Best Strategy Board Games

If you’ve been running role-playing games like D&D on your game nights and are ready for a new challenge, you may want to mix it up and add some of the best strategy board games to your repertoire.

Often, RPGs become all about the characters and the storytelling. Strategy games, on the other hand, are all about decimating your enemy using wit and guile. And who doesn’t love that a chance to humiliate a foe with superior brainpower?

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Strategy games go back for centuries, with chess serving as the classic example of one of the best strategy board games of all time. Chess is so iconic that, for thousands of years, we’ve imagined ourselves playing Death himself in exchange for sparing our lives. (Even if Death has trouble remembering how all the horse-shaped pieces move.)

But if you’re looking for something a bit fresher than a game of chess — or even a game for more than two players — let’s take a look at some of the best strategy board games for your next game night.

What Are Strategy Games?

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Nearly all board games involve some sort of strategy. Or at least, they should. Every good board game for adults requires you to have a long term goal to complete. Strategy games require the players to make long-term plans in order to win the game.

Strategy vs. tactics

If you’re not sure what the difference between strategy and tactics is, you’re not alone. After all, the art of war is no longer a required subject in most high schools.

Strategy involves your long-term goals in any scenario. For example, in a game of D&D, your long term goal may be to destroy the Big Bad and come out unscathed and leveled-up.

Tactics comprise the short term goals to win the overall war. For example, before you can destroy the big bad, your tactics would include your plans to overtake a band of his minions.

Strategy is how you win the war; tactics are how you win the battle.

What to Consider When Looking for the Best Strategy Board Games

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Buying blind off an internet best-of list is one way to find a good strategy board game for your next game night. However, it might not be the best way.

So, here are a few things to consider before handing over your hard-earned cash.

Your party’s weak points

Every player brings their own unique skills to any game night. But not all of these skills are equitable when it comes to strategy games. While some players may excel at an RPG because of fast thinking, the same player may not be great at long-term strategic thinking.

In this case, for everyone to have a good time, consider strategy board games that utilize teams of players. While competition is a wonderful thing, cooperation can result in more fun for all.

Gameplay time

Many of the best strategy board games can go on for hours. If your game night has a time limit, you may want to consider games you can finish within those limits.

While you can often break up an RPG campaign when you find a good stopping point, board games become problematic. Because they often involve the placement of small, easy-to-lose pieces, you’ll find preserving a game board in situ until the next scheduled night quite a bother.

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Besides your usual player’s skillsets and constraints, also consider how flexible your board game can get. Many of the best strategy board games offer simplified rules for shorter gameplay and beginner players.

You may be hoping to destroy Grandma after Thanksgiving dinner or humiliate your tween during the next power outage. Consider games that are flexible for a wide variety of players outside your usual tabletop crowd.

How We Determined the Best Strategy Board Games

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Along with logging in thousands of hours over our own favorites, we also took note of tabletop game sales trends and professional reviews. This helped us identify some of the best games that we haven’t yet had a chance to play.

We considered candidates outside our experience that were recommended by Games Radar, Streamlined Gaming, and Geek and Sundry’s ‘Tabletop” host, Wil Wheaton.

We also took customer reviews and ratings into account to find the best strategy board games. This allowed us to gather data from a broad spectrum of players with direct experience of each game.

Best Strategy Board Games: Our Picks for 2020

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Board games come and go, and lately, they’re on the rise. Over 5,000 new board games were added to the gaming market in 2017 alone. While that makes it pretty challenging to choose the best ones for your party, it does mean that you have a plethora of new ones to choose from.

While we haven’t presented these titles in any particular order, we’ve chosen a few classics as well as some hot new games we think you’ll want to check out.

We also used our own advice and looked for flexibility, reasonable gameplay time, and games that required a broad range of skills to succeed.

1. Risk

Risk (like this sixtieth-anniversary edition) is universally considered the top best strategy board game of all time. Unlike chess, you can enjoy it with up to five players. Your ultimate goal? Take over the world! You can use diplomacy, trade, or outright invasion to dominate the earth.

The rules are pretty simple, but each deploying a variety of complex tactics make this game a huge seller since its inception in 1957.

You’ll get a large board that depicts the earth divided into six continents. Players start by randomly choosing cards that show the territories where they can place their armies. Your goal is to take over each continent, territory by territory, while protecting those you’ve already conquered.

  • Number of Players: 2 to 5
  • Playing time: 2 to 8 hours
  • Age rating: 10 and up

2. Settlers of Catan

Now simplified and shortened to just “Catan,” this game has been around for a while. But since its launch in 1995, it’s still new to those who don’t do a lot of tabletop gaming.

In Catan, your mission is to gather resources and become a successful settler on the island of Catan. Tactics include building roads and towns, trading for resources like wool, grain, or lumber, while competing with your fellow players to accumulate enough points to declare victory.

While you can find a “junior” version of Catan for young people, the game also offers a simplified play version that’s easy to learn. This set of rules lets you familiarize yourself with the gameplay in about half an hour.

This kind of flexibility is what makes Settlers of Catan one of the best strategy board games. Along with simplified rules, the manufacturer offers a wealth of expansion packs with various new ways to play. Love Catan? Why not explore this universe as a pirate or barbarian?

  • Number of players: 3 to 4; up to 6 with expansion pack
  • Playing time: 1 to 3 hours
  • Age rating: 10 and up

3. Pandemic

Launched in 2007, Pandemic is one of the more difficult of the best strategy board games on our list. However, it’s also one of the best cooperative board games.

What are those? Rather than competing against each other, players work together to battle the elements, circumstance, or in this case, four horrific diseases that threaten the very survival of our species.

It’s like a science fiction movie you can play out at home!

Each player assumes a role in a team of disease-fighting heroes. Then, your team travels the globe, curing diseases as they pop up in 48 different cities.

Pandemic’s play level is considered advanced, even though the manufacturer recommends it for ages 8 and up. I guess that’s one way to get your kids to wash their hands before dinner.

It’s also a great way to teach the value of cooperative effort, if you’re into that sort of thing. You simply can’t win the game unless players share resources and information.

And if you wear out the gameplay, Z-Man offers three expansion packs and several spinoff versions.

  • Number of players: 2 to 4
  • Playing time: 45 minutes
  • Age rating: 8 and up

4. Spy Alley

Mystery and espionage fiction fans will love Spy Alley, an awarding winning board game that could be one of the best strategy board games for a varied group of ages and skillsets.

In Spy Alley, each player works as a secret spy for one of six countries. The ultimate goal is to travel the board in safety and reach your embassy. To get there, though, you’ll need to collect your spy codebook, your disguise, a key, and a secret password.

However, any of your competing players can deduce your true identity, which puts you out of the game.

The rules are simple enough for kids or a quick, impromptu game. Despite its easy-to-follow rules, this game boasts awards and accolades as a great family game for kids and parents. The team from Mensa Select even awarded it “best mind game” in 1998.

  • Number of players: 2 to 6
  • Playing time: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Age rating: 8 and up

5. Betrayal at House on the Hill

If your game nights lean to the gothic, you may want to pick up this board game released in 2004. This may be the best strategy board game for fans of horror and dark fantasy.

The setting, naturally, features a haunted house on the hill, populated by dire omens and cunning traps. Players must navigate throughout the mansion, avoiding monsters and ghosts, as well as suffering betrayal at the hands of their fellows.

Betrayal cards are placed randomly through the House on the Hill, and at first, the players do some exploring. At this point, it’s a cooperative game venture. However, once the “Haunting Phase” is triggered with a Betrayal card, the rules change, and the game becomes more competitive.

One player becomes the ‘traitor,” and the other players need to put them out of action before being converted into zombies or werewolves.

  • Number of players: 3 to 6
  • Gameplay time: 1 hour
  • Age rating: 12 and up

6. Gloomhaven

If you’re loath to move too far outside your RPG comfort zone, but still want something that focuses on strategy, Gloomhaven makes an excellent choice for game night.

This fantasy campaign game also features tactical scenarios to play. But each character has their own agenda wherein strategy becomes paramount.

In this board game, your group of adventurers works to eliminate the evil infiltrating the town of Gloomhaven. You’ll clear out monsters from dungeons and ruins in a series of battles.

Gloomhaven was rated the No. 1 game by BoardGameGeek in 2017 because of its multifaceted construction. Each scenario is cooperative, but the underlying goals of each character mean the campaign can end up taking some interesting twists and turns.

  • Number of players: 1 to 4
  • Playing time: 1 to 2 hours
  • Age rating: 14 and up
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7. Viticulture

Looking for something pastoral in a board game? Viticulture might be your best bet. This laid-back game sets players up in old Tuscany as heirs to a small vineyard. The ultimate goal is to create a legacy with your smallholding.

Developing long-term strategies for success means that you have to keep your eye on a number of factors. You only have a few workers, a few plots of land, and a small wine cellar to create your dynasty.

What makes Viticulture one of the best strategy board game1 is that people seem to enjoy playing it, whether they win or lose.

It’s easy to learn and fun to play. The act of creation is just as much fun as the competition of board-gaming. In fact, it even comes with solo play rules.

Just like real-world farming, each season brings its own challenges. Your job is to keep up with the weather, allocate workers, plant more grape vines, and fill wine orders.

  • Number of players: 1 to 6
  • Playing time: 45 to 90 minutes
  • Age rating: 13 and up

8. Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization

This is the best strategy board game for you if you’ve been watching world events and recent history and thought, “I can do better than that!”

In Through the Ages, players all start with a small tribe to manage. You navigate your people through three ages of development by building and expanding farms and mines. With the resources you need to evolve, you’ll lay the foundations for new technologies.

Your strategy must be forward-thinking: Choose the wisest leaders and create the most robust economies. Your long term goal is to produce a happy citizenry and enlighted government with science, art, and culture.

In fact, the player with the most culture wins the game.

  • Number of players: 2 to 4
  • Playing time: 2 hours
  • Age rating: 14 and up

9. Monopoly

Yes – Monopoly.

Monopoly is a game with a social agenda — its origins hail back to the efforts of Lizzie Magie back in 1903 to demonstrate the progressive economic theories of Henry George and the evils of capitalism.

The original goal of the game was to expose the negative effects of corporate control of the market through monopolies on commodities. And what’s surprising is how it remains so relevant to the 21st century.

Monopoly makes our list of one of the best strategy board games for a few important reasons. First of all, the gameplay is universally understood, so a quick pickup game is a breeze.

Secondly, it offers hundreds of variants that appeal to everyone. You can buy a version of Monopoly for your home city or favorite sci-fi franchise.

On the other hand, you can get the classic version for the cost of a fast-food meal.

The ultimate goal of the game is to own all the things. And while this may seem simplistic, there are a number of strategies you can use to become the next mogul in the ‘Verse.

And while you can go on a spending spree and grab up all the high-end properties, I know one successful Monopoly aficionado who wins 90 percent of games by parking themselves in jail. They watch quietly from the sidelines as their opponents bankrupt each other, gloating.

  • Number of players: 2 to 6
  • Playing time: 1 to 2 hours
  • Age rating: 8 and up

10. Ticket to Ride

If you found yourself drawn to collecting all the railroads in Monopoly, Ticket to Ride is the next one on our list of the best strategy board games for you.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward and takes only 15 to 20 minutes to learn. That makes it perfect for younger players or a casual pickup game when time is short.

Each player gets four train cards and three destination cards at the start-up of play. The destination cards show you your goals, as they represent the train terminals you need to connect.

From the initial hand, your goal is to build the longest train route possible using the train car cards you collect.

What makes this Ticket to Ride of the best strategy board games is its flexibility. The rules are simple, and the features are familiar (trains). It also serves as the perfect gateway game for new players into tabletop gaming.

Another great feature is the vast library of variants, expansions, and locale editions, which keeps the core game endlessly fresh for even the most jaded player. The original edition features North America, but you can find versions for Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, and India. In fact, you can even travel in time with versions for 1910 and the Old West.

  • Number of players: 2 to 5
  • Playing time: 1 hour
  • Age rating: 8 and up

A Roll of the Dice

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While tabletop gaming is seeing a surge of increased popularity, it’s getting harder to discern which ones offer a decent balance of mental challenge without taking months to master.

And the replay factor is also an unknown whenever you pick up a new game. Why take chances?

This list of the 10 best strategy board games ticks all the boxes, from simple to complex. You can choose from a broad range of prices and ages to choose those already proven to provide hours of entertainment.

Did we miss one of your favorites? What do you think are the best strategy board games on the market? Tell us your picks in the comments.

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