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15 Best Strategy Board Games, Ranked

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Board games occupy a great many genres, but one of the most popular and enduring is the strategy board game. These games put players in control of a civilization, an army, or even just a team and charge them with thinking ahead and outwitting the opposition. Strategy board games can be anything, from an exercise in wish fulfillment to a white-knuckle race to the top.

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Strategy board games are often of a military nature, but this isn’t always the case, and the genre has diversified greatly over time. With many such games winning acclaim and accolades from fans and critics alike, there are some that clearly stand above their fellows as the very best strategy board games out there.

Updated by Lauren Turner on December 31, 2022: Board gaming is an expansive hobby with many genres for players to choose from. Among them, strategy board games reign supreme in popularity. Fans of the genre will always want to know more about the best strategy board games, so we’ve revamped this list with even more information.

15/15 Scythe Is A Dieselpunk Post-War Conflict

1-5 players, 90-115 minute play time, ages 14+

A board set up for a game of Scythe.

The World Wars have long been a popular period for games to take place, but Scythe does things differently by focusing on an alternate version of the interwar period. Players control alternate versions of several European powers battling for influence after the destructive continent-wide conflict.

Allowing players to fight for resources, battle militarily, and rebuild their economies, Scythe has received a wide array of praise for its mechanics and its unique diesel-punk aesthetic. Scythe’s combat mechanics, while they don’t make up the bulk of the gameplay, are deeply strategic and continue to have a massive influence on the strategy board game genre as a whole.

14/15 7 Wonders Has The Player Dominate The Ancient World

2-7 players, 30 minute play time, ages 10+

The box art for 7 Wonders board game.

Taking some cues from the Civilization game series, 7 Wonders has players take control of ancient nations and compete to be the most powerful and influential. It gives players a number of ways to interact and score points, ranging from military victories to scientific progress and building magnificent structures.

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With surprisingly-deep gameplay and a number of layers to its strategy, 7 Wonders forces players to not just follow their own path, but to react to and interfere with their opponents’ goals. 7 Wonders has won numerous awards and is easily one of the best strategy board games of the 2010s.

13/15 Twilight Imperium Is A Sci-fi Behemoth

2-6 players, 240 minute play time, ages 12+

Two armies facing off in Twilight Imperium game.

One of the classic sci-fi strategy board games on the market, Twilight Imperium has players each control a different civilization in a fractured galaxy, jockeying for influence and power with one another. Players seek to create the most powerful and enduring empire, both building up their own civilization and grappling with their foes.

Twilight Imperium is infamous for how long it takes, with each player roughly adding an hour and a half to the average play session. A game of Twilight Imperium can easily last more than six hours, but it is designed with that length in mind, and victory always seems achievable right up until the final turn.

12/15 Kriegsspiel Is The Ancestor Of Wargaming & D&D

2 players, 120 minute play time, ages 14+

Kriegsspiel pieces on a map.

Kriegsspiel may be relatively obscure today, but it is also responsible for many elements of both modern wargames and tabletop RPGs. A modern revision of the game was released in 2022. First developed by Georg von Reisswitz in 1824, Kriegsspiel was an evolution of a semi-finished game created by his father for the royalty of Prussia some years earlier.

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Thanks to Reisswitz Jr.’s work, the game gained a variety of mechanics that are commonplace today. The introduction of hit points is perhaps the most recognizable and replaced a chess-styled system where units were simply removed on a binary basis. Likewise, it was also the first widespread board game to feature a referee, filling a similar role to a dungeon master.

11/15 Diplomacy Is A Simple Game About Trust & Betrayal

2-7 players, 360 minute play time, ages 12+

An overview of a game of Diplomacy in mid-swing.

Diplomacy is an old strategy board game that remains widely played despite both its age and simplicity. There are no complex mechanics to Diplomacy; it’s simply players moving armies looking to overpower their foes and take their territory with basic combat revolving solely around numbers of units.

The meat of Diplomacy is in its social interactions. The armies all begin at a rough stalemate with one another, so players need to forge alliances to get anything done. However, as the game’s moves are written in secret and carried out simultaneously, players can betray their allies at any point, creating a uniquely tense and intrigue-based game.

10/15 Terraforming Mars Is Decidedly Non-Military Strategy

1-5 players, 120 minute play time, ages 12+

An ongoing game of Terraforming Mars.

Many strategy board games take on explicit military themes or at least include war as one option players can use to get ahead. Terraforming Mars, however, takes a deliberate step away from this, instead putting the players in control of corporations seeking to make Mars habitable for human beings.

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Players work together to deploy technology and take various actions to increase Mars’ oxygen levels, raise its temperature, and create oceans on the planet. However, Terraforming Mars is not wholly cooperative. Although the players share a goal, they’re each attempting to outdo the others in a tense race toward victory.

9/15 Brass: Birmingham Guides The Player Through The Industrial Revolution

2-4 players, 60-120 minute play time, ages 14+

The game board for Brass: Birmingham game.

Historical games focusing on the business side of things have begun to make a presence in board gaming, and few have had more impact than Brass: Birmingham. In this strategy board game, players attempt to run a business through the industrial revolution, capitalizing on new technologies and seeking to make more money than other players.

Aside from its historical theme, Brass: Birmingham has a nice level of complexity and a great twist. During the midpoint of the game, railways replace canals, and players need to entirely reconfigure their strategy. As such, the game forces players to be as flexible as real-life businesses had to be to keep up with the rapidly-changing technology of the time.

8/15 Citadels Combines City Building With Everchanging Roles

2-8 players, 30-60 minute play time, ages 10+

Citadels card game on a striped background.

Citadels is a strategy board game that tasks players with the construction of a grand city, but there’s a catch. At the start of every round, each player selects a role in secret, from a Thief all the way up to the King. These not only determine in what order players act, but they also provide a unique power.

The Assassin, for example, can knock a player out of the round, while the Magician can swap hands with someone else. Thanks to how much these can swing a round, a player needs to figure out who is aiming for what and which role will help further their own goals or slow their opponents if taken.

7/15 Gloomhaven Is A Cooperative Dungeon Crawler

1-4 players, 60-120 minute play time, ages 14+

The components of a Gloomhaven game: tokens, cards, and a board.

Strategy board games are often competitive in nature, but the genre has been no more immune to the rise in cooperative board games than any other. Gloomhaven is one of the best-regarded of that crop. It takes things to a smaller scale, with players mostly controlling a single character in a party, but it retains an intensely strategic nature.

Players work together to attempt to overcome obstacles in their path, working through a story much like in any roleplaying game. Using cards to provide randomization instead of dice, Gloomhaven is widely-praised for its tight design, its ability to be played solo or with others, and its engaging combat. It has come to be known as one of the best strategy board games ever made.

6/15 Pandemic: Legacy Is An Evolving, Disease-Fighting Story

2-4 players, 60 minute play time, ages 13+

An in-progess round of Pandemic board game.

Pandemic is one of the best-regarded strategy board games of recent years. The game has players working together to combat a disease. Players take on a variety of specialist roles as they attempt to stop an emerging disease from spreading to the rest of the world. The game’s mechanics, theme, and replayability all help to make it a modern classic.

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Pandemic: Legacy is a variation on the base game meant to be played multiple times. Each game in a series tells an ongoing story, with victories or failures having lingering impacts on both the world and the game’s rules. Pandemic: Legacy has seen wide praise for building on the beloved base Pandemic rules with a well-implemented legacy system, creating the best version of the game to date and a contender for one of the best strategy board games ever.

5/15 The Red Dragon Inn Cleverly Mixes Humor & Strategy

2-4 players, 45 minute play time, ages 13+

An image of The Red Dragon Inn board game.

The Red Dragon Inn might look like a party game at first, but it hides a surprisingly deep strategy just under the surface. Themed around a group of heroes and villains relaxing at a tavern between adventures, all carefully manage their fortitude, drunkenness, and gold to be the last one standing.

With a still-growing cast of over 50 characters, players are bound to find one that fits their playstyle. Thanks to the modular nature of the game, a group can also just pick up any version and get right to playing. A variety of alternate game modes and expansions exist as well, from team variants to unpredictable event decks.

4/15 Catan Is Deep But Easy To Learn

3-4 players, 60-120 minute play time, ages 10+

Catan 3D Edition board game being played on the table.

First published in 1995, Catan has since become a classic strategy board game for many. The basic gameplay is simple and easy to learn and tasks players with settling the fictional island of Catan, building towns and roads as they explore the land and take advantage of its bountiful resources.

While easy to learn, there is plenty of depth for players to experience, especially if using random board layouts. Players might prioritize opening trading ports and mining stone, while another might seek to capitalize on a well-placed woodland. Others still might focus on building roads, forming an army, or using a band of robbers to deny others resources.

3/15 Riichi Mahjong Is A Long-Lived Classic

3-4 players, 60-120 minutes, ages 8+

Riichi Mahjong tiles.

As a Japanese twist on a Chinese game that shares its roots with the Mexican game Conquian, Riichi Mahjong has had a remarkably complex past. While at its core quite similar to traditional Mahjong, Riichi Mahjong adds a deeper level of complexity and strategy to the game.

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The largest differences come from the Yaku, Riichi, and Dora rules. A Yaku marks a winning hand and determines its potential value. Riichi builds off this by letting a player declare being one tile from a win and itself counting as an additional Yaku. Finally, the Dora is a tile selected each round that gives extra points if a hand contains it.

2/15 Chess Is A Near-Timeless Game

2 players, play time varies, ages 6+

White facing Black in an ongoing Chess game.

Chess is perhaps the best-known strategy board game of all time and one of the oldest still widely played. It has an iconic status in society, with most people having played it at least once in their life. Whether chess appeals to any given individual, there is no denying the game’s quality.

Although chess’ rules are not overly hard to learn, people dedicate their entire lives to studying them. No game has quite the impact of chess, and it offers an experience that, although well-known to many players, is unlike any other game.

1/15 Go Has Endured For A Reason

2 players, 30-180 minute play time, ages 8+

A game of Go in full swing.

Although most widely played in East Asia, Go is a game that is played across the world and is believed to be the oldest game that has been played continuously since its inception. Like many ancient board games, Go has simple rules that hide an incredibly complex series of strategies, gambits, and counters, with players having hundreds of years of strategy to study.

A very basic game about surrounding territories on a board, Go can nonetheless be almost impenetrable for a newcomer to play against nearly anyone with more experience than them. As its huge player base and international recognition show, however, it is well worth playing and potentially mastering.

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