Best Strategy Board Games
Like to get your competitive juices flowing? There's nothing quite like a good strategy board game to get your mind racing and challenge you to think on the fly. Here are our top 5 picks for the best strategy board games that you can dive right into.✍️ January 20, 2023
- 🦁 Best Overall: Ark Nova
- 🌲 Best Creative: Root
- 🥾 Best Adventure: Lost Ruins of Arnak
- ⚔️ Best Classic: Risk
- 🚀 Best Immersive: Gaia Project
- 👉 How we picked and tested
Nothing beats a good old-fashioned strategy board game when you want to challenge your brain! For anyone who wants to test their mental acuity (and have a little fun while they’re at it), we highly recommend Ark Nova. It’s just straightforward, replayable, and fun!
Board games don’t have to be only about luck but also skill and strategy, so we’ve compiled a list of our top five favorite board games for your brain-teasing enjoyment. Sit back, relax, and get ready to put on your thinking cap! Want to know how we curated our list? Read our selection process here.
1. Best Overall: Ark Nova
- Player count: 1-4 players
- Duration: 90 to 150 minutes
- Ages: 14+
A glorious card-drafting game about hand management, Ark Nova takes the crown in our list for its simple yet engaging premise. This game is all about building a great zoo, but don’t be fooled by the cute theme — it’s a lot more demanding than it looks!
Why we love it
Our favorite thing about Ark Nova is its elegant mix of card play and spatial strategy. You’ll need to manage various animal enclosures and other attractions to make your zoo the best it can be. It’s a great workout for your brain, but also incredibly fun!
This game, despite its nature, is also highly accessible, so it’s great for all ages. The gameplay is easy to learn, and the theme is lighthearted but still keeps you on your toes. Regardless of your skill level, Ark Nova is the perfect game to get your brain juices flowing.
What’s more, this game is also replayable because there are various player boards (zoos) to choose from, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. We can guarantee that you’ll never have the same experience twice!
The only downside is that this game can take a long time to finish, even when playing solo, so it’s not for anyone looking for a quick game. But we can assure you that, if you take the time to learn it properly, Ark Nova will be well worth the time investment. It’s perfect for anyone looking for a challenging and strategic board game that’s still easy to pick up!
How to play
Rather than the traditional approach of some strategy games, in Ark Nova, players take turns (in clockwise rotation) until the end game is triggered. It’s as easy as that!
To set up, place the game board in the center of your playing area and shuffle the bonus tiles and zoo cards. Put a random bonus tile and six face-down zoo cards in their designated spaces on the board.
Then, every player takes a random zoo map and puts it in front of them. Get a set of the four action cards. These action cards can significantly improve your zoo, so use them wisely!
Now you’re ready to play. On a turn, you’ll start by selecting one of the action cards. Each action card allows you to do something different, such as adding attractions or animals to your zoo, increasing your reputation, getting sponsors, and more.
During the game, you increase the appeal of your zoo and collect conservation points. When the Conservation counter and Appeal counter are in the same scoring area, the game ends. Whoever has the highest Victory points wins!
2. Best Creative: Root
- Player count: 2-4 players
- Duration: 60 to 90 minutes average playing time
- Ages: 10+
Take the reins over your favorite forest faction and vie for control of the woodlands in Root! All about area control, this unique asymmetric game pits players against each other as various woodland creatures, from the dominating Marquise de Cat to the secretive Eyrie Dynasty.
Why we love it
What makes Root so special is that, unlike many games that feature a single game style, this one has different ways to win. Depending on which faction you’re playing as, you’ll be able to win by different means — guaranteeing you hours of endless fun!
This game has an excellent level of strategic depth because you have full control of how you want to play. There are multiple strategies to explore, so this is a great way to hone your gaming skills. You can opt to play defensively, or go in full-out attack mode — the choice is yours!
Another amazing thing about Root is its fantastic art style, giving players an immersive gaming experience. The woodland creatures and their environment are so intricately designed that it’s almost like you’re playing inside a Studio Ghibli film!
Our only minor complaint is that it’s a bit complicated at first and can be a bit intimidating to learn, but once you get the hang of it you won’t be able to put it down.
Overall, Root is an incredibly engaging game that will keep you hooked for hours on end. Whether you’re a strategy geek or just looking for something new to play, this game is sure to delight all gamers alike!
How to play
In Root, your aim is to become the ruler of the forest by constructing a powerful faction and expanding its control. To begin, each participant selects their faction and obtains the applicable faction board and pieces. All participants should turn their score markers to zero before getting three cards from the deck.
The game follows a three-stage sequence, with each participant going through each phase before the next person takes their turn. The Birdsong, Daytime, and Evening stages continue until a player reaches 30 Victory Points.
Playing the game: If you and another faction member are in the same clearing, battle them by rolling a die. The player with the higher roll inflicts hits on their opponent while taking damage equal to the lower result (no more than your warrior’s count).
Whoever acquires the most soldiers and structures will take control of a clearing when moving pieces between paths. As long as you are either in charge of your current space or the one you plan to traverse, it is possible to transfer your pieces from one clearing to another.
Ending the game: To finish the game, each faction must obtain 30 victory points - a unique win condition. The first player to reach this target takes home the crown!
There’s an alternate route as well: by completing a Dominance card objective. Once drawn from the deck, these four cards supersede all of your faction’s objectives and become your only hope for winning!
3. Best Adventure: Lost Ruins of Arnak
- Player count: 1-4 players
- Duration: 30 to 120 minutes
- Ages: 12+
Get ready to explore a mysterious island in Lost Ruins of Arnak! As you come ashore, you’ll find an array of puzzles and mysteries awaiting you. Unravel the secrets of the island and discover its hidden treasures as you make your way through this unique adventure game.
Why we love it
The best part about this game is its well-woven mix of strategy and luck. Often with deck-building games, you rely solely on luck to build your resources. But Lost Ruins of Arnak solves this problem by providing you with an idea of the cards available to you; allowing you to create unique strategies to explore.
What’s more, Lost Ruins of Arnak also has extremely engaging storytelling and thematic elements. Ever wanted to be in a Jumanji-like situation? Now’s your chance! The pieces, cards, and boards all have captivating artwork that will draw you in even further.
This game has endless replayability because there are multiple ways to win and lots of different paths you can take. There’s also a seamless solo mode that you can play when you’re in the mood to explore on your own.
However, it should be noted that this game doesn’t have inserts to organize all your components, just ziplock bags. So if you want faster setup and breakdown times, we suggest purchasing inserts separately.
All in all, Lost Ruins of Arnak is an exciting and thrilling game that will keep you hooked for hours. Whether you’re a strategy buff or just want something unique to play, this game will definitely have something for you. So don’t wait, go on an adventure and try it out for yourself!
How to play
Lost Ruins of Arnak is a point salad-style game, meaning you get points by progressing up the research track. Let the adventure begin! Gather around and take your place; each player collects four starting cards in their assigned color (including two exploration compass cards, and two funding coin cards) as well as 2 fear cards from the central deck.
The first player, the person who last went to a new place, receives two coins as part of their starting resources. The next player takes a compass and a coin.
The third person takes two coins and a compass, and the fourth player takes a coin and two compasses. Compasses are needed to explore the island, while coins are used to purchase cards from the market.
Playing the game: When it’s your turn, you may take any number of free actions. Additionally, you can choose one action: play or purchase a card, put a worker on a discovered base campsite or dig site, discover another new dig site and/or move up the research track.
Aside from the cards, worker placement is a fundamental element of this game. In return for placing your worker at any given site, you receive resources to add to your personal inventory.
The game only lasts five rounds, and with each round, you only have two workers. Once you’re through with your five rounds, it’s time to tally up the score.
Scoring: Each of your conquered guardians is worth five points and each idol you possess will also yield a certain amount of points. Any unused spots on the research track can earn you bonus points - you also receive points depending on where your magnifying glass and logbook tokens land.
Whoever has the most points at the end of the fifth round is declared the winner!
4. Best Classic: Risk
- Player count: 2-5 players
- Duration: 120 minutes
- Ages: 10+
Practice your diplomacy and master the art of war with Risk! This classic strategy game has been around for more than 50 years, and still continues to be popular today for good reason!
Why we love it
What we love the most about Risk is that it’s an awesome way to learn strategy and negotiating. Because you’ll likely form alliances to try to expand your power, you can practice your problem-solving and negotiation skills in a fun way.
The game is easy to learn, but it’s still challenging enough to keep kids engaged. The game pieces and board are simple, but they still make for a great gaming experience with friends and family alike.
Plus, Risk is replayable because there are four different levels of difficulty. So you can adjust the game to match the skill level of your opponents, making it an excellent choice for playing with people of all ages.
The only drawback of Risk is that veterans of the game may find it a bit too easy to win. Since the game is so easy to learn, if you’re playing with people who have a lot of experience with it, they may have an edge over newcomers.
Overall, Risk is an excellent game for people of all ages and levels. If you’re looking for a classic strategy game that will keep everyone engaged, this one ticks all the boxes. So gather your friends, decide on a strategy, and prepare yourself for an epic battle!
How to play
Take over the world in this thrilling game! On a board that represents our planet and its regions, you’ll begin by deploying an army of units. Your mission? To capture as many territories as possible to win!
During your turn, you will have the opportunity to capture new territories by deploying armies and choosing whether or not to attack. You can roll dice in order to carry out combat maneuvers while also fortifying your current positions for a strategic advantage.
You can also form alliances with other players in order to better your chances of success. That’s the beauty of Risk – you can use whatever strategy works best for you!
When you or another player has succeeded in claiming the 42 territories on the board and eliminating all other contenders, your mission is accomplished - you have conquered the world!
5. Best Immersive: Gaia Project
- Player count: 1-5 players
- Duration: 60 to 150 minutes
- Ages: 14+
A sci-fi space exploration game, this last pick on our list is a must-try for any strategy game enthusiast! Gaia Project takes you on an epic space exploration mission that will have you hooked from start to finish!
Why we love it
The beauty of Gaia Project lies in its rich and diverse gameplay. The sci-fi theme and space exploration setting will draw you in, and there are a variety of routes and actions you can take in order to own the board.
The game is also quite accessible for new players, as the game rules are straightforward and easy to understand. And the game does this without sacrificing complexity, as there are plenty of strategies you can use to win.
On top of this, Gaia Project has great production value with its fantastic-looking components and board. So this is definitely a game you’ll want to take out for show-and-tell!
What we didn’t like about Gaia Project is that there’s no combat or direct player confrontation. So if you’re looking for a game that really pits players against one another, this may not be the best choice. But regardless, we still think Gaia Project is an immersive and exciting game that you’ll definitely want to check out!
How to play
As you set off on your journey as an intergalactic explorer, you control one of 14 factions striving to colonize the Terra Mystica galaxies. For the survival of each faction, distinct environmental needs must be met on a planet.
Setting up: To start, position the research board close to the game board. Grab nine tech tiles with green markings at their backs and randomly place each of them face-up on a distinct tech space on the research board.
Then, arrange the remaining tech tiles on top of those previously placed; this will result in nine piles with four identical tech tiles each.
Let the competition begin! Starting with you, everyone in a clockwise order selects one of the above factions and takes its corresponding faction board. Place your selected faction faceup in front of you to start strategizing for victory.
Gather all of your structures and Gaiaformers that are in the same color. Place each structure on its respective spot on your faction board, then position your three Gaiaformers close to it.
Playing the game: On your turn, collect one ore marker and one knowledge marker from the box. Then, carefully place two credit markers on their respective starting positions of the resource track.
If your faction board displays one or more Q.I.C below your name, collect that many from the supply and add them to your gameboard. For each area of the power cycle visible on the gameboard, acquire an equivalent amount of power tokens shown in that region and place them where indicated.
Put six of your player tokens in a row of the same color, and line one up on level 0 for each research area displayed on the research board. If you notice that your faction board reveals level 1 for any particular field of study, progress that token to one step higher in its corresponding sector.
Ending the game: During the game’s setup, six round scoring tiles are placed on the board - one for each of the rounds. As you take an action depicted by a certain tile, you gain Victory Points (VP). The more VP points you accumulate throughout your journey will bring you closer to winning!
In the end, whoever has accumulated the most Victory Points wins.
How we picked and tested
PsyCat Games is built by people who know how to have fun! We’ve been researching parties and games since 2018 and have published 400+ articles on our website. That’s why we’re confident that we know what we’re talking about!
We want you to have the best time possible and not waste your money on a subpar product. That’s why we spend over three months testing over 30 games with groups of kids, teens, and adults. We’ve ranked the games by the fun factor, player experience, and replayability!
Our ranking is subjective, but we’ve tried our best to be as impartial as possible. However, if you stumble upon a strategy board game that you think deserves a spot on our list, please reach out to us! We would love to hear from you.
PsyCat Games is supported by readers clicking on our affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we might earn a commission if you buy something through our links.
FAQ about Strategy Board Games
1. What board game takes the most strategy?
Gaia Project is a top-ranked strategy board game that involves an immersive sci-fi theme and space exploration setting. Players control one of 14 factions striving to colonize the Terra Mystica galaxies, collecting ore markers and knowledge markers from the box while strategizing for victory.
With straightforward rules yet plenty of complexity and strategies, Gaia Project has great production value and fantastic-looking components, making it a great choice for show-and-tell! How many Victory Points can you accumulate to win? Get ready to find out.
2. What is the top 1 strategy game?
Another top 1 strategy game is Risk, a classic game of diplomacy and strategy. In this captivating game, players attempt to conquer the world by strategically moving their units on a map and taking over territories.
Whether you choose to form alliances or go head-to-head, Risk will have you planning ahead and making difficult decisions in order to achieve your ultimate goal of world domination. Gather your troops and prepare for battle!
3. What is the hardest strategy board game?
Depending on your gaming level, the hardest strategy board game is likely Root. This highly ambitious and competitive game places players in a battle of woodland creatures, each with their own unique abilities and objectives. As you build your armies and explore the forest, you must make difficult choices to outwit your opponents and dominate the woods.
Root provides an engrossing and intense game experience that can easily dominate a game night. This highly-strategic title is perfect for experienced gamers, offering plenty of depth and challenge — are you up to the task?