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10 Best Strategy Board Games

strategy games Brass-Birmingham-Review

“What type of board game do you like?” is a question I get a lot when people find out about my passion. I usually reply that I love a lot of different type of boardgames and that I am always in for a game. Truth said, if I have to pick one, my absolute favourite kind would for sure be strategy games. Of course, there is a bit of strategy in every game but those specifically designed to push players to beat all game challenges and outmanoeuvre game AI or other players are definitely those that perfectly fit my style.

Strategy Games: What Are They & Why May They Be Good For You?

Strategy games are a genre of board games that usually reward players for carefully planning their goals and then strategically execute such plans. As such, luck usually does not play a major role in these type of games.

When thinking of strategy games, people often consider those of a military nature, but this isn't always the case. Modern strategy games in fact exploit any type of gameplay mechanic making this genre a quite diversified one. This genre also include a lot of options for solo, competitive and cooperative play.

In short then, strategy games focus purely on testing player decision-making and critical thinking skills. As such, the level of difficulty of these games is a critical aspect of the games: Strategy games have to be challenging enough to be engaging but not too complex that they will become frustrating.

Having increasing difficulty levels or variable scenarios is also quite common in this genre as the other critical aspect for these games is the replayability. The main risk is for the game to become less challenging as players start to familiarize with the main game strategies. In this case, having variable scenarios, additional game expansions or a choice of different difficulty levels, helps to keep the right amount of challenge to make this game always enjoyable. In some cases, having a certain element of luck can also help in this direction.

Considering the two main factors above and the availability on the market, let's have a look at the 10 best Strategy games among those ranking higher on BoradgameGeek charts. Note that the games have been listed in no particular order.

Brass: Birmingham (2-4 Players; 1-2 hours)

Brass: Birmingham is an economic strategy game telling the story of competing entrepreneurs in Birmingham during the industrial revolution, between the years of 1770-1870. To win the game, players must develop and build both their industries and network, exploiting low or high market demands for the manufactured products.

The game requires players to anticipate other player plans or exploit what other players have done to maximize their efficiency and scoring. For example, turn order is determined by how much players spend in any turn thus pushing players to consider multiple aspects in their plans.

In terms of complexity, Brass: Birmingham is definitely not a light Euro game. There are a lot of different aspects players need to consider while building-up their strategy and finding an efficient one requires some time and efforts. In addition, there is a number of exceptions and special conditions that makes the game not quick to grasp. Game replayability on the other hand is also quite high due to the varying starting conditions and possible paths towards victory.

Gloomhaven (1-4 Players; 1-2 hours)

Gloomhaven is a co-operative adventure game for 1-4 players set in the fantasy world surrounding the town of Gloomhaven. Players need to collaborate and develop their characters in order to complete all the scenarios of the adventure. Along the way, players can also choose which location they would like explore, as well as influencing the outcome of some of the campaign events.

Mechanically, Gloomhaven can be considered a resource management game with a dungeon crawling game. One of the main strategic aspects of this game is linked to the card-based combat system that gives Gloomhaven more strategic depth than other dice-based dungeon crawlers. Moreover, understanding how monsters act and the probability linked to monster and player actions is more important to win the scenarios than deciding which attribute characters should level up.

In terms of difficulty, Gloomhaven is lighter than many other strategy game on this list and offers a good learning curve to the game. Although scenarios have a tendency to be somehow repetitive, the overall campaign included in the base game offers more than 150 hours of gameplay leading to a very high replayability.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2-4 Players; 1 hour)

Pandemic Legacy is a co-operative campaign game with legacy elements. In this game, players are part of a team of specialists travelling around the world to treat disease hotspots and to research cures for four different plagues before their spread gets out of control.

The story is played through 12 months with at least one game each. If players fail the first game in the month, they need to play a second game in the same month.

Being a legacy game, the outcome of the previous game and every decisions players make in that game will have impact on future games. This is one of the first key strategic aspects of the game. In some cases, players will need to decide to either win the current game, which would make the next game harder, or push their luck with the current game to make the subsequent game easier.

During each game, players will also need to balance their actions to avoid to be defeated by the outbreak while researching for cures at the same time. Teamwork, communication and a wise use of each player cards are essential to beat the game engine and survive one month after the other.

In terms of difficulty, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 will feel relatively easy for players that have played the original Pandemic game. Anyone without this experience will find that the game rapidly adapts to their skill level as the more games players fail, the easier the game becomes.

This adaptative mechanic is designed to ensure that all players will be able to get through the story. In fact, Pandemic Legacy can only be played once as some components will be damaged through the game. Although nothing prevents players to play the campaign again buying a new box, the replayability of this game will not be very high.

Gaia Project (1-4 Players; 1-3 hours)

Gaia Project is a space colony game in which each different faction races against each other to terraform neighbouring planets into their home environments. Playing as one among the fourteen different factions, each player needs to find the best strategy to improve their economy and technology to produce the most victory points.

One of the key aspects of Gaia Project is that there are a lot of different ways to score points. Strategy in this game lies in pursuing the development paths that will lead to the best scoring opportunities. Finding the optimal strategies is not straightforward though due to the complex intricacies among resources gaining/conversions, the competitive round structure, the Power cycle, and many many other subtle complexities.

Overall, the Gaia Project is quite an heavy game that requires some introductory play and a bit of dedication to fully grasp the game mechanics. The amount of available potential strategies and the complexity of this game can, for sure, please any hard-core strategist but it can result challenging to first time players.

On the other hand this board game has a very high replayability due to the amount of available factions, the variable setup and all the potential strategies players can pursue.

Ark Nova (1-4 Players; 1.5 - 2.5 hours)

Ark Nova is a card drafting and hand management Strategy board game in which players are tasked to plan and design a modern zoo. To achieve the ultimate goal of owning the most successful zoological establishment, players will need to build enclosures, hire specialists, place animals, and support conservation projects. All these actions are available to all players as a set of 5 cards.

Every turn, each player can only choose one among the five cards to perform their chosen action. Moreover, the effect of that card is determined by the slot it currently occupies with the most recently played card being the less effective etc. While this system looks pretty simple, which card you play and when has a tremendous impact on the game forcing players to think ahead and plan carefully their strategies.

In addition, victory is only achieved by balancing your zoo’s appeal and your conservation points. The first one is mainly obtained by introducing new animals while the last requires players to pursue randomly picked conservation projects and end of the game scoring objectives.

Card/Action mechanism and victory scoring are two of the main reasons Ark Nova's complexity is above average. New players will require a few games to get into it properly and having different maps with 3 increasing levels of difficulty definitely helps. At the same time the more complex asymmetric maps add a great level of replayability. On top of this, having more than 200 animal/specialists cards ensures that each game will always feel different.

Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition (3-6 Players; 4 - 8 hours)

Twilight Imperium is a very iconic strategy board game of galactic conquest released for the first time in 1997. The game is set in the unstable aftermath of the decline of the Old Empire ruled by the Lazax race. During the game, players will be the leaders of one of races once part of the Old Empire and they will need to grow their culture and civilization in order to become the new galactic emperor.

In order to succeed, each player has full control on all aspects of their civilization, including military, politics, technology and trade. On the other hand, players have a limited number of actions they can take during a round that is based on their supply of command tokens. Each aspect of a civilization has to be planned carefully to allow players to score victory points on both public and personal goals. Politics plays a key role in the game as players can vote new laws that could impact players growth. The voting power of each player is based on the quantity and quality of the planets they control thus growing and expanding your race is key to achieve victory.

Overall, the game's goal and mechanics are reasonably straightforward, but the gameplay could become extremely complex due to the length of a single game. Twilight Imperium's games are in fact well know for taking typically more than 5 hours as they require an average of 1.5 hours per each experienced players. This long game duration matched with very deep game mechanics, can either make the game experience amazing for some players or quite poor for others.

On the other hand, the amount of races and the variable setting make this game replayability very high.

Terraforming Mars (1-5 Players; 2 hours)

Terraforming Mars is an engine-building and card management game where players take the role of corporations involved in making Mars a suitable planet for mankind to live on. All players cooperate together to complete the planetary project while, at the same time, competing against each other to obtain the biggest share of the government funding.

The game is played over a number of rounds (generations) where players take turns performing actions, buying and playing cards. Each card can provide abilities and actions in addition to those available on the board but players need to purchase them first. Some of the actions will allow players to increase some of the planet main parameters (atmosphere's oxygen, ocean tiles, temperature). Whenever a player manages to improve any among them, their Terraforming Rating (TR) increases providing them a higher income at the end of each turn and increasing their victory points for end of the game scoring.

One of the key aspect of Terraforming Mars is that there are many paths to victory. This is mainly due to the large variety of cards available. Every game feels unique and players' strategies need to continuously change and adapt depending on what other players are doing. Moreover, buying and playing cards require a long term and careful planning. In fact, it is not only a matter of which cards players can afford to buy, but also which ones could be played (and when) basing on their requirements. The game is not too complex per se but players may need some time to adapt to the amount of available strategies and option.

Through The Ages: A New Story Of Civilization  (2-4 Players; 2-4 hours)

Through the Ages is a civilization building game based on a card drafting and auctioning mechanism. Each player is in charge of the development of their own civilization and they need to balance multiple aspects of their population and society to ensure a steady growth. The aim of the game is to score the most Culture points at the end of the game, however, there are many ways to produce culture including for example war and aggression.

The game takes place throughout three different ages, beginning in the age of antiquity. At each round, players take turns to acquire any of the 13 cards in play to obtain new technologies, buildings, wonders, and leaders. Cards will become cheaper to acquire the longer they are in play but they will also be removed from the market row after a certain amount of turns if no player buys them. This mechanism doubles also as game timer to trigger the transition though the ages and the end of the game.

Together with purchasing and playing new cards to growth their civilisation, players will need to balance their population, their buildings and the resources produced, as these aspects are all interconnected.

Through the Ages is not an easy game. Game mechanics are not too complex to understand although new gamers would benefit by playing the first few games with someone that has already played the game. The complexity of this game mainly comes from the number of aspects of your civilization that have to be balanced in order to win the game. This aspect also contributes to the very high replayability of this game as players can explore multiple strategies to win the game and adapt to which cards are available or are purchased by their opponent.

Spirit Island (1-4 Players; 1-2 hours)

Spirit Island is one of the very thematic, cooperative strategy games about defending your island from colonizing Invaders. As spirits of the land, each players must use their unique elemental powers to free the island and to defend the indigenous population. Players all cooperate to achieve their common goal and push the invaders back from the shores of the island.

In Spirit Island each spirit has a different growth path and starting powers. Moreover, some of these powers have “fast” effects that can be played before the invaders will take their action while other will affect the gameplay after the invaders phase. The Invaders take actions sequentially by exploring new territories, build new cities and attacking the land and the native population. Each of these actions affects one semi-random territory at each turn forcing spirits to spread across the island and plan their moves to efficiently deal with the threats.

In terms of gameplay, Spirit island is definitely complex and deep enough to push players to think carefully before taking any action. Interestingly, developers have made a lot of efforts to support the learning curve by ranking all the spirits based on how difficult is to use them efficiently. Each spirit card also lists a basic strategy and some key tips players could follow for their first games. Finally, being this a cooperative game, the experience and skills of all player benefits the group overall.

Spirit Island also shines for replayability. This is the result of multiple factors as: the amount of spirits available (including the expansions) and the choice of their powers; the variable setup and spread of the invaders; the possibility to use famous adversaries and to use scenarios.

Dune Imperium (1-4 Players; 1-2 hours)

Dune Imperium is a strategy worker placement and deck-building game set in the universe of Dune. During the game, players will take the role of one of the the Great Houses of the Landsraad, the assembly of all noble houses, and work to gain influence and military power to rule on the others. The desert planed Arrakis is at the centre of the conflict among the Houses as it is the only source of the spice, the rarest commodity in the Universe and the key to ensure safe interstellar travels.

In Dune Imperium, all players start with the same (weak) deck of cards that can be improved progressively. Cards also have multiple effects on the game. At the beginning of each round, a card could be used to send a worker to a space on the board and to get benefits and resources. Every card not played this way could then be used in the subsequent phase to gain an attack or influence bonus. This mechanism gives every card a strong three dimensional value as players have to decide which cards to play and which ones to hold back for their effects.

At the same time, workers play a strategic role too as they can be used to gain support from a faction or wealth, win conflicts, and obtain influence for new cards. Improving your starting deck is in fact a critical step to win the game and deciding which cards to get and when is another strongly strategical choice in Dune Imperium.

The overall concept of this game seems pretty standard but the amount of strategic choices players have to face is definitely consistent. Dune Imperium is therefore a strategy game that challenges players on multiple levels but that's not too complex. Rules are reasonably easy to learn and a good learning curve is provided by using leaders with different strategic complexity.

Dune Imperium replayability is also quite good due to the available range of cards, conflicts and leaders.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed reading through the list of games above and that the details provided may have helped you to find some new interesting games to try. The list includes a lot of my personal favourite games but it is not by any mean exhaustive as Strategy games is a very big and wide genre. If you already like this type of games or you are interested to play more of them, I would recommend to check BBG site to for a comprehensive list and then get back to Zatu to place an order as most of them are or will be available soon!

That concludes our list of Top 10 strategy games. Is there any we missed? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames.