Things weren't going well in the Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game. To be precise, 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 the Tomb Raider Legends board game in a nutshell - a fraught yet fun hour of bluffing, tension, and screwing each other over as much as possible. It's not necessarily the best board game out there, but it gives the idea a good go. That makes Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game a solid choice if you're hunting down good board games for adults.
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's hardly what you'd call the best cooperative board game. This is every Lara for herself.
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 (make no mistake, this isn't a board game for 2 players - it only works with at least three others, but is better if you can rustle up four). 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.
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. Thank goodness this isn't trying to be one of the best cooperative board games.
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. The balance of power can shift on a dime, so I've got no problem recommending Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game if you can find it cheap - it's a fun but flawed experience.