We all have that one friend who gets lucky and wins every game they play. It’s so annoying! Next time, offer a game that won’t allow their victory to rely on just luck.
Abstract board games can be a broad range of games. This can include games that aren’t won by chance, use simple mechanics, give perfect information, or are themeless. The category is… well… abstract.
On this list, you’ll find some mind-bending ancient classics and some newer, more light-hearted games. Here’s our list of the best abstract board games!
🏆 Our Top Picks for Best Abstract Board Games
In a hurry? Take a quick peek before you go.
There’s no denying it — chess is a brain game. It’s beneficial for improving memory, developing analytical decision-making skills, and so much more! This ancient game has a long history and has been changed and adapted over hundreds of years. It’s still a classic today.
Chess pieces are not created equally. Each piece moves in different patterns and has its own value. The goal of the game is to checkmate your opponent’s king piece. This also means throughout the game you’ll need to plan your moves to protect your own king. Anticipating your opponent’s moves and attacking their weak spots will bring you a step closer to victory.
This game has evolved throughout the ages. Today you can find traditional chess, computer chess, Martian Chess, and even wizard’s chess (for all the Harry Potter fans out there). It is the archetypal abstract game.
Playing time: 30-45mins
In Azul, you will play the role of an artisan decorating the Royal Palace of Evora in Portugal. The king has been mesmerized by the beautiful Moorish tiles of Spain’s Alhambra Palace and is looking for artists to adorn his own palace in this fashion.
Compete with other artists to make the best design by skillfully choosing tiles and building patterns. Earn points based on how well you coordinate your tile placements.
You will be rewarded for collecting full sets of tiles or creating particular patterns while having a surplus of tiles at the end of the game will cost you points.
Azul is an absolutely beautiful board game whose charm may have you blind to the carefully thought-out strategy needed to win.
Playing time: 15-20mins
As a master, you will face off at the Shrine of Onitama in the misty mountains in Japan. Only the best martial artists spar here, and it’s up to you to lead your monk followers to victory using cunning and crafty maneuvers.
Onitama is a perfect information game where cards assign movements to pieces.
Players can see their opponent’s available moves, which leaves no room for secretive strategies. Players use and exchange movement cards turn by turn, creating an ever-changing dance of pieces.
Strategies will need to be adapted as movement cards continuously rotate. The first player to capture his opponent’s master or traverse the board to the opponent’s temple wins.
Because each game uses only five of the sixteen movement cards, there is endless replay value. Every game will utilize different strategies and game tactics. Onitama is a quick, back-and-forth strategy game that leaves nothing up to chance.
Playing time: 30-60mins
The new moon is the perfect time to start afresh.
In Nova Luna, this means each cycle brings a new beginning and future to plan for. Each turn, players will select a tile from the moon wheel, each with its own goals that when met, will earn you points.
You must develop strategies and make decisions based on what this moon (and its new tiles) has to offer. Carefully draft tiles that fulfill previous goals while opening up new scoring possibilities as well.
The lunar theme of Nova Luna has a vibrant, fun, and eccentric feel. The abstract tile placement aspect feels a bit like a puzzle, but its simple mechanics will challenge your problem-solving skills with each cycle.
Bring this game out on the next new moon.
Playing time: 30-180mins
Like chess, this game has a long history. And although it may not seem like much at first, it is so much more than just black and white stones on a grid. The strategic complexity becomes evident the more you play.
The object of the game is to capture your opponent’s stones and control territory in a carefully calculated and cunning fashion. There are plenteous ways a game can progress based on each player’s moves, giving it endless replay value.
Players will score 1 point per prisoner and 1 point per vacant intersection of territories under their control.
This game is engaging and challenging. If your mind needs a bit of exercise, this will certainly leave your brain with a nice pump.
Playing time: 20mins
As soon as you hear the name, you most likely start picturing vibrant blue roofs atop immaculate white walls beautifully displayed against the illuminating sun and the glistening Aegean Sea. You’re in Santorini.
As a Greek god or goddess, you will race your competitors to build a stunning village. Move your workers, build your Cycladic buildings and win! Each god or goddess has its own unique abilities, changing the way you can build.
The game gets more complex with more powers factored into the mix. Oh, and your opponents may be trying to sabotage your progress! You’ll need to plan ahead and anticipate your opponents’ moves to earn your spot in the pantheon.
Santorini is a quick, exciting game loved by people of all ages and board game experience levels. It is more accessible in the sense that it is simple enough for beginners, but you’ll find plenty of depth to keep veteran players entertained and intellectually stimulated.
Added bonus — younger players can even learn Greek mythology with the god and goddess cards.
Playing time: 20mins
What’s the buzz with Hive? Think of this game as a crawly critter version of chess. It is a quick, challenging two-player game that will showcase your un-bee-lievable intelligence.
The game is played with 22 beautifully illustrated insect tiles. Each insect tile moves uniquely with its own rules. Players will lay and maneuver pieces adjacent to each other in an attempt to surround their opponent’s queen bee, while of course protecting their own.
It is a complex strategy game full of meaningful decisions and new opportunities with each moved piece. When a player’s queen has been fully surrounded, she is captured and the game is over.
This game is light and portable, making it great for travel. Once you feel like you’ve mastered the original version, you can try the expansion packs and really rack your brain!
Playing time: 20mins
Blokus is a fantastic family-friendly game that will test your spatial reasoning skills. If Tetris was a board game, it may look something like this.
Players will start by choosing a color they hope to dominate the board with. There’s just one simple rule in Blokus — tiles must be placed touching tiles of the same color, but only at the corners. Faces cannot be touching.
You’ll need to harness your problem-solving abilities, as this becomes increasingly challenging as more pieces are laid. Strategy will be rewarded and the player with the fewest tiles at the end will be the winner.
There’s no theme in Blokus, but it’s fun, challenging and your brain will thank you for the workout. It is easy to learn and is a completely different game each time, so you can play it over and over again without getting bored.
Playing time: 20mins
Invented by a mathematician, you may not expect this award-winning game to be simple to learn and quick to play. But it is. Quarto is a minimalistic game that will require your full concentration and deductive reasoning skills.
To win Quarto, you need to place four pieces in a row, all of which must share at least one of the following same characteristics: height, color, shape, and flat or hollow center. The catch is, your opponent will be choosing which pieces you play.
You will need to cleverly choose where to put these pieces. This means you could literally hand your opponent a win if you don’t pay close attention to the board. Once you manage to trump your opponent, call out “Quarto!” and claim your victory.
With variations for beginners and advanced players, it is a widely accessible game. There is even a smaller travel version, making it an easy game to pack up and take on the road.
Plus, with an attractive display that resembles house décor, you won’t be mad if you forget to clean up after game night.
Playing time: 15-20mins
Move like a dragon and traverse the winding pathways you and your opponents create in Tsuro.
In this game, players will lay tiles to create paths that hopefully keep them on the game board the longest. This becomes growingly difficult as more and more tiles are laid and your opponents attempt to lead you off the board.
You will need to strategize how you use your tiles so you are not stuck with a path that drives you off the board at the end of the game. This game will keep you on your toes — we mean tail!
Tsuro is another quick game that perfectly balances being great for beginners and also exercising your mind, making it a more approachable abstract game. The game has an elegant design which only adds to the charm that’s sure to make it a favorite on game nights.
Playing time: 15mins
The grass is always green on the other side, isn’t it? Or where the strategic sheep roam.
In Battle Sheep, you will go head to furry head with your rival sheep herds. Each herd is looking to dominate as much green space as it can.
Disperse your sheep strategically to claim new pastures one by one without getting fenced in by your opponents. The player whose herd controls the most land at the end of the game is the winner!
Battle Sheep is a great family game and a gateway to introduce kids to strategy and abstract thinking. Because pastures are set up differently for each game, there is a high replay value too.
Playing time: 15-30mins
Come for the board games, stay for quilt making. Patchwork is a uniquely themed, 2-player game where players will compete to create fetching quilts.
Patchwork is definitely more of a casual, calm abstract game. You will create a work of art by purchasing patches of material and adding them to your game board. Choose your patches carefully as not all pieces fit well together.
You’ll want to create a quilt whose materials fit together like a puzzle. The object of the game is to design a quilt with perfectly interwoven patterns that are more beautiful than your opponents.
Don’t be deceived by the simple tile placement mechanics and a cute theme. Although it’s easy to learn, Patchwork encourages intricate thinking and strategy. This game can serve as a light-hearted palate cleanser after a more intense abstract board game.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the best abstract board games! These games really give your brain a workout as you puzzle through, building patterns and expanding your spatial reasoning. With no luck involved, these games rely on strategic thinking and critical analysis.
Have you tried any of the games on this list? Did we miss any of your favorite abstract board games? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.
Find more educational board games in our video below:
Liz has no objections to being referred to as “nerdy.” Maybe it’s the educator in her — or her maturity level— but when it comes to board games, those best suited for children are the ones that spark her interest. When she’s not looking for the next game to incorporate into the classroom or play with her niece and nephew, you can find her trying out nature-themed games like Wildcraft or Trekking the National Parks.