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9 best space board games, from Treks to Wars

To boldly roll.

Space. Quite a common frontier when it comes to board gaming: we’re spoiled for choice if we want to explore the cold depths of the cosmos. So when compiling this list, we tried to stick to the real deal: space games set in and around the big black itself instead of the wider sci-fi aesthetic. And we were still spoiled for choice, with titles ranging from light filler to detailed simulation.

Best space board games

Of course, space is as popular in other media as it is in board games, so there’s a sprinkling of your favourite franchised titles in there too. In fact, some of these games have proved so popular and long-standing that they exist as franchises in their own right. So like space exploration itself, we hope this list is a jumping-off point into an infinity of fun.

1. Twilight Imperium 4E

The epic strategist’s epic strategy space civilisation game just got even more epic

Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition strategy board game gameplay layout
Twilight Imperium is one of the best space board games, as well as one of the most space board games.

Let’s start with this behemoth, which tries to cram the entire space experience into one mere cardboard box. Each player plays an alien civilisation with its own quirks on a modular hex-map board. You’ll build its space fleet and planetary installations and research its technologies. But you’re not alone in the cosmos: other players are there to fight, trade with, even debate in interplanetary politics.

As you might imagine, such an epic scope comes with an epic play time. Despite various shortcuts and smoothings added over previous iterations of the design, you’re still looking at a half-day’s play at least. If you can find the time and the opponents though, Twilight Imperium 4E offers a grand, sweeping experience like no other game.

Buy Twilight Imperium 4E on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

2. Space Alert

Working together has never been so divisive than in this real-time space crew simulation

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Played in real-time against a soundtrack, Space Alert captures the chaos and tension of a Star Trek episode.

Moving from the widest window on space to the smallest, Space Alert casts you as the crew of a starship, co-operating to see off intergalactic perils. One of the earliest real-time games, it comes with a CD - you can also download audio files - which narrates each 10-minute mission. At intervals, it’ll tell you there’s an on-board malfunction, or to place and move incoming threats such as asteroids and alien warships.

To begin with, it’s a cakewalk. After a few minutes, however, the entire affair will degenerate into a shouting match of bitter blame and recriminations over who forget to reload the laser cannons as yet more horrors hove into view. Rather like starring in your own favourite episode of Star Trek.

Buy Space Alert on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

3. Star Trek: Ascendancy

Classic intergalactic conquest with a smart new Starfleet uniform and a novel exploration element

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Ascendancy is more than a quick cash-in on the Star Trek name - it's a great board game in its own right.

Speaking of which, Ascendancy is the best of the many Trek-themed board games on the market. Rather than emulate the details of the show, it wisely opts to zoom out and take a Bird-of-Prey’s-eye view of the galaxy. Each player takes a faction from the Star Trek roster: Federation, Romulan or Klingon. Then it’s a matter of shepherding resources, exploring the galaxy and crowding the others off the map.

While this is a typical setup for an intergalactic conquest game, Ascendancy uses its licence to stand out from the crowd. It’s very asymmetric, with each civilisation trying to win the way you’d expect; the Federation spreads culture, the Klingons war and the Romulans research. The way exploration leaves aspects of the galaxy fluid until late in the game helps you feel like you really are going where no-one has gone before.

Buy Star Trek: Ascendancy on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

4. Star Wars: Outer Rim

Relive Han Solo’s formative years as you fly, fight and trade your way around the reaches of the galaxy

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Outer Rim steers away from the familiar story of the movie series, allowing players to explore Star Wars' galaxy far, far away in whatever way they want.

While we’re on the subject of licensed games, a list like this wouldn’t be complete without the big space kahuna of Star Wars. Fortunately, it has a fantastic contender in Outer Rim. You play as members of Obi-Wan’s scum and villainy, touring the rim in search of fame and fortune. What that means is up to you: it’s one of the game’s pleasures that you can swing between hunting bounties or accruing them as you see fit.

Whatever path you choose, the core gameplay is pick-up-and-deliver, but it’s dressed in varied and exciting thematic clothes. You’ll be smuggling cargo, making contacts and fulfilling contracts, but a smart decision tree system makes it feel like a narrative. The constant temptation to spend your hard-earned credits on new crew and ships is as addictive as it ever was.

Buy Star Wars: Outer Rim on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

5. Race for the Galaxy

Challenging game of economic strategy and double-bluff in an engaging intergalactic skin

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Race for the Galaxy lives up to its name with a heated competition to build your galactic empire faster than your rivals.

So far, we’ve held the spotlight on games of adventure and conquest. But space is big, and there’s room for games of economy and tableau-building as well. Not that Race for the Galaxy feels all that more sedate. The secret action-selection adds a vital layer of tension: will you be able to do what you need this round? Worse, will you accidentally enable another player to do what they need?

You’re still building a civilisation, but the focus is on managing its rise to power rather than direct confrontation. The game’s deck, however, lets you build your space race in a dizzying amount of different ways. You can still go hard on the military if that’s your thing, but you can mix and match it with exploration, economics, education and lots of other aspects. Sci-fi buffs will enjoy the many nods to classic genre tropes along the way.

Buy Race for the Galaxy on Amazon US and Zatu.

6. Xia: Legends of a Drift System

Everything you need to create your own tale of spacefaring adventure

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Xia's open galaxy is free for players to discover at their own pace, customising their ship and taking jobs to earn their way.

If you want a more forgiving space sandbox to play in, look no further than Xia: Legends of a Drift System. It gives you a ship to fly and a modular galaxy to explore and leaves the rest very much up to you. How you want to earn the fame that could win you the game, and even the amount of fame that counts as victory, is determined by the players.

The result is a rich tapestry of space-based storytelling, shaped around a solid strategic core of managing your ship’s systems and energy. Doing so is a satisfying mini-game in its own right, customising your pre-painted miniature ship with cool new options and combos. Xia has so many fun toys to play with, it’s an easy system to drift in.

Buy Xia: Legends of a Drift System on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

7. Quantum

Conquer the universe using nothing but dice, in a good way

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Quantum turns a pool of dice into a formidable fleet of starships.

Quantum wants everything: all the bells and whistles of space conquest with none of the fuss. That’s an impossible goal but it’s also impossible not to admire how close the game comes with lots of smart ideas. Your ships are actual dice, with the face indicating its movement, combat value and class - so a 1 is a slow but formidable Battlestation which can attack adjacent enemies, while 6 is a fast, fragile Scout that can be re-rolled into a random ship type.

Decks of cards and easy rules govern events and technology. Between them and the six different kinds of ships, Quantum offers players a dizzying array of tools to leverage in search of victory. You’ll be warping Destroyers around the map, slipping Interceptors between enemy blockades and engaging in typical mass battles. All in the space of an hour, including teaching time.

Buy Quantum on Amazon UK.

8. Space Base

Build a profitable space port that earns on your opponent’s turns as well as your own

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Space Base sees players building up their fleet turn after turn - think Machi Koro, in space.

Lots of space board games see you building a fleet of ships and doing something with them. Space Base makes an entire game out of the fleet building. Each turn you can buy new models and add them to one of the docking ports on your base. These correspond to the roll of two dice which you can split or add to activate the matching ship, gaining resources or a special power.

So far, so Catan. The genius of Space Base is that you can also deploy ships, which means they activate if another player rolls their number, instead of you. That means you have to plan for and manage two sets of probabilities instead of one, weaving between what your opponents are trying to achieve. The huge deck of spacecraft to buy is just the zero-G kicker.

Buy Space Base on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

9. Cosmic Encounter

An undisputed, endlessly replayable classic of intergalactic warfare and negotiation

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Originally released in 1977, Cosmic Encounter has stood the test of time as one of the best space board games ever made.

No list of space board games would be complete without this venerable classic. First released in 1977, its formula of game-breaking alien powers in a title of negotiation and warfare was like nothing else. There’s no manoeuvres, no fleet building - just a series of one-on-one challenges that still suck every player round the table into their uncertain, thrilling outcomes.

In truth, despite the cardboard planets and flying saucers in the latest edition, Cosmic Encounter doesn’t have much to do with space itself. Rather it’s all about its bizarre denizens, from the card-stealing Demon to the unstoppable Virus. The random collection of special powers they bring will shape your game. The combinations are as infinite as the dark reaches of the galaxy.

Buy Cosmic Encounter on Amazon US and Amazon UK.


Matt Thrower avatar

Matt Thrower

Contributor

Matt has been writing about games for over a decade and obsessing over them as long as he can remember. He's been lucky enough to sneak articles about tabletop into several video game outlets, including IGN, PC Gamer and Rock Paper Shotgun. The author and co-author of two books on gaming, Matt also enjoys hiking, cooking and being pretentious.

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