The 10 Best War Board Games of 2021
Best High End
Star Wars Rebellion
Best Mid Range
Last Updated: 8th March, 2021
War. What is it good for? We would argue just one thing - board gaming.
There are many board games based on war, including historical wars, modern wars, fantasy wars, and science fictional wars, plus everything in between. There are strategy war games set in the sky, sea, land, and space - sometimes all of them at once!
It can be an overwhelming world to navigate, so we've loaded our cannon of suggestions and compiled a list of some of the best that are currently out there.
1. Twilight Struggle
- Players: 2
- Playing time: 120-180 mins
- Game type: cards, dice, board, competitive, tokens
- Age: 13+
- Price: around $50
Why we love this game: The Cold War was a dangerous and fascinating time for human history. In Twilight Struggle, players recreate the ideological struggle for global domination between the two superpowers of the era - the USA and the USSR. Players employ diplomacy, espionage, warfare, science and war strategy to defeat their opponent on the world stage without triggering a nuclear war.
Gameplay: Twilight Struggle is set on a map resenting the world in the Cold War era. You can track all aspects of the game from this cool-looking board - from the space race, to the DEFCON setting, to your global political influence.
Players face off as either the USA or the USSR. The goal of the game is to be the first to reach twenty victory points or to control all of Europe over eight game turns. A single track records points, so if USSR is on 10 points and the USA gains three, then the score moves to 7 in the USA's favor.
Throughout the game, players will aim to exert influence on all the other nations in the world, while vying for supremacy in space, deploying military assets, and avoiding nuclear war. Sounds simple, right?
A player may play cards from their hand in their turn, drawn at the start of the round. Cards may have special effects, like founding the CIA or encouraging socialist governments to thrive in Europe. These cards may also exert influence on nations - influence a region to have a presence, dominate it by having more than your opponent or control it entirely - which earns more victory points.
Players may remove influence on countries, but beware, attempting a coup brings the world a step closer to nuclear war. If this occurs, the game is over with no winner, so avoid this result at all costs!
Verdict: Twilight Struggle really captures the complexity and conflict over this period of human history. The rules are immersive, if complicated, but this feels right for the period it is portraying. Twilight Struggle is a must-have war board game.
2. Star Wars Rebellion
- Players: 2-4
- Playing time: 180-240 mins
- Game type: bord, cards, dice, tokens, competitive
- Age: 14+
- Price: around $85
Why we love this game: In this sweeping galaxy of a board game, players choose to play as the Rebel Alliance or the Empire - the rebels attempt to hide from the massive might of the Empire while plotting a revolution, and the Empire is trying to locate and destroy the Rebels' base. Rebellion relives the galactic scale of the Star Wars story.
Gameplay: There are two sides - the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Players have 16 turns in which to beat their opponent.
Each side has a unique objective and rules.
For the Rebels, they are hopelessly outnumbered, but very agile and sneaky. They have a hidden base, and from this base, build their fragile fleet while traveling to other planets, inspiring rebellion against the Empire. If they achieve a critical mass of planets under their sway, they win.
The Empire is overwhelmingly mighty and outnumbers the Rebels. They must travel from planet to planet, attempting to uncover the secret Rebel base. With the Death Star, they can annihilate planets or deploy their vast armies on the surface to find the traitors.
A hand of cards for each side determines missions to help your mission or hinder the enemy; your leaders will travel to planets to perform vital tasks or lead armies to victory or defeat.
Either way, the different objectives and the conflict for this game is intuitive and highly enjoyable. There are tonnes of detailed and thematic tokens to place and maneuver on the beautifully grand board.
Here's an in-depth review with playing instructions:
Verdict: Star Wars Rebellion is a galactic-scale war game that could be overwhelmed with rules, and while it has a lot to understand, it makes sense, and the game flow is good. It perhaps does not have enormous replay value, but it is nonetheless a solid strategy based game for Star Wars fans.
3. Memoir '44
- Players: 2-8
- Playing time: 30-60 mins
- Age: 8+
- Price: under $50
Why we love this game: Memoir '44 recreates some of the key historical civil wars that occurred during World War II. It is just as in-depth and immersive as other games on this list but plays in a shorter time frame - deliberately so, as it encourages players to swap sides and try their hand playing against their opponent in the same sitting.
Gameplay: Memoir '44 comes with a hex board - a scenario booklet will tell you how to set up each map, full of beaches, forests, towns, bunkers, and barbed wire, depending on the particular mission. All these types of terrain will affect your decisions in the game, like forests, which you cannot see through and hinders movement.
Players choose to play as either the Axis or the Allies and deploy their units according to the scenario. There are infantry, armored units, and artillery units with which to play, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses - there is a rock-paper-scissors style of play going on here.
Each scenario has an objective based on earning medals, which are like victory points. After the game finishes, the player with the most medals wins. Players earn medals for destroying units or capturing towns, depending on the setting.
In a turn, players play command cards that allow you to activate units, or tactically bombard the enemy. Players then move and attack with their units, hoping to drive them back or destroy them with a smooth-flowing dice-system. In this way, you will hopefully win over your opponent.
Verdict: Fast, immersive and atmospheric, Memoir '44 is a great historical war game for newcomers to war-style games or the experienced gamer alike - all at a very reasonable price and excellent replay value.
4. War of the Ring
- Players: 2-4
- Playing time: 150-180 mins
- Game type: board, dice, tokens, miniatures, cards, competitive
- Age: 13+
- Price: under $90
Why we love this game: This game is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth is aflame with war as Sauron, the Great Enemy, assails the Free Peoples in his quest to find the One Ring and enslave all the lands under his will. In War of the Ring, players get to fight as either side and change the course of fate in Middle Earth!
Gameplay: This board game is one of the most challenging and dense games ever made, but it is a rewarding one. There's too much to explain here, but we'll give you the basics.
Each side represents the Free Peoples or the Shadow Armies. The Shadow Armies are attempting to destroy the Free Peoples' resistance and find the One Ring - in the game, if they collect ten victory points, they win.
The Shadow Armies have almost unlimited resources at their disposal - each turn, each side generates action dice, and Sauron has more of these. He has larger armies, represented by hoards of pieces on a detailed map of Middle Earth. But he hasn't got the One Ring, and it is hidden from him.
The hidden Ring is the Free Peoples' most significant advantage, as they are outnumbered and have finite resources at their command. The armies of their side really buy time - again represented by (less) pieces on the board.
The Fellowship of the Ring is their best path to victory, as they move in secret across the map towards Mount Doom and success. There is a Fellowship journey track on the board, and as time passes, they succumb to the Ring's corrupting presence, so time is of the essence.
As the game progresses, all your favorite characters appear, like Gandalf, who attempts to persuade the nations of Middle Earth not to side with Sauron. A political progress track represents this.
This game will take you several hours to play, and interestingly enough, you'll probably want to play it over and over again.
Verdict: This beast is probably only for the more experienced gamers out there, and perhaps the most hardcore Lord of the Rings fans. It is simply breathtaking in its scope and attention to detail, so it is a worthy inclusion for this list.
5. Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team
- Players: 2-4 players
- Playing time: 30-60 mins
- Game type: miniatures, dice, competitive
- Age: 12+
- Price: around $160
Why we love this game: Kill Team is set 40,000 years in the future, and it is a nasty place. Humanity teeters on the brink of destruction from within and from the aliens in the galaxy. Kill Team allows you to play small army skirmishes in this future, customizing your force to how you want to play, all with stunning miniatures.
Gameplay: Players choose a kill team with which to play. The starter set contains Space Wolves and the T'au Empire, but there are many more races from which to select.
Players set their army up in beautiful three-dimensional terrain (which can be painted for a bonus), and take turns to move their army, shoot and fight up close in hand-hand-combat.
Moving is free-form and measured in inches moved, not spaces as is more familiar with most board games.
Shooting and combat are fought using dice and are based on the skills of each unique unit. The alien T'au Empire, for example, use advanced weaponry and specialize in ranged combat, whereas the brutal, fanged, knife-wielding Space Wolves are more suited for tearing their opponents apart at close range.
Kill Team is played over several turns and there are objectives, depending on the scenario played, like capturing key objectives, or infiltrating your opponent's territory. The simple scoring system makes it easy to keep track of close-fought battles.
Players can use downtime between games to tweak and buy new weaponry for their kill team, and recruits in your team earn experience to gain better skills or specialize, making for a beautiful legacy element.
The open structure of the game is refreshing and rewarding, but effort must be made to learn the rules of the game, which is best achieved by just playing.
You'll want to grow your collection as you delve deeper, and this can be rather expensive, so be warned!
Verdict: An open-style war game and an added painting project to boot makes this a great creative game. The customization of armies, weapons, and terrain will undoubtedly appeal to some, and it is well worth the time if you can put the money and effort into it.
6. Twilight Imperium
- Players: 3-6
- Playing time: 240-480 mins
- Game type: modular board, cards, competitive
- Age: 14+
- Price: around $120
Why we love this game: It's almost silly how many lists this game works its way into, but it's just so big, so epic, it just can't fit into one list alone. Purists of wargaming may disagree, but with respect, Twilight Imperium is a war game and a lot more, providing sheer hours of entertainment.
Gameplay: Everything about Twilight Imperium is huge. The board is huge, representing a sector of space dominated by the capital planet, Mecatol Rex.
It is upon this board that players vie for control, using one of the seventeen available races provided within the game. Races include space-faring merchant lions, called the Hacan; or the Federation of Sol, the humans; or the Barony of Letnev - an aggressive and warlike race.
The winner of the game is the race which collects ten victory points first (or 14 if you want to play even longer). Players achieve this through warfare, politics, science, and trade. The route to victory is open and decided on by the player and traits of their race.
Races begin in their home system with an army of ships and infantry. Each turn, they may move their units, research technology, initiate trade deals, and expand their empire through colonizing planets. If another player has a planet you desire... well, you'll have to consider taking it by force.
Honestly, the scope of this game is remarkable, and the choices to victory mean you'll want to play this game time and again (when you have the 4 hours to spare).
Here's an in-depth review of the game:
Verdict: Twilight Imperium is a must if you have the time commitment and the money to lay out for it. This game is recommended for more seasoned board gamers. It's a game you simply need to experience at least once.
7. 1775 - Rebellion
- Players: 2-4
- Playing time: 60-120 mins
- Game type: board, dice, cards, competitive
- Age: 10+
- Price: around $70
Why we love this game: 1775 is a much less dense game than some other war games, so it's a substantial addition if you want to play a lighter board game. Nonetheless, it has plenty of historical atmosphere and engagement to make it worth adding to your war game collection.
Gameplay: Set during the American Revolution, 1775 has a vast board representing the colonies in America at that time.
Players choose to be the British or the Revolutionaries. Both sides divide into the British Regulars and Loyalist Militia (for the British), and the Patriot Militia and Continental Armies (for the Americans). The British have Hessian allies alongside them, and the Americans have the French, plus the Native Americans may change sides throughout.
The aim is to have the most colonies by the game's end, which can be after turn three or up to turn eight. This random element makes strategic considerations a little risky to plan too far in advance.
Players may move their armies and ships around colonies to fight the opposing side, and an intuitive custom dice system makes this quick and uncluttered, with troops removed for every damage die rolled. They may also flee (if militia) or tactically withdraw to another colony.
Tactics and movement are everything in this game, and the rewards of recreating history are exciting to participate in with 1775.
Verdict: 1775 - Rebellion is a nicely executed historical war game with a fast pace and intuitive rules. We recommend this for historical fans and those who want a less complicated rules system for their war game.
8. Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy (released Summer 2020)
- Players: 2-6
- Playing time: 60-200 mins
- Game type: modular board, dice, cards, competitive
- Age: 14+
- Price: TBD
Why we love this game: Similar to Twilight Imperium, players represent a space-faring race trying to dominate the galaxy. It's perhaps a little less complicated and certainly less time-consuming than Twilight, while still retaining character and depth, with a few unique aspects that separate the two.
Gameplay: After choosing their race, players settle their fleet of starships on a home planet, but the board must be explored to reveal it. This encourages players to branch out and see what's around them, and is a key difference between this game and Twilight Imperium.
Players must accumulate the most victory points by the game's end. You win through warfare, science, trade, and colonization of planets.
In a turn, players may explore, revealing more board to find more planets. They may upgrade their ships and customize them for how they'd like to achieve victory - more weapons, more shields, more engine power to explore, perhaps?
Colonizing planets let you obtain more resources, which in turn allows you to build more ships, structures, and upgrades, all vital for victory.
Verdict: Exploration and customization are the winning elements of Eclipse. The satisfaction of upgrading your ships and taking them to battle with your opponent cannot be underestimated. Choose Eclipse for a less time-consuming space warfare game that still has depth and great gameplay.
- Players: 2-4
- Playing time: 60-90 mins
- Game type: cards, board, competitive, tokens, dice
- Age: 10+
- Price: under $55
Why we love this game: Root is quite a different beast to regular wargaming. For a start, you represent one of three woodland races, all struggling for control of the forest. On top of this, the artwork is beautiful, and the game brims with a rich narrative and story.
Gameplay: Each player represents either the Cats (led by Marquise de Cat), the Eyrie (aloof tyrannical birds), the Woodland Alliance (cute yet warlike mice), or the Vagabond (a lone-wandering vagabond warrior raccoon).
All the races specialize in various ways - the Cats make the best use of the building, but the Vagabond wanders alone, collecting items to build his strength.
There are various clearings on the board, and controlling these enables a player to take actions each turn to gain victory points and win.
Each turn players use cards to take actions which allow you to play combat or disrupt your enemy. Again, the unique factions play differently, and their cards represent this.
Players win by being the first to get to 30 victory points by destroying buildings, crafting items, or other unique ways depending on the faction you are playing.
Verdict: Beautiful in design and refreshing in its narrative, Root is not just an excellent spin on the war game genre, but it is just a beautiful game, period. Underlying its beauty, however, is some seriously immersive and in-depth rules. We recommend this to intermediate gaming groups, but the design lends to the younger gaming audience too.
10. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
- Players: 2
- Playing time: 30-45 mins
- Game type: miniatures, dice, competitive, cards
- Age: 14+
- Price: under $40 (additional expansions cost more)
Why we love this game: Something is enticing about flying planes around a tabletop in a wargame. And then you add The Millennium Falcon and Tie Fighters and X-Wings, and it's even cooler. The X-Wing Miniatures Game is just that - dogfighting in the Star Wars universe.
Gameplay: Players are fighting off against one another as the Imperials or the Rebels, as with just about any Star Wars game ever. There's a massive variety of ships to choose, and you agree to a points level to fight against your opponent, to make the battle an even affair—the more powerful the fighter, the more points. You can select unique characters or rank-and-file Tie Fighters, X-Wings, and the like.
Each turn, players will secretly assign their moves to each fighter using special dials that come in the game. These are revealed in order of how good the pilot is - slower pilots move first as the better pilot can then outmaneuver them.
They'll then attack with their weapons and can even pay extra points to upgrade their arsenal - like taking photon torpedoes for a few extra points. Hits and combat use attack and defense dice, which is a simple enough system to keep the game flowing. Damage cards reveal the effects of a critical attack, from weapons failures, to pilot injuries.
Missions add variety along with being able to add more fighters to your collections with expansions, making this a highly replayable game.
Verdict: It's Star Wars, and fighter planes - In space. We strongly recommend this game for fans of all ages. It's easy to learn with an incredible replay value. It's also a pacey game, meaning you can play multiple games in one session.