Life is good. But it could be better.
For many gamers, one of the greatest joys is not only winning – but winning well.
But “well” means a lot of different things.
This could be with incredible efficiency. Or maybe a way that was novel and innovative. Or improving on a tactic that got you close to victory the last time you played.
And the games that offer such a playing opportunity are few and far-between.
So, here are eight of our favourite games that let you optimise your way to victory. Or take joy and smashing the machines of those that dare stand on your way.
8. Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization (2015)
A much-beloved masterpiece of bloodshed and battle, TTA is a gaming success story for a good reason. Its degree of choice matches its level of complexity. Letting you play as competing civilizations, the game forces you and your rivals to compete for resources and victory points – combining auctioning, card drafting, strategy, tactics, and everything put the kitchen sink.. Rewarding diplomatic nous alongside brutal military efficiency, the game offers a wealth of options to tweak and refine in your attempt to carve your way to victory.
7. Caverna (2012)
Can you spot the con artist?
Putting you in charge of a family of dwarves living in perilous mountains, players are encouraged to mine, farm, and explore to gain the tools you need for your people to prosper. A perfectly balanced game of growth, careful worker placement, on optimisation – the game lets you approach victory from multiple angles. Oh, and make sure that you’re keeping up with the neighbour next door who is doing the same. immensely moreish, the game also offers a solo variant, rewards mastering the game’s mechanics, and still proves to be a wonderful, mindful game to play on a lazy Sunday evening on your gaming table.
6. Keyflower (2012)
Build your village’s prosperity
Offering streamlined play but sacrificing no complexity, Keyflower is an auction game with a difference. Combining worker placement and action selection, Keyflower adds the wrinkle of hidden resources – meaning that you’re never quite sure what your opponents are capable of. This element of the unknown is complemented by the game’s arguable masterstroke – that your workers are your currency. Each positive action comes complete with a potentially negative implication, forcing you to squeeze the most out of each and every turn. This rewards those who adore brain-burning thinking, risky plays, and passive aggressive conflict. And if that last sentence makes the hairs on your arms stand up, you’ll know whether the game is for you or not.
5. Orleans (2014)
Set in the medieval French city, players employ a fusion of deck building and mid-to-heavy economy construction to squash their opponents beneath their softly-slippered heels. Acting as traders with your network of contacts and connections represented as chips in your bag. This creates the “heart” of the game by asking you when you want to start moving from gathering useful tools, to hoovering up delicious points…and gumming up your bag in the process. Orleans’ multiple paths for victory make it the perfect pick for players who want to tweak their way to success. but if you’re looking for something that combines choice with a little less difficult-
4. Concordia (2013)
Build the greatest empire!
One of the few times players can have ancient Rome on your table without worrying about combat, Concordia is a masterclass in design and offers players a combination of replayability and choice. Playing up to five and teachable in 10 minutes, players seek to impress the gods (points, natch) by developing a peerless trade network that spews up resources every turn. Combining drafting , resource management, turn optimization; players can enjoy a friction free experience but still challenges the most astute among you. And as your experience grows, so do your returns. Before long you’ll be doubling and tripling your rewards as you learn to play the game as the makers intended – with victory points spewing across the board along with invaluable resources. And with a short playtime, easily readable map, and optional extra boards – it’s a game that promises to stay fresh for years to come. And that’s even without it being packed with salt.
3. Brass: Lancashire (2007)
The economy titan
The greatest prize that board gaming has to offer is variety. You may feel like a hero carving through goblins in a dungeon. Or blowing your way through zombie hordes. But believe us when we say there are few experiences is more fulfilling then stealing an opponent’s coal and transporting your cotton for free. Offering “Voracious Capitalism: The Game” Lancashire encourages players to create their own industrial empire. This is enabled through a web of careful decisions such as building infrastructure, selling your cotton, and working as hard as you can to block the opposition. With limited actions, an array of interesting of decisions, and a different opportunity space each time – Lancashire is up there with the best that the industry has to offer.
2. Viticulture (2007)
Wine and board games, what else do you need?
For a game about silky-smooth wine, Viticulture is delightfully crunchy. Set in beautifully illustrated, rustic Tuscany, players are responsible for building up their own winery. With gorgeous art and all of the expansions released for the product, the essential edition is the perfect choice for players. A game of careful worker allocation, Viticulture adds just enough complexity to bring interesting decisions to your space but never leaves you feeling intimidated. Seasons have to be considered, player actions carefully scheduled, and all elements of wine-production planned out in full. Playing quick and clean, the game is over fast – but it’s not long before you want to fill your glass again.
1. Agricola (2016)
The classic AP gem
As much as we’d like to avoid it, there’s just no version of this list that doesn’t end with Agricola occupying the top space. Now freshly revised for 2016, this game makes running a farm simultaneously manageable and incredibly intimidating. Presented with a broad canvas, players are expected to support your family, sell your wares and – oh – make sure, but nobody starves. That’s a big one. Whether it’s planting grain, raising cattle, or seeking out the prosperity (aka points) you need to win, Agricola and its range of expansions are acclaimed for a reason. And with hand management and player blocking all the consider- there’s always a fresh tactic experimental approach you can apply their next game.
What are your favorite board games for optimizing your play? Tell us in the comments!