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
- Twilight Imperium 4E: Epic civilisation-building, politics and galaxy-wide conquest.
- Space Alert: Frantic real-time co-operation as the crew on a ten-minute space mission.
- Star Trek: Ascendancy: Three cultures from the ever-popular franchise go head to head.
- Star Wars: Outer Rim: Earn your fortune as your favourite scummy villain from Star Wars.
- Race for the Galaxy: Classic resource management and role selection with a sci-fi twist.
- Xia: Legends of a Drift System: Thrilling sci-fi adventure sandbox.
- Quantum: Smartly simple sci-fi conquest game with dice as space vessels.
- Space Base: Clever evolution of Catan-style resource production, except spaceships.
- Cosmic Encounter: Endless alien ability combinations power this classic negotiation game.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Conquer the universe using nothing but dice, in a good way
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
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
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.