I’ve always loved area control games. Even before playing the games I play today, games like Risk were always something I enjoyed and loved the concept of. I enjoy player interaction and some fun “take that” mechanics. These games here aren’t necessarily combat games; they actually have very little combat. But check them out… and share some of your favourites!
5) Kingdom Builder
Kingdom builder came out in 2011 and won the 2012 Spiel de Jahres. It’s probably the simplest game on this list; on your turn you draw a terrain card and play your settlements on that terrain, always playing next to existing settlements if possible. The thing that makes this game awesome is the variable setup: you use 4 of the 8 boards to make the map, and draw 3 of the 10 objective cards to create scoring. No 2 games are ever alike, and you are always fighting for different territories. A really underrated game, but a highly recommended one!
4) Five Tribes
Wait you say… Five Tribes is a set collection game with auctioning for turns and worker displacement! And you’re right… but the heart of the game is really area control. You move the people on the board and as they get removed, you claim the territories and place your camels thus controlling the areas. It’s an amazing game full of tactics and some crazy combos. It’s the best for 2 players on this list, and one that every gamer should try!
3) Mission Red Planet (2nd edition)
What happens when you take the number one game on this list and mix it with role selection, and add a super colourful coat of paint and some crazy space astronauts? You get Mission Red Planet! Probably the most cutthroat game on this list, it’s pure chaos of controlling resources on mars and sabotaging rockets and your opponents along with them! If you like sabotaging and messing with your opponents plans… this is the game for you!
Ethnos was a huge surprise for me last year. The art on the cover isn’t for everyone, which is a real shame because inside is one of the best area control/card management games out there. With 12 races and only 6 (or 5 in a 2/3 player game) being used per game, the replay value is just as high as Kingdom Builder. What’s really amazing is how well this game scales from 2-6 players. The hand management becomes less evident at higher player counts, and that’s where it truly shines. One of my favourite games of 2017, and the only one close to challenging my number one on his list!
1) El Grande
The granddaddy of area control games. Released in 1995 and still going strong, this Spiel de Jahres winner took it to the next level. The rules are simple. The king pawn is on the board, and you can place your caballeros next to his region but never in his region. Everyone stars with the same hands of cards, and going first usually means you don’t get to bring in reserves, but going last usually will get you more reserves. Then each player in turn order will choose one of the 5 face-up cards and preform the action on it. The game lasts 9 rounds, and majority is scored every 3 rounds. The best part is the Castillo; the tower where everyone stashes their meeples and before scoring secretly chooses which area they go in. Often imitated but never truly duplicated, every time I try a new area control game I always think “El Grande is better”.
There you have it! A lot of great games (Bunny Kingdom, Quantum, Smallworld, Cyclades, Kemet) missed the cut, but these are my 5 favourites! Share yours in the comments, and let me know if you agree with me!