The Best War Board Games

Board games come in a lot of diffrent themes, but war is one of the most popular. And for good reason — war board games can be incredbily fun and exciting. All of the games below will give you a feeling of epic battle. Some may do it in an evening, some may take all day, but none of them will sell you short on battle strategy along the way. Gather some friends, get the snacks and drinks together, and settle in for a long haul thrill ride.

A few tips to help longer games run smoothly. If you can, get a pdf copy of the rulebook — most publishers make them freely available — and have everyone read it before the game. Insist players do “admin” tasks like sorting their hands or counters outside their turn. You may also want to impose a time limit per turn if all players agree. Now, on with the games.

Twilight Imperium IV

Games don’t get more epic than this all-day affair of sci-fi civilization building. It’s got everything you could want from the genre. A range of bizarre aliens research technology and build fleets to fight over a random galactic hex map. There’s inter-player diplomacy, of course, but also in-game political decrees to vote on. Yet while dealmaking is important, it rests on a rock-solid strategic core to challenge you. The strategy card system, where each player picks a special focus each round, is a particular mechanical gem. This fourth edition retains the sweeping scope but trims lots of fat, making it more accessible. For more, check out our list of the best strategy board games.

Dune

Dune

Dune is a very different kind of futuristic game. Based on Frank Herbert’s famous novel and first released in 1979, it was years ahead of its time. There’s little randomness in Dune. Instead, the game rests on a fascinating balance of hidden information. Each player takes the role of a faction from the book, with asymmetric special powers. The Atreides, for example, get to peek at cards as they’re auctioned off blind, while the wicked Harkonnen know all the secret traitors in play. The result is an astonishing evocation of the narrative and political themes of the novel. This new edition has cleaner rules and spanking art.

Star Wars Rebellion

Star Wars: Rebellion

Star Wars Rebellion takes a more liberal approach to reconstruct a favorite franchise on your table. It’s clearly Star Wars. The Rebellion player is the underdog, trying to survive militarily while winning planets over to their cause. The Empire, meanwhile, wields the power of huge armies to crush the slightest sign of dissent. It’s a fascinating asymmetric struggle, peopled by well-known characters and events from the movies. But beyond the famous faces, the unfolding narrative is up to you. It’s all woven together with tight strategic strings to ensure each turn is full of challenge and variety.

Undaunted: Normandy & Undaunted: North Africa

Undaunted: Normandy
Undaunted: North Africa

While in no way a simulation, the way these games leverage the deck building genre to conjure the tactics of infantry combat from just a few rules is astonishing. Officer cards let you add new unit cards to your deck, imitating the issuing of orders and supplies to soldiers in the field. Those unit cards, meanwhile, let you move the matching troop counters on the modular scenario map, fighting the enemy and seizing objectives. Casualties thin your deck, making units less able to act as their morale erodes under fire. With tense firefights and pivotal moments aplenty, you won’t find a more accessible or engaging way to refight the Second World War.

Root

Root

One of the shorter games on the list, Root is a bold design that throws asymmetry to the fore. There are four fighting factions for control of the woodland realm, each with its own unique rules and feel. The Marquise de Cat and the Eyrie play standard, if quite different, conquest games. The Woodland Folk are guerrilla fighters against those invaders. Finally, the Vagabond is a lone trickster-hero. Don’t let the cute theme and quirky art put you off — this is a red-blooded game of brutal strategy, where each play asks big questions about politics and governance in the real world.

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game

Speaking of politics, this game re-creates all the conniving and backstabbing of the books and TV show. To do so, it borrows a trick from classic Diplomacy: only one player can win, but no player has the resources to win alone. Alliances and eventual treachery are thus inevitable, keeping everyone on a knife-edge. It’s governed by a thrilling secret order system, meaning you can’t know your opponent’s intentions until it’s too late. Atop this time-tested formula are lots of sweet bells and whistles from the world of Westeros to add strategic interest. A great game in its own right, it’s a must for fans of the franchise. Also check out our picks for the best board games for adults.

War of the Ring

War of the Ring 2nd Edition

Another top title for lovers of the source material, this is by far the best of the many attempts to board-game Tolkien. At its heart is a brilliant division into two games on the same board. First is the epic clash of armies across Middle-earth, as the free peoples wake up and resist the threat of the dark lord Sauron. Beneath is the quest of the Fellowship to throw the One Ring into the fire before Sauron conquers all. The genius of this design is the way the two halves interweave at every turn, leaving a tricky tactical balancing act for players to master.

Mare Nostrum: Empires

Mare Nostrum: Empires

The original Mare Nostrum was a sadly overlooked gem of quasi-historical civilization building. Players took the role of one of the great powers of the ancient Mediterranean. Using modern, streamlined board game mechanics they traded, built and fought their way to victory. The core of the game’s appeal is the tension between the clever strategic levers on offer and good, old-fashioned piling on the leader. Along the way, you get to employ the heroes and gods of classical myth alongside the armies, navies and wonders of the ancient world. This new Empires edition boasts cracking components and a complete overhaul of rules and game balance.

Friedrich / Maria

Friedrich
Maria

Both these related games are set during the central European wars of the mid-1700s. Yet for all their niche subject matter, they are superb strategy games, rich and deep yet accessible. Both use a similar, simple core system of movement and supply. Battles get resolved via a novel system using a deck of playing cards that rewards careful choice of ground and timing. To win at either, you’ll need to master fighting on multiple fronts, hoarding resources for key encounters. Maria is a little longer and more complex, but you won’t go wrong with either. Get past the setting and get stuck into some historical gaming.

Here I Stand

Here I Stand

If you want history on a grand scale, how about this grand game that reconstructs the European-wide reformation. It takes all day, but Here I Stand is a tight lattice of every enjoyable gaming genre. If you want diplomacy, there’s a timed negotiation window built into every turn. If you want strategy, there’s a continent-spanning movement and clashing of armies. If you want mechanics, there’s an intriguing tension between playing cards for their historical event or their points. These events fill the already engaging war-game skeleton with rich historical meat. It was designed by Ed Beach, also responsible for the Civilization VI on PC; gaming doesn’t come much more epic than this.

Mythic Battles / Mythic Battles: Pantheon

Mythic Battles

Technically this is a tactical skirmish game more than a strategy one. But when you’re skirmishing with all the glorious gods and monsters of Greek myth, it counts as an epic either way. Pantheon also boasts epic gameplay with a clever mix of card drafting and hand management. Once you’ve drafted your units, you activate them by playing their cards. With activations limited by the number of cards each unit has, forward planning and clever play are essential. Pantheon is a re-release of the original Mythic Battles with some cool rules tweaks and awesome miniatures. It was a Kickstarter exclusive, unfortunately, but the original is good enough to earn its spot on the list.

Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy

Eclipse: 2nd Dawn for The Galaxy

While the Twilight Imperium series has tended to emphasize warfare and diplomacy over long term planning, Eclipse attempts to bring more strategy to sci-fi civilization-building. Smart systems for initiative and technology upgrades mean you’re always having to look several steps ahead as you branch out from your starting hex into the unknown reaches of the galaxy. That tactical depth doesn’t detract from the feeling of exploring the cosmos, designing ships and taking the fight to your opponents. It’s just that when you get there, you need to be more reliant on having the right tech and the right units than falling back on the luck of the dice.

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