The Top 5 Strategy Board Games Ever: Let’s Try This Again

Five months ago, I wrote a blog entry introducing you all to my love of board games. The meat of the blog was a list of my top 5 favorite strategy board games at the time.

Well, a lot has happened in the last five months. I put a game on Kickstarter, sold 1300 copies of it, met (either in person or online) a lot of very knowledgeable game writers and reviewers, read/watched hundreds of game reviews, and played a lot of different games with people.

Needless to say, my list of favorite games has evolved. The previous list was as follows:

  1. Agricola
  2. Stone Age
  3. Dominion
  4. Settlers of Catan
  5. Fresco

With the holiday shopping season coming up, I thought I’d update my list. Note that I have not played nearly as many games as I’d like, but I’m getting there.

Also, I’m not going to put my game, Viticulture, on this list, but in all fairness I think I could. I designed a game that I really wanted to play. Every element and mechanic in the game is based on core principles of board games that I love. Basically I took everything I love about board games and put them all in Viticulture.

1. Agricola

Agricola goes against one of my core principles in game design in that a 4-5 player game can take nearly 3 hours. That’s about twice as long as I want my games to last. Aside from that, though, Agricola is a fantastic game. It’s a resource-gathering farming game where there are tons of good options every turn. Although player interaction is limited, you have to pay attention to what the other players are doing. Because of the cards, no two games of Agricola are the same.

2. Stone Age

Stone Age is another wonderful game, and unlike Agricola, it can be played in just over an hour. There is luck in Stone Age, as you roll dice to determine how many resources you get, but there are opportunities to manage luck. This is not only the perfect way to introduce someone to worker-placement games, but also a great medium-strategy game for any gamer.

3. Alien Frontiers

Alien Frontiers is one of my more recent discoveries, as it was recommended to me by my Kickstarter backers. Like Stone Age, there is a random dice factor, but it’s a very clever mechanic, as the dice you roll reduce your options for that turn, effectively preventing analysis paralysis (when there are so many options that you take forever to choose anything).

4. Carcassonne

Carcassonne is a tile placement game that is really well conceived. I love the idea that you start out with no game board–rather, you create the board person by person by putting tiles on the table. You’re also putting workers on the tiles and removing them from the tiles at different times. Great, great game.

5. Dominion

This was tough because I haven’t felt compelled to play Dominion in quite some time. But it still remains a fantastic game with infinite variability–I’m sure if I sat down to play it, I’d love it as much as ever. Dominion is my inspiration whenever I factor replayability into a game I’m designing.

Here are a few notes on other good games:

  • Belfort: This comes very close to making the top 5. I love so much about this game–the 5-sided game board, the multiple types of workers, the area management–but it requires just enough math that your head might hurt a little afterwards. Still, this is one that could move into my top 5 in the future.
  • 7 Wonders: In this ancient Greece-themed game, players look at the cards in their hand, pick one, and pass them on. Because they do this simultaneously, the flow of the game is fantastic–you can even play with 8 players and not slow down the game. Despite that, I’m just not drawn to play the game again, even after playing it 4 or 5 times.
  • Ra: Ra is the only game I’ve played with an auction mechanic. Basically, you’re bidding for tiles in the center of the table. Timing is everything and there’s a bit of luck involved, but overall I really like how the game is balanced.
  • Fresco: Fresco is a worker-placement game that is a little lighter than Stone Age. It has some incredibly clever mechanics, including secret role selection and a wake-up track for turn order, but I think I’ve reached the point where I’ve “figured out” the game.
  • Settlers of Catan: Settlers, the most well-known Euro game, is still a good game, but I’m no longer excited to play it at all. There’s too much luck and too much potential to get stuck or blocked. I would still play the Cities and Knights expansion, but not the original game.
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse: This is the only cooperative game I’ve played, and the premise is very cool: Each player adopts the role of a superhero fighting together with the other players to defeat a villain so powerful that one hero alone could not defeat them. Each hero and villain get their own deck of cards, so there’s tons of variability. Despite its clever build and it’s success (it’s the #1 Kickstarter project ever in St. Louis. Viticulture was #2 until Sentinels put out another expansion on Kickstarter a month ago, and they passed us for the 2 slot last week), I found playing the game to be really cumbersome. Our game lasted 3 hours, and it was an uphill battle that felt fruitless at times. However, I’ve only played once and can’t adequately judge it on that one time.

Other solid strategy games:

  • Railways of the Eastern US
  • Puerto Rico
  • Race for the Galaxy
  • Hacienda

Everyone has different strategy games they love–what are some of yours and what do you love about them?

5 thoughts on “The Top 5 Strategy Board Games Ever: Let’s Try This Again”

  1. This is a solid list!

    I own Agricola, 7 Wonders, and have preordered Alien Frontiers. Carcasonne was my gateway game, got it for Christmas several years back. My buddy owns Sentinals and Dominion, both great games.

    I’ve been considering Stone Age, since it is worker placement like Agricola but has a smaller play time. I love Agricola, but definitely agree with what you said about the long play time.


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