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If you love strategy PC games, try these board games

Article posted on 6/18/2020

I’ve said this before, but I struggle with heavy strategy video games like Galactic Civilizations III and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion. For 4X games, it’s usually that I suffer from decision paralysis because there are just too many options. For RTS games, too much happens too quickly and my brain’s swiss-cheese processing power just can’t keep up.

That said, I find that if I am playing a strategy board game, I have an easier time of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrible at them, but I don’t find them nearly as daunting or intimidating as I do their video counterparts. In some ways, the idea of a “strategy” board game is a little too broad, because most competitive games require some kind of strategy in order to win. For my purposes, when I say “strategy” here I am referring to games that tend to be longer in length, require a lot of extra thought and forward thinking, and tend to mirror the 4X and RTS genres more closely.

If you’re a fan of heavy strategy games like Galactic Civilizations, Civilization, Stellaris, etc, then I’ve compiled a list of strategy board games that you also might enjoy with your friends! Have a look below.

7 Wonders

Players: 3-7 (For 2 players, check out 7 Wonders: Duel)

Time: 30-60 minutes

Age Range: 10 and up

Back when I was first starting to get into the board game hobby, 7 Wonders was one of the first games outside of the mainstream that I played. In it, you play as the leader of one of the 7 great cities of the ancient world. Throughout the course of three “ages”, you must gather resources, develop trade routes, and flex your military supremacy against your opponents. Developing an architectural “wonder” will net you extra points, boost your position, and help secure your victory.

In essence, the game is about developing your city with cards. There are several choices to make, and each person might choose a different path to their victory. Some cards have immediate effects, while others provide bonuses or upgrades later in the game. Since the game involves drafting a card and passing to your neighbor, you’ll know that what you don’t pick is possibly moving on into a more dangerous place for you, so you’ll need to choose carefully!

7 Wonders is a fairly easy starting point for strategy games and is great for a family with slightly older children. If you’re usually wanting for a group to play with and tend to only have one game partner, I highly recommend picking up 7 Wonders: Duel, which is specifically crafted for two people and is probably one of my favorite 2-player games. There are also several expansions available for the game if you love it a lot and want an even deeper strategy experience.

Root

Players: 2-4 (1-6 with Riverfolk expansion)

Time: 60-90 minutes

Age Range: 15 and up

Ah, Root - the woodland game of might and right! This is best described as an asymmetrical strategy game of adventure and war where players battle for control of a vast wilderness. 

I love this game’s theme. The nefarious Marquise de Cat has seized the great woodland, intent on harvesting its riches. Tired of succumbing to her rule, some creatures of the forest have banded together to form a great alliance to fight her. Meanwhile, the proud race of birds called the Eyrie have found a new commander that they hope will lead them to victory and the reclaiming of their ancient birthright. And, of course, the Marquise de Cat isn’t about to go down without a fight.

Part of what makes this game asymmetrical is how uniquely each faction plays. In the game’s description from the publisher, they break down how each faction plays (note: these are for the base game, the Riverfolk expansion adds 2 new factions).

The Cats play a game of engine building and logistics while attempting to police the vast wilderness. They win by building new buildings and crafts.

The Eyrie musters their hawks to take back the Woods. They must capture as much territory as possible and build roosts before they collapse back into squabbling.

The Alliance hides in the shadows, recruiting forces and hatching conspiracies. They begin slowly and build towards a dramatic late-game presence.

The Vagabond plays all sides of the conflict for their own gain, hiding a mysterious quest while they explore the board and fight other factions.

I enjoyed my playthrough of Root (I played as the cats, because of course I did), but it didn’t leave me super jazzed. Honestly, it’s a game you need to play 3-4 times before you make a judgement, because there’s a learning curve for each faction and they all play so distinctly. So, if you play it once and don’t love it, don’t write it off immediately - give it a few chances and try a new faction next time!

Wingspan

Players: 1-4 (there’s a solo variant!)

Time: 60-120 minutes

Age Range: 12 and up

If you enjoy a more serene gaming experience that still forces you to think and strategize, look no further than the bird-watching game of Wingspan. This competitive, card-driven engine building game sees you as a bird enthusiast seeking to discover and attract the best avians to your network of wildlife preserves. 

Over the course of 4 rounds, you will build combo chains in your habitats by attracting certain birds. Each habitat focuses on several key aspects of growth: gaining food tokens, laying eggs, and drawing bird cards. The art in this game looks like it came right out of a field book (intentional!) and is stunning. Each bird card includes facts about the bird and a meticulously detailed painting of it. 

The game doesn’t involve a lot of direct player interactivity. For the most part, everyone is focusing on their own combinations and the only way to mess with someone else is to accidentally take a bird they wanted or a food they’ve been needing to add to their stock. Since bonus objectives are secret, it’s hard to know how what you’re doing affects everyone else! If you’re looking for an aggressive and competitive game, Wingspan probably isn’t what your after, but if you like the excitement of chaining together multiple abilities and seeing them cascade, then you’ll love it.

Scythe

Players: 1-5

Time: 120 - 180 minutes

Age Range: 16 and up

A full disclaimer here: I haven’t personally played Scythe. I’ve seen it, read about it, know all the hype in the community about it - but I still have yet to find the time (and the group) to sit down and actually play it. That said, I felt like I needed to include it in this list.

The publisher description for Scythe sets it up like this: 

It is a time of unrest in 1920s Europa. The ashes from the first great war still darken the snow. The capitalistic city-state known simply as “The Factory”, which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries.

Scythe is an engine-building game set in an alternate-history 1920s period. It is a time of farming and war, broken hearts and rusted gears, innovation and valor. In Scythe, each player represents a character from one of five factions of Eastern Europe who are attempting to earn their fortune and claim their faction's stake in the land around the mysterious Factory. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.

Each player begins the game with different resources (power, coins, combat acumen, and popularity), a different starting location, and a hidden goal. Starting positions are specially calibrated to contribute to each faction’s uniqueness and the asymmetrical nature of the game (each faction always starts in the same place).

Aesthetically, Scythe is really cool! The factions are unique and the theme is really interesting. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to sit down and play it soon!

Terraforming Mars

Players: 1-5

Time: 120 - 180 minutes

Age Range: 16 and up

Another disclaimer here: I have never played this game, either! But, given that we’re into space strategy here at Stardock, I feel like I’d be doing something wrong if I didn’t bring up this widely popular game.

From the Publisher description:

In the 2400s, mankind begins to terraform the planet Mars. Giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment is habitable. In Terraforming Mars, you play one of those corporations and work together in the terraforming process, but compete for getting victory points that are awarded not only for your contribution to the terraforming, but also for advancing human infrastructure throughout the solar system, and doing other commendable things.

The players acquire unique project cards (from over two hundred different ones) by buying them to their hand. The projects (cards) can represent anything from introducing plant life or animals, hurling asteroids at the surface, building cities, to mining the moons of Jupiter and establishing greenhouse gas industries to heat up the atmosphere. The cards can give you immediate bonuses, as well as increasing your production of different resources. Many cards also have requirements and they become playable when the temperature, oxygen, or ocean coverage increases enough.

In order to win, you must have the highest overall terraform rating. This game is another one that looks really cool and has nice components to it. A lot of the game is tile laying, so if you’re into that (I’m looking at you, Catan players!), that’s a bonus for you. To be honest, this game doesn’t seem like it’d be my cup of tea, but - I’ll play anything once!

If you’re looking to get away from your computer screen and be a little social, these games ought to help scratch that strategy itch! Hopefully I’ll get a chance to sit down and play some of the ones I haven’t tried soon. Have you played any of the games on this list, or have one you think would make a great addition? Let me know in the comments!