The Best Strategy Board Games

By Matt Thrower 27 Aug 2020 0

Video games are great. But sometimes you want to break out of that digital bubble and spend some time face to face with friends. That doesn't mean the gaming has to stop, though: Strategy board games are enjoying a huge renaissance right now.

That's partly because modern designs have become so good. Learning from the sometimes patchy designs of yesteryear, current titles are deep and challenging yet often easy to pick up and with huge replay value.  If you weren't aware of this recent evolution, there's no better time to dip your toe in and find out.

With board games enjoying huge popularity right now, the release schedule is packed. This is a 'living' list that'll change from time to time to keep up with the pace.

What are the best Strategy Board Games?

  1. Undaunted: North Africa
  2. Quartermaster General WW2
  3. Pandemic: Fall of Rome
  4. War of the Ring 2nd Edition
  5. Star Wars: Rebellion
  6. Imperial
  7. Anachrony
  8. Brass: Birmingham
  9. Alchemists
  10. Root
  11. Orleans
  12. El Grande

So here are some top recommendations of places you might want to start.

Undaunted: North Africa

Year: 2020
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Available from: Amazon, Direct

undaunted north africa review

This game skirts the line between board game and card game, but it blends the two concepts quite well. The main action takes place on a modular board set in the deserts of WW2's North African theatre. Counters representing buildings and objectives litter the map tiles, with other counters representing units move about in small-scale skirmishes. But to move those units, you need to play the corresponding card.

Cards in Undaunted are a measure of the player's agency and ability to do things. You start with a basic deck, but can use certain cards to fill up your deck with more of specific units, allowing you to use them more often. Every time a unit on the board takes a hit, you have to remove a card of that type from your hand or deck. If you run out of cards completely for that unit, it then dies and is removed from the game completely. A wonderful interconnecting web of systems, and the game comes with a 'campaign' of sorts as you follow your troops through historically authentic engagements.

Quartermaster General WW2

Year: 2020
Publisher: Ares Games
Available from: Amazon

quartermaster general ww2

Ian Brody's Quartermaster General series strikes an excellent balance between being light-weight and easy to get into, but also providing some serious strategic challenges to those who are more familiar with playing meaty wargames. This series started with the original Quartermaster General which covered WW2, and has since gone on to look at WW1 and the Cold War.

Recently Areas has published a Second Edition of that first game, now titled Quartermaster General WW2. This new version has a wide range of changes, from altered card text, to some map sections redrawn. Even the official victory conditions have changed. There is also an expansion out now called Total War which, as far as we can tell, collects the 1st Edition expansions into one place and updates them for 2E use.

Pandemic: Fall of Rome

Year: 2018
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Available from: Amazon

pandemic fall of rome

Editor Joe is a strong supporter of this historically themed Pandemic spin-off, so we thought we'd feature it in this list. Fall of Rome sets the action in an abstraction of the Roman Empire at its height. Instead of deadly diseases, barbarian tribes are migrating through the land on their way to sack Rome. Your job is to defend the city and the empire itself by recruiting legions and forging alliances. 

Like all Pandemic games, the base mechanic here is collect sets of cards that are all the some colour. Instead of 'curing' a specific barbarian tribe though, you instead make a pact with them that then allows you to recruit them into your army. Recruiting Legions is a unique mechanic in Fall of Rome, where instead of simply going to a city and removing cubes, you instead need to take an army and fight the barbarians to whittle them down. Once you've made Alliances with some tribes and eliminated all of the cubes of everyone else, you win! Easier said than done, mind...

War of the Ring 2nd Edition

Year: 2012
Publisher: Ares Games
Available from: Amazon

WAr of the ring 2nd edition

Franchised games often fall into the uncanny valley between telling a familiar story and handing power to the players. Which is why War of the Ring is such an astonishing game, succeeding not on one but both levels. And with the most well-loved licence in all of fantasy, at that.

The heart of its success is that it's two games in one. The huge board of Middle-Earth is for a grand strategy wargame of the free people versus the Shadow. The former have no hope of victory, but clever play will slow the forces of darkness while the second part of the game plays out. That is the toil of the fellowship to dunk the ring into Mount Doom before all is lost. Each play tells a believable yet novel version of the story, with card and dice-based actions adding strategic meat to the narrative bones.

Star Wars: Rebellion

Year: 2016
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Available from: Amazon

star wars rebellion

If one Death Star wasn't enough, this is the game for you. There are plenty of great Star Wars games around, but none this epic in scope as Star Was: Rebellion. One player takes the Empire and the other the Rebels as the whole iconic Galaxy Far, Far Away unfolds on your tabletop. Dice, cards and plastic models come together to retell your own version of the trilogy, with plenty of special strategic sauce.

Surprisingly simple for a game of this size, the depth comes down to a clever detail. Your character pieces can either lead armies into battle or undertake heroic missions for their cause. But not both. And, of course, the two halves of the game weave together, meaning a clever sabotage mission might undermine a mighty space fleet. Between them, they offer a vast sweep, sprinkled with tiny detail.


imperial board gameYear: 2006
Publisher: Rio Grande Games / PD-Verlag
Available from: Amazon

Imperial looks and reads a lot like a capitalist version of the (great) grandfather of modern strategy, Diplomacy. It's got the same First World War theme, production centres and one to one elimination of combat units. But since the players represent international investors, there’s a whole new economic layer where you can literally buy control of countries out from under other players.

The interlocking of these two layers creates a dizzying decision tree wedded to a brutal competition for both money and map space. There's a third cog, a rondel to limit your action selection, which adds another dimension. The ultimate aim is profit, not territory, creating some cynical plays of running countries into the ground to scoop off their tax. If it's all a little too close to the bone there's also a sci-fi version, Imperial 2030, with a different map.


Year: 2017
Publisher: Mindclash Games
Available from: Amazon

anachrony board game

Worker Placement, where you take games actions by assigning a limited pool of worker pieces to spaces on the board, is a very popular subgenre. And Anachrony is a great example of it. In place of the often po-faced themes, there's a cool sci-fi skin to enjoy. And the resource management and worker specialities ensure there's plenty of tactical depth.

But where Anachrony earns its spot is with its innovative time-travel feature. See, if you're ever short of workers or resources, which you are all the time, you can risk "borrowing" them from the future. But woe betide if you don't have them spare to hand when that future turn comes, else you'll create a paradox that could doom your civilisation. Not only is this a fantastic twist on the formula but one that adds an extra layer of strategy, too.

Brass: Birmingham

Year: 2018
Publisher: Roxley Games

brass birmingham

Brass is often considered the best game from one of the best game designers, Martin Wallace. Like many of his titles, it's a heavy economic game which demands close attention from its players. The incautious or profligate can end up in an endless negative loop of taking loans to pay off earlier loans. Some unintuitive rule concepts add to the jagged learning curve.

Those awkward mechanics, though, offer an insight into the real industrial revolution. This makes Brass a game that rewards on every level, both strategic and thematic. Re-released in a spanking new print called Brass: Lancashire the game also has a new sibling. Using the same basic concepts, but with added beer Brass: Birmingham might be even better than the original.


Year: 2014
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Available from: Amazon

At first sight, Alchemists is a traditional 'point salad' game in which players must balance various possible routes to victory. They are researching the potential uses for mystical ingredients. So they hire apprentices to fetch, test and sell reagents in a classic worker placement setup. 

Where it gets brilliantly weird, though, is the deduction game of working out what ingredients brew which potion. This is an actual logic puzzle of elimination, the parameters of which change every game. Further points can then be earned presenting findings to the Alchemists Guild. In a fine satirical twist on actual academia, you can do better out of being first than being right. 


Year: 2018
Publisher: Leder Games
Available from: Amazon


Cute forest critters might not seem the best disguise for a vicious wargame that models hard versus soft political power. Yet that's exactly what's beneath Root's charming, characterful wooden animals and iconic art. Two mighty armies, Cats and Birds, clash over the leaf-litter. But their conflict leads to a guerrilla uprising of ordinary woodland folk and offers profit potential to a rogue raccoon. 

Each faction has its own distinct rules, making for a tight yet balanced asymmetric game with huge replay potential. Victory requires mastery of board space, resource management and negotiation. With ever-shifting strategies and allegiances, it's a tooth and nail fight until the last scrap of fur flies. 



Year: 2014
Publisher: DLP Games
Available from: Amazon

In 2008, card game Dominion launched a whole new genre of games in which you build a deck of cards as you play. Most of its ilk are fast and fun but other designers used the concept as a springboard to heavier fare. Orleans, which swaps the deck of cards for a bag of tiles and adds a map and player boards, is the best of them.

Reaching into the bag is the black hole at the heart of proceedings. You'll pull out workers that you have to allocate to a dizzying array of actions. But naturally, what you've pulled limits your choices, leaving you to try and make the most of what you've got before all your opponents do. It's a clever and addictive fusion of different ideas, far greater than the sum of its parts. 

Spirit Island

Year: 2017
Publisher: Greater Than Games
Available from: Amazon

Spirit Island

Co-operative strategy titles, where all the players work together to overcome the game, are rare in the digital space. But they're a popular subgroup on tabletop. Meatiest and mightiest of all is Spirit Island. Here, each player takes the role of a titular elemental Spirit who must help native islanders repel the threat of colonists.

It's complex to learn, but all those rules help it overcome the inherent issues with the genre, which somehow has to play like an AI without one. You'll have to utilise a plethora of magical powers to both scare the colonists and buff the natives in their fight against oppression. A variety of scenarios helps both replay value and the wider sense of a worthwhile political message.   

El Grande

Year: 1995
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Available from: Amazon

In the deluge of quality products from skilled designers and publishers, it's easy to forget how good older games can be. There are few better reminders than playing El Grande. It's an area control game, where you score for having the most pieces in each space on the map, stripped to its bare and brilliant essentials.

The rules are easy but leave players stewing in a soup of impossible decisions. You constantly need to balance having pieces ready to add to the board with those in supply. Plus there's the added mystery of the Castillo, a secret space where no-one can see the number of pieces. Random action cards strike a fine line between giving players control and keeping them on their toes. A well-regarded classic for a good reason.


Here are a few extra suggestions. Most of these are either a little too light for real 'strategy' fare or a little too cumbersome for frequent play. But you might want to check them out, nevertheless.

  • Tyrants of the Underdark
  • Here I Stand
  • Twilight Imperium 4th Edition
  • Railways of the World
  • Modern Art
  • Cosmic Encounter

What are you favourite strategy board games? Let us know in the comments! Strategy Gamer is an Amazon Affiliate.



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