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Best Strategy Games

Updated June 2023
Bottom line
Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Greater Than Games (GREUG) Wingspan
Greater Than Games (GREUG)
Wingspan
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Customer Favorite
Bottom Line

With its educational theme and depth of strategy, this game fills an evening and can be played over and over.

Pros

170 bird cards featuring unique abilities. Enjoyable with 2 to 5 players. Quick turns and several different strategies to pursue. Players have a good time whether they win or lose. Components are high-quality, especially the birdhouse dice tower.

Cons

Steep learning curve for those new to modern board games.

Asmodee Pandemic
Asmodee
Pandemic
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Bargain Pick
Bottom Line

Save the world from four deadly diseases at once in this cooperative game where everyone wins or loses together.

Pros

Cooperative gameplay makes this well-suited to families or couples. Turns are simple, yet players are faced with difficult decisions. Good balance of strategy and random chance.

Cons

The theme may be too grim or close to home for some players.

Asmodee Ticket to Ride
Asmodee
Ticket to Ride
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Simple Yet Solid
Bottom Line

The straightforward gameplay and exciting moments are a hit with most players.

Pros

Build trains across the United States to reach different cities. Snappy turns and tense player interaction. Good for a mix of skill levels.

Cons

Small cards are awkward to hold and shuffle.

Fantasy Flight Games Mansions of Madness
Fantasy Flight Games
Mansions of Madness
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Best for Experts
Bottom Line

The companion app lets players focus on gameplay as they explore the city of Arkham together.

Pros

Includes detailed plastic miniatures of horrifying creatures. App guides everyone through each scenario and makes for a thematic experience. Includes four challenging scenarios.

Cons

The length may intimidate some players.

Space Cowboys Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Space Cowboys
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
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Expert Recommended
Bottom Line

Puts players in the heart of 19th-century London as detectives solving tough cases.

Pros

A deduction and logic puzzle with 10 cases to solve. Gives you the feeling of being a detective by interviewing suspects and searching for evidence.

Cons

Once you've played all the cases, there isn't much reason to replay them.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 
HOW WE TESTED

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Consulted
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Buying guide for best strategy games

Maybe you’re an industry mogul developing factories—or a birdwatcher spotting rare species—or a scientist fighting off a global pandemic. Strategy games put you in these roles and more, and they come in a range of themes beyond just warfare and civilization.

While many people think of strategy board games as having dense rulebooks and intricate systems, any game that requires careful planning and keen tactical choices is a strategy game. The number of themes are limitless, and game length and complexity range widely. Some games pit players against one another; others test how well players can work together to overcome a challenge.

Finding the right strategy game for your group can give you dozens or even hundreds of evenings spent solving tricky puzzles or outwitting your friends.

a familly playing games
In most games, you can figure out what you will do on your turn while others are taking theirs.

How to buy the best strategy games

Choosing a strategy board game for your family or game group means considering everyone’s favorite themes, how many players you have, and how old the players are.

How many players?

Though most strategy games max out around four or five players, there are a few options with higher player counts.

A large number of games can be played with two players, and some are designed specifically for two. Though these can be tense, zero-sum competitions, they are often cozy or laid back and are popular among couples.

Three to four players is a sweet spot that almost all strategy games support. Since turns can be somewhat long and complex, a four-player cap keeps downtime to a minimum. Five-player games often play similarly, and they either mitigate downtime with shorter turns or simply embrace a slower pace.

Strategy games for six or more players are usually negotiation or social deduction games, which present an entirely different challenge. These are not for everyone, but there are few more traditional strategy games that support high player counts.

Strategy game age range

Complexity is the biggest barrier for young players. However, plenty of strategy games have only a few rules to learn.

The age range on the box is not always the best metric. Playtime can be a good indicator, as can the length of the rulebook.

Most strategy games have kid-friendly content, but some themes come with a complex history (such as games about colonialism) that may need some explaining or might not be appropriate.

Strategy game themes

For many, the theme is just as important as the rules and look. Often, these three elements combine to create an immersive and unique experience.

City and civilization building

This is a classic theme, and there are always new entries to the genre. Colonialism and imperialism are common, but many game designers have managed to avoid these aspects of history in favor of more peaceful themes and settings. There is something about building a civilization from scratch and watching it grow that is captivating and satisfying for many people.

Nature

Arguably fueled by the bestselling Wingspan, nature games are more popular than ever and have players running zoos, building ecosystems, or even playing as different animals.

Negotiation

If cutting deals, making (and breaking) promises, and forming brief alliances intrigue you, negotiation games may work well for your group. For some people, these are too intense and personal, but if your family or friends don’t hold grudges, negotiation games can bring a fun social element to the table.

Abstract

“No theme” is its own theme. Abstract games are often head-to-head, like Go or Mahjong. Or, they may give each player a personal board to fill in with tiles to maximize points. These are a favorite among laid-back gamers who want to enjoy a cerebral puzzle on rainy days.

Adventure and exploration

Often rich in worldbuilding and vibrant illustrations, adventure games allow players to set off to unfamiliar places. You may be in the shoes of any number of characters, and modular maps or campaigns make each experience fresh and unique.

Fighting and warfare

Combat-oriented games are hugely popular, with players battling monsters together or sending armies after their opponents. High production quality is common, and some games feature large plastic miniature figures that depict creatures, players, or spaceships. Most collectible card games have combat at their core.

Transportation

For some, there’s nothing as satisfying as building a route of train tracks across the country to deliver goods. Transportation games range from simple and quick experiences to heavy, all-afternoon events.

Economic

Arguably the most common theme among strategy games, economic themes allow players to take the role of a farmstand owner, industry giant, or space trader – usually playing to make as much cash as possible.

Always learn how to play a game before game night. You can also set the game up ahead of time.

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What features do strategy games have?

Even strategy games with similar themes may have vastly different play styles or lengths.

Gameplay elements

The rules and systems of a game play a major role in its overall feel and experience.

  • Engine building: Systems that feed into one another or grow in power are the main feature of engine builders.
  • Tableau building: This is when players have personal collections of cards or tiles with different abilities or scoring systems. This element usually combines with others, like engine building.
  • Spatial puzzles: Anything with differently shaped pieces that must fit together or tiles that score based on the tiles they’re next to can make up a spatial puzzle game.
  • Dice rolling: This element is self-descriptive. There’s something about rolling a handful of dice that’s almost always a good time.
  • Worker placement: Though the name of this gameplay element is on the dry side, it can lead to extremely tense gameplay and moments of defeat and triumph. Worker placement is when players have worker tokens that they place on spaces to claim different resources or perform abilities – but these spaces are limited to how many workers can occupy them, leading to many ruined plans.
  • Trading and auctioning: Often a key part of negotiation games, trading and auctioning games test players’ ability to value different resources and determine what their opponents want and need.
  • Social deduction: Hidden role games in which players must deduce who has which character (or hide their own identity) are social deduction games. In most cases, having more players only improves the experience, making it more challenging to correctly guess who is who.
  • Roll-and-write: Like the classic Yahtzee, roll-and-writes usually have simultaneous turns with players writing on paper or dry-erase surfaces, then tallying points at the end. Competition is usually kept to a minimum, allowing each player to do their own thing.

Competitive or cooperative?

Just because a game tests players’ critical thinking or puzzle-solving skills doesn’t mean it has to be a competition.

Plenty of strategy games are cooperative, with players working together – and winning or losing together. They are often a good pick for families or couples. They can also make a nice palette cleanser after a cutthroat civilization builder. Most legacy and campaign games fall into this category.

Both campaign games and legacy games are experiences played over several sessions, but in legacy games, players will add stickers to boards, tear cards in half, and open boxes containing new components and gameplay elements.

Game length

Not all complex games are long, and not all simple games are short. Strategy games range from 20 to 240 minutes or more in length, though most fall in the 30- to 90-minute range.

a family playing games
STAFF TIP
If you’re new to strategy board games, don’t feel like you have to start with something simple. Pick a game that intrigues you, even if it’s more involved.
STAFF
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How much do strategy games cost?

Like most board games, strategy games range greatly in price, though most are well worth it if you play them regularly.

Inexpensive

For $10 to $30, you can buy small-box card and puzzle games that offer a complete experience in a small package. Despite the size, these games may be quite challenging or complex.

Mid-range

Most strategy games cost from $30 to $60 and come in larger boxes with hundreds of components. Detailed illustrations are more common in this range, and many of these games support up to five or six players.

Expensive

For $60 to $120 are big box experiences that often have deluxe components like a double-layer punch board, plastic miniatures, or custom dice. While these are definitely for enthusiasts, most games in this range offer an impressive amount of content in the form of campaigns, scenarios, or unique cards.

Many board game designers have their own style. If you enjoy one strategy game, look for more games by the same designer.

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Tips

  • Treat your first round as a learning experience. Many strategy games have nuanced elements that you won’t pick up on during your first play or complex systems that are difficult to fully understand quickly. There’s nothing wrong with spending your first play experimenting or choosing a small objective to pursue.
  • Strategy games aren’t for everyone. Especially if you have just picked up a big-box experience that will take hours to play, you should make sure your friends or family know what they’re getting into. Not everyone enjoys long or complex games, and that’s okay.
  • Good storage saves time. If a game doesn’t come with an insert that has compartments for all components, consider sorting everything into plastic baggies to make setup faster.
  • Don’t throw out that punch board. It’s a good idea to hang onto it until you have played at least once to make sure you didn’t miss any pieces. You can also put the punch board sheets under the insert so that it is flush with the top of the box.
a group of people playing games
If you have trouble finding people to play with, there are many online platforms, and you can also see if your local library or game store hosts game nights.

FAQ

Q. What makes a game a “strategy” game?

A. There’s no hard definition, but generally, they are games that require planning and problem-solving. They typically favor high player control over random chance.

Q. How do you deal with sore losers in strategy games?

A. If you’re playing with more than two players, every player will lose most of the time. It’s hard to change someone else’s attitude. Consider avoiding particular games or maybe even finding a different game group if the behavior is particularly disruptive.

Q. How do you learn a game with a complex rulebook?

A. There are short how-to-play videos for just about any game. Alternatively, you can find an online version of the game to play — since the game “knows” all of the rules and manages the pieces for you, you can’t break any rules, and you can learn by playing.