Some of the oldest games brought to the table were strategy games. The game of Go is probably the oldest board game being played today. Likewise, Chess is had its own monumental moments in history, like momentarily being a focal point during the Cold War.
A symbolic place. 1972, Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky. That was another episode of the big victory of the free world in the Cold War.Garry Kasparov
Go and Chess are pillars of the strategy game genre, but strategy games have evolved a lot since their creation. Particularly in the last 20 year there have been a huge amount of games released (thanks in part to Kickstarter) with extremely wide success.
This list will include the best strategy games out right now as well as some older games that deserve to be recognized for what they brought to the genre.
#1: Terraforming Mars
If you’ve ever dreamed of controlling a big corporation that is working to alter the climate of Mars, you have a lot of work to do. Until you get there, this board game should scratch that itch to rule the Red Planet.
This game pits 1-5 players against each other in a race to make Mars habitable. Terraforming Mars is an “engine-building game“, which is a game where you build a system that gains money, resources, or victory points. These types of games lend themselves to deep strategy and lots of planning.
It’s not showing much of its age, since its release in 2018. This is still one of the best games of its type even with all of the Kickstarters that have taken on the genre since then.
This game has awesome theming, is a great strategy game, and has tons of replayability and several expansions to add to the experience if find yourself wanting more.
#2: Twilight Imperium
This game is huge and has the complexity to back every ounce of the game’s nearly 10-pound box. This is your signal to keep on scrolling if you want something lighter since this game will be the most in-depth, over-the-top strategy game on the list.
The first edition of this game released in 1997 and it has gone through several changes to get to the 4th edition that is currently the latest and greatest in the series. All of those renditions haven’t cut down on the 4-8 hour playtime of this behemoth or the deep military, political, and technological strategy that you have to learn in order to fend off your opponents.
All of this culminates into one of the most epic space opera board games you can get. If your group has the courage, and the time, this game will give you an experience you won’t be able to find in other board games.
#3: Twilight Struggle
If you’re looking for something pretty to play, skip this one. Instead, what you’re getting with this game is one of the greatest board games ever made which ranked #1 on Board Game Geek for 6 years (2010-2016).
Twilight Struggle puts players in the midst of the cold war, controlling either the United States or Soviet Russia. Players battle for influence over countries in order to gain the upper hand in the war. The heart of the game is area control and card management, combined into a game that is simple on the surface but extremely complex just underneath.
The 2 player war game has a steep learning curve, which can be an issue if a new player is up against an experienced player. All of the time investment is rewarded when the inner workings of the game start revealing themselves. For instance, players must draw from the same deck, which means that you’ll have to play cards that benefit your opponent. This causes some interesting decision making which gives opponents whole regions in order to advance your goals.
Find a buddy that also hasn’t played this one, learn it together, and you’re in for a treat with this modern classic.
#4: Spirit Island
Spirit Island puts the player in the place of spirits trying to preserve their island. Colonists arrive on the island and begin building villages which become a big problem for the spirits.
This is one of the only co-operative games we have on the list, so it should automatically be on your list if this is something you’re looking for. Each player picks 1 of the 8 spirits to play, each with their own unique powers, which you build over the course of the 1-2 hour game. This makes for a game that only gets more interesting the further into the game you get. By the end of the game, you will be summoning all of the strength of nature to end the threat of settlers.
This is a fantastic co-op or solo board game to get. It’s definitely a hard game (which has even higher difficulty levels) and on the longer side, so it’s best to go into knowing this isn’t Pandemic but something a little bit more intense.
Crossing the million-dollar line is a big deal for any Kickstarter. Boardgame Kickstarters tend to get special recognition though. Scythe was one of the earliest crowdfunded board games to cross that line (with nearly $2 million raised) and it has lived up to all the hype it generated back in 2016.
The game revolves around 5 different factions battling for control of a dystopian land in 1920’s Europe. This is another engine-building game that challenges the players to use their current resources and power to increase their faction’s strength.
There was a lot of playtesting involved in this game, which created one of the most balanced asymmetric strategy games on the market. Being asymmetric (each player has different abilities and starting resources) adds a lot of variation to the game and allows for a lot of replays before you’ve even tried each ability, much less mastered the strategies.
The expansions are a real treat in this game as well, there are actually 2 spaces on the base game board that were premade for the first expansion. So there’s plenty of future content once you get absolutely sucked into playing this one.
#6: Terra Mystica
Terra Mystica plays on building an economy and forming territory for the faction you choose, out of the 14 in the game. The game involves 2-5 players and lasts somewhere between 1 and 2 hours.
Controlling factions and engine-building are running themes on this list because they’re great mechanics to make a game interesting with the different factions, while still keeping it fair, balanced, and strategic. This game uses that system perfectly, creating a pretty heavy euro-game with a low amount of luck involved, which does a great job at rewarding strategy.
Each player’s faction has a certain type of terrain it can build on, which it has to use to build an engine to gain more power, currency, and land. Although this game can be somewhat complex for new players, it won’t have them running from the table immediately.
This game is a great midway point between the simpler strategy games and the extremely complex ones.
This game has an unusual theme which it pulls off spectacularly: Bird Watching. It commits to this theme wholeheartedly, listing scientific names on cards along with facts and maps of where they can be found.
Wingspan has the players become bird enthusiasts with goal of enticing specific birds onto your land. There are only a few different habitats with birds in four classes. The gameplay is equally simple, there are really only 4 actions to choose from at any point. Despite that, there is a deep, elegant strategy game underneath.
Compared with any board game out there, this is one of the prettiest games you can get. It looks absolutely fantastic and underneath all of the pretty graphics, is a competitive strategy game that is a joy to play.
Control a faction of cute little woodland animals to total domination of the forest. If that doesn’t interest you, you’re in the minority since Root has been one of the most popular board games since its 2018 release (in no small part to its adorable characters).
So each player gets their own cute little army of critters that have their own abilities. Everyone is trying to be the first player to score 30 points, which usually takes a little over an hour. The rules are not too complex but the extremely deep strategic gameplay is still there, which is fantastic.
Like other games on this list, the asymmetry is what draws people in. The factions are well balanced and each is super fun to play. In addition, there are factions available in expansions that add to both the single-player and multiplayer gameplay.
Overall, this is a very easy to understand war game that any group can have a great time with.
#9: Small World
In this game, you pick a fantasy race (elves, giants, etc.) and try to control the world with them. Each race has a special ability, and each player is also granted a power which is randomly granted at the beginning of the game.
This is a civilization-building game that is all about simplicity. It can be described as a war game, although that description usually involves lots of mechanics and rules. The game has the usual war game staples: gaining land, defending the land, and using the land to make your realm better.
However, this game is so simple enough for a 6-7 year old to play and win while still being fun enough to keep anyone playing entertained. To top it off, this game has a lot of replayability and enough expansions to fill up a closet.
This is a great game to pull out for a family game night or a group of people that aren’t super into board games.
Pick any Disney movie and the good guy will win. The bad guys get trounced and sent back home in defeat to the applause of audiences everywhere. The happy ending is always a good one.
This game takes that formula and turns it upside down. In Villainous you play the evil characters from an array of Disney movies and try to take them out while also trying to achieve your own goal. Of course, each villain’s goal is different. For instance, Cruella De Vil tries to capture dalmatians while Captain Hook tries to defeat Peter Pan.
This game goes lighter on the strategy but big on fun. Messing with your opponent’s plans while trying to keep them from completely butchering yours is a tightrope walk that often ends up with lots of laughter (and the occasional glare from a thwarted opponent).
That’s not to say this game isn’t strategic, it can be downright tough to figure out what strategy works for each individual character. However, it’s still a great game for some strategy minded kids.