Played for centuries, abstract games like chess has long been the abstract game of choice for millions of people worldwide. While none of us are going to be the next Garry Kasparov or Maurice Ashley, many of us have at least tried to play this classic game at some point. Today’s board games often draw on chess for inspiration, from its perfect information (no hidden moves) two-player style of play to its light (or lack of) theme.
For the chess or abstract game fan in your life, there are plenty of modern abstract games that they can enjoy.
Rock Me Archimedes
One look at the teeter-totter board of Rock Me Archimedes will pique the curiosity of any gamer or non-gamer. Players take opposite sides of the board and try to be the first one to get four marbles into their opponent’s home base. Roll a die, move your marbles, but be careful: as marbles are shifted around the board, the board starts rocking. If it touches the table on your turn, then you lose.
$34.99 – Marbles: The Brain Store
This Spieles des Jehres winner has been a huge hit with gamers and non-gamers alike. Raf Cordero described the game thusly: “Players in Azul are tile-laying artisans, decorating the Royal Palace of Evora in resplendent tiles. … This is done by accumulating tiles in a series of stepped rows. A row must be filled before you can place a tile in the mosaic and overfilling the row comes with penalties. This is what makes the game difficult and provides the opportunity for denial.”
$39.99 – Next Move Games
We’re big fans of Tsuro, an easy-to-learn tile-laying game in which the last dragon remaining wins. Indigo is what happens when renowned designer Reiner Knizia puts his own unique spin on the game. Like Tsuro, you’re simply laying tiles on a board to guide your pieces; however, in Indigo you’re trying to guide those pieces to your home base to score points and with the right amount of planning you can cause your opponents to smash their pieces into each other.
$39.99 – Ravensburger
Don’t let the calming presence of trees in Photosynthesis fool you. As Shea Parker observed, “The gentle theme, the simple mechanics, the adorable woodland creatures poking out of the trees, they all serve to mask the truth: hidden within this bouquet is a cutthroat, treacherous, backstabbing game that you will want to pour your brain into again and again.”
$44.99 – Blue Orange
Playing as the four elements (fire, water, earth, and wind) you’ll try to encircle your opponent’s sage in Element. Each type moves differently so you’ll have to plan ways to attack your opponent while considering how you’ll defend your own sage. The game’s structure makes for interesting choices each turn: do you pull more elements from the bag and move your sage less or do you sacrifice some movement in order to get more elements onto the board? It’s a tense balancing act that most tacticians will appreciate.
$39.99 – Rather Dashing Games
A 3-D abstract game that’s been around since 2004, Santorini was reborn as a successful Kickstarter after it was re-themed and modeled after the sublime architecture of Santorini, Greece. Sax Carr wrote about the game before it began showing up on the shelves of Target: “On a given turn, you move one of your builder pawns one space then build a single building level in an adjacent space. That’s it. The first player who can move any of his or her pawns up to the third level is the winner. It seems simple, it even seems too easy, until you play it.”
$29.99 – Roxley Game Labs
Although the original Blokus plays up to four players, the two-player-only Blokus Duo makes for a quick and engaging abstract game. Each player has a stack of Tetris-like pieces they take turns placing on the board. You must place your piece touching another one of your pieces, but only at the corner. When both players can no longer legally place pieces, they count up what’s left and the player with the least remaining pieces wins. It’s easier than it sounds and you’ll find yourself wanting an immediate rematch if things don’t go your way.
$19.99 – Mattel Games
With its varied movements and static board, Onitama is a slimmed-down version of chess while still offering a challenge for two players. I wrote about the game’s appeal, especially with older gamers: “Featuring top-notch components, lots of movement cards for replayability, and a 15-minute game play time, Onitama can be enjoyed by any gamer, but especially those with an affinity for chess or checkers.”
$29.99 – Arcane Wonders
Teri Litorco, Geek & Sundry editor described War Chest as, “the kind of game that stays with you, the way that a good meal sticks to your ribs, but it’s also the kind of game that doesn’t require you to sink hours sitting at a table to finish.” With the variety of units, it has the feel of a classic game like chess while combining some rather modern mechanics.
$49.99 – Alderac Entertainment Group
Pentago will remind you of Connect Four, but with an ever-changing board. Each turn you’ll place one of your tokens on the board, then rotate that section of the board. The first player to connect five of their colors in a row wins the game. Certain victory or imminent defeat are always a turn away, thanks to the dynamic nature of the board.
$19.99 – 29.99 (depending on version) – Mindtwister USA
What are your favorite abstract games? Tell us in the comments!
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Image Credits: Ruel Gaviola, Teri Litorco
Ruel Gaviola loves board games, books, food, travel, Star Wars, and date nights with his wife. He writes about games for iSlaytheDragon and tabletop-test.com, podcasts about games for The Five By, and his name rhymes with Superman’s Kryptonian name. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog here.