The Top 5 Strategy Board Games Ever

You can see the most recent update to this entry here.

You can see the latest update to this entry here.

This entry is going to get a little geeky, so grab your loincloths and hang on for the ride.

Ever since I was a little kid, I not only loved playing board games, but I loved making board games. I’ll show you photos of my creations on a future entry, but today I want to focus on my favorite board games of all time.

I’m writing this today for three reasons:

  1. If you enjoy strategy board games, you might make some new discoveries from this list.
  2. I’m currently in the final stages of testing a board game I’ve been working on for many months that I will soon put on Kickstarter, so I want to gauge reader interest in this kind of thing.
  3. If you know of any lovely single ladies who live in St. Louis who enjoy playing strategy board games, let me know! A coworker of mine and his wife play these types of board games all the time, and I must admit I’m a little jealous of that arrangement.

For most of my younger years, as was the case for many of us, board games consisted of rolling dice and moving pieces around the board. Monopoly, Candyland, Sorry, etc. They’re all variation on the same theme. They’re about 90% luck and 10% skill.

I think my parents realized how mindless those games are, so they exposed us to other more tactical board games like Labyrinth. Great game.

In my teenage years, I played a lot of Risk, Stratego, and Chess. The latter two are almost all skill, while Risk has some elements of luck.

The only version of Candyland worth playing.

In college and for the few years that followed, the main games that I saw being played were party games like Cranium, Trivial Pursuit, Apples to Apples, Balderdash, Scattergories, and Taboo. These games are okay, and a lot of people really enjoy them, but I don’t like being put on the spot or being the center of attention, so these games definitely are not my favorite. I like to have time to process my strategy. I also hosted a weekly poker game for many years.

As an adult, I discovered a huge treasure trove of games in a category called “Euro games.” You may have heard of this category of games without realizing it. Have you heard of Settlers of Catan? It’s by far the most mainstream of the Euro games. These are a highly tactical and strategic set of games, many of them made by Europeans (apparently board games are really popular in Germany).

I love these types of games because they make me think, but they’re not stressful. It’s just a game after all. I love the social aspects of them, and I love these 1-2 hour glimpses into another world. There’s something about being surrounded by friends and looking down upon a map of your dominion that I really love.

So without further ado, here are my top 5 strategy board games ever. Keep in mind that there are tons of strategy board games out there, and everyone’s taste is different, so my list will vastly differ from other lists. I’m just going to post screenshots of the boards and the names of the games–if you’re interested, you can click through to each game’s profile on Board Game Geek or ask questions in the comments section. Have you played any of these games?

1. Agricola

2. Stone Age

3. Dominion

4. Settlers of Catan

5. Fresco

Runners up:

6. Ra

7. Railways of the Eastern US

8. Chess

9. Blokus

10. Stratego

 Addendum: I woke up this morning and realized that I didn’t talk at all about why these Euro strategy games are better than other Euro strategy games (or games in general). Here are a few reasons:

  • Everyone’s in it until someone wins. Some of these games have a set number of points you need to reach, and when you do, the game is over. Others have a designated end point, and everyone counts their points at that time to determine the winner. Several of the games even have an element of secrecy–you only have a rough idea of how many points your opponents have until the end. The key point here is that people aren’t eliminated from the game (like in Risk) and just have to sit around and wait for everyone else to finish.
  • There are many paths to victory. With any great game, you need to have the capacity to be nimble–to adjust your strategy based on the resources available and the strategies of other players. A key part of this is having many different ways to win and even more ways to get there.
  • Variation. You can play a great game hundreds of times if it’s different every time you play. Settlers does this by having a board that randomly changes every time you set it up. Some of the other games use random cards to add millions of permutations to each game.
  • Minimal and managed luck. If you play a high-luck game and the dice aren’t rolling in your favor, it’s a terrible experience. All of these games have small amounts of luck (10-20%), but you can manage your luck with all of them. You’re not just blindly rolling dice every turn with no control over the result. Agricola, the best of the bunch, essentially has no luck at all.
  • Clear understanding of the correlation between your strategy and your chances at victory. This is something I learned while designing my game. Players need to be able to set goals and know how to get there. Early versions of my game didn’t really have this–you’d make moves and play cards, but you were just playing for the sake of playing instead of setting and attaining goals. The current version solves that.
  • Easy to learn, tough to master. All of these games require you to read a rulebook to play. But the instructions aren’t all that complicated after you read them. Sometimes complicated games require you to constantly be checking the rules, even after you’ve played several times. That’s not the case with these games.