Ah, the war board game.
What better way to express friendship than pretending to command an army that threatens to skewer and pillage your friends’ territories?
No war board game that we love failed to make this list. Except for the ones that didn’t. Are we being evasive? You see, we have to build up a false alliance first. Trick you with seeming loyalty.
If we don’t strike first, we’re vulnerable. And our therapist says we need to work on self-care. That’s right, at Roll for Turns, we all share the same therapist.
His name is Doctor Death, and he makes heavy use of cognitive-behavioral conquering. A most deadly tactic.
Axis & Allies
For a game that lets you play as a Nazi, this experience is surprisingly politically correct. And popular. Axis and Allies has been around so long, it’s one of the few war board games where your sassy old uncle can still beat you.
There are loads of iterations, including Axis and Allies Europe, Pacific, D-Day, 1940, and Zombies.
The Granddaddy of War Board Games
No matter the edition, Axis and Allies sees you and the other players taking command of roughly historically accurate militaries across the world. Germany, for example, is stocked with fighters, bombers, tanks, infantry, and plenty else.
Britain has a wooden sword and a poster of Winston Churchill making a rude gesture.
Turn by turn, you’ll move your forces, fight for territories, and spend money on new forces. The nature of the asymmetrical starting positions means you’ll see a lot of optimal or “necessary” moves early game, followed by some really cool alternate-history scenarios.
Perfect for history buffs, villains, and heroes who didn’t get involved until they were attacked by the Japanese.
Ever heard of RISK? Of course you have. Everyone’s borders been ransacked at least once by those tiny, colorful little jerks with pointy bayonets.
There are a host of RISK variations by now, but this entry remains a supreme entry point for new wargamers. And now you can betray flimsy alliances in a Euro-focused context!
A Timeless Classic
This version has fairly simple components, but it’s got a great aesthetic. From shield-shaped kingdom cards to cardboard coins, there is a solid medieval feel to RISK: Europe.
It’s nothing revolutionary, really, but RISK enthusiasts will want it in their collections. And not every war game grants you the feeling of besieging another player’s fortress. Hey, did you also know Italy is shaped like a boot? It looks like it’s poised to kick, too. As in, your neighboring kings’ butts.
Burger King crown not included.
Some wargames, like RISK, are perfect gateway titles into the realm of plastic warfare.
This ain’t one of those.
Twilight Struggle isn’t even a war game per se. More like a Cold War game. This is a very historically accurate war board game for exactly two players. It’s Soviet Russia vs. America in the ultimate 1945-1989 we-almost-blew-ourselves-up battle of wits.
The strategy here is intense. Your first game will be a dumb mess, and Mikhail Gorbachov will turn over in his grave to whine justifiably at Ronald Reagan (who is in the same king-size coffin for some reason).
The Ultimate Cold War Simulation War Board Game
Once you get the hang of how the cards play, and read a history book on the Cold War, and look up strategy online, you will delve into the most brutal, tit-for-tat game strat since the advent of Chess.
Prepare to agonize over hypotheticals as you frantically pore over your available moves. (Hey, just like the real Cold War.) You will also agonize over the visuals because this game is as ugly as Stalin’s moustache after he slurps bowl of thick borsch.
Ignore that and sink into the tactics. Such a classic.
Blood and rage. Two of a viking’s favorite things.
Move past the silly name and prepare yourself for a warrior’s death. This war board game looks like RISK on the surface, but RISK it is not. For one, most of the fighting is done using cards.
There are a series of drafts each round, so you get first pick of your starting hand. Second pick of the next hand, third pick, etc., until you exhume the lifeless garbage cards from the final hand, which is done out of necessity.
A War Board Game to Satisfy Your Inner Viking
It’s all or nothing in these fights, so don’t expect to go blow for blow with your neighboring tribes. If you play a +1 card and the other guy plays a +2 card, all your units die. Vikings take no prisoners.
But, and this is a big but, vikings are all about death. Giving it, receiving it, anything goes. There are bonuses for dying and going to Valhalla, which means that you may just want to lose that fight.
As territories are traded and monsters club tiny muscle men to death, Ragnarok is coming. The world is ending, and the only thing left will be the blood and honor you accrued over many generations of cruel pillaging.
Beautiful minis, awesome art, fun gameplay, and tactical wiggle room. And vikings.
We’ll start here: This is a long war board game. As in, potentially 6-8 hours long. That’s with a lot of players at the table. But you’ll love every minute of it because Twilight Imperium is Axis and Allies in space with a ton of cool alien races to play.
A Proper Space Opera of Conflict and Conquest
It’s not pure warfare either. There are politics. Not the kind where your dad argues through mouthfuls of Christmas turkey that laissez-faire capitalism is the only mode of prosperous economy. But real politics with real consequences, like limits on your military presence in a certain region of space.
The big, beautiful map is built tile-by-tile at the start of the game, so you’re always looking at something different than the previous session. At the center of it all is Mecatol Rex, the ancient home planet of an extinct super species with loads of secrets to impart to their successors.
That’s you and your race of plant-based lifeforms, right? Only if you can fight, earn, and politically maneuver your way to the goal. Epic wargaming with an epic playtime. Don’t miss this one if you’re serious about space battles.
And who isn’t?
A game for diplomats.
Diplomacy functions on a planning/simultaneous action mechanic that sees players writing down coded instructions and conferring with other powers around the table.
Once the phase shifts, all moves written down are carried out. That guy who said he wouldn’t attack you? Well, he did. Too bad you believed him, or else you would have left more defensive forces in that territory. Oh well, there’s always next turn.
Diplomacy is sometimes thought of as an “evil” war board game, and we cannot exactly disagree. You’ll have to backstab someone at some point. That’s just how this thing goes. You will be bargaining, threatening, pleading, and bullying your way to the top. Or the bottom.
Interestingly, there are no dice! It all comes down to good planning and social relations.
Game of Thrones
If the antique industrial-revolution look isn’t your thing, and you like rules (hey, some of us do), try Game of Thrones instead of Diplomacy (above).
You’re looking at the same premise as Diplomacy, but with a heavy GoT theme layered on top. There will be issues like morale and weather to consider, as well as objectives to pursue.
At the end of the day, you are negotiating with your noble neighbors and trying to figure out who will backstab you. Or whom you can trust before they inevitably backstab you.
Once combat is entered , there are buffing cards to play that will enhance the strength of your forces. Spectacular art and tokens make this a deep and thematic experience. It’s denser than Diplomacy though.
Memoir 44 is a simple and engaging foray into wargaming. Highly accessible to new players. This is not a questionable entry in terms of category either–it’s a war board game for sure.
The rules are brief, and most games play out in a pretty short span. You’ll play as Axis or Allies, and your units will move across the hex boards as you pursue a scenario objective.
Battle scenarios actually recreate troop placement, landscapes and conditions from real WW2 battles.
Every unit type has a different strength, so you’ll have to use all your pieces wisely. Don’t send your infantry to do the job of a few tanks.
The actual fighting is done using colorful dice with neat little symbols on them. Roll a soldier symbol and hit an infantry, simple as that.
For gamers looking for tactical depth without the hassle of a heavy rules tome, Memoir 44 is a very popular choice.
This one is sort of like a cross between Blood Rage, Diplomacy, and Twilight Imperium.
It’s also one of the highest-rated war board games in existence. Every turn, your unique alien species will have a certain number of cards available. These will dictate how you interact with other players.
You can negotiate or attack. You and your neighboring aliens each lay a card down. If you both negotiated (like you said you would), you’re safe.
If you attacked and they negotiated, they lose all their forces.
But if you both attacked, you compare card+ship values. Highest total wins. If you had more forces on the board, the other guy may have been intimidated into negotiating. But then again, maybe he had a high attack card waiting in his hand.
You’re stuck with the hand you’re dealt in any case. If all you have is negotiate cards, prepare to get sacked. Either that or bluff your way to victory.
There are so many different alien races in this game it’s absurd. Fifty unique playable species, man. Every single one of them performs some wacky game-changing function like making its own planets attack or adding huge amounts to its attack values.
Every single game of this will be different. Randomize the species distribution to crank up the fun factor. Cosmic Encounter can’t be missed.
Another no-dice wargame! *
Smallworld is the amusing brainchild of Days of Wonder, and remains one of their finest. Randomly combine races and powers to create the available list of cultures for selection.
Fireball wizards, dragon master elves, flying ratmen, bivouacking giants, and so many more combinations.
You’ll get race tiles proportional to your strength, so weak races and powers tend to come on the board in higher numbers. You’ll place your tiles at specific ratios in order to conquer territories, e.g. two tiles to conquer an empty space, three to conquer a mountain, 3 +the number of your opponent’s tiles + one for any mountains, etc.
*Wait, no, there is a die. Just one though, and it’s only for your final conquest of the turn. Most of the action happens by the numbers, so you’ll usually know upfront whether you can take a territory.
This is largely a game of timing and opportunity though. As your tiles run low and oyu civilization spreads thin, you will have to decide whether it is time to go into decline.
Decline means your first race is basically a goner, and you’ll do nothing for a turn. But then you’ll select a new race+power. And they will be at the height of their strength.
So do you wait to go into decline, or suffer an inevitable weak period now, getting first pick of that contextually perfect race+power combo that just became available?
The race and power combos are hilarious and exciting, making Smallworld different every time you play.
This counts as a war board game, right? We say it does. X-Wing is a tactical miniatures game from Fantasy Flight.
Those guys seem to have the addiction process down pat. Aside from starter sets, ships are sold in little packages with cards you can use to equip different weapons or pull sweet maneuvers.
There’s always just one more ship you need to complete your fighting force. One more TIE fighter. Oh, and Dash Rendar’s ship. And also Slave 1. The list goes on.
As cash drains from that hole in your wallet like Mos Eisley stew, you are dogfighting in space; epic battles of good vs. evil in a galaxy that is really remote, or so we hear.
The coolest rule is the little dial you use to plan your ships’ actions. You will do this simultaneously with your opponent, revealing the moves you both made in the coming round. This simulates real-time air/space combat, which lends X-Wing an exciting unpredictability.
Compared with similar “pay-to-play” tabletop wargames like Warhammer or Bolt Action, this one is on the lower end of the investment scale.
It’s easy to grasp, plays through in about 30-40 minutes (generally), and brings tacticians hours of laborious joy crafting potential ship lists and micromanaging points costs.
This is like a strange combination of pleasure and pain that wargamers know too well. If you have literally no spare time on your hands, X-Wing may not be the game for you.
It is less forgiving even than Darth Vader himself, whom we hear is prone to making his underlings work overtime with no extra pay. Yoda called it, man. Too old. Props to the ancient little guy for not rubbing it in Obi-Wan’s face though.
War of the Ring
Don’t count this game out! Yeah, it’s Lord of the Rings. But some Tolkien games are not licensed poop in a bucket. Why would you license poop in a bucket? For money. People buy poopy buckets.
War of the Ring is more like exceptional sex in a lavish castle if we’re sticking with the thing-in-a-container analogy.
This game comes with a map board that does justice to J.R.R.’s expansive world, casting players in roles like those of Gondor, Rohan, Rivendell, or Lord Sauron’s black hordes of vicious killers and slavering beasts.
In this asymmetrical conflict, the evil player has unlimited reinforcements. The good guys have to make do with what’s on hand. Or as Gandalf once put it:
All we can do is decide what to do with the men that are given to us. Which in our case is ailing horse trainers from Rohan and Twitter-happy peasants with undergraduate degrees in Women’s Studies. If I have to cast one more Clean SJW Trousers spell when the Uruk-hai show up, I am joining the dark lord, I swear to Ainu.
Really kick-ass art–totally original, illustrated gold here. No movie stills! You’ll gaze lovingly at it while you roll dice to duke it out across Middle-Earth. Good will attempt to score victories while evil while strive to corrupt the ringbearer.
Who’s this Boromir guy? He has some really good ideas. I vote we give the ring to him.
Rank-and-file combat makes a comeback in the epic fantasy world of Terry-Brooks-inoth! This is Fantasy Flight’s answer to Games Workshop’s bizarre reinvention of the classic Warhammer Fantasy Battle Game.
Warhammer Fantasy Battle is gone, but Runewars has risen from the misty hills where magic golems swing big swords at vibrantly dressed skeleton warriors.
Leave it to Fantasy Flight to incorporate dials into its wargames. It’s pretty novel, though, where you select a unit’s action for the turn and an accompanying modifier across two separate dials.
This determines actions and initiative at the same time, making Runewars a dense title to infect players with analysis paralysis. Will the enemy you’re charging even be there once the time comes to move your unit?
This is a little weird sometimes, as you can imagine a cluster of soldiers preparing to charge the enemy, only to totally ignore the fact that the enemy turned left and walked ten feet to the right. Maybe this represents a unit commander barking orders, which the soldiers follow through until it’s too late to adapt.
Neat little cards can be used to customize these units giving them greater mobility, superior attacking power, etc. So plenty of depth here.
To be totally clear, though, the models do come unpainted. It’s a hobby wargame.
Oh, uh, let’s also get this out of the way: Organized play for Runewars is done. That is, this game is pretty much discontinued. If you and a buddy want a casual war board game to enjoy between the two of you, Runewars is still a great choice.
It’s sad that it had to come to a close, but these things happen in the gaming world. Of course, if you’re not into the tournament scene, this is generally not as critical a blow.
Tigris & Euphrates
Hearken back to high school history, readers. Mesopotamia isn’t done with you yet.
This is a war board game by a man with a Ph.D, so you can count on… Well, you can’t count on anything due to that specific fact about Dr. Reiner Knizia. But it makes us feel smart when we play.
You’ll engage in civilization-building competition as you vie for ownership of the fertile crescent. Do not attempt to inseminate the fertile crescent unless you really like mud.
Tigris & Euphrates is a tile-placement game with spot-on artwork to mimic ancient cultures from the region. Strategically place your tiles and get ready to deal with inevitable conflicts from without and within.
You can basically stir up rebels in your opponent’s areas, causing strife and giving him a real tough time of things in general.
Reiner Knizia has actually done a bunch of these games. They’re mostly all hardcore euro-style, and lots of them have this same general kind of war theme going on.
The rules are
“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.”
Then again, Sun Tzu also said:
“Move…Wood. Attack…the Fire and be….Mountain.”
Dementia can really strike anyone, you know?
This is up there with Twilight Imperium (above). Long, dense, rules-heavy, and did we say long?
It’s a fabulous entry on our list though. Players begin in their own corner of a mysterious region of space. You better get to capturing planets quick, because your civilization doesn’t grow weapons of space war on weird alien trees with silver leaves.
Actually, this game is a little like Terra Mystica in space. And also you fight. And design your own ships! This is one major element that Eclipse has over other war board game titles like Twilight Imperium: The customization is brilliant.
Heap technologies atop one another to construct your own custom ships and spend hours deciding how to use them. Every decision is a heavy one in Eclipse, and this game is hyper-political.
Your opponents and their choices matter. Oh, do they matter. If you think you can do your own thing and float through empty space all the way to victory, think again. In Eclipse, you’ll do a lot of thinking.
Chaos in the Old World (Out of Print Currently!)
Are you familiar with the Warhammer universe chaos gods? You don’t have to like Warhammer, but if you are even vaguely interested in mythology, do yourself a favor and look up these four big boys.
Players take on the roles of the four chaos powers: Brutal Khorne, nasty Nurgle, arcane Tzeentch, and sexy Slaanesh. Basically, these four divine thugs slug it out in perpetuity out in some realm of ambiguous substance.
Khorne is the god of bloodshed and skulls, thinking only of slaughter. Nurgle is like a fat, sick Joker who is always jovial, happy to bestow pestilence and oozing sores unto his worshippers.
Tzeentch is some kind of magic bird guy who revels in secret knowledge and tricky spells. Slaanesh is who you worship if you like drugs, food, or sex. Why not all three at the same time?
Rules and strategy-wise, there is too much going on for a human brain to process. Multiple different types of cards, delicate timing windows, and endless scheming over a handful of options.
Star Wars: Rebellion
Star Wars again?
Yes, Star Wars again. The sheer number of components in this bad boy could fill Jabba the Hutt’s innards, causing him to explode all over Salacious B. Crumb in a split-second hurricane of wet alien viscera.
Likewise, no other game to date has done such a grand job of explosively drenching players in the comprehensive Galactic Civil War experience.
Use the Force…Strategically….
This is an asymmetrical war board game of rebels vs. Empire, and it’s reflected in the different ways each side plays. Rebels have to cultivate system loyalty, for example.
The Empire can just dump its militant white load of stormtroopers all over a planet’s surface, caring little for whether they are wanted. They own it–all that matters.
Heroes, ships, soldiers and death stars will battle in the great void, rebels building a wide enough resistance to the Empire, or else suffering the destruction of their main base.
Rebels should not directly engage the Empire in open combat if they can avoid it. Just as you would expect, they are a small handful of guerilla fighters and ideologists who must scheme to win.
They must commit surgical strikes against the bloated fist of the Empire, a lumbering behemoth of Sith power and fascistic rule.
Really stellar design here, A+ for translation of theme to mechanics. This is a big box, and you’ll pay more than the average for a war board game when you purchase it. But you get what you pay for.
By the power of Ra, this is perhaps the most heavily Egyptian-themed game on the market. If you want more ancient Egyptian than this, book a ticket to King Tut’s butt.
Over the course of day and night phases, players battle for territory across the big old board. Another beautiful board here, featuring illustrations of cool stone forts inside which you can position your tiny warriors.
It may be cheesy, but we love how snug and smug we feel with our dudes sequestered in these little castles. The little soldiers are actually a bit small for our liking, but that’s a quibble really.
A War Board Game for the Mummy Boys
You’ll venture out from your forts to attack other soldiers, obtaining territories like temples. Landing in a temple brings a solid reward, so these will be heavily contested.
It’s a tiny bit convoluted: Hold temples to gain prayer points to upgrade your personal temples to the requisite level they need to reach in order to buy special upgrade powers.
Kemet begins fast for a wargame and includes elements of mythology, so you can include things like giant scorpions in your army.
Unfortunately, there is no upgrade that allows you to include the bad-CGI Scorpion King with Dwayne Johnson’s face superimposed on it. This too is a minor quibble with an exceptional war board game of strategy and really cool, intricate upgrade systems.
Practically mandatory for lovers of wargames and Egyptian mythology.
This is sort of a spiritual prequel to Kemet (above). In this game, you’re bidding for the affection of the capricious Greek pantheon.
There’s Zeus, the thunderous molester king of Mount Olympus; Poseidon, who took after his brother and raped at least one person (it was Medusa); Athena, who got mad at Medusa for getting raped and turned her into a monstrous snake woman (and later helped Perseus to kill this frankenstein); and Apollo, who repeatedly tried to coerce people into having sex with him, only to watch his horrified would-be lovers kill themselves to escape the fate of his divine junk.
Zeus is Pleased! (Hopefully)
So, let’s talk about Cyclades, a war board game where you petition these villains for aid, like contacting an imprisoned mob boss who might hook you up with some of his thugs on the outside if you ask real nice.
Capture the islands, build universities, ports, temples, and fortresses. Bid for the gods’ assistance. Each god does something different, so if you and an opponent are trying to accomplish the same goals, prepare for a little competition.
The endgame is to build two metropolises, which can be done a number of different ways. One way is to gather four philosophers into the same area. Instant metropolis.
Couldn’t these four brainiacs just gather at a dump though? Like, what if they met at Chuck. E. Cheese’s? Would those terrible singing robots on the stage become musical innovators to rival the Beatles? Is this what happens in a metropolis?
Also, there are mythological creatures. Krakens, Medusa, etc. Quit reading this and buy Cyclades.
Prepare to be Boarded.
What’s with all this killing? Can’t we play a nice puzzle game instead?
Only if the puzzle is how to most brutally conquer your enemies through physical violence and unnecessary collateral damage.
You want Candyland? Well, enjoy that while it lasts, because Marshmallow Mountain and Gummy Grotto are about to be awash with the sweet innards of Oompa Loompas.
As the famous Ms. Frizzle of the Magic School Bus always used to say:
Take chances; make mistakes; crush the enemy population beneath the cruel iron of your conquering fist! And buy a war board game.– Ms. Frizzle, Destroyer of Worlds
Preferably, one from this list.
Yeah, Ms. Frizzle definitely said that. Um, it was a deleted scene though. So don’t look for it.