Best Engine Building Board Games

Best Engine-Building Board Games for ALL Ages (Top 27 to Play in 2024)

Featured image photo credit: BiblioteKarin, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you love strategy games that use collectible resources and abilities to create powerful, competition-smashing chain reactions? Then you, my friend, are a fan of the engine-building genre.

As one of the best engine-building board games around, Concordia presents players with endless opportunities to think strategically and outwit their opponents. It also scales up or down for different group sizes, and additional maps are available for a ton of replay value.

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS 
Rio Grande Games: Concordia, Historical Strategy Board Game, Average Play Time 90 Minutes, 2 to 5 Players, for Ages 14 and up
Best overall
Concordia
  • Step into the shoes of a powerful Roman dynasty as you build your trade empire and amass riches to please the ancient gods.
Terraforming Mars Board Game-Award Winning Strategic Space Adventure Game for Family Game Night, Competitive Play&High Replay Value-Adults, Cardboard,Teens&lovers of Board Games by Stronghold Games 
Best Multi-Dimensional Game
Terraforming Mars
  • Join forces with your opponents for the greater good of humanity, but don’t let their mega-corporation leave your company in the dust.
Repos Production 7 Wonders Duel
Budget Option
7 Wonders Duel
  • Explore the strategic card-drafting of 7 Wonders reimagined for head-to-head competition between just two players.

Related post: Best Science Board Games [Our Top 14 Picks for 2024]

Best Engine-Building Board Games in 2024

1. Best Overall — Concordia

Best Overall

Rio Grande Games: Concordia, Historical Strategy Board Game, Average Play Time 90 Minutes, 2 to 5 Players, for Ages 14 and up

Concordia

Step into the shoes of a powerful Roman dynasty as you build your trade empire and amass riches to please the ancient gods. (Ages 13+)

Concordia is a mentally engaging strategy game fit into a very unassuming package. Rather than clash with their opponents, players must take their time and think several turns ahead to squash the competition — much like a game of chess.

Set in the Roman Empire, players take the helm of dynasties as they set out to accumulate wealth and power. Most of Concordia’s gameplay focuses on setting up relationships and, eventually, trade routes with the region’s outlying cities.

The original Concordia comes with a dual-sided board. One side features a large map for up to 5 players. The other bears a slightly smaller map for up to 4 players.

Speaking of the game board, maps are a key component of Concordia. There are over ten additional boards available as expansions. For updated gameplay, Concordia: Salsa also includes a few new mechanics.

2. Best for Multi-Dimensional Strategy — Terraforming Mars

Best Multi-Dimensional Game

Terraforming Mars Board Game-Award Winning Strategic Space Adventure Game for Family Game Night, Competitive Play&High Replay Value-Adults, Cardboard,Teens&lovers of Board Games by Stronghold Games 

Terraforming Mars

Join forces with your opponents for the greater good of humanity, but don’t let their mega-corporation leave your company in the dust. (Ages 12+)

The vast majority of engine-building board games isolate player resources from each other. But in Terraforming Mars, players must coordinate with their opponents to progress the game.

It’s important to note that Terraforming Mars is not a cooperative game. While players, stepping into the roles of space-colonizing corporations, rely on each other to make advancements in their respective fields, everyone is also trying to accrue the most points to win.

Actual gameplay consists of drafting or buying project cards and allocating resources. The main game board houses resources and terraforming opportunities for players to compete over. Every player also maintains an individual board with their personal resources.

If you enjoy the game’s concept but struggle with the long playtime, the Prelude expansion streamlines things without oversimplifying them. For players who prefer super-dense, long sessions with tons of strategy, the Turmoil expansion adds a layer of political control to the base game.

3. Best Budget Option — 7 Wonders Duel

Best Budget Option

Repos Production 7 Wonders Duel

7 Wonders Duel

Explore the strategic card-drafting of 7 Wonders reimagined for head-to-head competition between just two players. (Ages 10+)

Countless board games can be played with just two players, but few are designed with this limitation specifically in mind. When the developers of 7 Wonders Duel set out to reinvent a standard multi-player game, they managed to make something many players think is better than the original.

If it’s not already clear, 7 Wonders Duel is for two players — only two players. In this game, players compete to build a powerful civilization by drafting cards. Each type of card behaves differently, and players can implement several strategies (such as covering other cards from their opponent’s view).

At its core, 7 Wonders Duel is an engine-building game and if you don’t play it like one, you’re bound to suffer. Card interactions are crucial to winning, so spreading your resources too thin will cripple your civilization’s power down the road.

The Pantheon expansion adds several ancient gods to the game, which players can earn favor with at the start to access big rewards later. Keep in mind, expansions built for the original won’t work with the two-player version.

Age 8+

4. Best Historical Game — Century Spice Road

Best Historical Game

Century Spice Road Board Game | Strategy/ Exploration/ Family Board Game | Ages 8 + | 2 to 4 Players | Average Playtime 30-45 Minutes | Made by Plan B Games,Multi-Colored,40000ENPBG

Century Spice Road

A beautifully designed game that is easy to learn and super engaging at every point.

Ever wanted to know how it felt like to be a spice trader on the famed spice route in earlier centuries? The Century Spice Road board game is a great option to experience that.

Even though this was the first game designed by Plan B Games, Century Spice Road is a solid resource-conversion game that ticks all the right boxes.

To start with, the game production is top-notch and the artwork on each playing card is impressive. The spice cubes and the plastic bowls that hold them are of good quality as well.

The rules are very simple – you have to score the maximum points to emerge as the winning spice merchant. The deck of cards that comes with the game is massive and is divided into multiple categories. The game ends when one player gains the fifth or sixth point card and that depends on the number of players.

What makes Spice Road a ton of fun is that you get to make interesting decisions right from the start. The race to get the right cards becomes tense as the game progresses. Since the time between turns is minimal, the game progresses at a fast pace. 

Overall a super engaging engine-building game that we wholeheartedly recommend for families and friends.

5. Best City-Planning Simulator — Suburbia

Best City-Planning Simulator

Suburbia, Thematic City Building Strategic Board Game, Tile Laying Board Game, Fun Game for Adults

Suburbia

Think carefully as you plan out your suburban utopia, or the elementary school might end up next door to a radioactive waste dump.

Despite its seemingly innocuous title and box art, Suburbia is the perfect game for the cynical at heart. With that said, it’s also appropriate (and simple enough to play) for younger players.

Throughout the game, each player’s goal is to grow the largest suburb with the most residents. Things get weird — or jarringly realistic, depending on how you look at it — when players are forced to weigh the costs and benefits of allowing a radioactive waste site to crop up next to a residential neighborhood.

Suburbia’s gameplay is intriguing in that nothing is laid out ahead of time. Every player starts with the exact same blank slate, and it is entirely up to them how to grow the ideal suburban paradise.

For fans of the original game, Suburbia Inc is the must-have expansion. With this expansion, players can set aside residential development in favor of incorporation. It also introduces new goals, varying strategies even more between players.

6. Best Territory Development Game — Carcassonne

Best Territory Development Game

Carcassonne Board Game (BASE GAME) | Board Game for Adults and Family | Strategy Board Game | Medieval Adventure Board Game | Ages 7 and up | 2-5 Players | Made by Z-Man Games

Carcassonne

An immensely approachable and expandable game that remains one of the most popular family games of all time.

Not many games with territory-building elements have been around for more than two decades and still retained their popularity. The secret of Carcassonne’s popularity lies in the easy game mechanism that makes it ideal even for folks who are not into board games.

In this game, you use land tiles to create farms, cities, and connecting roads. Even though there are no cards or dice, the tiles need to be placed thoughtfully and there is a significant amount of strategy involved. There is no elimination and every player continues scoring till the end. And you can never be sure who the winner will be till the end.

The game is easy to learn, but the puzzle-like tile placement keeps it interesting and challenging as well. Also, there is plenty of passive aggressiveness that comes with the tile-laying process. Expect plenty of rivalry and negotiations to spoil each other’s plans, and due to the random nature of the tiles, no two games are similar.

Here at STEMGeek, we’ve been huge fans of Carcassonne and all of its countless expansion packs. If you turn out to be a fan too, make sure to check out these strategy tips we’ve put together!

In short, Carcassonne is a great getaway game for a Friday night and a perfect introduction to board games. If you are looking for a game that can be played by anyone between the ages of seven and seventy this is the perfect choice.

Ages 10+

7. Best in Graphic Design — Wingspan

Best in Graphic Design

Wingspan (Base Game) | A Relaxing, Award-Winning Strategy Board Game About Birds from Stonemaier for Adults and Family | 1-5 Players, 70 Mins, Ages 14+

Wingspan

Build the perfect habitat and birds will come but remember that some species are rarer (and more valuable) than others.

For anyone with a finger on the pulse of board game trends, the mention of Wingspan won’t come as any surprise. Just over a year since its release, this fan-favorite engine-building game about ornithology — the study of birds — is still going strong.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to this game’s popularity is its gorgeous illustrations and cute game pieces (including a 3D birdhouse and miniature eggs). It’s also quite lightweight for an engine-builder game, making it great for families.

In Wingspan, players use dice and cards to discover new bird species in three separate habitats. As your birding collection grows, so do the special effects that can trigger with each turn.

Currently, Wingspan has two expansions available. The European Expansion incorporates bird species from across Europe. The Oceania Expansion includes birds from Australia and New Zealand.

8. Best Intro to Dice-Building — Dice Forge

Best Dice-Building Game

Dice Forge Board Game - Customize Your Fate, Conquer the Gods! Dice Crafting Strategy Game, Fun Family Game for Kids & Adults, Ages 10+, 2-4 Players, 45 Minute Playtime, Made by Libellud

Dice Forge

Mix-and-match interchangeable dice faces to improve the odds of your next roll (and possibly win the game).

As part of an up-and-coming tabletop genre called dice-building, Dice Forge offers a unique experience for players. First and foremost, the dice in this board game have removable faces. As the game progresses, players replace their personal dice faces with better options to increase their odds of winning.

The easiest way to explain Dice Forge’s gameplay is by comparing it to a deck-building game. Just replace the randomness of drawing cards with the randomness of rolling the dice.

But if dice-rolling isn’t your favorite gaming mechanism, this engine-builder might be best left on the shelf. Since dice play a central role in this title, players can expect to make dozens upon dozens of rolls each game.

The Dice Forge lineup includes several expansions, but the most noteworthy is Dice Forge: Rebellion. This expansion adds two game modes to the base rules, accompanied by new dice faces and cards.

9. Best Variety of Expansions — Catan

Best for Variety

CATAN Board Game (Base Game) | Family Board Game | Board Game for Adults and Family | Adventure Board Game | Ages 10+ | for 3 to 4 Players | Average Playtime 60 Minutes | Made by Catan Studio

Catan

Race against your opponents to amass resources and develop the largest settlement on the island of Catan.

Formerly known as The Settlers of Catan, CATAN is one of the big names that started the recent surge in popularity of tabletop gaming. In many circles, this game is as ubiquitous with the concept of board games as Monopoly.

On the surface, those familiar with the game might not think of it as an engine-builder, but CATAN does include some minor elements of the mechanic. Primarily, the collection of various resources to then cash into roads and settlements.

If you enjoy CATAN at its core, there are dozens of expansions, extensions, and alternative versions available. For the biggest changes to gameplay, Cities & Knights and Explorers & Pirates are typically the best bang for your buck.

It’s one of our all-time favs, so you may want to see our tips on how to win almost every single time.

10. Best for Families — Splendor

Best for Families

Splendor Board Game (Base Game) - Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Fun Family Game Night Entertainment, Ages 10+, 2-4 Players, 30-Minute Playtime, Made by Space Cowboys

Splendor

Assume the role of a Renaissance-era merchant as you make powerful trade connections and collect gems to impress the city nobility.

Many games incorporate a handful of mechanics, letting players pick and choose what to focus on. Splendor is an engine-builder and little else, making it an ideal introduction to the mechanic for both new and experienced players.

The whole goal of Splendor is to draft development cards and earn prestige (or victory) points. Players use gem tokens to purchase new cards which, when combined in various ways, interact with each other to generate even more gems and fulfill noble card requirements for points.

Splendor is easy to learn and play, especially since players can see their opponents’ cards. Winning the game is a bit harder, though, with players choosing between massing wealth quickly or playing the long-con for a winning combo later on.

If your family enjoys the original, the Cities of Splendor expansion offers four modules to mix-and-match with the basic rules. This is a great investment for replayability or for upping the game’s difficulty as young players hone their skills.

Ages 12+

11. Best for Experienced Players On Mars

Best for Experienced Players

Eagle-Gryphon Games On Mars

On Mars

A superbly designed game for experienced players with multiple moving elements that offer a ton of fun.

If there is one game that will attract you by its looks alone, it is On Mars. While it isn’t cheap by any means, the quality is premium and the science fiction theme is perfectly merged with strategy making. The components are high-quality and the graphic design is immersive. Also, the amount of detailing is fascinating.

The game has numerous rounds and each round has a Colonization phase and a Shuttle phase. Players scoring the most Opportunity Points emerge as the winners. There are so many things working together that the game often seems like a puzzle that stretches your brain

That means it will take a few games for you to get an idea about how the various gears mesh together. After that playing On Mars is an incredibly satisfying experience. Not many games can blend the theme of space exploration with strategic colony building like On Mars.

Overall, On Mars is a great choice for experienced players who enjoy “heavy” games that offer a challenge. Players who are looking to move into heavy-strategy games will love it too. On the downside, this is a long game. If you are looking for something quick, there are other options.

12. Best for Resource Management — Underwater Cities

Best for Management

Rio Grande Games Underwater Cities

Underwater Cities

Invest in deep-sea exploration, scientific development, underwater farms, and more as mankind attempts to survive life on the ocean floor.

Plenty of board games explore the idea of colonizing far-off planets. In Underwater Cities, though, players turn their attention to Earth’s very own oceans. While the main board holds resources and action spots, each player also maintains their own colony board with domes, connectors, and upgrades.

Underwater Cities builds tension by requiring players to discard all but three cards from their hand each turn. Expend the wrong card too early, and you could lose out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But holding onto not-yet-valuable cards will also eat up most of your hand potential.

If you enjoy the base game, the Underwater Cities: New Discoveries expansion is worth checking out. Along with a streamlined setup option and new mechanics, this expansion includes high-quality upgrades to some of the great game components from the original set (most notably, layered colony boards with cutouts to hold smaller pieces).

13. Best Journey Through the Old West — Great Western Trail

Best Old West Game

Great Western Trail Board Game

Great Western Trail

Collect cattle, maintain railways, and defend your livestock during the long trek across the western United States.

Don’t let the dramatic sepia box art fool you. Great Western Trail is a game about cattle ranching, not carriage robberies and saloon shootouts. To successfully manage your herd of cattle, though, you’re going to need to employ a heck of a lot of board game mechanics.

Cattle cards are important for building up your herd and unlocking new abilities. These cards are where a lot of the game’s engine-building comes into play, with more valuable cattle becoming available as player resources grow.

Whether you see it as a fault or an asset, Great Western Trail relies on a ton of small components. On the central board, players will need to keep track of train and player miniatures, buildings, and an array of staff members.

With the Great Western Trail: Rails to the North Expansion, the game’s railroad element is expanded on with a new mechanic. With this mechanic, players can explore (and unlock powerful bonuses from) small towns just off the main railway system.

14. Best 30-Minute Play — Terra Mystica

Best 30-Minute Play

Capstone Games Z-Man Games Capstone Games Terra Mystica

Terra Mystica

Discover the perfect combination of allyship and domination to propel your faction to developmental victory over the opponents.

Designed with classical Euro-style mechanics and components, Terra Mystica is a straightforward land-development game that is surprisingly satisfying to master. It’s also a great game for introducing basic engine-building concepts.

In Terra Mystica, players control one of over a dozen factions competing for land and resources. Each faction has a specific type of terrain it will settle, minimizing competition. Instead, it’s your faction’s proximity to other factions that will either help or hurt your long-term strategy.

Another interesting part of Terra Mystica is the inclusion of four religious cults in which players can invest resources. Doing so unlocks new abilities and bonuses that can be a major asset in the game’s final moments.

While the core game has plenty to offer, the Fire & Ice and Merchants of the Seas expansions bring more factions, terrain types, and rules to the table. In the latter expansion, players also gain access to a shipyard component.

15. Best Long-Term Strategy — Gaia Project

Best Strategy Game

Gaia Project

Gaia Project

Take territory development to outer space in this Terra Mystica remake that improves on the original’s gameplay.

It’s rare that a board game’s sequel is as popular as its predecessor. In the case of Gaia Project, created as a reimagining of Terra Mystica, many tabletop gamers actually like it better than the “original.”

The core concept of Gaia Project remains the same as Terra Mystica. Players each control a faction, but instead of home terrain, each faction lives on a different type of planet.

The game adds some variable territories with Gaia and transdimensional planets. Gaia planets are essentially wild cards — any faction can claim them if they spend the right resources. Meanwhile, transdimensional planets can be claimed but are uninhabitable until a player has made enough progress. But when that progress is made, said player could suddenly find themselves winning the game.

Gaia Project offers some quality-of-life updates to the Terra Mystica format. The game board is rearranged to give players a clearer picture of their progress. It is also modular, opening up the opportunity for different arrangements and replayability.

16. Best Farming Game — Viticulture

Best Farming Game

Stonemaier Games: Viticulture Essential Edition (Base Game) | Create The Most Prosperous Tuscan Vineyard | Strategy Board Game for Adults and Family | 1-6 Players, 90 Mins, Ages 14+

Viticulture

A well-designed and accessible game that the fans of worker placement will enjoy.

In the midst of games based on war and space travel, there’s something to be said about the quaint simplicity of a tabletop farming simulator. In Viticulture, you inherit a vineyard and create a winery in Tuscany.

The game effectively incorporates the themes of wine-making and selling into its mechanism. You can even give winery tours to tourists to earn money. So, you will need to judge the right conditions to grow specific varieties of grapes. Add to that, a polished presentation and great graphic design.

Even though it is a Euro-style game, the action cards play an important role. That also makes luck dynamics an important factor in the game. However, Viticulture has a few tricks up its sleeves that never allow bad luck to spoil the fun factor.

Now, Viticulture takes a few rounds to get the wheels rolling. But once it starts moving, the experience is supremely rewarding. The game is at its best competitive mode with 2 and 4-player games.

Anyone looking for a medium-complex worker placement game will find Viticulture a great option. Quite simply, manufacturing wine can be as enjoyable as drinking it.

17. Best Multi-Genre Game — Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure

Best Multi-Genre Game

Renegade Game Studios Clank! A Deck Building Adventure!

Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure

Combine the fun of deck-building and dungeon exploration as you and your fellow thieves attempt to let sleeping dragons lie.

Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure combines deck-building with the linear progress of a dungeon crawl. As players maneuver around the game board, they use their slowly growing deck to battle monsters and discover powerful treasures.

One of the most unique components of this game is the “clank” meter. The meter, along with the wooden blocks that players use to fill it, represents how much noise each character has made while exploring the dungeon. Make too much noise and the sleeping dragon inside will wake up, spelling death for the offending player.

Since nobody wants to die at the hands of a grumpy dragon, the game’s main goal is to grab an Artifact and make it back to the exit. To win the game, however, players must also earn more points than their opponents with collected loot.

Fans of Clank! can explore new parts of the dungeon with one of the expansion sets. The franchise also includes a few alternative standalone games, including one set in space and a legacy version that lets players enjoy a multi-session campaign.

18. Best Sci-Fi Deckbuilder — Star Realms

Best Sci-Fi Deckbuilder

Wise Wizard Games Star Realms: Deckbuilding Card Game

Star Realms

A great on-the-go game that is a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy direct combat.

Star Realms is a simple game with a small deck of cards that are divided into two categories. Moreover, the gameplay is super smooth.

You use the cards to buy ships, develop bases, and ultimately, destroy your enemies. The conflict is more direct which makes the game more interactive than other deck-building games. The game is a perfect balance of skill and luck and a typical game can last between 15 to 20 minutes.

Note, Star Realms is not a “Dominion-with-a-twist” game. It delivers a unique playing experience that is easy to learn and has enough elements of interest to attract veteran players. Plus, the excellent portability and quick setup work in its favor.

The component quality is great and the art on the cards is eye-catching. The original game is for two players and you can stretch it to 6 by using additional copies. And considering the low price, Star Realms offers a solid bang for your buck.

Ages 13+

19. Best Worker Placement or Auction Game — Keyflower

Best Worker Placement

R&D Games Keyflower Board Game, Multi-Colored

Keyflower

A solid tactical game with tremendous variation and excellent player interaction.

The Key series of games started with Keywood decades ago and Keyflower is probably one of the best of the lot. While this is not a game that you may like immediately, it is sure to grow on you in time.

The game consists of four rounds, each representing a season of the year. Your task is to develop a colonial town by suing the workers and making the best use of the playing tiles. The player with the most points at the end of the session wins.

While this may sound simple, there is a lot to think about the excellent combination of town-building and auction elements. The game keeps the tension alive through a feeling of uncertainty and quite often, you may have to choose between two equally good moves. Then again, you need to think about timing while upgrading your tiles.

Admittedly, there is a lot going on and the learning curve for Keyflower is steep. Also, the art is not the best that you will find.  But once you delve deeper this is a deeply satisfying tactical game and the replayability factor is high. And once you start playing efficiently, the game rewards you heavily.

20. Best Deck-Building Game — Dominion

Best Deck-Building Game

Rio Grande Games Dominion 2nd Edition | Deckbuilding Strategy Game for 2-4 Players, Ages 13+ | Updated Cards, Artwork, Streamlined Rules

Dominion

Transform your weak starting hand into a game-winning deck in this classic tabletop franchise.

Pure deck-building games are something most players either love or hate, but there’s no denying the role these titles play in modern tabletop gaming. As perhaps the most well-known example from this genre, Dominion is the perfect example of how an engine-builder can be sleek and easy-to-understand.

If you’re unfamiliar with the deck-building concept, each player starts out with the same handful of cards as their deck. Each turn, players use these cards to buy new, better ones to beef up their deck. Over time, and with the right strategy, a player’s deck can become full of powerful chain reactions.

For repeat players, Dominion offers tons of different strategies and card combos to explore. The core game includes 500 cards, many of which won’t make an appearance in every game.

Dominion’s replayability is only helped by its long list of expansions. The most popular expansion is Intrigue, which just adds new cards to the game. However, expansions like Seaside fundamentally change the game’s strategies with cards that last longer than one turn.

21. Best Co-op Board Game — Spirit Island

Best Co-Op Game

Greater Than Games | Spirit Island: Base Game | Cooperative Strategy Board Game | 1 to 4 Players | 90+ Minutes | Ages 14+

Spirit Island

Work with your fellow island spirits to thwart invaders with the help of powerful elemental magic, wildlife, and the native villagers.

In Spirit Island, players aren’t competing to conquer the largest swath of land or amass the most natural resources. Instead, they take on the roles of powerful spirits bent on protecting the island from invaders.

While Spirit Island incorporates a bunch of classic engine-building mechanics, it does so in a way that feels intuitive to the game as a whole. The spirits start out fairly weak, and it’s up to each player to decide which power-gaining path will lead to victory.

Spirit Island is also one of the only big engine-building titles with fully cooperative gameplay. This adds an extra layer of strategy — needing to coordinate with other spirits — but also takes some of the pressure off of newcomers to the genre.

There are two expansions currently available that expand even further on the intriguing Spirit Island universe, Branch & Claw and Jagged Earth. Both sets add new spirits, powers, maps, and invaders to the base game for more variety and replayability.

22. Best Thematic Experience — Everdell

Best Thematic Experience

Everdell Standard Edition

Everdell

Use city residents to strengthen your woodland community in this game filled with engaging atmosphere and gorgeous artwork.

If you’re the type of player who believes theme is just as important as actual gameplay, then Everdell should absolutely be on your list of must-try games. The game components are undeniably gorgeous, but this isn’t a case of good graphic design carrying so-so mechanics.

Stripped bare, this game is just like any city-developer that uses worker placement and engine-building to ramp up players’ power. Layered over these mechanics, though, is not a world of human denizens but one of adorable critters and forest diplomacy.

Everdell’s design doesn’t end at the box or card artwork, either. The game board is a multi-layered, popup tree with clear organization and guidelines to keep less-experienced players on track.

Players can expand their Everdell experience with expansions like Pearlbrook, Spirecrest, and Bellfaire. Each set offers something different, from a new biome to revamped game mechanics, so there’s something for every player type.

Ages 14+

23. Best Euro Style — Brass Birmingham

Best Euro Style

Roxley Games Brass Birmingham Board Games, 168 months to 1188 months

Brass Birmingham

A gorgeous and well-designed game that is a must-own for every Euro game fan.

Brass Birmingham is a popular option from the Brass series that has been ranked as number-one by Board Game Geek. Besides, if you are a history fan, you will surely enjoy this game as it is set during the era of the Industrial Revolution.

Firstly, the game has spectacular artwork that offers a fantastic overview of the era. For newcomers to the Brass series, the game is fairly easy to learn. However, a few concepts and strategies will take some more time to learn. 

As entrepreneurs, the two main resources that you act upon to build, develop, and expand your network are coal and iron. Brass Birmingham combines strategy and decision-making in a way that makes it absorbing and the game demands your focus. In fact, it gets so absorbing that you might forget time is slipping away.

The game has excellent scalability too. It works very well as a 3-4-player game and even with 2 players the pace never lags. Since it matters what the others are doing, the interactivity between the players is also high. And even with the strategic complexity, the clever game design allows it to progress smoothly.

No matter you win or lose, playing Brass Birmingham is a solidly satisfying experience. No wonder most players end up playing it again and again.

24. Best Two-Player Game — Race for the Galaxy

Best Two-Player Game

Race for the Galaxy Card Game (Packaging may vary)

Race for the Galaxy

A small and portable card game that involves deep strategy development and an elegant card system.

This is another resource management card game that has been a favorite across all ages for years. Here, you need to expand your space colony and perform the role you are assigned. And as you gain experience there are numerous possible tactics that you can try out.

Keep in mind, the entire game is card-driven and you need to replenish your hand of multi-functional cards by exploring, trading, or by earning bonuses. The cards look great and have a few touches of humor added to them too. The game is easy to learn and is a quick one.

I have to add that while the basic game is relatively simple mastering it will take some time. Even though the learning curve is a smooth one, the iconography is not the easiest.

A big advantage of Race for the Galaxy is its excellent portability.  You can easily carry it along for your next family get-together. Also, there are plenty of exciting expansions of the game that have been released over the years. But make sure to pick them only after you have mastered the original.

25. Best Unique Building Board Game — Gizmos

Best Unique Board Game

CMON Gizmos Board Game (2nd Edition) | Science Themed Strategy Board Game for Adults and Teens | Ages 14+ | 2-4 Players | Average Playtime 40-50 Minutes | Made by CMON

Gizmos

Collect and spend colored marbles to create intricate gizmos that will unlock special abilities and chain reactions in this slick engine-builder.

The world of tabletop gaming offers plenty of mechanisms for random chance. But what if, instead of using dice or a deck of cards, you could use a 3D marble dispenser to divvy out valuable resources? In Gizmos, that’s exactly what happens.

Gizmos offers a simple premise. Players are scientists competing to create the most elaborate machine. The game’s marbles are resources — each machine costs a certain number of colored marbles.

Of course, building machines isn’t just an abstract theme. As players put together their own “gizmos,” they also unlock abilities that progress the game. Gizmos is an engine-building game in every possible sense of the word.

26. Best Fantasy — Res Arcana

Best Fantasy

Res Arcana Board Game - The Enchanting World of Mages and Magic! Fantasy Adventure Game, Strategy Game for Kids & Adults, Ages 14+, 2-4 Players, 30-60 Min Playtime, Made by Sand Castle Games

Res Arcana

A brilliant engine-builder racing card game that involves solid strategies and heavy decision-making without any fuss.

Often considered the best work of game designer Tom Lehmann, Ras Arcana presents an exciting contest of wizards.  Even though the game comes with fewer components, the game is surprisingly wound tightly to generate plenty of tension.

Basically, this is an engine-building game where players race to score 10 points. Each player starts with eight Artifact cards and Essence, which are the game currency. The resource management is kept tight and the strategies run deep. At the same time, the game is simple enough for anyone to enjoy.

What makes Res Arcana special is the perfect balance between simplicity and running through a maze of strategies and counter-strategies. In fact, each player can have a different approach to the game depending on their card status. A big plus of this is the game’s excellent replay value.

A 2-player game can last as long as 30 minutes and allows you to build a lean engine. The quick gaming experience combined with the beautiful presentation is sure to entice veterans as well as newbie gamers.Note, the game is at its best when the number of players is between 2 and 3. With 4 players, the shortage of places of power or monuments can make it difficult for a player to reach 10 points. However, the problem can be fixed by adding the Lux et Tenebrae expansion.

27. Best Immersive World-Building — Scythe

Best World-Building Game

Stonemaier Games: Scythe (Base Game) | an Engine-Building, Area Control Strategy Board Game Set in Dieselpunk 1920s Europe | for Adults and Family | 1-5 Players, 115 Minutes, Ages 14+

Scythe

Coordinate your faction’s workforce, land control, and war mechs to outmaneuver the competition in a fictional, stylized version of 20th century Europe.

If dense gameplay and immersive world-building are what you look for in a board game, Scythe is a great example of engine-building as a secondary mechanic. While the game’s end goal is maximum area control, setting up a highly efficient workforce will lead to big rewards later in the game.

Each game of Scythe relies on several moving parts. But they nearly all relate to engine-building in one way or another. Whether you’re investing in new mechs or boosting your access to valuable resources, every choice plays a role in your faction’s eventual success or failure.

In a unique twist, the publisher has also released a kid-friendly version of the game called My Little Scythe. It features simplified mechanics borrowed from the original game, and the war-torn factions are replaced by cartoon animals. This game is an excellent resource for parents who want to broaden their children’s board game experience.

What to Consider When Buying an Engine-Building Board Game

People playing Puerto Rico board game
People playing Puerto Rico board game. Photo credit: Callie Reed, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Number of Players

Perhaps the most important factor in selecting a new game is the number of players you have available. Few games can be played with more or fewer players than listed on the box, so there’s little wiggle room if your group size doesn’t match up.

Expansions are a valuable resource for groups that are both too large and too small. Not all expansions affect the number of compatible players, however, so it’s important to check each title.

Age Range

Nearly all mainstream board games include a suggested age range. You can find this range on the box, usually next to the recommended number of players.

While these age suggestions are never hard-and-fast rules, they exist for a reason. Games with a higher age range generally require skills like reading, strategic thinking, and resource management.

Use your best judgment when selecting games for younger children who may or may not be able to keep up with complex mechanics.

Some games also use their suggested age ranges to denote potentially inappropriate content. This is more common with casual party games, like Cards Against Humanity, than with traditional tabletop games. Still, it’s something to keep in mind when shopping for a new title for family game night.

Expansions

Since engine-building is more popular in medium- or heavy-weight titles, expansions are the norm. This is great, especially for avid fans who want to explore different strategies or mechanisms within the world of their favorite game.

In most cases, it’s a good idea to be familiar with a game’s core set before investing in expansions. Some expansions can be played without also owning the original game. However, this is rare.

Along with adding new game pieces or mechanics, many expansions can affect the number of players, average playtime, or even suggested age range for a game.

Solo Play

Catan board game on a table
Catan board game on a table. Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FuerstenCatan_ZeitderWeisen.jpg

If you’re someone who enjoys the mental stimulation of board games even without a group of fellow players, look for games that also offer a solo-play mode. These games can be played like a game of Solitaire — instead of competing against other players, you must compete against the game itself to win.

Playing Time

Make sure that you pick a game with a reasonable playing time. Since people have different schedules, it will be difficult to fit every game into everyone’s schedule. Quite simply, you do not want to invest in a game that you do not have time to play. 

Check the playing time of the games to ensure that you have enough time to play it. Games that last for more than an hour may not be the best option if you have limited time. Keep in mind, the playing time for some games can vary with the number of players.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an engine-building tabletop game?

Engine-building as a concept is difficult to describe, but you’ve probably encountered the mechanic in several games without even realizing it.

In an engine-builder, players collect resources that slowly build on each other throughout the game. These resources become more efficient, unlock more powerful abilities, or generate more valuable resources as the game progresses. This is the “engine.”

Engine-building games come in all shapes and sizes. Some are incredibly dense, while others are remarkably simple. If you start out the game with nothing and slowly accrue more and more abilities and resources as the game goes on, there’s a good chance you’re playing an engine-builder.

How do I find other engine-building games to try?

Despite the prevalence of engine-building as a mechanic, few publishers actually market their games as such. This can make it difficult for new fans of the genre to find new and exciting titles to try out.

While engine-building is rarely used in marketing lingo, there are a few terms that almost always overlap with this mechanic.

Deck-, dice-, and pool-building are extremely common and make some of the best engine-building games. Tableau-building is another genre that’s been gaining recognition within the tabletop community and is essentially a subset of engine-building.

What is a tableau?

You might have noticed that more and more recently released games include a small board for each player to place cards, dice, tokens, and other resources on for their own personal use. This is a tableau.

Of course, not all of such games include a physical board for each player. If a game asks players to allocate an area on the table for placing, it might be a tableau-building game.

To determine whether or not a game uses this mechanic, you just need to ask yourself if the resources played on your tableau interact with each other. If they build on each other to grant new abilities or resources, then you definitely have a tableau-style engine-builder on your hands!

Last update on 2024-05-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API