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Why you should play... Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game

Why you should play... Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game
(Image credit: Square Enix)

The treasure chamber was on fire; it was falling to pieces around us. I have a feeling that velociraptors may have been skulking around next door as well, but I can't really remember. That's because the GamesRadar+ team and Lara Croft were locked in a standoff, ready to blast each other to kingdom come. Someone in this room had the relic we all needed, but only one of us could walk away with it. That was our experience with Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game - a fraught yet fun hour of bluffing, tension, and screwing each other over as much as damn-well possible. It's not necessarily the best board game out there, but it gives the idea a good go.

Essential info

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Players: 3-4
Time to play: 40-60 mins
Set-up time: 2-5 mins
Complexity: Moderate
Avg. price: $59.99 / £49.99

No honor among thieves

Don't be confused by the name. While it shares a title with the 2006 video game, Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game is a brand-new adaptation by Square Enix. It casts you in what sounds like a Lara Croft fever dream after she's been on an all-night bender; although there are the obligatory traps and dinosaurs as she hunts down a mysterious artefact (just another day at the office, in other words), she'll also need to face… herself. No, not in a self-reflective sort of way. I mean that literally. Each player controls a different version of Lara from the character's long history, and every one of you will battle it out to decide who the real Tomb Raider is once and for all. As such, it isn't what you'd call the best cooperative board game. It's every Lara for herself.

Why you should play... Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game

(Image credit: Square Enix)

The gameplay is pretty simple despite these high stakes, though. All you need to do is grab the artefact and hotfoot it over the finish line before your opponents do. Not that managing it is easy, of course. The board is made up of randomly selected 'room' tiles, and someone has to defeat the threat inside each of them for any of you to continue. This is where the game's first challenge rears its head; do you sit back and let your opponents tire themselves out, or should you try and neutralise the danger as fast as possible so you can rush ahead? Whatever you decide, players chip away at the threat by using up 'action cards' that include options to attack, rest, and explore. The trouble is, these action cards need to be chosen in secret before the round begins. That means you'll have to hatch a plan and guess what your foes are going to do long in advance. It's a tough balancing act. Get lucky and you'll be able to snatch the lead. Make the wrong choice and your cards will go to waste or you'll be screwed over by somebody else. Which is almost a guarantee, by the way: this is a game where the claws come out and all bets are off. There really is no honor among thieves.

Bluff your heart out

Yet that's where Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game excels. You see, nobody knows exactly where the artefact is. There are two replicas and the real deal, but you can't be sure which is which until you've picked one up. And because you can steal artefacts from each other with a well-placed card, things swiftly devolve into a backstabbing back-and-forth as everyone squabbles over what they think is the artefact. As a result, whoever finds the genuine article will need to bluff their heart out if they want to throw everyone off the scent (which is why this a pretty good board game for 2 players, but it's better with at least four others). It's a high-stakes tug of war that's a lot of fun, and the only thing you'll get more enjoyment from is giggling at what I'm 90% certain is cheeky innuendo.

Why you should play... Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game

(Image credit: Square Enix)

The problem is getting to that point. The game's instructions don't really do a good job of explaining things. In fact, they can be downright confusing. Our first try suffered as a result; rather than being a white-knuckle race to the finish, we milled around in bemusement with all the dynamism of a wet firework. It's fine once you've gotten your head around the mechanics themselves, but just be aware that there's something of a learning - and understanding - curve first.

Still, it's worth the effort. That end-game stretch where you're battling over artefact cards is frenetic and intense enough that you'll be pushed to the edge of your seat, making this a great board game for adults. The balance of power can shift on a dime, and that's why I'd recommend Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game - especially for fans.

Want a new board game? We'll be here each week to let you know about a tabletop gem - like Pandemic - you should definitely try. For example, we recently took the deliciously evil Blockbuster: The Game for a spin before trying out the Disney Villainous board game.