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Whether you want to play fun family games, cooperative games or even single player games where the other side is automated, there is a board game for everyone. These games come in every shape, size and look imaginable. My personal favorites are those games that go a little deeper – the ones that pit you against other players and make you think, not just one move ahead, but two or three. These games are often called strategy games.
What is the best strategy board game?
Because of the variety, it’s hard to pick one best strategy game, but I really like it Windward right now. It’s only been around for a while, but it’s a firm favorite at our gaming table. With plenty of strategic choices, a hitting board and counter, and a shallow learning curve, this is the best place to start if you’re trying to decide what to play.
But isn’t every game strategic?
Strategy board games are games where the players’ critical decisions affect the outcome. That’s a pretty broad definition, I know, but modern strategy games come in all sorts of subgenres, often defined by their core gameplay mechanics:
Many times these games are organized into larger categories such as war games (which focuses on a conflict between player powers), American style (which prioritize direct conflict between players and have elements of luck) or Eurogames (which largely avoid chance-based elements and usually depend on planning and resource management).
However, the most important element of strategy board games is, you guessed it, strategy. While there may be small instances where luck plays a role, the prevailing game mechanics must rely on the player’s ability to think strategically and outwit the other players on the board.
Despite all the games on the market, few have the perfect balance between replayability and satisfying gameplay even if you lose. So after testing dozens of the best games on the market, I’ve rounded up the best strategy games available in 2023.
Windward isn’t as heavy as some of the games on this list, but it’s gotten a lot of love since its release. You play as a boat captain sailing the skies of a planet looking to capture giant space whales called Crestors. There’s a bit of luck in the amount of damage you take, but since wind direction controls your movement, there’s a lot of strategy in how you move and making sure you don’t run into other players.
My gaming table likes Windward as our first strategy game of the evening as it’s relatively light but gets you in the mood for something deeper.
In Gaia Project, players seek to expand their alien race’s control over a galaxy, making planets habitable for their race, building structures on them, gaining knowledge, and continuing research. This strategy board game has a pretty steep learning curve for those new to Eurogames, but once you get into your first game, you’ll have the basics down within a round or two. But the strategy runs deep: you can play as a dozen different races, with unique abilities and research bonuses; the modular board means the galaxy you colonize never looks the same; and many of the scoring and building bonuses are randomized each game, so the same strategy won’t win every time. The Gaia Project is a master class in game design and sheer joy of play.
Small World is one of my favorites simply because this conquest game feels so different every time you play it. Essentially, players fight for control over a Risk-like board with too few places to fit everyone, hence the name. You bid on one of dozens of fantasy creatures, each randomly paired with an additional special ability — which can lead to fun combos like Were-Will-o’-the-Wisps or Peace-loving Homunculi. You then spread out using your special abilities, collect coins based on the territory you control, and leave this race behind for a new one. It’s an addictive gameplay loop, often equal parts fun and competitive, and you can learn it and play it in less than two hours.
Twilight Struggle, set during the Cold War, balances the strategic complexity of a “big” game with the simple mechanics of a traditional conquest game like Risk. One player takes on the role of the US and the other plays as the USSR as you fight for presence, dominance or total control over different battlefield regions around the world. Both sides are racing to send a man to the moon, lower DEFCON status through military operations while carefully avoiding the devastation of nuclear war (immediate loss), and spread their influence around the world in a battle for global power.
If you’re looking for a two-player strategy game with a little less weight, 7 Wonders: Duel is a great alternative to Twilight Struggle. The gameplay integrates more creative gameplay mechanics, so the learning curve is a bit steeper for newcomers, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a perfect, short strategy game for two.
Agricola is one of the best board games ever made, and it’s also one of the best examples of worker placement mechanics. The concept is simple: each player uses their farmer and wife (both called “workers”) to perform various actions as the season progresses, such as gathering wood or vegetables, upgrading their farm, building barns, buying animals , creating children and many more More ▼. Over time, players have children (more workers to use) and expand their farm. The problem throughout all of this, however, is scarcity: Agricola is a raw game. Even without an opponent blocking you from certain actions, it often feels like you’re just scraping by – getting enough food to feed your family for the winter. Players often end up with very few (or negative) points in their first game, but when you start learning, it’s incredibly satisfying.
Many of the best strategy games take a few hours to play, but satisfying strategy doesn’t have to take all day: The Castles of Burgundy is a perfect example of a great game that usually only takes about an hour to play – often less , once you know how to play — and it’s surprisingly replayable. Each turn players roll dice, the numbers of which allow them to take certain land tiles from a central board or place them in certain places on your player board as you expand your kingdom. The central rules can be learned in a matter of minutes, compared to some of the bigger Eurogames above, but Castles of Burgundy will make you make tough choices about how to respond to a roll of the dice that is out of your control.
If you have all day and want to play a long, rewarding game, you can’t do better than Food Chain Magnate — an incredibly deep game about building and staffing restaurants, designing menus, paying for ads, and collecting money. What makes Food Chain Magnate so enjoyable is its sheer scope: you can hire dozens of different types of employees, sell dozens of different types of food, and use half a dozen types of advertising, all with unique effects on your franchise, the customers in town, and your opponents. This fun game is an investment, especially if you get the expansions, but it’s one of the most enjoyable and unique takes on the strategy board game format in years.
It is currently in limited stock on Amazon, but can be purchased from the original website.
Star Wars: Imperial Assault largely eschews the RPG elements of dungeon crawlers like Gloomhaven, opting instead for a solid combat mechanic that pits the Imperial player against the Rebel players. Although different missions have different settings — the modular board keeps things fresh — players will get better as they understand the bonuses of certain groups, the ways they can play against their allies, and the decisions when to take cover and when to attack battle.
Conquest games have come a long way since Risk, and one of the best is Rising Sun — a game where players fight for control over the various regions of feudal Japan using their samurai and other miniatures to spread. What makes the game interesting are the unconventional means and ends of conflict: Alliances give more power to opponents, but betrayals can damage your honor; points can be earned by winning a battle, but committing ritual suicide, taking hostages, and hiring historians to write off your warrior’s honor can actually get you a bigger victory.
What could be a simple game of conquering regions turns into developing your clan, preserving their honor, and forming strategic partnerships with your enemies. If you want a game with a lot of conflict — but where that conflict is rarely clear or obvious — Rising Sun is the perfect game for you.
Other strategy games we’ve tested
For good introductions to modern strategy games, I would be remiss not to mention Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. Although most people who catch the board game bug quickly move past these more basic economy and tile stacking games, they are great ways to introduce people to the genre.
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