This back-to-school season may be unlike past years in terms of limits on what we are able to do, but there are still many ways to have fun. Playing strategy games is a great way to fill those long evenings while keeping your student’s (and your own) mind sharp.
Here is list of 10 strategy games that you can enjoy as a family:
The classic game of dueling ships recommended for ages 7 and up. At the onset of this two-player game, players hide a series of battleships on the grid on their side but are unable to see where their opponent’s ships are hiding. On your turn, you call out a location on the grid (eg., “A10)”, and your opponent says “miss” or “hit” until the ships are sunk.
Strategy: Battleship invites players to think strategically about both where to position their own ships, and how best to locate and sink their opponent’s ships. After you’ve played this game a lot, it gets way easier to figure out where ships are located, but especially for young players, this game is a great introduction to the world of strategy.
Sharpen your spatial reasoning skills with this geometric puzzle/board conquest game for 2-4 players (ideal is 4 players). Each player has 21 different shaped tile pieces, and the goal is to be able to place as many of your tiles on the board as possible by the end of the game. On your turn, you must place a piece connecting to another of your piece’s on the board, but only corner-to-corner touching for the same color is allowed. If you are not able to place a piece on your turn, you forfeit your turn. The game ends once no player is able to place a piece, and points are then counted. This game is recommended for ages 7 and up.
Strategy: Unlike some of the games included on this list, luck has no role in this game. It all boils down to strategic placement. Can you ensure a path for your own pieces while blocking your opponent? I love this game because the mechanics are simple but learning how to play optimally takes time. As players grow more experienced, the competition grows fiercer.
3) The Settlers of Catan
In this award-winning family board game for 4-6 players, dice rolls lead to collecting resource cards which let you build settlements and cities that are worth victory points. Players can also initiate trades for resources they need, as everyone competes to be the first to get 10 victory points. On the Catan website, you can find the version of the game that best fits your family in terms of age, amount of time per game, and number of players.
Strategy: While there is quite a bit of luck in Catan based on dice roll, the game also invites a lot of strategic thinking about where to build your roads, settlements, and cities. You can also use resource cards to buy development cards which give you advantages that you can use to gain more victory points. Some players like to diversify their resources, while others double down on a couple of resources and use that monopoly to leverage trades with other players.
4) Cat Crimes
In this single-player game for kids ages 8+, you must use your powers of logical deduction to determine which cat broke the flower pot, spilled the coffee, etc. Each game scenario includes a card with pertinent information, various tokens, and a game board to help you visualize the information and solve the logic puzzle.
Strategy: Logic puzzles like these (written as abstract word problems) are a core part of the LSAT test taken to get into law school. Many people falsely believe that kids are incapable of logical reasoning, but the truth is that if they are supported through the kinds of visual aids that the game provides, they can begin to build those reasoning skills at a much younger age than we typically expect.
Compete as the head of an Italian city-state using a mix of strategy and bluffing in this card game built for 2-6 players (best for age 10+.) At the beginning of the game, every player is randomly dealt two character cards – with each character having a specific power (possible action) unique to him/her. On your turn, you can choose to gain currency, launch an attack on other player’s character cards, etc.. The game continues until there is only one player with at least one character card remaining.
Strategy: Because different characters have different abilities, each round of the game will require you to develop a strategy for how to win with which character/powers you have (unless you opt to switch cards later in the game.) Successful players will need to figure out how many resources to devote to offense versus defense. As another fun layer, you can choose to act as though you are holding a character card that you are not, and as long as no one challenges your action, your bluff will succeed. But it’s always a risk, because the penalties for being caught bluffing can be steep.
6) Exploding Kittens
This is one of my favorite card games. The premise is simple: each turn, you play a card from your hand, and then draw a card from the deck. If you draw an exploding kitten card, you are eliminated from the game unless you happen to have a diffuse card. Each player begins the game with a diffuse card, and there are four exploding kitten cards: and then there are an assortment of other fun cards like Attack, Skip, See the Future, Shuffle The Deck, etc..
Strategy: This game is strategic because in choosing which cards to use and when, you can play aggressively (trying to eliminate other players), defensively (gathering as many cards as possible to protect yourself), or a mix of both. Thinking about probability is also relevant to this game: the further into the game, and the fewer cards left, the greater the chance of drawing an exploding kitten card.
7) No Stress Chess
Chess is a complex game and it can feel daunting to learn. No Stress Chess provides an easy introduction (for kids as young as seven) that combines a standard chessboard with illustrated cards of each piece that shows you how that piece can move. On your turn, draw a card which tells you which piece you can move on your turn. As you grow familiar with chess, draw 3 cards (or even 5) and decide which card you will play on your turn. After a while, you’ll feel confident playing chess without needing the cards at all.
Strategy: There are typically two ways to become really good at chess. The first way is to study moves: memorize openings and endings, learn optimized move sequences, and drill on classic blunders so that you can avoid those mistakes while taking advantage of situations where your opponent makes them. Professional players who use this approach analyze the board logically and make predictions for several moves in advance, with contingency plans for when the game doesn’t go as predicted, The second way, which is my preference, is to develop intuition by playing a lot, and then to rely on that intuition as you seek to maintain competitive advantage in position and movement.
The original game of world domination, this game mixes the strategy of where you place your troops and when you choose to attack your opponents with the sheer luck of the dice roll. A game of Risk can last for hours, which means it’s a great way to spend a rainy Saturday.
Strategy: In addition to planning out your attacks, and deciding which locations are worth fortifying and trying to hold, this is also a game that also rewards shrewd alliance-making. Also, as the name suggests, this is a game all about evaluating risk: because attackers use an extra dice when rolling, playing too defensively can be costly. But even the most sure-fire attack can sometimes backfire, leaving you vulnerable to counter-attacks.
9) Tiny Epic Galaxies
This is one of the coolest games I’ve played. The game is similar to Catan inasmuch as it revolves around spending resources to build cities, but while the game mechanics are not more complex than Catan, the strategy aspect far exceeds it. On your turn, you roll dice with various symbols on them: the symbols designate actions which you can use for your turn. The order in which you act matters, and as another fun twist, other players with the right amount of particular resources can “follow” your move (basically copying it) out of turn. This game is recommended for ages 14+ and can be played by as many as 5 players or as a solo game.
Strategy: to win this game, you really have to plan out your actions, steward your resources well, and anticipate what other people will try to do. This is a game that will likely frustrate younger players, but older players and adults will enjoy the layers of strategy.
10) Zeus on the Loose
Zeus on the Loose is a card-based strategy game that reinforces addition and subtraction skills. The goal of the game is to have possession of the Zeus figurine when the deck equals 100. Each turn, players add a card to the deck and do the math (eg., the pile is at 15, I added a 3 card, the pile is now 18). Whenever the deck equals a multiple of ten, the player steals Zeus. Whoever has Zeus when the pile reaches 100 wins. But there’s a catch: interspersed with the numerical playing cards are various Greek deities who can affect the game by subtracting, skipping, etc..
Strategy: I’ve played this game with students ranging from early to late elementary and they love it. The ability to strategize based on anticipating moves, and saving special cards for later in the game allows students to develop their own theories about how to win. And all the while, they’re sharpening their math skills and not even realizing it!
As always, we encourage you to be actively engaged in the entertainment choices for your family, so make sure you use your best judgment in deciding what games are a good fit for your family.
What strategy games do you enjoy playing? Did we miss one of your favorites? Tell us in the comments!