“Take, and hold.”
These are the guiding words for the Area Control (also known as Territory Control) genre of board games. These games reward the claiming of territory through negotiation, warfare, or trickery; although the nature of the genre tends towards direct conflict.
Whether the streets of 1950s New York, the surface of an alien planet, or the rims of outer space, these are eight of the best territory control games ever made.
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2-4 players ♠ 90 minutes ♠ Ages 12 & up
The year is 2315. Discovery of a new energy source called Rubium could revolutionize the galaxy. Problem is it only grows on one planet, and the corporations of Earth don’t like to share.
Nexus Ops is a territory control game a step up from Risk; each faction has the use of six different units, from the swarming Troopers to the massive Rubium Dragons. Explore the planet, take control of its Rubium factories, and complete your secret missions in order to achieve victory.
Easy to pick up and learn, Nexus Ops is a decades-old classic that’s been revitalized for the modern audience, combining economy, strategy, and exciting combat.
Godfather: A New Don
3-6 players ♠ 60 minutes ♠ Ages 14 & up
It’s time to make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Godfather: A New Don is a game of high stakes negotiation and control. Players are mob families slicing up the city for their own; neighborhoods and boroughs become the ground zero for a turf war – but these wars are not fought with fists and tommy guns.
Instead, the weapons used are favors and bargaining chips – players can stake their claims and kick out rival families, but then you owe them one, and you better hope they don’t collect at the wrong time. Whoever has the most muscle in town is the Godfather, and you’ve got to kiss the ring or face their displeasure.
Godfather: A New Don is an excellent territory control game that doesn’t rely on combat to add tension and heft to its decisions. Well worth checking out.
2-5 players ♠ 60 minutes ♠ Ages 12 & Up
A first-person-shooter board game in the vein of Quake, Unreal Tournament, and Halo, Adrenaline is a game of rocket launchers and railguns that’s a lot friendlier than it sounds.
Adrenaline comes with three modes of play – in the standard Deathmatch game, players race to rack up points by shooting each other with powerful weapons. Flamethrowers, samurai swords, and plasma blasters – oh my! Things get way more interesting in the Domination and Turret modes – as the game shifts from one of run-and-gun to a careful exercise in planning your turns – grab ammo to save for a future turn, or push on hard to deny a critical scoring opportunity?
Despite being dressed up in the graphical style of the video game shooters, Adrenaline can be a cerebral experience that takes on the traditions of the finest board games – short term vs long term planning, resource management, positioning – but with sniper rifles instead of agriculture. Highly recommended.
2-5 players ♠ 120 minutes ♠ Ages 13 & up
The gods of Egypt go to war. Kemet is a game of pure conflict, where the only way to gain victory points is to engage in open warfare. Wage battles with powerful monsters, or rely on cunning and guile, this is Kemet.
Every game of Kemet sees each side starting out exactly the same as each other – a city, some pyramids, and a standing army. But through the clever upgrade system, players can upgrade their faction through the purchase of power tiles.
Some give special abilities that can augment a defensive, aggressive, or economic strategy – others provide the permanent use of powerful creatures like a giant scorpion or a sphinx, which can ride alongside your armies into glorious battle.
With its ability for armies to constantly teleport around the map and only giving victory points for winning battles as the aggressor, Kemet is a game that isn’t interested in concepts like ‘sitting in Australia for twenty turns.’ Glory is earned in this game; now get out there and start swinging.
1-5 players ♠ 115 minutes ♠ Ages 14 & up
What if World War I had been fought with giant mechs? Scythe is a game of wheat fields and weaponry, broken hearts and rusted gears.
In Scythe, players compete to gain dominance over the war-torn provinces of central Europe. From the relentless Rusviets to the water-borne Nordics, take control of one of five unique factions, each with their own upgrades and special powers.
The game offers many different paths to victory; you can gain dominion of these lands without ever firing a single shot through careful managing of your resources and timing your moves for maximum efficiency.
With its sublime art and strong gameplay, Scythe has captured the hearts of thousands of gamers all over the world. Are you ready to see why?
2-4 players ♠ 120 minutes ♠ Ages 10 & up
James Cameron’s Avatar: The Board Game. Or it would be, if the Na’vi looked like mountain trolls and there were a couple high tech alien races in the mix…
In Cry Havoc, players compete for control of a newly discovered alien planet. The humans with their dropships and air cavalry are speedy but fragile – while the unstoppable Machines and enigmatic Pilgrims bring their powerful technology to bear. Meanwhile, the native Trogs know the planet like the backs of their fists, and they don’t like to share.
Each faction has completely different structures, skills, and abilities, which players will have to manage as they try and gain dominance over as much territory as they can. The innovative combat system lets you win battles even if you lose all your units, making the warfare in Cry Havoc a tense dance between opponents, who might see their well-established plans dissolve into dust once they realize how badly they’ve been outsmarted.
With tense decisions right out of the gate and titanic struggles for territory at every turn, Cry Havoc is an excellent game and easily one of the best in the genre.
2-4 players ♠ 180 minutes ♠ Ages 14 & up
In the darkness of the 41st Millenium, there is only war. Thus go the words of Warhammer: 40k, one of gaming’s oldest science fiction universes, and Forbidden Stars takes four of its most venerated factions and slams them against each other.
Play as the mighty Space Marines or the twisted forces of Chaos as you descend upon the Heraklon Cluster of space. Muster your fleets and armies and fight to secure valuable, faction-specific objectives, but take care that the powerful warp storms don’t cut off your forces, leaving you alone with the enemy…
The best thing about Forbidden Star is how it eliminates the constant problem in games of ‘for someone to win, others must lose.’ Because the game is about securing planets with objectives rather than total elimination, the moment a player has achieved their goal, that planet they conquered is now worthless to advancing themselves towards victory. This see-sawing back and forth is the heart of Forbidden Stars, as players must ensure they don’t overextend their forces only to be taken in the flank.
With its four unique factions, each with their own gorgeous units, upgrades, and combat powers, Forbidden Stars is an epic afternoon of titanic struggle that you’ll want to lose yourself in over and over again.
3-6 players ♠ 240 minutes ♣ Ages 12 & up
The king of board games. (In)famous throughout board gaming circles for its truly epic scope, Twilight Imperium is a territory control game, yes, but it is also so much more.
Ten races compete to seat themselves on the galactic throne; from the numberless Federation to the diplomatic Xxcha; the mercantile Hacan against the psychic Naalu; Twilight Imperium is a game where a whispered word in a council chamber can be as valuable as a fleet of dreadnoughts – a trade agreement as powerful as the technology to eradicate entire planets.
With its technology upgrades, unique player powers, and emphasis on negotiation and politicking, Twilight Imperium is a board game like no other. Sprawling, epic, utterly unique – this is a game you’ll want to book a whole day for, to get lost among the stars as fleets square up along your borders and you wonder just how far you can trust your long time ally.
One of the finest games ever made, and not likely to ever to replicated. Twilight Imperium is a must try.
Chaos in the Old World
3-4 players ♠ 120 minutes ♠ Ages 13 & up
The gods of Chaos war over the realms of mortal men. War, Pestilence, Pleasure, and Change each exert their unique influence, each struggling to place themselves first among equals.
One of the absolute classics of territory control, Chaos in the Old World is currently in gaming limbo due to a failure to reach a licensing agreement; hence the hefty price tag.
However, those who have played it can attest that it is truly special – a game where each chaos god has not only unique abilities and units, but a unique victory condition – The god of War must spill blood, for example, while the god of Pleasure simply requires that human nobles be mired in his influence.
A game where trickery and cunning matter as much as brute force, and victory can come by inches, Chaos in the Old World is regarded as a cornerstone of the genre. Designed by the legendary Eric M. Lang, many critics consider it one of the best board games ever made.
Though the cost can be hefty, it is worth looking out for—soon it will be gone forever, available only on eBay or on the shelves of gamers who won’t ever want to trade.