Compelling themes, smart mechanics, comprehensive rules — there are so many factors that need to come together before a game can qualify as one of the best strategy board games for adults. A few classics have survived the years, but as board game popularity reaches its peak (nearly 5,000 new board games were introduced into the US market yearly, according to recent data), more and more favorites are joining the ranks. For tabletop players, that's awesome news — but it's also a lot of options to sort through.
Lately, there's been an influx of adult party games that'll make any game night, but strategy games are a little bit more complex. (They're also significantly more expensive than their card-game counterparts.) For that reason, it's important to know your favorite niches and your preferred involvement levels before you invest in a strategy board game. No one wants to read halfway through the rulebook only to realize they have zero interest in engine building, for example.
I've researched the best strategy board games according to players and reviewers and broken them down into all the most telling categories. That way, you can find one that sounds intriguing to you, so that you can dominate your next game night. And, to help you out, I've sorted them from the simplest to the most intricate games, so you can pick the perfect strategy board game for your group.
1. A Popular Strategy Board Game For All Ages: Codenames
In addition to being the biggest top seller on Amazon, Codenames is also a cult-favorite: "Every person I've introduced this game to has had a blast," says one Reddit user. Split into teams and designate a spymaster — the only person on your team who knows the identity of your secret agents. Your spymaster gives one-word clues to help you figure out where your agents are located on the grid, and the first team to make contact with all of them wins.
Game Time: Only 15 minutes per game.
Number Of Players: Two to eight players is ideal, though since it's a two-team game, you can technically make the teams as big as you want.
Involvement Level: Simple — With quick play times, easy-to-follow rules, and minimal game-pieces, this one's great for parties, big families, and various age-groups.
What Reviewers Are Saying: Reviewers call this one "deceptively awesome" and say that it's "genius in its simplicity." Though some players initially weren't too sure about it after reading through the rules, it wasn't long before they were addicted: "We played every night non stop for hours," one says, while another person writes, "My family wasn't too sure about this game when I showed it to them... Soon they were recruiting players in from other rooms! The last thing said at Thanksgiving is that everyone is playing on Christmas!"
2. A Quick Strategy Board Game That’s Easy To Pick Up: Tsuro
Tsuro's objective is simple — stay on the board — but it's easier said than done. Each player takes a dragon pawn and picks a starting point. By placing the various path tiles one at a time, players build roads in an attempt to lead other players off the board. If you're the last one still standing, you win.
Game Time: 15 to 20 minutes per game
Number Of Players: Two to eight players.
Involvement Level: Simple — this pick is quick and easy to understand for all ages.
What Reviewers Are Saying: "This has got to be one of the most beautiful games I've ever seen. From the board to the cards and even the rules insert, it's all designed with a fine aesthetic sensibility," one buyer writes. "The game itself is very simple in terms of the rules of play, [but] adults can also enjoy the game, trying out different strategies, which is where it can become more complex and interesting. It works well with just two players but it's even more fun with several."
3. A Whimsical Game That Started On Kickstarter: Unstable Unicorns
Unstable Unicorns is one of Kickstarter's most backed projects of all time, and even though it contains only cards filled with cute drawings, it still requires some strategy. Draw cards and build an army of unicorns — but if you become too strong too quickly, you'll also become the target.
Game Time: It varies; games can take over an hour each, or end in 10 minutes.
Number Of Players: Two to eight players.
Involvement Level: Simple — it's easy to learn and goes by quickly. It's also a fun game for kids as young as 10, but be warned; it's not a good choice for sore losers, and a lot of it is chance-based.
What Reviewers Are Saying: "I had a blast playing this with my friends. The cards themselves are hilarious and you never know what is coming your way," one person writes. "I love the unpredictability during game play so it doesn't get boring, even after several rounds of play. And just so you know, this isn't a fuzzy, magical and sweet unicorn game...it really is a game of destruction with some seriously scary unicorns to play with."
4. An Award-Winning Classic Board Game: Catan
According to Reddit, Catan "can't be beaten" when it comes to "destroying families and friendships," but it's that same level of investment that makes it one of the "best board games ever made." It even won the Game of the Century award. Players explore the map, craft resources, and buy development cards in order to settle the island of Catan — but other players are settling too, and they just might beat you to it.
Game Time: Roughly an hour.
Number Of Players: Three to four players.
Involvement Level: Moderate — Reviewers say it's great for all ages over 10 and is "straightforward to learn," but it also requires a "poker face and a good set of bluffing skills."
What Reviewers Are Saying: "Beware! Don't try this unless you plan on getting addicted. Your life will forever be altered. You'll find yourself begging strangers to come over to play. Watching YouTube videos to improve your game, bribing your children. Your spouse will become a tricky, sneaky person you hardly recognize... Best fun you've had in hours!"
5. A “Complex, Brilliant Game” For Nature-Lovers: Photosynthesis
This game called Photosynthesis has players cultivating seeds to grow forests. As the trees complete entire life-cycles, players collect points while their trees collect energy. It might not initially seem like "the sexiest idea for a board game," reviewers joke, but this one has a 4.6-star rating because of its gorgeous artwork, abstract nature theme, and "complex, brilliant" gameplay.
Game Time: Reviewers say it typically takes 20 minutes per every player — so if you've got three, it'll take an hour.
Number Of Players: Two to four players.
Involvement Level: Moderate — The rules themselves are simple, but the game has economy mechanics and requires a good amount of strategy in order to win. "This is area control at its finest," one player says. "The potential to harm yourself is especially brilliant."
What Reviewers Are Saying: "Don't be fooled by the beautiful artwork, or the adorable little illustrated animals hidden within the components," one reviewer writes. "Photosynthesis is a vicious abstract strategy game, and it's probably the best use of thematic gameplay for any tabletop game in [recent years.]"
6. A Strategy Board Game With A Near-Perfect Rating: Splendor
Based on the European Renaissance, Splendor is an exciting game that has you vying for gem mines, trade routes, and storefronts in order to become the richest merchant in history. Collect gem cards, build up to bigger riches, and attract the attention of nobles using weighted gem tokens, hundreds of cards, and character tiles. Reddit users call it "a great introduction to 'economy/engine-builder' games," and say that even though it's fun and simple, it's also surprisingly "deep" in its immersive gameplay. No wonder it has a 4.8-star rating.
Game Time: 30 minutes
Number Of Players: Two to four players.
Involvement Level: Moderate — this game is "very accessible and easy to learn," but it has a good amount of game pieces and requires you to "pay attention to everyone else's strategy" in order to win.
What Reviewers Are Saying: "Splendor is the most simplified version of an engine building game out there. In the beginning, you can't afford anything. While playing, you get more powerful and use the gems you bought to but more powerful gems," explains one reviewer. Others say that the combination of simplicity and strategy has made it their "new favorite game" and the best one "in their rotation."
7. A Contemporary Co-Op Strategy Game: Pandemic
Deadly diseases, plane-hopping, a ticking clock — Pandemic has people raving about how addictive and intriguing it is. Players form a team of characters (each with their own strengths) who use action cards to move between cities, set up hot spots, and research cures. Rather than competition, this strategy game requires that all players work together to find a cure to the pandemic before humanity is wiped out.
Game Time: One hour
Number Of Players: Two to four players.
Involvement Level: Moderate — It's easy enough to learn, but is relatively hard to beat. It also requires cooperation, so it's not a great pick for small children or people who can't commit to a game.
What Reviewers Are Saying: "This is one of the best board games I've ever played that features a team dynamic," one reviewer says. "As frustrating as it is to lose to a piece of cardboard, it is equally, if not more, gratifying to conquer your imaginary microscopic adversaries. There are so many occasions where you end the game in despair wishing you had just one more turn. But when you win, you come away feeling like the hero of an apocalyptic movie, saving the world in the very nick of time!"
8. A Popular Historic Train Game: Ticket To Ride
Due to its thousands of reviews, Ticket To Ride is an engaging historic strategy game that's hard to ignore. It's based on Phileas Fogg's "impetuous and lucrative gamble" to travel around the world in 80 days. This game provides "hours of fun" while players claim and connect various train routes in order to create the longest continuous railroad across the map.
Game Time: Games typically last between 30 minutes and an hour.
Number Of Players: Two to five players.
Involvement Level: Moderate — While there are a lot of game pieces and a points system to keep track of, people also say that the rules are simple and it has an "easy learning curve." You can even play with children as young as 10.
What Reviewers Are Saying: "It's rare to find a game that everyone in the family loves," one player writes. "This is that game. There's enough strategy in it that you can make or break your game on your own merits, but there's also enough element of chance in it." Reviewers agree that it's great for couples' game nights, quiet evenings in, and even parties.
9. A Game-Of-Thrones-Themed Strategy Game: Risk Game Of Thrones Edition
Risk is widely considered one of the best strategy games of all time, but this Game of Thrones version adds an immersive, pop-culture spin on an already-great game. Split into teams, choose your family house, and dominate the battlefields to earn your spot on the Iron Throne. With familiar character cards, themed player pieces, and intricate custom maps, this one's a must-have for any Game of Thrones fan.
Game Time: Anywhere from two to several hours depending on gameplay and the number of people.
Number Of Players: This game comes with two different maps for various play options; the Essos map is best with two players, the Westeros map is ideal for three to five players, and they can be combined to accommodate up to seven players.
Involvement Level: Intricate — Risk has been known to get very intense and can take a few hours per game (some even say it's not a good idea if you "value your friendship"), but this version comes with Objective Cards and map options to help ease the intensity.
What Reviewers Are Saying: "The maps are beautiful, and the pieces are all high-quality. There are several ways to play this game, so you can customize [it] to fit your number of players, interests, time, etc.," one reviewer says. They even go so far as to say that the gameplay is "drastically improved from the original Risk... Everything is very high-quality, and it's so fun to play. I would definitely recommend this to any GoT fans."
10. A Cooperative Strategy Game: Betrayal At House On The Hill
If you love horror, role-playing, strategy, and immersive story-telling, Betrayal At House On The Hill is the game for you. Each player makes their way through the creepy mansion, finding new rooms and discovering unsettling secrets. With changing stats, 50 possible scenarios, and a traitor among you in every game, this game will have everyone on the edge of their seats.
Game Time: Most people say it takes less than an hour, but the more players you have, the longer it'll be — especially with people who are slow to make decisions.
Number Of Players: Three to six players.
Involvement Level: Intricate — this game has a definite "learning curve" and requires people to play through it at least once before fully understanding how it works. It also has various scenarios, several pages of rules, and lots of elements that change up the game every time you play.
What Reviewers Are Saying: "Betrayal is one of my top favorite board games that I'm constantly trying to get my friends to play. It's a fun, challenging game that's really enjoyable with the right group of people. It's an exploration/board building game with an eerie theme about it and a really unique mechanic."
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