Many board game-lovers shy away from games that take longer than one hour to complete. I think just about anyone would feel intimidated by a board game with a three-hour playtime and a 20-page rulebook.
Most complex games have a sharp learning curve, especially if you’re used to lightweight games. Despite this, complex games are still worth learning—it’s extremely rewarding to complete a game after hours of strategic thinking.
The following complex board games are perfect for players who want heavy gameplay that lasts a while.
Battlestar Galactica takes two to three hours to complete, but it’s worth every minute. This game is based on the popular sci-fi Battlestar Galactica series. However, you don’t have to be a fan of the series to play this complex game.
The game takes place on board the Galactica following the Cylons’ devastating attack on the Colonies.
As the spacecraft makes its way back to Earth, the crew realizes that there’s at least one traitor amongst them. This makes it even harder to manage resources on the ship.
Gather three to six players and embark on a semi-cooperative mission of survival. You’ll get to choose from ten characters, all of which come from the Battlestar Galactica series.
At the beginning of each game, players will get a card that determines whether they’re secretly a Cylon. If the humans manage to make it back to Earth, they win the game—otherwise, the Cylon will take over the ship.
If you’re a history buff, you’ll love Twilight Struggle. The game centers around the events of the Cold War, starting from 1945 to 1989. Twilight Struggle is a two-player board game, but that doesn’t make it any less complex.
You and a friend have the option of playing as one of the two world powers during this time: The United States or Russia.
On the game board, you’ll find a world map that shows the United States’ and Russia’s global interests. As you progress through the game, you can control and influence other countries.
Meanwhile, the Cold War still remains in the background—the events that actually happened during the Cold War will affect your gameplay.
In Agricola, you and four other players assume the role of struggling farmers. You’ll each start out living with a spouse inside of a simple shack. The game consists of 14 rounds and six harvests. It’s your goal to grow your home, farm, and family.
At the beginning of each round, you’ll get two actions: one for you, and one for your spouse. With these actions, you can choose to gather resources, have kids, and feed your family.
While kids can help you expand your farm, having them without enough resources and food can sabotage your gameplay. The player who has the best farm wins the game.
Food Chain Magnate is a complex board game that revolves around the fast-food industry. The beginning of the game signals the beginning of your career as a fast-food mogul.
You’ll compete against up to four other players in a game that lasts about two to four hours.
The game’s map tiles are set up randomly in each game, and the amount you use depends on the number of players.
To build your company, you’ll need to hire employees, train staff, and manage marketing campaigns. The richest player at the end of the game wins!
Dominant Species takes place in 90,000 BC, the period just before the life-changing ice age. Each player represents one type of animal: a reptile, amphibian, bird, mammal, arachnid, or insect.
Your species will flourish at the start of the game… but that’s all bound to change as gameplay progress.
Throughout the game, you must work to increase the chances of your species’ survival. Environmental changes, glaciation, migration, and speciation will affect your entire species.
The player who gains the most victory points before the ice age occurs wins.
This is the kind of game you can get really sucked into for the long haul. You’re looking at least two hours to get through a single game, and that doesn’t include the amount of time it’ll take for you to learn the deep and complex rules.
Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization is all about building the best civilization possible. At the same time, the other players are trying to do the same, which leads to some interesting land grabs.
Spirit Island is a standout board game in that it’s intensely complex while being cooperative between up to 4 players. You can play it alone if you want, but it’s way more fun with others.
The theme of Spirit Island is that you’re inhabitants of a magical island where spirit powers still exist, and you need to fend off colonizing invaders who want to exploit the land of your home.
Spirit Island has simulataneous turns, and it’s actually quite challenging. Be prepared to lose a number of times before you really start to understand the game—and even then, you’ll lose several more times before your first win.
8. Mage Knight
Mage Knight is one of the few board games that actually feels like a full-blown RPG (in the video game sense, not the D&D sense). It has all the complexity and engagement you seek.
You play as one of four Mage Knights as you explore the world, build an army, acquire items, battle enemies, and conquer cities. Mage Knight can be played competitively, cooperatively, or even on your own—which some consider the best way to play.
If you want a rich and complex board game with deck-building mechanics, RPG mechanics, and lots of depth, then Mage Knight should absolutely be on your list.
9. Gaia Project
The first thing we need to talk about with Gaia Project is the ridiculous rating it has on BGG. It carries a staggering 8.5, which makes it one of the highest-reviewed on the entire website.
That plus steep difficulty make it the perfect game for board game players looking to play something a little more intense.
At its core, this is a territory game, but it has tons of depth and an incredible amount of balance that makes it a cut above most games in the category.
You should expect games to take a minimum of an hour, but it could get longer depending on the size of your group and how they play.
This game is a bit of throwback since it initially came out in 1985. Don’t let its age turn you off though because it’s a deep game with one of the highest weight ratings of any on the market.
If you’re into deep military tactics, you should find its game systems to be rather rewarding—once you get the hang of them.
Advanced Squad Leader is only for two players, so you’ll need to keep that in mind before you dive in for a session. Sessions can take anywhere from two hours to a staggering eight hours.
Complex Board Games Are a Challenge
Approach a complex board game with confidence, and you’ll have a lot of fun playing. If long, arduous gameplay is your thing, these games definitely won’t disappoint!
If you like deep gameplay with epic outcomes but not as much complexity—for those game nights where you’re feeling a wee bit lazier—then you should look into 4X strategy board games!