If you’re in the market for a strategy board game, you’ll soon find there’s a lot to choose from. Where once you had a choice of Risk or, well, Risk, there are now literally thousands of great board games to choose from. But don’t worry – my top 10 strategy board games guide is here to help.
A few disclaimers. First, I’m talking board games rather than just card games. Secondly, I’m talking proper strategy, not just tactics (where you react to a given situation). For a game to be considered strategic, you need to be able to come up with and execute a long-term plan. It may not work, or get scuppered, but you must be able to plan ahead.
But that still leaves loads of scope. Below you’ll find games lasting from under 30 minutes to more than three hours. You’ll find abstract games alongside war games, as well as themes from history to sci-fi and fantasy (and, erm, trains). Hopefully something for everyone. Think I’ve missed something? Get in touch in the comments below.
Finally, this is meant largely as a guide for those who don’t already have a large games collection. I’m going for what I consider the classics here, rather than leftfield picks, so expect a lot of top-selling, tried and tested and in-print games from the hobby market. And they’re not in ‘first to last’ order – more in accessibility order, if anything.
(All links are to full length reviews elsewhere on the site. Most of the games should be available from your local friendly game shop, or online stores such as Meeples’ Corner)
Top 10 strategy board games – lighter games
Children’s games aren’t known for strategy, but this is an exception. It’s a one-against-all game where one player hides a key and has to go get it – but starts many spaces further away than the other players. The others spread out and look for it, working together to search. Both sides must use strategy, while the game is beautiful and has fantastic components. (ages 5+)
Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is a simple set collection game with the addition of a board – and some strategy. You’re collecting cards to lay train routes, aiming to complete secret route cards. But there are bonus points for most connected trains, and efficiency in route-building is key. Highly accessible, it has sold millions and is suitable for families. (8+)
The current king of abstract strategy games (beyond the classics). It has won every award going since release and deservedly so. Beautifully produced with simple rules, its a highly interactive 2-4-player game. Spotting key tactical advantages is key, but repeat plays start to reveal longer term strategies. (8+)
Another award-winning family/gateway game million-seller, Pandemic is fully co-operative. Working together you try and stem the spread of four diseases across the globe. You act tactically to deal with hot spots, but also need to think long-term to eradicate the diseases. Not tried a co-op game? This is a great place to start. (10+)
1906 San Francisco
Give me one leftfield pick? Ta! I reviewed this recently, marvelling at how much game was packed into such a small box (about the size of a paperback). Actions are quick and simple to learn, but a mix of hidden and open objectives lead to multiple strategies. You can also choose to score fast and end things quickly or play the long game. (10+)
Top 10 strategy board games – heavier games
Classic ‘euro games’ usually blend tactics and strategy well and this is one of the finest examples. You begin by tactically spreading your empire across Europe. But as the board takes shop, you must secure the scoring cards best fitting your end game strategy. Gorgeous, simple to learn but hard to master.
While Concordia includes a small amount of ‘engine building’, Terraforming Mars takes it to the next level. Your unique starting organisation gives you impetus, but you must then build a tableau of cards that will see you succeed in your goals. Rich and deep, it offers a thematic experience while remaining relatively simple to learn.
Star Wars: Rebellion
Thematic games can often be a let-down for strategy fans, relying on simplicity to shift units and pay for the licence. But Star Wars: Rebellion offers the first three movies in a box, with a great (if complex) strategy/theme mix. Tolkien fans should seek out War of the Ring for a similar, but more hobbity experience.
Traditionally war games were blighted by impenetrable tables, buckets of dice or both. But they’ve moved on. Another award-winner and best-seller, Twilight Struggle is the Cold War in a box. Two-players go head-to-head playing cards to influence the world’s nations. A fascinatingly tense history lesson (with, admittedly, a few dice thrown in).
Through the Ages
And finally an epic. This historical euro game takes you from ancient times to modern as you build your own civilisation. You’ll want to set a good 3-4 hours aside, but what a payoff. Build wonders, replace leaders, fight wars and see your empire construct everything from the pyramids to space rockets. And possibly MacDonalds…