The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a critically acclaimed action role-playing game developed by Bethesda Game Studios. It was released for multiple platforms, in multiple versions (including a virtual reality one). Its content was expanded by 3 official expansions and uncountable fan mods thanks to an extensive mod editor (some even became videogames of their own) and sold more than 60 million copies as estimated as of June 2023.
Modiphius Entertainment is a game publisher company better known for their RPGs like Achtung! Cthulhu. They have obtained some licenses from Bethesda and released tabletop wargames set in Fallout and Skyrim universe.
Thanks to the latter license, they were able to make a boardgame, The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim: The Adventure Game, that brings the videogame to the tabletop for a family or group-friendly experience. Is this a satisfying conversion? Should a boardgame even feel like the videogame or be its own experience? Let’s find out.
What is Skyrim: the Adventure Game?
The Elder Scrolls is a media franchise that started with a series of extremely successful videogames. The last three editions in particular, Morrorwind, Oblivion and Skyrim, all won multiple awards on various outlets.
The series is set in a fictional universe spanning multiple centuries with intricate lore and multiple events that shaped the current world. The main continent, Tamriel, is divided in various provinces, each with a specific theme where the main inhabitants share specific traits. You can, however, find all races across almost every province.
Skyrim is the province representing the cardinal point north and also the setting of the entire campaign in the videogame. It is inhabited by the Nords, tough humans used to the rough and cold weather of Skyrim, who gather in holds, or provinces, each led by a Jarl.
The boardgame is roughly set few years before the videogame and continues in the same time frame. The Empire signed a treaty with the elves from the Aldmeri Dominion at the end of the bloody war, and as part of it, they agreed to forbid the worship of Talos, the ninth God, the only one with human origins. This will eventually trigger a civil war in Skyrim between those loyal to the Empire and those that rejects the agreements.
The players are set in this background: they belong to a group of warriors, the Blades, meant to protect the Empire until they were disbanded at the end of the war with the Aldmeri elves. Without a country anymore, they take refuge in Skyrim, where they soon discover the Thalmor, a warmonger political faction within the Aldmer, wants to erase them from existence.
The boardgame is an adventure game for 1 to 4 players with a short cooperative campaign (that can be played solo) and rules for free roam sessions with up to 8 players (with an optional add-on).
The core game is divided in two campaigns that can be played independently, although they are logically sequential and some components carry over if you do them one after the other with the same party. Each campaign is divided in three chapters that need to be played in sequence. Logically speaking, each chapter represents a session, unless you have enough time to dedicate to play an entire campaign in a single day (roughly 6+ hours).
The game is divided in two major phases: the first one sees you exploring the world of Skyrim moving your characters through the different points of interest on the main board, and the second one is the combat sequence.
There is a plethora of cards, representing the various events, equipment, enemies, characters, etc. They are organised similarly to legacy games, where cards are removed permanently from the game while continuing from a chapter to another, but can still be completely reset when starting again.
Both combat and skill checks are played with the same custom dice with 6 faces and 3 symbols, while the enemies have a behaviour table and will act accordingly to the roll of the relevant die.
Apart from numerous tokens, the game includes six miniatures representing the playable characters. Modiphius Entertainment also produces a skirmish miniature game set in the same universe called The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms. Those are either in plastic or high quality resin. Some of the plastic models available for this game sneaked in from that game, although the miniatures for the wargame usually require assembly and those for the boardgame are instead all pre-assembled. This is to say that the quality is ok, and if you want even more miniatures, there is an optional upgrade with 52 enemies that replace the in-game tokens and 10 more heroes with alternative sculpts, but also new races not available in the core box.
Starting to play Skyrim: the Adventure Game
The first thing when playing a game of Skyrim: the Adventure Game, is to create your own character. If you are continuing a campaign, there is a save system that we will be discussing at the end of this section.
Each player takes their own character board (there’s 4 in the base game, but with an add-on you can have up to 8 players in Free Roam mode) and then chooses a character card. This represents the race you are going to use in-game but, aside from a single trait, they are there just for ambience and you can decide to develop your role in any direction. There’s 6 races in the core game, and can become 10 with all expansions, covering all major races from the videogame.
You will then be able to add your starting equipment, resources and statistics. There are 3 main attributes: health, magicka and stamina. Exactly as in the videogame, those regenerate to their maximum when out of combat, so they are mostly used to perform actions during a battle or to determine how long you can survive.
At the beginning, you are going to set them at a starting point of their track. Then, every time you level up, you will be able to move one at a time forward. Attention, each track has set triggers and crossing them will increase the difficulty of all monsters for every other player. This is to avoid that players level up without coordinating but also to prevent favouring one statistic above the others.
Health is used to determine how much damage you can take before withdrawing and includes the Final Blow: basically one last chance when going down to retreat or win the fight. Stamina is used for all weapon based actions and magicka to cast spells.
The main board is set up with a variety of decks, most of which require special rules to assemble and shuffle them. The main engine of the game is however a numbered deck that contains all events, special encounters, quests, enemies and so on. That should never be shuffled, and when instructed those cards are permanently removed from the main deck so that you can’t draw them again (in that campaign).
This gives a little bit of continuity between linked games as characters who have been killed will not appear again, specific events will not trigger twice, etc. The game starts with reading a specific numbered card that will provide your personal quest(s) and then you are ready to start.
How combat works in Skyrim: the Adventure Game
The core of the game rotates around the skill checks. Those are all performed throwing a minimum of 3 dice and checking how many symbols match the difficulty required. Each check will tell you which skill (or attribute) is relevant for the roll. If you have learned the relevant skill, you roll up to two more dice, while for the attribute checks you use as many dice as the points invested in that attribute.
The dice are all identical and have 3 faces: one with 50% chance to appear, one with 33% and one with 16.5% (single face). Which face you need to roll and how many of them, determines the difficulty of that check. In many situations, you will be able to spend resources (any type, from stamina while fighting, to items or materials gathered during a quest) to re-roll a die or in some occasions to automatically succeed.
The combat phase uses the same identical skill check: each weapon or spell will have a cost in stamina or magicka and a difficulty determined by a die result and how many you need. If you succeed you hit, if not you miss.
The sequence of actions, greatly summarised is the following:
- You roll the enemy behaviour to understand what it is going to do in that round.
- You then decide if to perform an offensive, defensive or special action.
- Defensive and special actions will be executed before the enemy action, with the defensive used to block or dodge the incoming attack, and the special usually being a support spell hindering the enemy, healing back the characters and so on.
- The offensive action is activated after the enemy took a swing at you. Always.
The party can decide that multiple heroes participate in the same combat (if they occupy the same space), however the enemies will always react to every character, meaning that they take as many rounds as the number of characters.
Defeating an enemy provides an immediate reward, and if a dungeon is cleared by defeating the required amount of enemies, an extra reward is provided. Generally more characters on the same fight means more chances to eliminate the enemies, but considering they act every round, enemies with area of effect attacks can wipe out the entire party extremely quickly.
Each character, including enemies, have 3 types of armours: light, heavy and magic. When you attack an enemy, you reduce an armour attribute of the value of your attack until you bring it to zero. Once all armours are set to zero, the enemy is defeated (they don’t have health). As the weapons have also the same light, heavy, magic attribute, they are more effective if that armour does not exist: you choose which enemy armour to damage unless that armour is present in which case you are forced to damage that first.
The enemies will always attack the armour you don’t have if they have the option. If they can’t, their damage will be reduced by the amount mentioned in your equipped armour. Multi-armour equipment is essential to the survival in late game as enemies will be more powerful and be able to bypass multiple types of armours.
It gets a bit more complicated than this: exploring dungeons you can encounter traps that need to be deactivated with a lockpicking check, characters with light armour can try to surprise the enemy or counteract their ambush through a sneak check, followers can damage the enemy before it can act, and so on. However the core can be resumed in: you roll to see what the enemy does and if you are low on health you are forced to parry, if you can take the hit or the enemy misses, you fight back.
You can recover stamina and magicka slightly by resting during a fight by forfeiting your action and completely in-between fights. To recover health you need to have potions, that for some reason cost herbs just to be used, meaning if you have lovely potions that could heal you but no herbs, you are toast.
Campaign in Skyrim: the Adventure Game
A campaign in Skyrim is divided in three chapters. You can play the two campaigns from the main box one after the other, but the connection is a bit awkward, we will get to it later in this section.
During a single session you are going to play most likely just a single chapter. That means you’ll have a personal quest, an overall party objective, and you are going to explore the world. Each turn you draw an Event card that will provide a temporary buff, a penalty or activate some roaming monsters. More importantly, it will display threat icons. You pick as many threat tokens as indicated and distribute them on any card that can hold them. Those are mostly quests, including world quests and side quests, but also strongholds that are therefore degraded. Quests that reach their maximum threat, will automatically fail (including the one for that chapter). Strongholds degrading will prevent the characters from purchasing items, entering the stronghold or even spread the rioting to neighbour strongholds.
This mechanic works a bit as a collagen between party members so that they work together in completing quests and keeping the world in check, and as a timer to ensure that you don’t dilly-dally.
You have a bit of freedom in choosing quests, however you will never know in advance if the quest is right for your set of skills or not. You may find your warrior having to deal with wizards and their arcane whereabouts without any knowledge whatsoever, or having your wizard interact with shady characters and perform the most nefarious activities on their behalf. All without the proper equipment. Even if another party member would be better suited for that, tough luck. At least the rest of the party can cheer for you!
And we get to the difficulty of the game. The monsters go from level 0 to 7 and there are 5 types distributed in their own decks. There are also some quest-related enemies that are spread across the numbered decks and the roaming monsters that always have 2 profiles, one “easy” and one tougher. Every time you level up, you have to increase your attributes. The highest attribute between all players, determines which enemy levels are permanently removed from the game. Meaning that someone that goes heavy on magicka, for example, could eliminate all monsters 0-4 while the party is still unprepared.
On the other side, a careful party can keep the enemy levels down while over-preparing, making the game considerably easier. Final confrontations usually require the entire party to fight multiple enemies at the same time. Despite so, the fight is still one character against the first enemy until that is defeated and then you move to the next without respite.
The quests you encounter will be random, so there’s always a chance to fail them as you don’t have the right skills, including a particular one in which you are stuck forever until you roll an extremely hard combination with no one able to help you or being able to affect the roll in any way.
Eventually you’ll complete the chapter, either by succeeding or by failing. Failure is not the end, but you can lose the game by failing the third chapter. And to be fair, failing any chapter makes things much harder later on.
And we get to the save part. Most games have some sort of save mechanism so that you can continue from where you left off. Here you have a save box: a small cardboard box where you can enter all your tokens, learned skills, cubes and tokens, plus all quests you have fulfilled that create “the story of your character”.
This system kind-a works when you complete a chapter as the new chapter will provide new cards so you have a blank slate regarding the continuation of the story. However, every chapter you can re-spec your main attributes: since when you play they are placed on a track and when you end the game you just throw the tokens in a box, you have no way to remember where they were unless you write it on a piece of paper. The game tells you that when you start a new session you can place them however you want. Even the skills that became legendary can change between a session and another: as they are double faced tokens, once in the box you would not know which one became legendary. So you put a threat token in the save box for each legendary skills and when you restart you just select as many skills to be legendary as the tokens you stored in the box. So much, for creating the “story of your character”.
Even the resources are double faced: on one side they represent a single resource, on the other 3. So I suppose before saving you have to convert all your resources in single tokens or you have to write on your own paper how many you had. Luckily someone in BoardGameGeek created a campaign sheet that makes much easier keeping track of your progress. We strongly recommend using something similar.
And if you continue from a campaign to the other, your characters will have forgot everything except who they are, a single item, and a single skill. 25 years have passed, I guess you do get rusty…
The game restarts from basically the first level, only thing that remains is the cards that you have been instructed to remove from the game (NPCs who died, quests that you completed, and so on). While this makes playing each campaign independent from each other, it breaks the immersion and the connection between the two.
Finally, for the hard-core fan, there are few different expansions to this game. The first one is almost entirely cosmetic: it contains all miniatures of the roaming monsters, some tokens and alternative sculpts for the existing characters of the main box, plus all their cards to use them in the miniatures wargame. However, the Argonian, Bosmer, Breton and Reguard characters are available only in this box or the Dawnguard expansion so you will need either if you want to have the full roster of 10 characters to select from.
The Dawnguard expansion introduces a new 3-chapters campaign that introduces also vampires, either as allies or as enemies and a semi-competitive new way to play the game (through faction influence).
The From the Ashes expansion instead introduces new mini-campaigns that can be added to any game, increasing length and difficulty, but also adding juicy new equipment.
Another expansion adds the material required to extend the game to 5-8 players while there are two deluxe components worth for those invested in the game: a neoprene mat representing the Skyrim map (instead of using the cardboard one) and some metallic Septims that replace the cardboard coins. Both are of exquisite quality.
Final thoughts on Skyrim: the Adventure Game
So, how does Skyrim: the Adventure Game fare compared to the videogame? It tries really hard to be a videogame with physical material. Many mechanics that work in the videogame, are not translated well in the boardgame.
Let’s start from the combat, that is the main activity that you will be performing most of the time. We have not played the expansion campaigns, but the after you get to a certain level, the game combat is just a matter of luck. A thief in the party can eliminate the first enemy 99% of the time, and if you have not over-extended a single attribute, the enemies you fight can be controlled.
This means that your party will split and each one will fight his/her group of monster, often in sequence, without any intervention from the other players. As monsters can easily kill a character in one or two hits, most of the time your friends will parry or dodge, waiting the enemy to miss for their opportunity to attack. And this can last forever if they have enough stamina and opportunities to recharge.
You can’t play synchronously because the dungeon decks are recovered at the end of the turn, so you better coordinate so that someone does not inadvertently challenge high level monsters by himself because their partner already revealed the low-level ones. Overall, the fight becomes boring pretty quickly.
In the videogame, you can choose which type of guild you want to support and tailor your character to be prepared to the challenges they will throw at you. Here most of the quests, including the main quests, are random so you will often find yourself without the required skill. It’s not the end of the world, as it means you roll one or two dice less, but the inability to control the story of your character removes a lot from the immersion.
You can make things more “complicated” with new mini-campaigns and new equipment but the randomness remains and most of the time the threat tokens are a nuisance. You’ll find that one character each round has to keep under control the roaming monsters while the other progress their story, and that is nowhere as tedious as the videogame where you have freedom to explore every corner at your own pace.
The save mechanic is poorly implemented as written in the rulebook. Ignore it, download or create your own save sheet and use that instead. And one note goes also to the rulebook. It’s 50+ pages, with a nice list of all icons in the back cover. Despite so, you’ll find yourself searching even the simplest things online to see how certain things work as the rulebook does not clearly state them. Just to give you an idea the current Errata and FAQ of the 54 pages rulebook is 13 pages long and the Skyrim wargame has a similar percentage (25 pages of FAQ and Errata including also the character cards).
The amount of cards in the game is huge. This guarantees variety, but would you replay a campaign after finishing it? Truth is that the main story never changes. If you start with 4 players, then you see all 4 possible ways to reach the end. Therefore, the variety is made by the extra quests you can do or the mini-campaigns from the Ashes expansion, which is definitely worth the investment if you like the core of the game.
But what about the Miniatures expansion? While it claims to be only cosmetic, the presence of extra heroes available only there or in the Dawnguard expansion makes it a steep entry for just 4 extra gameplay races. As this is not a dungeon crawler game, the roaming monsters and enemies are completely optional.
In summary: it hits the nostalgia effect, so much that I would probably replay the latest edition of the videogame (I finished with 100% of the achievements the first edition) but after 2 campaigns, I would not replay the boardgame. We strongly suggest to try it by yourself (they have a free demo on Tabletop Simulator, linked in the resources at the end of the article), it may be your cup of tea!
Other great resources
The main website where you can find the details about the game is the one from Modiphius Entertainment. They also have an e-shop and some material to download for free, including the rulebook in case you want to dig in before buying the game.
However, the best way to try the game is through the free demo on Tabletop Simulator (you will need to purchase the software simulator in Steam if you don’t already own it, and then subscribe to the demo).
If you want to know more about the main media franchise and its lore, there’s a giant wiki library that contains reference to all major events in the videogames and more.