More often than not, board games simulate real-life scenarios and challenges that stretch us and force us to think creatively and critically—all while having a ton of fun along the way.
Some board games allow us to become our own financiers of economic conquest. Others let us choose our own adventures as we set out into a complex world of danger. Yet others grant us the opportunity to strategize and deploy troops on the battlefield for war.
This is where the beauty of strategy board games comes to shine. With resources at your disposal, you're given free rein to lead yourself to victory. Your decision-making skills and awareness of the game mechanics will test your mettle on the path to winning.
War isn't the only theme when it comes to acclaimed strategy board games. Here are our favorite strategy board games for those who like strategy and tactics at the gaming table.
Players: 2 players
Average playing time: 120 to 180 minutes
Twilight Struggle is a two-player board game that puts you in the middle of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. It's part-war espionage and part-history lesson that helps you to better understand (and strategize) diplomatic tensions.
Players have ten turns to draw from a deck of 103 cards that show different war events. Then, they use those cards to deploy their units and resources for six to eight action rounds until they achieve control. The victor gains control of the territory depending on its points.
Players: 3 to 6 players
Average playing time: 60 minutes
If you like strategy board games with murder mysteries mixed in, Betrayal at House on the Hill is the one to play. You get to design your own haunted house using the very tiles provided, with each tile corresponding to a room—and a mind-boggling mystery in every result.
Players must explore the haunted house that's filled with hurdles, and new random tiles are added as the house is explored. When the "haunt" begins, one player is secretly chosen to side with the ghosts/monsters and must betray the rest of the players.
At that point, the rest of the players must work together to take down the traitor and win before the traitor is able to accomplish their mission.
8. Small World
Players: 2 to 5 players
Average playing time: 40 to 80 minutes
In Small World, be ready to conquer unknown lands and defend them from your enemies. Players get to choose what race they represent and use a full arsenal to capture territories on the map.
To conquer lands, players must draw a number of race tokens on the tiles of the map, depending how many are required. Players need to have sufficient amount of tokens to either capture or defend the territory. The game goes on until all turns are made.
At the end, the player with the highest score wins. The game has more mechanics within, of course, and it's truly mind-boggling.
Players: 2 to 4 players
Average playing time: 45 minutes
Pandemic is a cooperative board game that puts you in the shoes of a medical frontliner who's tasked with preventing and stopping four strains of diseases that are spreading throughout the world.
Players first choose roles from Dispatcher, Medic, Scientist, Researcher, Operations Expert, Contingency Planner, or Quarantine Specialist. They must then strategically travel the world and collect cards to treat and eradicate the diseases as they spread every turn.
Players: 2 to 4 players
Average playing time: 60 to 90 minutes
For beginners to asymmetric board games, Root is the best one to start. Each player chooses a faction to represent: the rampant Eyrie, the wicked Marquise de Cat, the shady Woodland Alliance, or the manipulative Vagabond. All of them are aiming to control the forest.
All four factions have their own unique conquests, mechanics, and scoring systems. The Eyrie sets their plans on all areas of the board. The Cat constructs buildings on the map. The Alliance builds their armies in secret. The Vagabond plays all sides of the conflict.
5. 7 Wonders
Players: 2 to 7 players
Average playing time: 30 minutes
7 Wonders is a card-drafting game that pulls you into the ancient period of civilizations and lets you become the mind behind the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Players each receive a set of cards that represent materials and structures to be used around the game board. On each turn, players can either purchase items to start construction of their Wonders or discard one to earn coins.
While there is no direct warfare, there is plenty of indirect conflict that can be solved with cooperation—but the player with the highest score wins.
Players: 2 to 4 players
Average playing time: 30 to 60 minutes
Dive into Mother Nature with this nature-themed board game. Photosynthesis gives you full rein to grow your own forest, but you have to keep an eye on the passage of light and the presence of shadows.
Players take ownership of one color's tokens and trees. The gameplay involves two phases: the photosynthesis phase (where the sun moves and the light is casted) and the life cycle phase (where players can spend light points to buy, plant, grow, and collect trees).
Players: 2 to 6 players
Average playing time: 120 minutes
Risk is an all-time classic wartime strategy game that puts you in the role of a diplomatic strategist who must deploy your best tactics for conquest of the world. It's an all-out war of tactics and attrition.
The game board shows a political map of the world, with players moving units across countries to invade territories—and if the target territory is already controlled, then the dice come out to resolve combat.
The last player standing with territories under control is winner, but getting there is tough without displomacy and alliances. Risk is one enjoyable game that turns wartime tactics into gameplay.
Players: 1 to 5 players
Average playing time: 90 to 120 minutes
If you're interested in alternative history, Scythe's unique lore will feed your curiosity. This board game features an alternate version of 1920s Eastern Europe, which is now comprised of five factions vying for territories via steampunk-flavored engine-building schemes.
Players have two actions per turn to either recruit units, invade lands, gather resources, construct buildings, or deploy engines around the city-state "The Factory." The gameplay continues until one player achieves six victories (by completing various goals).
Players: 3 to 4 players
Average playing time: 60 to 120 minutes
Formerly called The Settlers of Catan, Catan is a multiplayer board game with no direct combat or conflict. Instead, players are settlers who have to develop their own territories on the island of Catan.
Resources are determined by dice rolls every turn and given to players based on where they've built settlements. The goal is to gain victory points by growing their settlements—but doing so is near impossible without trading resources with other players.
Catan is often cited as the gateway board game that bridges old-school board games (like Monopoly) to modern board games. It influenced all kinds of board games after it, making it a landmark board game.