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Best Strategic Board Games

by Natasha Sydor 7 years ago in gaming / list / industry
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Prove yourself a master tactician with the best strategic board games.

The board game: humanity’s fun, social, and cheap form of easy entertainment. Man’s love for competition has evolved over the centuries; and in recent years, strategic board games have triumphed as man’s greatest and most challenging game passion. Play them with family or friends, drunk or sober, and watch in amazement as board games make a boring night into a I’m-going-to-destroy-you-if-you-don’t-pass-me-the-dice kind of know, fun! The board game is making a comeback, and there is no better way to celebrate than testing out your strategy skills with these best strategic board games. Let’s skip the digital world of online and video games, and stick to the good-ol’-fashion cardboard and plastic.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest board game of them all? Risk, of course! As the great daddy of board game strategy, Risk makes war, fun! In the game, each player is assigned territories on the board–the map of the world–and must battle other players to conquer and control other territories. This game is for three to five players, and can play anywhere from two hours to six hours. Each player is given a certain amount of battle units that are spread across the map at the start of the game. To gain more, you must beat your opponents in battle and attempt to take control of whole continents. The battles are decided by the roll of different dice, creating luck and chance to be your greatest frenemy. You win the game when you conquer the world; or Middle Earth, depending on what version of Risk you are playing. Which continent will you conquer first? Europe? North America? Only your strategy can decide.

History of Risk: Risk is a strategy board game produced by Parker Brothers, known to you and me nowadays as Hasbro. It was invented by French film director Albert Lamorisse and originally released in 1957 as La Conquête du Monde ("The Conquest of the World") in France. It was later bought by Parker Brothers and released in 1959 with some modifications to the rules as Risk: The Continental Game, then as Risk: The Game of Global Domination. Ever since, we’ve been addicted to the game that makes us feel like leaders of the world and have broken up friendship for over 50 years.

Known as “Risk on steroids”, Axis and Allies is THE World War II board game. The object of the game is to win the war by capturing enough critical territories to gain the advantage over the enemy in this World War II strategic recreation game. There are at least ten spin-offs of the game. Although marketed as a historical war game, Axis and Allies is also an economic game, as each territory produces a number of Industrial Production Certificates (IPCs) for the purchase of new units. In the game, players play the major belligerents of WWII: Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Those playing the Axis powers team up against those playing the Allied powers in an attempt to conquer key territories, which are represented by regions on the map board. This differs from Risk because you can not just “ally” with any country.

History of Axis and Allies: Axis and Allies, the game based in the historical context of World War II, was originally designed by Larry Harris and published by Nova Game Designs in 1981; although the game was re-published by the Milton Bradley Company in 1984 as part of the Gamemaster Series of board games. This edition has been retroactively named Axis & Allies: Classic to avoid inevitable confusion. Axis & Allies: Classic was the most successful of the five Gamemaster Series of board games. Long after the Gamemaster name was retired, A&A: Classic lives on having been moved to the Avalon Hill lineup following the acquisition of Milton Bradley Company and Avalon Hill by Hasbro. The game itself has gone through several revisions, with it actually being updated as recently as 2013.

Carcassonne, unlike Risk and Axis and Allies, is a relatively quick 45 minute strategy game where players lay tiles down to develop the area around the town of–you guessed it–Carcassonne. By doing so, you can then use the population of Carcassonne to work on the roads, cities, cloisters, and fields. How to win? Develop your territory best and win the game. Both strategy and luck are involved in this game, and no two games are ever played the same. What makes Carcassonne so interesting is its expansion packs, which create a new challenging dynamic to the game. You can add Inn & Cathedrals, Traders & Builders, The River, Hills & Sheep, and The Wheel of Fortune. Typically played with two to five players, the expansion packs can play with up to eight players.

History of Carcassone: Carcassone was designed by a particularly smart man named Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. The game was released in 2000 by Hans im Glück in German and by Rio Grande Games and Z-Man Games in English. The game itself has received much critical praise, receiving the Spiel des Jahres and the Deutscher Spiele Preis awards in 2001. It is named after the medieval fortified town of Carcassonne in southern France, famed for its city walls.

If you don’t know what Settlers of Catan is, then you’ve clearly been hiding underneath a rock during geek parties for the past few years. Affectionately known as “Settlers”, this strategic board game has found it’s place in the heart of all board-game-aficionados. Settlers is a resource-gathering strategy board game; and can never be played the same way twice. The board consists of 19 movable terrain blocks, or hexes, and is surrounded by an ocean. Each terrain produces a different resource: brick, ore, wool, grain, or wood. The goal of this game is to collect ten victory points, which you can do by creating cities. In addition, each settlement is worth one victory point, and you can also earn points by holding the “Longest Road” or the “Largest Army”. In order to build cities, roads, or anything for that matter, you need a certain amount of each resource, which is obtained through cards. Settlers of Catan may seem complicated on the first one or two plays, but once you get into the swing of the game, there’s no going back. And you just might dream about sheep jumping over bricks.

History of Settlers of Catan: Originally designed by Klaus Teuber and first published in 1995 in Germany by Franckh-Kosmos Verlag (Kosmos) as Die Siedler von Catan. The game and its many expansions are also published by Mayfair Games, Filosofia, Capcom, 999 Games, Κάισσα, and Devir. The Settlers of Catan was one of the first German-style board games to achieve popularity outside of Europe (although we now know that Carcassone soon followed up 5 years later). It is popular in the United States where it has been called "the board game of our time" by The Washington Post. A 2012 American documentary film titled Going Cardboard, which actually featured the original creator, is about this game's impact on American gaming communities and what came of it.

Sequence uses playing cards like they’re on steroids. By incorporating cards games, poker, board games, and Connect 4, all into one, Sequence becomes one of the most highly strategic games out there. I wouldn’t recommend playing with children, because you’re not going to want to let anyone–even your progeny–win in this game. In order to play, each player is dealt a specific amount of cards (depending on how many players play). The playing cards correspond with images of cards on the board. The goal of the game is to have five chips in a row–like Connect 4. Sequence can be played with 2 to 12 players, as long as the number of players is divisible by two or three (as only two or three teams can be created). There are three sets of different colored poker chips, and all members of each team must use the same color chips. Teammates must work together during their separate turns to achieve the victory of five chips in a row–but here’s the catch: the rules dictate that there can be no table talk or coaching between team members. Let the games begin.

History of Sequence: Sequence was invented by Douglas Reuter in Minneapolis, Minnesota, over a two-year period in the 1970s. Mr. Reuter originally called the game, "Sequence Five" but decided to ditch it for the understandably more simple, “Sequence”. Reuter spent years developing the concept, and, in June 1981, granted Jax Ltd. the rights to manufacture, distribute and sell the board game. The game was first sold in a retail store in 1982 and has been received well by the general public and critics alike.

Ticket to Ride is basically a train version of Settlers of Catan–or at least that’s how I like to view it. Replace all of the “resources” with “trains”, and you’ve got yourself a perfect strategic board game! Ticket to Ride is a unique cross-country train, adventure-style board game–every Steam Punkers fantasy. The goal of the game is to collect cards which enable the players to create railway routes, connecting cities all throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points a player can earn (Settler’s Longest Road, anyone?). More points are awarded if you can connect distant cities and to those who build the longest uninterrupted railways. The rules are simple, allowing for the competition to be great: each turn you either draw more cards, claim a train route, or receive a Destination Ticket. A Destination Ticket is a mission card that gives you more points for completion of a railway. The strategic tension in the game derives from being forced to balance your greed for cards with the fear of losing a key train route to the other players.

Take Settlers, add a dash of Ol’ McDonald, and you’ve got yourself a bonafide game of Agricola. Who knew that competitive farming could prove to be one of the most strategic and satisfying strategy board games? Rolling hay never looked better. In this game, each player tries to build and run a farm by building fences and collecting resources (hello, Settlers!) like wood, stone, clay, etc. The goal of that game is to build the “biggest and bestest farmhouse throughout aalllllll the land” (you can quote me on that). Agricola also incorporates some elements from The Game of Life, as the game begins with you and your spouse, and you can add additional children as the game plays. But of course, children need a room to sleep in and food in their bellies, creating your responsibility list to grow enormously. While you attempt to create the best farmhouse in all of the land, you also need to support your family and livestock. Geeze, this game just went #realworld on us. Created by the Germans, this strategic farming board game may make you move to the Fatherland itself.

History of Agricola: Agricola was created by Uwe Rosenberg, and published by Lookout Games in Europe and Z-Man Games. It is a worker placement game with a focus on resource management. The game was released at Spiel 2007, where it got the incredible distinction of being voted the second-best game shown at the convention. The game was released in English by Z-Man Games in July 2008. Agricola won the Spiel des Jahres special award for "Best complex game 2008" and the 2008 Deutscher Spiele Preis.

Dominion is the only game on this list that isn’t *technically* a board game, because it is played only with cards; but it still is extremely strategic...and you could use a board if you wanted to. In this game, you play a magnificent King. Your aim is to attempt to increase the size of your kingdom by acquiring as much land as possible. However, your opponents are also Kings, and are trying to do the same exact thing as you; all while building castles and other buildings to defend yourself. This game is relatively short compared to the others, and runs about 30-45 minutes, and can be played with two to four players. Dominion, a deck-building game, uses individual decks where players use their cards to perform actions and buy other cards, such as Action, Treasure, and Victory cards. The player with the most victory points, wins. May the odds be ever in your favor.

History of Dominion: Dominion was created by Donald X. Vaccarino and published by Rio Grande Games. Over the course of the card games' existence, some have drawn parallels with collectible card games such as Magic: The Gathering but Dominion players build their decks as the game goes on. However, it’s worth noting that the creator denies the influence. Dominion is the first game of its kind and has spawned a genre of similar card-based games dubbed "deck-building games" ever since its release.

You either hate it or you love it; but there’s no denying that Scrabble can start and end many family feuds. Never before has a dictionary been used in an argument as consistently and constantly as it is in this game. They even had to create their own dictionary because of the debates. One of the most strategic games out there, book lovers and nerds unite to create the ultimate test of language and skill; but mostly, seeing who can create the longest word ever, while using the letters “X” and “Q” in it. The game is played on a 15x15 grid where players spell out words for points. Each letter is awarded a different point value, depending on its ease or difficulty in playing. The board also features areas with double/triple letter scoring or double/triple word scoring. This game has become so competitive, that some of the best Scrabble players have memorized obscene and unbelievable worlds from the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. I wouldn’t suggest betting on this game, but I would suggest looking up some of the largest English words known to date, or the most scoring words. My personal favorite is antidisestablishmentarianism. Or Muzjiks.

History of Scrabble: In 1938, Alfred Mosher Butts invented the game as a variation on an earlier word game he invented called Lexiko. He manufactured a few sets himself, but was not successful in selling the game to any major game manufacturers of the day. Just goes to show. In 1948, James Brunot, a resident of Newtown, Connecticut – and one of the few owners of the original Criss-Crosswords game – bought the rights to manufacture the game in exchange for granting Butts a royalty on every unit sold. Though he left most of the game (including the distribution of letters) unchanged, Brunot did something particularly significant though: he changed the name to, "Scrabble".

The King of all board games, Chess has endured the test of time and it still as strategic and witty today as it ever was. This game was created in 6th century India, and has more clubs, movies, books, and games about it than any other game out there. This game is purely one of skill, and one wrong move will leave you at check-mate. Chess is the number one strategy game out there, because it removes any chance of luck entering into the game. If you don’t know how to play chess, you need to learn pronto; and if you do, I have one thing to say to you: your move.

History of Chess: The history of Chess is particularly hard to pin down due to the length of its tenure in human culture. It’s thought that it originated in Eastern India somewhere between the year 280 and 550 where it was known as chaturaṅga. The earliest evidence of Chess is found in the nearby Sassanid Persia around 600, where the game came to be known by the name chatrang. The game reached Western Europe and Russia around the 9th century. By the year 1000, it had spread throughout Europe and became infectiously popular among many of the upper class citizens.


About the author

Natasha Sydor

creative @ amazon studios

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