Video games have a long history of drawing from previously existing material. Sometimes there are games based on books. Some of them are based on movies. Another major influence on video games is a host of standard tabletop, board, or card games.
This list is going to be based more specifically on tabletop games, which will include strategy games like Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 as well as pen-and-paper games such as Dungeons & Dragons.
There is a wealth of games, so this is by no means comprehensive. If you feel that we missed something, reach out with some of your favorites.
Sid Meier’s Civilization (MicroProse, Activision, Firaxis Games)
The Civilization series of games from Sid Meier is wonderful. The premise is that you’re the leader of a civilization and you’re working on building something that lasts the tests of time. There are multiple different paths to victory which include military conquests, technological advancement and winning the space race, and expansion through cultural development.
The earlier games offer even more customization options, and the multiplayer is fun with friends.
The video game is loosely based on the Civilization board game, with the biggest changes being the scope of time (the board game covers 8,000 BCE to 250 BCE), the scope of the world (the board game encompasses the Mediterranean Sea), and playable cultures. While there are significant changes, the themes of expansion, cultural development, and conflicts remain consistent.
Call of Cthulhu (Cyanide/Focus Entertainment)
Of the games based on the work of sci-fi/horror author H.P. Lovecraft and the TTRPG Call of Cthulhu, this one is one of the better options. Call of Cthulhu is a cosmic horror TTRPG. This game is just one of many adaptations of the TTRPG. Much like many of the games, it is loosely based on the Lovecraft short story The Shadow of Innsmouth, though it also does incorporate some material from The Horror in the Museum in one segment.
You’re a private investigator investigating the Hawkins family. People need answers as to why the family died in a mysterious fire. That, coupled with the macabre art that takes a central place, gives a strong hook that is a driving force for the trip into Darkwater. Through great use of modern technology, it does have a strong sense of space with a heavy atmosphere that something just isn’t right. While flawed, this is one of the best cosmic horror video games.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (Relic Entertainment/Thq)
Warhammer 40,000 is a beautiful chaotic mess. In the 41st Millennium, there really aren’t any good guys. There’s a lot of shades of grey with people and beings just trying to survive the unending war of the grimdark future. There are multiple factions to choose from. What you choose depends on you though. What playstyle would you prefer? If you want more ranged combat, the Tau are experts at ranged combat. Space Marines are great all around. The Imperial Guard is great for using numbers to overwhelm the enemy. These are just some examples though within a galaxy at war.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War does a pretty great job at translating the tabletop strategy gameplay into planetary warfare across the world of Tartarus. Different regions offer different benefits based on their resources and installations. If you get any of the DLC, you get access to more of the Warhammer 40,000 factions.
Each faction has different gameplay based on its strengths and weaknesses, which leads to a lot of replayability.
Replayability also grows through the fact that the factions spread and falter in different ways through different playthroughs. Then there’s also the benefit of a great multiplayer feature.
Warhammer: End Times (Vermintide)
Warhammer is a grimdark fantasy with ties into a lot of different stories and mythologies. There’s also some cosmic horror to it when you get into the realms of chaos. There’s a lot of room for game developers to draw from whether you’re talking about the tabletop strategy game or the TTRPG Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. This next game appears to draw from the latter.
Warhammer: End Times: Vermintide takes place at the start of the End Times. The Skaven (rat-people) are rising up and teaming up with the forces of Chaos. You take over as one of five characters that fill some form of archetype common with Warhammer (Dwarven ranger, Human Witch Hunter, Empire soldier, Wood Elf Waywatcher, and Bright Wizard).
The gameplay is based on Left4Dead, meaning, you get a fast-paced FPS. In this case, though, it’s also a fantasy RPG. Playing with friends or online can give you a wealth of replayability even while retreading familiar levels. Part of it is due to the fact no two players will have the exact same experience or load out.
Neverwinter Nights (BioWare/Atari)
If you like Dungeons & Dragons and the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, this is going to be right up your alley. For some gamers, this was also their first exposure to BioWare’s brand of storytelling. Neverwinter Nights was a showcase of what makes BioWare special while also being a great emulation of standard D&D stories and mechanics. That said, there are some stats and therefore classes that get a bit more utility in the game, so if you’re big on playing optimized characters, just pay attention to the cues. The game is now on consoles, iOS, and Android. However, it feels better on a PC with keyboard and mouse controls.
The hook that starts off the game is simple, though not in the stereotypical inn or tavern that you might expect. The city of Neverwinter is crippled by a plague and there are forces working against Neverwinter finding a medical or magical cure. You survive an attack on your academy which houses animals that are important to cure the plague.
The story shifts to preventing the further spread of the plague and then you’re investigating who could be behind everything.
The world of Faerun is beautiful and the characters are likable. There’s also a lot of DLC that gives you more stories to experience. Development tools are also available for people in telling their own D&D stories.
Shadowrun Returns (Harebrained Schemes/Paradox Interactive)
Shadowrun itself is a bit weird. Much like the world of Warhammer 40,000, it does take place in our universe, kind of. Around 2012, the sixth world begins. In other words, magic and mythology return to the world. The different genres that stories tend to draw from are mostly cyberpunk, urban fantasy, and crime, though it can take sharp turns into horror, conspiracy thrillers, and detective stories.
The core campaign that Shadowrun Returns initially delivers, titled “Dead Man’s Switch” is simple. A former accomplice of yours dies, which triggers a message sent directly to you. The message is that your friend has 100,000 nuyen (the world’s currency) in escrow. If you bring his killer to justice, you get the money. And then starts the hunt for a serial killer only known as the Emerald City Ripper and whoever might be pulling the strings from behind the scenes.
The game and storytelling do a good job at emulating a Shadowrun tabletop story, just without the need for obscene amounts of d6’s and the animation is great.
For fans of Shadowrun, its previous game adaptations, or its novels, there are quite a few nice easter eggs that are also pertinent to the plot (e.g. Jack Armitage, the protagonist of the SNES Shadowrun game, actually plays a pretty big part in the story).
Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines (Troika Games/Activision)
Vampire: The Masquerade is just fun. Set in the overarching shared universe of the World of Darkness, you play as a vampire. Much like any other TTRPG, stories can go off in any direction, though the big difference is the fact that even if you’re a hero, you are still absolutely a monster. It opens up a lot of gameplay possibilities, especially since part of the objective of the vampires is to remain hidden from humanity. Meaning if you’re trying to play as a Nosferatu, you’ve effectively started a game requiring Splinter Cell or Metal Gear levels of stealth because you’re so repulsive and monstrous that your face breaks the law.
Anyway, Bloodlines starts with an embrace as your character becomes a vampire. The problem is that the Prince of LA didn’t approve of your creation. When this happens, the sire and the child must die. You get lucky, kind of, as the Prince decides to give you chance at survival. All you have to do is work for him and not screw up. Basically, show your worth or die. Your sire, unfortunately, does not survive. While you’re trying to show your worth, you’ve got a three-way war popping up being the Camarilla, the Sabbat, and the Anarchs as well as a werewolf encroaching on kindred territory and a vampire doomsday prophecy that seems to be coming to fruition. Basically, you’re a newbie as the bad days strike again.
If you watched the LA by Night web show and haven’t played this game, you’ll have some things spoiled in the game. But it’s still a lot of fun, with a great sense of humor, strong atmosphere, and memorable characters.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse: Heart of the Forest (Different Tales/Walkabout Games)
Werewolf: The Apocalypse is another WoD line that can intersect with any number of other lines including Vampire: The Masquerade. In this case, you’re a werewolf. The line is really interesting in part because rage is a big mechanic, so sometimes W:tA is a bit of an anger management simulator even in the tabletop game. The other thing is the environmentalist element. Basically, the werewolves are environmental activists seeking to save the world from exploitation. They just also can turn into regular wolves for quick travel and sneaking or hulking furry rage monsters when they have to ruin someone/something’s day.
Heart of the Forest has a great story set around one of the remaining primeval forests in Europe. The forest is the focal point and has, in the real world, been the target of deforestation attempts for commercial development.
The hook that starts off the game is simple and engaging. You play as Maia, a 24-year-old American woman of Polish descent, who suffers from recurring nightmares dealing with blood, wolves, and a forest. The forest is real and is actually in the area of Poland that your family originates from. You head there to learn more about your family, its history, and why the forest calls to you.
The integration of the RPG mechanics is top-notch. The art design is striking.
Planescape: Torment (Black Isle Studios/Interplay Entertainment)
Oh, D&D, you magnificent monster. The campaign settings themselves can be even more fascinating than the games that can happen within them, and “Planescape” is no different. Planescape is a multiplanar multiverse unto itself. It’s one of the more demented and detailed settings in D&D.
Planescape: Torment largely takes place in the city of Sigil, where you play as “The Nameless One,” someone cursed with immortality in a rather sadistic way. It’s less that he can’t die. It’s more that he can’t stay dead. And when he resurrects, his memories are mostly, if not, entirely erased and his personality may completely shift between deaths.
Much of the story deals with trying to find out who cursed you and why. There is a lot of depth in the gameplay, including factoring in alignment shifts based on your actions.
The characters are memorable and the time that you spend in the different planes is striking. The sound design itself is remarkable for when it was first released, which helped really build that sense of space that you were going through.