“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”
Area control games, also known as area majority games or majority influence games, are a genre of games that allow players to fight for control of an area (usually a board) at the same time. Typically, multiple players can occupy the same place but only the player who has control (or majority) of their pieces wins the space and points.
This type of game is known for being highly strategic, in which players need to have full spatial awareness of the entire board and their opponents. It’s one of my favorite genres/mechanics in games and always has my friends leaving the table talking about what could have been done differently.
Let’s dive in and find out which games really take control.
Our Top Picks for Best Area Control Board Games
In a hurry? Check out our favorites below.
#1. Twilight Imperium
I feel like I talk about Twilight Imperium a lot.
Every time I debate about whether I should put it into the list I get into the same cyclical argument with myself. I talk about it too much. It’s awesome. Then I remember the epic stories that have been created around a table of friends and Twilight Imperium and I decide to put it in.
Twilight Imperium is the definition of Space Opera. It’s not just a wargame and it’s not just a space game. It’s a literal universe you create where empires rise and fall with the tides.
It is one of my favorite games, and if you’re looking for an epic area control experience, Twilight Imperium should be your first stop.
#2. War of the Ring (Second Edition)
I’ve yet to encounter a board game that captures its source material better than War of the Ring.
War of the Ring is an epic struggle of good vs. evil. Players fight with the Last Alliance of Free Peoples against Sauron’s forces.
The Free Peoples of Middle Earth are fractured and calling on every soldier at their disposal. There are no reinforcements left and Sauron has an unlimited supply of orcs and other unholy creatures that he’s bred in the darkness.
“Yet hope remains while the company is true.”
Sauron’s forces may be unlimited but they must march out from the heart of Mt. Doom. This gives the last bastions time to gather their forces in their strongholds and hold until the Fellowship destroys the Ring.
War of the Ring has epic stories, lore, gameplay, and everything you could possibly want from a board game as you fight to control Middle Earth.
#3. Gaia Project
I love games with multiple races and variable abilities, especially when I can swarm the board. I really like swarmy things.
In Gaia Project, players control a single space-faring race that enjoys their environment a… particular way. The object is to terraform nearby planets into your preferred biome.
Players will fight for control of the board without actually fighting. There’s no actual combat per se in Gaia Project but there’s nothing stopping you from dropping your colonies next to your opponents and changing the planet to the exact opposite of what they need.
Gaia Project is a scion of the perfect information, fantasy version of the game, Terra Mystica. It’s very competitive while being an incredible example of area control in an awesome sci-fi setting.
#4. Star Wars: Rebellion
Star Wars: Rebellion is one of my favorite Star Wars games of all time. It takes such a grand overview of the entire series.
In Rebellion, players are, of course, either on the side of the Empire or the Rebellion, and thematically, it’s beautiful. The Empire attempts to scour the galaxy and find the Rebels’ hidden base but the Rebels sneakily hide and strike back with hit-and-run tactics.
Overall, the Empire is far stronger but the Rebellion doesn’t need to win outright. They simply have to outlast the Empire long enough to incite the galaxy into a full-on rebellion.
It’s a beautiful game of cat-and-mouse in which players get to experience an epic Star Wars saga of their own making as they each vie for control of the galaxy.
#5. Twilight Struggle
I love the idea of a wargame that doesn’t necessarily focus completely on the combat side of things. Twilight Struggle takes place during the Cold War which was potentially more deadly than any other conflict in history.
The Cold War represents the entire world on the brink of thermonuclear destruction and just as in life, if the game ends in a nuclear war, nobody wins; everybody loses.
Players duke it out as either the USSR or the United States in the battle for influence throughout the world. You’ll also have to deal with historical events that can alter your influence on the world stage. As mentioned earlier, you’ll also have to deal with the overall threat level and use diplomacy to keep the two superpowers from initiating a nuclear war.
Twilight Struggle is the only game that I know of that deals with this time period in history and they do it incredibly well. If you’re looking for an amazing historical game with nail-biting gameplay, Twilight Struggle is it.
#6. El Grande
Our next conquest takes us to medieval Spain.
All empires eventually fail and in this particular power vacuum lies the Grandes, the regional powerhouses looking to expand their power. Players will use their Caballeros to take control of Spain and force out their competition.
The King’s power isn’t completely gone, however, so whenever the King enters a region, nobody can enter or leave.
El Grande, at its core, is all about area control. The mechanics and gameplay are about as close to a pure area control game as you can get. There is a story and some fluff added in but if you’re looking to see what area control is all about, this is as close as you can possibly get.
We recommend getting the Big Box version as it is nearly the same price as the original and includes 6 expansions in addition to the core game.
#7. Blood Rage
“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel…” RAGE!
Ragnarök has come! All that’s left to do in the now-shattered world is to fight and secure a seat in Valhalla.
Blood Rage is an area control game from CMON that took Kickstarter by storm with its highly-detailed and gorgeously designed miniatures.
Behind that massive production value, though, is an incredible area control game. Players need to push for land grabs to score enough favor with the gods, crush their enemies, and even align with ancient beasts to crush their enemies.
#8. D&D: Tyrants of the Underdark
The Drow from Dungeons & Dragons are known for being a friendly peace-loving race.
Just kidding. They’re bloodthirsty, backstabbing, conniving monsters that live underground.
Lucky for us, we get to play as them.
In the Underdark where the nasty creatures live, the Drow are gathering for a power grab and only one will be left standing.
You’ll be able to draft assassins, charismatic drow, and other denizens of the deep.
Each Drow house will fight for supremacy of the Underdark.
Inis is a gorgeous game based on Celtic mythology and lore that will undoubtedly give you a heart attack. Everything about Inis is deceptive.
The rule set is extremely tight and the way it handles combat, troops, and victory all seems simple. However, once you get into the game, you’ll notice that every single action and movement is subtle. There’s no last stand or screaming naked Celts charging your line painted in woad.
It’s all about the deft movements of troops where a single pawn on the table could cost you the game. Conflicts can end in peace and that’s sometimes better for everyone involved.
Players will end up constantly searching the board, counting and recounting numbers and movements of pawns. Each one will have an impact on whether the game ends in victory or defeat.
Control will shift as often as the winds, which can be very stressful. It’s also one of the most beautifully designed games I’ve ever seen from a design/rule standpoint as well as the aesthetic/artistic side.
#10. Dominant Species
The Ice Age is coming and only the fittest will survive. Who will emerge as the dominant species on Earth afterwards?
As a teacher, I really enjoy educational themes put into an accessible format like board games but as an avid gamer, I’m hypercritical of what makes it to the gaming table.
Dominant Species manages to take a cool educational theme and place it into an amazing game. You won’t find a simple theme pasted on for the sake of education.
Dominant Species is a “crunchy” game for fans of strategy. It combines 4X style gameplay with a brutal fight for supremacy among the various species. Each one is unique and there are many different avenues to victory.
#11. Chaos in the Old World
I’ve always been a fan of Warhammer 40k. I think it’s cool that the sci-fi grimdark 40k and the fantasy Warhammer shared the same demon pantheon. You could, in essence, play both series with demons if you made the models right.
Chaos in the Old World focuses exclusively on the Games Workshop’s demon Pantheon with the Chaos gods, Khorne, Nurgle, Slaanesh, and Tzenntch.
Each Chaos God has its own unique minions and powers that suit their particular style of nastiness and they all have custom decks and powers that they’ll use as they corrupt the landscape into their own image.
If your a fan of Warhammer or are just looking for an amazing, highly-thematic game, Chaos in the Old World delivers. The only downside is that it’s been out of print for a while, and finding a copy is getting more difficult as time goes on.Chaos in the Old World
Ethnos is an excellent gateway game. It’s a mixture of set collection and area control.
In this contested fantasy world, players draw cards of traditional fantasy races, halflings, elves, trolls, and the like, and creating sets based on the number of similar races or similar colors.
As players match up races and colors on the cards, they’ll be able to set tokens on the board for control. Sets vary in points depending upon the number of cards placed for each one, so even if one player is running the board, there’s always a chance to snatch victory at the last moment.
I really love the artwork and simplicity of Ethnos. It’s easy to get lost in the strategy of the board and can get extremely tense towards the end of the game.
The Cyclades are a gorgeous set of islands of the coast of Greece that I someday wish to visit. Until then, I’ll have to settle for playing the board game Cyclades.
In Cyclades, we delve into the mythology of the Greeks as players attempt to build their cities on the island. To do so, they’ll need the favor of the gods.
There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of prayer to the gods going on here. You’ll need to beseech the god’s favor in order to perform actions. You can’t simply sail your ships around without Poseidon’s blessing, after all.
Cyclades is a cool mix of area control with a bidding system in which players are forced to bid for the favor of the gods to perform actions. It really brings in the thematic elements while providing a heavy strategy game.
#14. Mission: Red Planet (Second Edition)
I was originally hesitant on this one because I’m a huge fan of sci-fi, but not necessarily of Steampunk.
As with all realities, alternate or actual, megacorporations have taken over and need to fill a never-ending consumption of resources.
In Mission: Red Planet, each player represents a mining corporation as they compete to lay claim to the resources Mars has to offer. Players will have 9 professionals in their corporation to help them explore and mine the resources of Mars. Each with a different ability or expertise.
Players use hidden actions each turn by deploying their pros to the surface and it can get downright nasty as players try to find the most valuable resources for themselves.
I originally thought I wouldn’t like this game. I do not like the steampunk artwork. I’m just not a fan… but the game itself is solid. I gladly will eat my aesthetic hat and admit the game is great.
Henry V of England has big plans for the kingdom but not nearly as big as the “loyal” members of the noble class.
As one of those ruling members of the aristocracy, you’ll need to prove your loyalty to the king and become his favored lord.
You’ll compete for glory during the Hundred Years’ War with France by making yourself the King’s favored ally. The true power is really behind the throne after all.
Lancaster is an amazing game. From its excellent production value to its tight mechanics and multiple avenues to victory, area control doesn’t get much better than this.
Players can focus their power on their own areas, or try to win the favor of the king through conquests of France. There’s so much here that will give multiple playthroughs before you hit everything that Lancaster has to offer.Lancaster: Big Box Edition
#16. Small World
Small World is a whimsical world that’s easy to get lost in.
Players will be fighting over a contested land that is, of course, too small for everyone. You’ll be able to mix and match fantasy races with fun bonus powers that create a ridiculous amount of replayability.
Even if you absolutely hate your current race and your strategy is no longer working, you have the option of simply letting them die out and grabbing a brand new one.
It’s one of my favorite gateway games and it’s always a crowd-pleaser at my gaming table.Small World
Need more Small World? Check out the best expansions for the game and build an enormous world… that’s still simply too small for everyone.
#17. Tammany Hall
In probably the most brutal of all themes, we turn to American politics in the 19th century.
Tammany Hall is a game that forgoes the traditional area control mechanics that use military units or space aliens to fight for power. Instead, in a brilliant stroke, designer Doug Eckhart uses the political power structure as his canvas for a brutal area control game.
Players will need to use their political prowess to help the immigrants of America but more importantly, gain political favors and call them in at the opportune moment to seize power.
It’s a very impressive game that can feel a little too close to home at times.Tammany Hall
#18. Nexus Ops
Nexus Ops has been out-of-print for quite some time but if you’re one of the lucky few who can find a copy, you’re in for a real treat.
When Nexus Ops first hit the scene it was touted as a RISK killer, meaning that it does everything that the classic game does but way better and even more.
Nexus Ops is a sci-fi brawl in which several factions fight for control of the map. Unlike most other games, however, in the center of the board is the Monolith. The player who controls the Monolith receives extra bonuses.
The game is a knock-down, drag-out fight that never fails to captivate.
For our last entry, we’re heading to 17th century Europe to Britain, the Germanic States, France, and Spain.
It’s actually a revised version of the game, Heads of States, but the ruleset has been streamlined and feels like an overall more comprehensive product.
Players take on the role of lords attempting domination of the landscape. Players need to juggle economics as well as their warring neighbors in order to acheive victory.
Royals is surprisingly easy to pick up and play and does a great job of adding tension. Often times there’s no clear winner until the very end scoring and that always makes for a tense game.
Area control games are some of the most classic board games out there in terms of the history of board games. Truly competitive in nature, they allow players to vie for land, the map, resources, or power, in an effort to control the most of everything to achieve victory.
What are your favorite area control games? Did we miss any of your top picks? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think!
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.