Welcome to my top 10 sci fi games list. Finding good sci fi/space-themed board games can be a real minefield. Fans love the big franchises such as Star Trek and Star Wars. But they also know TV tie-in games have an extremely chequered past in terms of quality. So what is a geek to do?
All the games I’ve featured below are reasonably big box games – so no tiny games or collectable/expandable card games (sorry, you’ll have to go elsewhere for those). But I’ve added little sections for both Star Wars and Star Trek games below the Top 10, to cover those markets in a little more detail.
There are three games I’ve really enjoyed that aren’t on my list: Gaia Project, Fallout and Xia: Legends of a Drift System. I really want to play these more, but so far only have one play – which doesn’t feel enough to give them a place here. And I should also mention Board Game Geek Top 100 games Nemesis, Anachrony and Clank in Space – none of which I’ve played (but that are highly regarded).
Board game Top 10: Sci fi games
1. Race for the Galaxy (1-5 players, 30-60 mins, 2007)
When it comes to tableau-building card games, Race has no equal – once you get past the game’s graphic design/icon learning cliff. Build out from your home world, conquering/expanding to new worlds and creating new technologies. This fantastic engine-builder plays fast, with simultaneous action selection giving some nice poker style moments. Luck of the draw plays its part, but it’s short enough to just play again.
2. Terraforming Mars (1-4 players, 120-180 mins, 2016)
Many fans of Race thought there was a bigger, more epic board game version just waiting to happen. But they had to wait a decade for it to happen. Terraforming Mars gives a similar tableau/engine building experience but adds area domination and direct competition to the mix. And it feels epic, as players race to get the most points as they make the red planet habitable along three different routes.
3. Merchant of Venus (1-4 players, 120-240 mins, 1988/2012)
This won’t be the last oldie getting a mention. And for me, this is still hands-down the best space pick-up-and-deliver game. It has the usual tech/ship improvements, but the innovative movement system and fog-of-war map make it stand out. Just make sure you skip the truly horrific design fart that was Firefly. It looks beautiful and on theme. But plays like you designed it when you were 10.
4. Galaxy Trucker (2-4 players, 60 mins, 2007)
At the other end of the spectrum comes Galaxy Trucker. Each player manically builds their ship (out of cardboard tiles) versus a timer. Then you send them off into space to be hit by asteroids, aliens and who knows what else. It’s daft, frenetic, often hilarious, and a real breath of fresh air. But there’s plenty of game there too. Plus several expansions have added more mayhem for those bored of the base game. A top 10 sci fi games must.
5. Star Wars: Rebellion (2-4 players, 180-240 mins, 2016)
This was billed to me as the original trilogy in a box, and didn’t disappoint. I’ve only played once, but as that play took five hours I felt it could make the list! We played in two teams, splitting ground/ship forces. All the original events can happen, but often with different characters. The rebels hide their base, the empire arrogantly crushes everything in its wake. But who will win out? Truly epic.
6. Cosmic Encounter (3-6 players, 60-120 minus, 1977/2008)
A hobby game doesn’t stay in print for 30 years unless it has that certain something. Cosmic pits players/alien races (each with a game-breaking special ability) against each other on a roller-coaster of combat, bluff and diplomacy. It’s simply perfect with the right crowd. Talking of retro, I’ll also give Space Hulk a mention – still fun after all these years (if you want minis around and lots of dice).
7. Space Cadets (3-6 players, 60-120 mins, 2012)
The Space Cadets series also includes Dice Duel and Away Missions. These are the games to go for if you want to live out that Star Trek bridge experience in a completely non-franchise environment. Each player gets a ship job, represented by a mini game – after which everything can (and probably will) go wrong in real-time. Dice Duel pits two teams against each other, while Away Missions adds a scenario-based story.
8. Android: Infiltration (2-6 players, 30-45 mins, 2012)
If you like push-your-luck games, Infiltration adds a nice sci-fi theme for an enjoyable genre atmosphere. Break in, steal stuff – but get out before the police arrive to bust you. The player who escapes with the most stolen data wins. But you’ve got to escape to be in with a chance of winning. Think of it as a more cinematic (and complex) version of light games such as Deep Sea Adventure and Diamant.
9. Magnastorm (2-4 players, 120 mins, 2018)
I think dry euro games must excel to justify using the sci fi genre. Sci-fi suggests action and adventure, rather than pushing cubes. But Magnastorm does it really well, bringing the theme to life with a dangerous planet where you have to keep moving to avoid its weather. And a cast of experts who can change allegiance, adding a bit of drama. I’ll also give a little nod to Artemis Project, another euro that has that little bit of cinema.
10. Orbital (2-4 players, 30-45 mins, 2018)
Finally, a nod to a small publisher game that went largely unnoticed that I still champion when I can. This clever little abstract sees each player building a space station. You’re essentially placing coloured triangles on a board to score points, but the clever tile buying system makes it a really tricky puzzle. Could this city-builder be set quite literally anywhere else? Sure. But it’s not. It’s in SPACE.
Star Wars board games with good reputations
- Imperial Assault – Looking for a dungeon-crawler, but in the Star Wars universe? Build up your character and take on the Empire in a series of minis/dice/map-based scenarios.
- Star Wars: Destiny – A light two-player collectable dice and card game with each match lasting around 30 minutes.
- X-Wing Miniatures – Choose your ships then act out epic space dog fights in this minis war game style space shoot-em-up. (see also Star Wars: Armada for the fleet experience).
- Star Wars: Outer Rim – Yearning for the Han Solo experience? Equip your ship, deliver cargo and avoid the authorities to gain fame and fortune.
- Star Wars: The Card Game – A collectable one-versus-one card game set in the Star Wars universe (original trilogy). Use your cards to complete objectives in a race against time for the rebel player.
Star Trek board games with a good rep
- Fleet Captains – Using Heroclix style ships on a hex grid, players build their fleet and head out to complex missions (and blow each other to bits).
- Star Trek: Attack Wing – Moving the Star Wars: X-Wing game into Star Trek territory, Attack Wing adds exploration to the war game/minis mix.
- Ascendancy – A big civ-style epic of exploration and expansion between the Federation, Klingons and Romulans (for three players).
- Star Trek: Frontiers – Evolved from complex euro game Mage Knight, with solo, co-operative and competitive scenarios. A heavy but thematic experience.
- Star Trek Panic – This ‘Original Series’ take on classic game Castle Panic sees you defending the Enterprise from enemy attacks in tower defence fashion.
What?! You didn’t include X?!?!!!22!?
Quit your whining. Scythe didn’t make my top 10 sci fi games because it absolutely bored me to tears. Twilight Imperium and Battlestar Galactica didn’t do it for me either. Both are incredibly long for the level of game play on show and really need people to get into character and invest in the experience to make them shine. Finally, Eclipse is also highly regarded, but while I enjoyed my first few plays it quickly fell off a cliff for me. It felt a little crude and scripted for a 4X, but I’m in the minority on that (and the others).
Always happy to school you at XIA (a.k.a. Merchants of Venus with bells on) in Eastbourne. And I’m totally with you on Scythe.