Flex that mind muscle, minus the mouse clicks.
Hear that? That’s the sound of our strongest muscle flexing. If you haven’t figured it out from the ominous silence -- and please reread this in a library if it’s not quiet near you -- we’re not talking about biceps here. No, we’re referring, of course, to the mind. Years of online strategy video games have honed that squishy pink blob in our head into a razor-sharp weapon, always hungry for a new arena in which to test its edge. If, like us, you already command all there is to conquer in the land of video games, your fight is far from over. We’d argue there’s no better mental battlefield to move on to than strategy board games.
The best strategy board games
Flaunting your actions-per-minute might impress those real-time floozies you call strategy gamers but true victory? That can only be achieved when staring directly into your opponent’s eyes as you make your winning play. We’ve already mastered Chess -- well, we watched the Queen’s Gambit -- so here are four strategy board games to play instead that are guaranteed to ignite the intellectual flames of army-ordering within your soul.
Asymmetrical action: Root
Asymmetry is a zesty condiment which can be lathered upon any good strategy meal. Mastery of your own powers is impressive, but understanding the entirely alien faction you’re facing? That requires you to bench some far heftier brain weights. Root takes this concept to the extreme, with four starkly different factions vying for control of a woodland glade.
What’s it all about: Groups of animals beating each other black and blue. The Marquise de Cat plays like your traditional strategy game, constructing buildings and ordering troops to and fro between the glades you control. The ancient Eyrie are powerful but must strictly follow the commands of their decree lest they fall into turmoil. Hiding in the undergrowth, the Woodland Alliance run a brutal guerrilla campaign, spreading sympathy before executing deadly revolts. And finally, the Vagabond bumbles about like a wayward RPG protagonist, completing quests and accidentally causing chaos. You can leave that last one to your less strategy-headed pals.
Why strategy gamers will love it: Don’t let the delightfully cutesy art fool you. Root is a barbed-wire-lined obstacle course of a game that’ll cut you open in an instant if you lose focus. The balance between factions is a hair-thin wire just waiting for someone to apply an ounce of pressure too far. It’s up to each player to restrain their rivals while exploiting any opportunities they can seize.
Optimization heaven: Scythe
Refinement lies at the grinding, mechanical heart of Scythe. Pleasure here lies not in the crushing defeat of your foes but in methodically improving your steps and planning with each game you play.
What’s it all about: Steampunk factions vying for dominance of a vaguely Eastern European land. It’s a race to earn six stars by producing mechs, constructing buildings, completing objectives, and more. Maintaining military power and positioning will help avoid defeat in combat, but it’s popularity with the people that will make your control count at the end of the game.
Why strategy gamers will love it: The lumbering steam-powered mechs may be coated in soot and mud, but Scythe’s engine is a glistening thing. If perfecting build orders gets your blood pumping, then lining up the perfect turn sequence for top- and bottom-row action combos will raise you to strategic nirvana.
Tantalizing tech trees: Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy
Sure, your ship’s impressive, but have you seen the engines on this bad boy? If, as a child, you preferred to eschew the measly instructions accompanying LEGO sets in favor of your own grand designs, Eclipse’s tech trees are for you. Because you should never settle for a regular spaceship when 50 rockets could be strapped to each wing.
What’s it all about: Exploring the stars and upgrading your armada to obliterate the opposition. Eclipse is an excellent if expensive tabletop take on the popular 4X formula. Commanding unique alien factions, players explore a randomized, hex-tile star system to claim planets, boost resource production, and wage war. There are many avenues to victory, but it won’t be long before your fleets are filling the heavens with unhealthy quantities of post-war debris.
Why strategy gamers will love it: Shove your hand deep into Eclipse’s bag of sci-fi mechanics and you’ll grasp the glistening, mechanical heart of the game: The tech tree and upgrades system. By claiming research tokens from a shared tech tree, players can swap and play with module spaces aboard their ships. The result is an arms race of upgrades as uneasy neighbours stack their ships with cannons and missiles or layers of armor plating before war breaks out.
Grand-scale warfare: Star Wars: Rebellion
How trivial an individual life seems in a galaxy consumed by war. Unless, of course, that life is the power behind the throne. Star Wars: Rebellion will challenge your command, memory, and wits as you direct or resist the mightiest empire of that black void above.
What’s it all about: Interstellar hide-and-seek. This two-player showdown sees one player at the helm of the insidious Galactic Empire (aka your magnanimous rulers), while their opponent leads the spirited Resistance forces (aka those bloodthirsty terrorists). The Resistance base is hidden somewhere among the 32 worlds of the Galaxy map. Should the Empire find it, their victory is almost assured. Clustering around their base isn’t good enough for the outgunned Resistance. Deception and resolve are required as they lure the Empire into scanning and conquering all but that most important sector.
Why strategy gamers will love it: At four to six hours in length, Rebellion is the ultimate showdown of minds. Managing your production, ships, and ground troops feels just like your favorite turn-based strategy titles, but the overarching goal of the Resistance base generates brilliant narratives while avoiding tiresome stalemates.
Those were our picks for strategy board games that video gamers will love sinking their brain-teeth into. Know of any other excellent games worth mentioning? Share them with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. If you need a cool-off after all those mental battles, the Going Analog Podcast will sort you out. Or if you’d rather face the gauntlet once more, challenge your knowledge against our latest Quiz Show episode.
When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up all the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he can never find the time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deckbuilders with him on Twitter @Fernoface or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.