteen. Most of these keyword skills will add a die during skill checks, with players rolling three by default. Sometimes, they have an additional effect, such as rolling an additional die during combat when using a one-handed weapon due to the—you guessed it—One-Handed skill.

Each round of Skyrim flows intuitively with a preliminary event card reveal, movement phase, action phase, and the level up phase (if appropriate). Continue forever until the main quest is succeeded or failed. Events add some boon or hurdle for players to lean into or avoid, such as adding enemies to the board or allowing players to buy items on the cheap. Almost all events add threat tokens, which make it more difficult for the party to benefit from strongholds. Movement takes place all across Skyrim, with players moving between dungeons, wilderness, or strongholds. The strongholds are the most unique spaces in that players can visit the market to buy, sell, upgrade, or enchant equipment. In wilderness and strongholds, players can draw cards that may lead to a small benefit or quest, while dungeons require killing two or more monsters to earn quick experience points and treasure.

Generally, players would benefit from a sidequest or two before venturing out into the world to tackle the main quest, though exploring dungeons is a quick and dirty way to get experience, crafting material, and equipment. Quests almost always involve a skill check, which means rolling three dice plus one if the specific skill—such as Speech—applies. Players can often add additional dice by spending money or crafting materials as defined on the card. Each die has three circles, two triangles, and one diamond, all with Skyrim stylings; really, the symbols are just probability devices.

Yes, the quest loop comes down to uninspired dice rolls. If that’s your thing, you may love this, but for those who want a bit more tactical chew, you will be left wanting. After failing the challenge on the quest, the card is typically trashed with some penalty thrown in. After succeeding, players usually gain some experience and materials, with an additional step or part to the quest introduced, meaning draw another card. After a series of successes on a few cards (and turns), some bigger reward is often offered at the conclusion, though sometimes a lump of coal is the joke at the player’s expense. How fun.

All this said, throwing dice and chancing a successful outcome by tossing away hard-fought crystals and ore can be thrilling, especially when it can lead to significantly stronger equipment or experience points. Getting stronger is always exciting, and while most quest cards only have a line or two of flavor, allowing oneself to engage in the experience makes for immersive gameplay. If I’m being completely honest, while much of the writing is shallow, I found myself curious enough to continue the sidequest loop, despite clearly being strong enough to end the chapter. The simple fact that one card draw could contain some odd quest like tearing a hole in someone’s roof to better humidify their home and risk collapsing the entire house was enough to keep my wife and I engaged and laughing. Yes, I accidentally ruined someone’s house, despite having the requisite Smithing skill to give me an advantage. Still shaking my head about that!

Combat flows similarly, with enemies rolling an ominous red die with five symbols and one blank side. Enemies have a go, then players can react with offense, defense, or some miscellaneous action, like resting. If the enemy’s die result is on their card, that attack must be resolved, otherwise the enemy does nothing. Players look at their weapons for offense and spend magic or stamina, if required, and roll three dice to get their desired symbols. Armor types are significantly important, as light, heavy, and magic damage or armor clash against one another, or players can bypass this protection by using a different attack type. This is why equipping two different weapons can be helpful, or at least using weapons with different damage types. If attack type and armor type match, the battle can be a slog as the enemy armor slowly depletes. Fortunately, the amount the armor cuts off on damage diminishes as armor gets low. For players, this is hugely beneficial. Tanking can break the game if players can reliably shave off some of each damage type by having good shields and armor, while glass cannons can end the battle before it even begins with high-damage spells or daggers for sneak attack damage. If all of this sounds like a lot, don’t worry: at the end of the day, everything boils down to turn-taking and dice rolling with no other rules to muddy the waters.

This is a fun romp for one to four players. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and spent maybe fifteen to twenty hours on actual gameplay, though I spent several hours on my part trying to learn the blasted thing and research contingency after contingency. Unfortunately, the rulebook is not only wordy and lacking in examples and pictures, but struggles with clarity. Honestly, this is not a rules-heavy game, but the lengthy rulebook would have you think otherwise. So many weird little situations occur that aren’t really spelled out clearly. Some additional aids with pictures and examples would have made for a much more streamlined experience.

Do I recommend Skyrim the Boardgame? Well, that depends on your income and how much you love Skyrim. If you adore this universe and have $130 to throw at a twenty-hour experience, then sure. If you’re tepidly into this world and don’t want to pay over a hundred dollars when competitors exist—Gloomhaven and Mage Knight are far superior experiences in my estimation—then this is an easy pass. The components are fine with reliable cardstock and light plastic figurines. Two expansions simultaneously released with the base game, each for about $70 (yikes), though we haven’t had the opportunity to try these out. With the limited replayability and short play experience for the current price, I can’t say this is “value,” though you might find a lot to love here if you’re an Elder Scrolls loyalist.

Jerry Williams

Jerry Williams

Jerry has been reviewing games at RPGFan since 2009. Over that period, he has grown in his understanding that games, their stories and characters, and the people we meet through them can enrich our lives and make us better people. He enjoys keeping up with budding scholarly research surrounding games and their benefits.