October 25, 2019
6 Best Strategy Board Games You Need to Be Playing

As a massive fan of strategy board games, I recently set out to find the best on the market in 2019. With the help of my wonderful co-workers – who also happen to be board game enthusiasts themselves – I organized several game nights for us to put the most popular strategy board games to the test.

I selected the top-six strategy games of 2019 based on their popularity. Here, I will assess them by competitiveness, complexity versus learning curve, luck, balance, and host versus guest advantage. The list includes games like Scythe, Terraforming Mars, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Carcassonne, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and 7 Wonders Duel.

The 6 Best Strategy Board Games in 2019

Our Top 3 Choices

Get It Best For Full Review

Scythe
Check Price Strategy board game veterans Read Our Review

Terraforming Mars
Check Price An immersive role playing experience Read Our Review

Betrayal at House on the Hill
Check Price Horror fans passionate about story rich games Read Our Review

1. Scythe

Gametime120-180 minutes
Difficulty9/10
Players1-5
Ages14+
Extra requirementsNone
Our rating10/10

Summary & Gameplay

In Scythe, you play as the leader of one of five factions trying to assert dominance over Eastern Europe in an alternate future. Set during a period of unrest following a great war, Scythe tells a story of 1920s Europe fueled by bloodshed and mechanical innovation.

Players must use their cunning to earn their faction’s fortune by conquering new territories, gathering coins, achieving their hidden goals, producing resources, and uncovering the secrets of “The Factory,” a capitalistic city-state that holds technological secrets.

Although the game has a pretty steep learning curve, once you understand how Scythe works, it’s fairly simple to play (and oh so amazing). Scythe is a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate), engine-building, area-control, action-selection board game that takes place on a hex-tiled map.

To kick-off, each player receives two hidden goals, some starting coins, popularity, power, and combat acumen as dictated by their faction. Players also start on different sides of the map, contributing to the game’s asymmetry.

During each turn, you can perform two actions, one from the top row of your mat and one from the bottom, although you don’t have to do both. Actions range from upgrades to building structures, deploying mechs, expanding your territory, and enlisting recruits.

Each player also receives six stars, which they can place on the board once they complete certain goals. The game ends when a player has placed all their stars on the board. The winner is whoever has the most money. You will generate a regular supply of cash from each territory and star you have on the board.

As you play, you may find people taking on the role of an archetypal country. I’ve also noticed players quickly start role-playing as their faction. For example, if they are leading a faction prone to violence, they will focus on deploying mechs and expanding their territory. Encounter cards and secret missions add an extra layer of immersion.

“This isn’t a board game with tons of player interaction. You won’t be cracking jokes over the table because you’ll be too busy planning your next five moves. Likewise, your buddies will probably be sitting quietly with a constipated look on their face, trying to determine their next action.”

Scythe Board Game Review

What’s to like

  • Beautiful artwork on the game board, player mats, and cards
  • Detailed miniatures give the game a more realistic feel
  • The complexity of the gameplay and the myriad of strategies you can employ
  • High-quality player mats and resource tokens

What’s not to like

  • Can be a little overwhelming to start with, especially if you’re not a strategy board games veteran
  • Non-combat focus – if you’re here to fight, you may be disappointed
  • Factions can feel slightly unbalanced
Hidden
Complexity vs Learning Curve (9/10)

At first glance, Scythe is a lot to take in. As inexperienced players, setting up the board took us over 15 minutes, and explaining the rules took around an hour. However, as soon as the mechanics were clear, the game began to flow quite easily.

Each turn follows clear rules, and the separation between the top and bottom-row actions adds continuity. The first player can focus on the bottom row while the second prioritizes top-level activities, allowing the narrative to unfold organically.

Having said that, “simple” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.” Players must think two, three, sometimes four turns in advance, if they want to utilize both actions to their full est potential. Furthermore, bottom-row actions can be tricky to use effectively. You need to view Scythe as a sprawling, intricate puzzle unfolding across the mainboard. It can be difficult to complete both top and bottom-row activities, especially early in the game.

There are several objectives players can follow, but the game recommends you focus on no more than six. As if this wasn’t enough, you also need to pay attention to what your competitors are doing and how their actions might affect your current strategy. The very best strategy board games are not classically “fun,” and Sythe is no exception.

This isn’t a game with tons of player interaction. You won’t be cracking jokes over the table because you’ll be too busy planning your next five moves. Likewise, your buddies will probably be sitting quietly with a constipated look on their faces, trying to determine their next action.

Though getting to grips with the basics is easy, becoming familiar with the different factions and formulating a winning strategy can be incredibly difficult. The game is quite slow to start, and there is no clear path to victory. Scythe is more about adapting to a situation and forging your own path, rather than following a cookie-cutter strategy.

Competitiveness (7/10)

The game is competitive but not aggressive. Scythe’s eschewal of combat is one of its most crucial aspects. At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a war game. All these threatening mech miniatures and combat cards are for unleashing hell and stomping on your adversaries, right?

Wrong.

Scythe is about building, harvesting, and gathering resources. Sure, there is a combat aspect. Still, fights are rare and usually political (a few players ganging up on one with a significant lead) or economical (players trying to score their combat star objectives). This game is more about posturing and fortifying locations.

“Oh, look at me, casually deploying this mech I’ll never use!”

There are several reasons why combat is so rare. First, it burns through resources and could leave you at a disadvantage. Secondly, attacking territories with workers (which mechs usually guard) also affects your reputation – a vital aspect of your score. Third, mechs are more useful for carrying workers around than actually engaging in fights.

That said, you will have to race against other players to fulfill objectives or unlock the best upgrades. I remember struggling to keep a poker face as I unlocked the Speed and Township abilities, whooshing my way to The Factory to claim Scythe’s best card.

Luck (3/10)

In Scythe, each faction possesses unique abilities. Some are good at rushing around the map to collect encounter cards, while others are better at harvesting and stockpiling resources. Almost everything can be strategized, including combat. Encounter and factory cards involve an element of luck, as you never know what you’re going to get. However, luck doesn’t play a significant role in the game.

Host vs Guest Advantage (1/10)

Apart from objective and combat cards, every element in Scythe is face-up, so the host doesn’t have any advantage over guests. Sure, they may have a better grasp of the faction abilities and combos, but only if the guests are comparatively inexperienced.

Having prior knowledge of objectives won’t help you much either. There are more than 20 cards, and you have no way of knowing exactly which ones each player will draw. Factory cards are also shuffled into the deck based on the number of players, while encounter cards are displayed face-up.

Balance (8/10)

Scythe is a fairly balanced game in terms of the strategies you can employ to win, and there isn’t any one winning formula that guarantees victory. Having said that, the factions aren’t entirely balanced either. If you’re lucky enough to get one of the stronger ones like Rusvier or Crimea, you will have a natural advantage over your competitors.

Any advantage you might have is meaningless if you don’t know how to use it, but there are many different faction and strategy combos you can use to pave your road to success. If you would like advice on how to become a Scythe master, watch this video of Scythe designer Jamey Stegmaier revealing his personal strategies.

2. Terraforming Mars (+ Corporation Era Cards)

Gametime120-180 minutes
Difficulty9/10
Players1-5
Ages12+
Extra requirementsNone
Our rating10/10

Summary & Gameplay

As the name suggests, your goal is to terraform Mars. You play as a corporation (the good kind), raising the temperature and oxygen levels and increasing ocean coverage until the planet becomes habitable. Corporations need to work together for the common goal, but you can only expect so much collaboration when you’re competing for points.

Starting off, each player receives ten project cards they can choose to buy or discard according to what they think they might need. Buying a card is not the same thing as playing it – that comes with a whole different price point.

Each card includes requirements, as well as bonuses, which either provide instant, one-time benefits or constant buffs that last the duration of the game. You need to formulate a clear strategy to figure out which cards to play and in what order. While you’re limited by your finances, which relate to your Terraforming Rating and Credit Production, you will eventually possess enough wealth to build any project you want to.

You increase your Terraforming Rating every time you raise one of the main parameters like temperature, oxygen, or ocean coverage. Terraforming Mars is divided into rounds called “generations,” which last until players have no more cards they want to play. When a new generation begins, each player receives four new project cards they can choose to either buy or discard.

On your turn, you can perform up to two actions, such as playing a card, deploying an action from a card already in play, raising the oxygen level or temperature, funding an award, claiming a milestone, or using a standard project (if you’re really desperate).

You will also receive a regular supply of resources like Steel, Titanium, Mega Credits, Energy, Heat, and Plants according to the parameters inscribed on your player board. These resources allow you to build greeneries and play some of the cards in your hand. This strategy also comes into play as you find the best spots on the game board to position your cities, greeneries, and oceans.

Once all the oceans have been placed on the board, and oxygen and temperature levels have reached their peak, the end of that generation signifies the end of the game. The winner is determined by a combination of Terraforming Rating, player board, milestones, awards, claimed territories, and any cards that provide extra points.

“Terraforming Mars is not an overly competitive game. Can you screw over the other players? Yes. Do you have to do so to win? Absolutely not. Terraforming Mars is a race, not a fight.”

Terraforming Mars Board Game Review

What’s to like

  • A variety of the cards and strategies available – every game is different
  • Complexity keeps players on their toes
  • Creative story and setting that allows for deep role-playing
  • Truly spectacular card design

What’s not to like

  • You may have to rethink your strategy if luck isn’t on your side.
  • Sometimes, your strategy might depend on a card your opponent has
  • It’s easy for players to get caught up in the strategy and forget to role-play. “My company decides to build a planetary oxygen reserve, which will cost me 5 million euros” sounds much better than “And now I’m gonna play this card.”
Hidden
Complexity vs Learning Curve (9/10)

From a beginner’s perspective, Terraforming Mars may look and sound more complicated than it is. Sure, all the resources, tags, and values you can increase on the map can seem overwhelming, and a few players admitted to feeling a little lost after the first generation.

However, once the second round kicked off, everyone seemed to get into the groove. It’s easier to play the game than try and explain it beforehand. If you don’t want to overwhelm new players, playing a test round is by far the best introduction.

Once you fully appreciate the complexity of the game, the learning curve is extremely steep, and it’s easy to differentiate an experienced player from a newbie. It’s not about knowing what everything does. Rather, it’s a case of understanding how to formulate a strategy with the cards you’ve been dealt. – and almost any strategy can be a winner.

You need to work with the resources at your disposal and keep a close eye on your opponents, a bit like chess. If you can predict what the other players will do, you can adjust your strategy on the fly – something only an experienced player will understand.

Terraforming Mars is easier to learn than it might appear on the surface, but it takes time and experience to master fully.

Competitiveness (2/10)

Terraforming Mars is not an overly competitive game. Can you screw over the other players? Yes. Do you have to do so to win? Absolutely not. The premise of the game is that all the players need to work together to make Mars habitable. The competitive aspect lies in who can contribute the most to that goal, not who can stop others from doing it.

All players are moving toward the same noble goal. You’re essentially competing to see who can do it faster. Simply, Terraforming Mars is a race, not a fight.

Luck (2/10)

Luck is a contributing factor of Terraforming Mars, but it’s so minor, you will barely notice it. Having said that, it’s an incredible buzz when all the pieces seem to fall into place, and you get all the right cards and projects that play together perfectly.

In these cases, victory is extremely likely, as long as your strategy doesn’t clash with anyone else’s. It’s fantastic when you play four of five Jovian tags and have money to buy them, too, as most of these projects are super-expensive. When you grab the card that requires seven Science tags, somehow find them, and get to play it, the relief is palpable.

Yes, these incidents are luck-based, but neither will win you the game on their own – you still need a diverse and effective strategy. It’s rare for a player to make more than two of these plays during the same game, and even then, you can still beat them.

A very important note for Terraforming Mars players is that gambling rarely works as a strategy. Don’t bank on getting a specific card, hoping it will secure your win. In my experience, it won’t – but then, perhaps I just have terrible luck.

In all seriousness, it’s extremely rare to see a player score a victory by flying on the seat of their pants, hoping their strategy comes together through sheer luck. Trust me, I’ve seen some people throw a dice that would make Will Wheaton cry.

Host vs Guest Advantage (2/10)

There’s no real advantage in knowing the game’s cards. First, all projects remain on the table at all times, so they are visible to everyone. There’s nothing secret about them. Just because you’re the host doesn’t mean you have a leg up over other players, certainly not if they have a similar level of experience as you.

The only slight advantage you may have from studying the cards in the deck is knowing what cards you could get and how to create some awesome combinations. However, just because you know which cards will work for you doesn’t mean you’ll get them. In fact, you might not even see them.

More often than not, if you build a specific project in the hope you get a different one later in the game, you’ll wind up watching on helplessly as a competitor plays that card instead.

Balance (10/10)

One of the best things about Terraforming Mars is that there isn’t one set strategy or corporation that always wins. What worked for you in one game may not work in the next.

Just because you love the Tharsis Republic + Immigrant City and destroyed everyone by filling the map with cities doesn’t mean that it will happen the next time. Sure, you got Phoblog as a corporation, your titanium production reached five per generation, and you had all the Space cards, but that’s not to say lightning will strike twice.

Another important note: match your corporation to your cards. Don’t simply pick a corporation because you won with it before.

There is a small exception to this rule of thumb. If you get Ecoline as a corporation and can get plant production up and running early on, it will be incredibly difficult for anyone else to catch up. In my experience, this is the optimal strategy.

In all the games we played, we beat it just once, and that was only because the rest of us banded together against the player using Ecoline. We blocked his cities and grabbed points from his greeneries. Now, whenever someone gets Ecoline, we’ve agreed they will discard it. We find it can make the game unbalanced, so we prefer to keep it off the table.

3. Betrayal at House on the Hill (+ Widow’s Walk Expansion)

Gametime60-120 min.
Difficulty4/10
Players3-6
Ages12+
Extra requirementsPen and paper (if you want to take notes)
Our Rating10/10

Summary & Gameplay

Betrayal at House on the Hill has got to be one of my favorite games ever. It combines strategy and horror, and it is very much a story-driven board game. You design your own haunted house and have to overcome an array of supernatural and paranormal obstacles.

You can’t grow bored with this game, because every time you play, you build a different house and encounter a different scenario. We also played it with the Widow’s Walk expansion, so we had even more scenarios at our disposal.

For the first part of the game, players draw tiles according to the part of the house they want to build/explore and place them on the table. Some cards have symbols on them, and oftentimes, you’ll have to draw an item, event, or omen card and do its bidding.

While items are helpful later on and are always a joy to get, events can be both good and bad, and omens, as the name suggests, are always bad. That doesn’t mean that they might not possibly award you with things, but they will always, without question, force you to roll the dice. A low roll might activate the Haunt, and when that happens, all Hell breaks loose (quite literally sometimes).

When the Haunt gets activated, one of the players becomes a traitor (a role I’m dying to play), and the others have to team up to defeat them. Both the team and the traitor are given a Tome they have to read in order to find out how to prevail over the other. This is where the strategy comes in, and the game ramps up the tension nicely.

“The first half of the game has players working together. That is unless one of them falls into the basement, and in that case, good luck, buddy, it was nice knowing you (speaking from personal experience).”

Betrayal at House on the Hill Board Game Review

What’s to like

  • The emphasis placed on the story
  • The complexity and creativity of the scenarios
  • The spooky, creepy, engaging atmosphere it creates
  • The design of the cards, game pieces, tokens, and figures

What’s not to like

  • The black plastic markers for the stats card can become flimsy in time (at least, this is what happened to my friend’s game, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same for you)
Hidden
Complexity vs Learning Curve (4/10)

Betrayal at House on the Hill looks very complex when you open the box. There are a ton of tiles, cards, and don’t even get me started on the tokens. The stats are pretty simple to understand, though, and the cards are rather self-explanatory. All you have to do in this game, once you learn it, is to REMEMBER the things that happened and the items/omens you possess. You need to think of the best time to use them as well.

Once you learn the game, you won’t have a difficult time mastering it. One, because there’s not a lot to master, and two, because the game has such high replayability that you can’t possibly master what will happen. You can’t predict it either, so it can’t be said that the game has a huge learning curve.

The strategy only comes in after the Haunt, when players need to understand how to work together to defeat the traitor. Before that, it’s all fun and games. So, the learning curve in Betrayal at House on the Hill is basically about how to work together better.

Competitiveness (8/10)

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a cooperative game. Until it’s not. The first half of the game has players working together, discovering the house, and rooting for every single one of them to have high dice rolls. They can trade items so that everyone has a fighting chance against anything that comes their way and help each other get out of traps.

That is unless one of them falls into the basement and, in that case, good luck, buddy, it was nice knowing you (speaking from personal experience).

When the Haunt begins, it’s no longer an exploration game but an outright fight: one traitor against the rest of the party. One way or another, either the heroes will prevail, or the traitor will win and complete their betrayal.

The nature of the competition itself is different from other best strategy board games, though. Sometimes, it’s an outright fight against demonic dogs skulking the corridors of the house. Other times, it’s avoiding a dark abyss that swallows every inch of the house one round at a time and performing a ritual to make it stop.

Players might die, and the traitor will cackle behind the edges of the Traitor’s Tome as they unleash terror, but it’s all in the nature of good, Lovecraftian fun. It’s not the “ruining friendships” kind of game.

Luck (8/10)

Wherever there’s dice throwing, there’s luck involved. This isn’t something that you can avoid. At the end of the day, most successes and failures will be based on strategy, but the dice can overturn your effort. Sometimes, you get the horrifying roll of all blanks (the game has 6-sided dice with either 0, 1, or 2 on each side) and know something bad is about to happen.

However, one will not work without the other. If you have the strategy but don’t have the dice, the results won’t be good. The same can be said vice versa as well. Even if you roll well, if your strategy wasn’t good to begin with, it’s all for naught. You will get killed/ eaten/ possessed/ destroyed or any other horrifying thing that the traitor can do to you with the same result: you lost.

Host vs Guest Advantage (1/10)

There is absolutely no advantage in knowing the game beforehand. It won’t help you win in any way. There is only one exception that’s both improbable and implausible: memorizing every single scenario.

There are 50 different scenarios that can happen in the game (100 if you count the expansion). Each of them has about a page of text. If you’re somehow inhuman or so obsessed with the thought of winning that you forgo fun altogether, you can memorize them all and know the game ahead of time.

It will take some sleepless nights and studying as you’ve never done before. However, that’s not host advantage; that’s just you being a jerk for the sake of winning. A determined jerk. But still a jerk.

Balance (7/10)

Balance is difficult to pinpoint because every scenario is different. However, there will be scenarios where you’ll feel like the traitor is overpowered or those where the traitor’s abilities are underwhelming. It’s tough to make a game like this perfectly balanced.

Most of the time, it will seem like either side can win. However, you’ll have games where you’ll feel like you never stood a chance. These things are bound to happen.

Luckily, winning is not the main focus of the game. How you work together or how the traitor handles their powers, along with the scenarios that can happen, is what’s important. You will rarely hear anyone ask, “Who won?” when it comes to Betrayal at House on the Hill. More often than not, the question will be, “What happened in the game?”.

Terrible things happened. Terrible, terrible things. And that’s one of the game’s greatest qualities.

4. Ticket to Ride: Europe

Gametime60-90 min.
Difficulty3/10
Players2-5
Ages8+
Extra requirementsNone
Our Rating8/10

Summary & Gameplay

Ticket to Ride: Europe is one of the simpler best strategy board games on this list, but one that’s fun to play nonetheless. Imagine you’re traveling by train all across Europe (goals, honestly) and visiting turn-of-the-century European cities. If you know the rules of the original Ticket to Ride, you’ll be an expert in Ticket to Ride: Europe as well.

The game comes with a map of Europe that features cities and destination tracks. You win points by achieving the goals on your Destination Tickets (both short and long destinations), by building the longest continuous route, and by claiming other routes throughout Europe.

When your turn comes, you have to choose between drawing more cards, drawing additional Destination Tickets, or claiming a route. While it may sound easy enough, you still need to have a strategy and know exactly when you have to claim a route or draw a card to accomplish your goal. Foregoing one for the other in crucial moments of the game can lose you fatal points.

Remember that for tunnels, you might need to play extra cards, while for ferries, you need locomotive cards. If you want to use a route that’s already been claimed by one of your opponents, train stations are your friends. Also, be careful how many Destination Tickets you draw because at the end of the game, if you have any tickets you haven’t completed, you lose points.

So, when does the game end? When one of the players has two or fewer train pieces left. At that point, the players add to their board score the points inscribed on their Destination Tickets. The player with the longest route on the board also gets an extra 10 points.

“While your purpose is to get as many points as possible to win the game, this is not the type of game that plays friends off against each other (it’s no Monopoly). You don’t have to destroy the other players to win, just have a better strategy than them and see it through successfully.”

Ticket to Ride: Europe Board Game Review

What’s to like

  • The relaxed feel of the game (no pressure)
  • The easy-to-understand instructions
  • The short gameplay – perfect for a casual evening with friends

What’s not to like

  • The game is not competitive in itself, but if people block each other’s routes because they want to be extra, it can turn quite competitive, which is bad news for everyone involved
Hidden
Complexity vs Learning Curve (3/10)

If you’re the kind of person who has a hard time learning and following game rules, you’ll like Ticket To Ride: Europe because the learning process is smooth. While the core mechanics of the game are straightforward and simple to understand, fully mastering the game comes down to:

  • Learning how to micromanage and invest your resources smartly, as they are limited.
  • Identifying the most optimal routes between locations.

Obviously, mastering these two things requires multiple playthroughs. So, while Ticket To Ride might seem like a simple game (because it largely is), becoming really good at it requires much more out of the player than laying down tracks – there’s quite a lot of strategy involved.

Competitiveness (4/10)

I found Ticket To Ride to be a rather friendly game, despite the fact that some overlapping and toe-stepping will always occur due to the limited number of possible routes. Still, these issues can be solved easily using train stations.

While your purpose is to get as many points as possible to win the game, this is not the type of game that plays friends off against each other (it’s no Monopoly). You don’t have to destroy the other players to win, just have a better strategy than them and see it through successfully.

Luck (5/10)

Ticket To Ride is mostly strategy, but you also rely on luck when drawing cards. Building a route requires the player to draw some cards in certain combinations, and some of them are quite difficult to get.

That said, you might find yourself with lots of cards in hand, desperately looking for the one you need to complete a route, just to have another player win the game before you get a chance to beat them to the punch.

Host vs Guest Advantage (3/10)

Other than knowing the best possible routes to accomplish certain objectives, I can’t see how the host could have the upper hand over other players by owning the game. After all, the Destination Tickets will always be different, so it depends on the cards you draw.

Balance (8/10)

Ticket to Ride: Europe is simple but diverse enough to support multiple ways and strategies to win the game. You can focus on winning by building the longest track, accomplishing high-score objectives, or a combination of both if you so desire.

In this respect, Ticket to Ride: Europe is quite a balanced game. You don’t have one definitive strategy that guarantees you’ll be the winner, so it’s all about making your strategy better than that of your opponents.

5. 7 Wonders Duel

Gametime30-60 min.
Difficulty4/10
Players2
Ages10+
Extra requirementsPens
Our Rating7/10

Summary & Gameplay

The core rules of 7 Wonders Duel are pretty similar to the rules of the classic 7 Wonders board game. You go through three ages in which you have to draw cards that help you advance your scientific developments, develop your military, acquire resources, and build Wonders. The main difference between the two is the number of players. As expected, 7 Wonders Duel is a 2-player game.

In each age, you have to arrange the cards in a specific way for both players to see, and that’s where you draw them from. You can only draw a card if it’s not covered by another. When your turn comes, draw a card and choose between three options: build it (some using resources and some for free), discard it to get money, or use it to construct a Wonder.

At the beginning of the game, each player gets four Wonders. You can construct them using resources that you acquire from the cards you draw, or you can buy resources from the bank. Each Wonder gives you special abilities and bonuses, but there can only be 7 Wonders in the game, so you have to move fast if you want to construct the most.

If you have a lot of cards with a specific resource (let’s say wood), this will make it difficult for your opponent to buy wood from the bank, because it will be much more expensive than usual, depending on the amount you have.

In order to win the game, you have to either move the military token from the center of the game board to your opponent’s capital (you can do that using military cards) or acquire six scientific symbols. Sometimes, you will go through all three ages without anyone accomplishing any of these goals. In that case, the player who has the most points at the end of the game wins.

“If you think the best strategy board games should well, involve lots of strategizing, 7 Wonders Duel might not be the game for you. If you prefer strategy games that go easy on the strategy but still challenge you to think and choreograph your moves, you’ll definitely like this game.”

7 Wonder Duel Board Game Review

What’s to like

  • The game ends pretty quickly, so it’s perfect for when you don’t feel like spending 5 hours in front of a board game
  • 7 Wonders Duel contains enough strategy to keep you interested but isn’t as complicated as to give you a hard time

What’s not to like

  • The instructions can be a little unclear or feel incomplete at times
  • There are many symbols to keep track of, so you’ll have to keep the helpsheet at hand, at least the first time you play
  • The game can feel boring at times (at least that’s how it felt for me) – it definitely didn’t challenge or entice me that much
Hidden
Complexity vs Learning Curve (4/10)

The rules of 7 Wonders Duel are not extremely difficult to understand, but they can feel a little unclear at times. That said, it shouldn’t take you more than half an hour to understand them, and if there’s anything you forget or need to look over again, you can always keep the rule book close by (that’s what we did when we first played).

I would say mastering the game isn’t far behind since there aren’t that many strategies that you can use in order to win. You can basically focus on building your military power or scientific developments (I would say attempting both at the same time is a waste of time and resources), and then also build as many buildings and Wonders as you can in the process since they come with bonuses, special abilities, and points.

However, you need to pay attention to the cards you choose and whether you’ll build them or use them to build a Wonder. It’s always good to collect as many cards as possible that feature points (that number inside of a laurel) since it might come to who has the most at the end of the game. So, while you should definitely attempt one of the two other strategies to win the game, the points are always welcome.

Another thing you have to pay close attention to whenever you draw a card is the cards your opponent has. For instance, if you see your opponent has started collecting too many scientific symbol cards for comfort, you might have to pick one just to stop them from taking it, even if it may cost you, and you might not need it because your strategy is completely different. The good news (for you) is that even if you don’t have the money and/or resources to build it, you can still discard it, even if that makes you kind of a jerk.

Whenever you draw a card, you also have to consider the cards you’ll be uncovering in the process. Going back to the science example, if your opponent is on the lookout for another science card, you have to be careful not to make their job easier by uncovering it. Of course, sometimes, you’ll have no choice, but other times, it’s just about the strategy you choose to pursue.

Competitiveness (5/10)

I didn’t find 7 Wonders Duel to be a very competitive game, despite its name. Sure, your goal is to beat your opponent, either on the science or combat front (and if both fail, at least through a higher point count), but the stakes just didn’t seem worth it to me to make a big deal about it (and I’m pretty competitive, mind you).

Just moving the military token toward your opponent’s capital or collecting the scientific symbols isn’t enough to make you feel like you’re truly fighting against someone for military or scientific control. The game could have been more immersive and action-based is what I’m saying. That said, if you don’t expect much in terms of competitiveness, you’ll probably enjoy the mellow encounters in which you get to triumph over the other player.

Luck (2/10)

Any game in which you blindly draw cards involves at least a little bit of luck, and this is the case with 7 Wonders Duel as well. However, since usually, the cards you draw also depend on the strategy you want to pursue, luck is not a major factor in this game.

You only depend on luck when the ages cards are first dealt. Firstly, because you have no way of knowing which cards will make it on the table and in what order, and secondly because until more cards are revealed, you will be forced to choose from a limited number of them (sometimes you might only have one choice).

Once the game gets going, and you have several card options to pick from, that’s when it’s not a question of luck anymore, but one of knowing your strategy and how to put it into practice.

Host vs Guest Advantage (1/10)

I don’t think the host has any sort of advantage over the guest in 7 Wonders Duel. As with any board game, being familiar with the cards beforehand and knowing the rules of the game means you’ll have the edge over your opponent, but a rather insignificant one, in my opinion.

Even if you know the cards, you can’t possibly control which ones you’ll get. The same thing goes for the Wonder cards you’ll end up having. Since there aren’t many strategies that you can have either, there’s also no chance of the host having learned the “best” strategy by owning the game.

Balance (6/10)

There isn’t a single strategy that will make you a clear winner in 7 Wonders Duel. You can win by military dominance, scientific dominance, or simply by having the most points at the end of the game. That is why, in case no one checks one of the first two boxes, it’s important to create a strategy that also focuses on getting as many extra points as possible.

In this respect, the game is quite balanced. However, keep in mind that the strategies are limited. It’s not the same as say, Terraforming Mars, where there are many more strategies you could go for.

This can be both a pro and a con, depending on your take on strategy board games. If you think the best strategy board games should well, involve lots of strategizing, 7 Wonders Duel might not be the game for you. If you prefer strategy games that go easy on the strategy but still challenge you to think and choreograph your moves, you’ll definitely like this game.

6. Carcassonne

Gametime60-90 min.
Difficulty3/10
Players2-5
Ages8+
Extra requirementsNone
Our Rating6/10

Summary & Gameplay

In Carcassonne, you’re developing the areas around the French city called, you guessed it, Carcassonne in the Middle Ages. Each player gets some meeples – one that they have to place on 0 on the scoreboard, and the rest which they will keep and use later on to claim territories. The city tiles are placed face down in piles in front of the players. The start tile (the one with a darker back) is placed in the middle of the table.

Players have to take turns drawing a tile from the pile and placing it next to another existing tile on the table, somewhere it fits. Tiles can feature roads, cities, grasslands, or cloisters, all of which create a map. Whenever you place a tile on the board, you also have the option to place a meeple on it in order to claim it. This is how you get points to win the game.

Now, on some tiles, there are several things you can claim, and you can only choose one of them. For instance, while some tiles are just grasslands, others feature both grasslands and roads (some even multiple roads), and you have to choose one of them to claim as your own. Again, you don’t have to do this, but you also don’t want to waste the chance to do so, because you can’t go back and do it.

The thing that makes this game a bit more immersive is that your meeple becomes different things according to where you place it. If you place it on a road, it becomes a highwayman. If you place it on a cloister, it becomes a monk. If you place it on a city, it becomes a knight. Finally, if you place your meeple on a grassland (lying down), it will become a farmer.

You cannot place your meeple on any area that continues a land that has already been claimed by another meeple (even your own). The one exception is when you reach a crossroads, in which case the already existing meeple can only claim one of the three roads on that card (and by extension its continuation).

Do not despair, though. You can still be sneaky and share in the profits of another player. How? By adding a potential continuation of another player’s city, for instance, as long as it’s only touching their tile diagonally. If they choose to add a third tile that connects the other two existing tiles, that’s great news for you.

If I’ve just bored you with all this talk, let’s quickly look at how you can win this thing, ‘cause that’s what you’re here for, right? Whenever a player completes a city, they get 2 points per each tile that makes up the city, and two more if a tile has a coat of armor symbol on it. When you’re done moving your meeple on the scoreboard according to the number of points you’ve accumulated, you can take the meeple back, which is good if you need it for another land you want to claim.

For closed roads, you get 1 point for each tile that makes up the road. For a cloister (which you can only collect once it’s surrounded by tiles), you get a point for the cloister and a point for each of the tiles surrounding it. As a farmer, you only get your points at the end of the game. Also, if at the end of the game, you have meeples on incomplete constructions, you also get one point for each tile of said construction (+ another one if one of the tiles has a coat of armor symbol on it). For grasslands, you get three points for every completed city that it touches.

“I feel Carcassonne involves about 60% luck because, in the end, the tiles you draw can help you win or can make you want to smash everything in sight (if you have a competitive nature).”

Carcassonne Board Game Review

What’s to like

  • The game is easy to understand and play, even if you’re not a strategy board game aficionado
  • There are multiple strategies you can use to win, so the game is quite balanced

What’s not to like

  • The game can be a bit boring, at least in my experience
  • While there are plenty of strategies to keep you busy, the actions are not at all varied. When your turn comes, there isn’t a lot you can do.
Hidden
Complexity vs Learning Curve (6/10)

It’s easy to understand the rules of Carcassonne, but applying them within a strategy can be a bit of a challenge (especially for a first-time player) if you want to get the highest score at the end of the game (I mean, who doesn’t?).

So, I would say that in order to fully understand and master this game, you have to play it at least a couple of times. While it may seem simple, don’t let that trick you. There are many strategies that become apparent only after you’ve played the game at least once. As a first time player, even if you understand how everything works, you will eventually discover there were things you could have done that you didn’t because you didn’t realize it at the time.

I’m talking here especially about the strategy of being a leech and adding tiles diagonally next to territories that are already claimed in order to get in on the points. There are many options here, and you might end up scoring more points than expected in the end.

Competitiveness (5/10)

Carcassonne is not a very competitive game. Sure, you can strategize quite a lot to collect as many points as possible, but you don’t have to destroy your opponent in the process.

In fact, the game is as competitive as you make it. For instance, according to the official rules, you can show the tile you’ve drawn to the other players, and they can advise you where to place it (cooperation). However, you can also go a completely different way and sabotage your opponents, all the while focusing on claiming as many territories as possible.

Sometimes, you will end up serving some tiles on a silver platter to the other players because you don’t need them, don’t know where to place them, or don’t have anywhere else to place them. You can also form teams in situations where you feel you would both benefit from the points you can collect from an extensive territory on the board.

Luck (6/10)

I feel Carcassonne involves about 60% luck because, in the end, the tiles you draw can help you win or can make you want to smash everything in sight (if you have a competitive nature). You might start your strategy hoping to build castles and churches, but only end up with roads because that’s what you picked up.

That said, I don’t recommend basing your strategy on just one specific type of territory, because you can’t possibly know which tiles you’re gonna draw. Keep an open mind at all times and be prepared to switch up your strategy at a moment’s notice.

Host vs Guest Advantage (1/10)

Considering the fact that there are so many tiles and possible combinations in Carcassonne, the host clearly has no advantage over the guests. This game relies on luck quite a bit, and even if you’ve played it a couple of times and know what options you have in terms of strategy, that alone can’t help you win the game. It will help you, however, to know your strategy way before other more inexperienced players can figure it out.

Balance (9/10)

Once you get to know the rules, you can develop a myriad of different strategies. This makes the game quite balanced because there’s definitely not ONE STRATEGY that is the winning one. Any kind of strategy can make you a winner at this game, as long as you play your metaphorical cards right.

Conclusion

If you made it till the very end of this article, you’re a trooper. Or you know, you’re really into strategy board games. Have you discovered any new best strategy games you’re dying to play in this review? Let me know down below.

We’re going to keep expanding this review as well, so if you have suggestions of other best strategy games that BLEW. YOUR. MIND. or that you’d like to buy some time in the future, leave them in a comment and we might get to reviewing them soon.

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Andreea Voicu

Executive Editor

If you were to look for me most days of the week, you would find me either in front of my laptop watching TV shows, or reading a book with my cats beside me.

I enjoy keeping up-to-date with TV shows and movies that strive to provide positive and accurate representations of different aspects of society and groups of people. Moreover, I am a geek at heart when it comes to franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars. If you think I own too many Harry Potter bits and bobs, you’re definitely right.

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