Top Ten Abstract Strategy Board Games - January 2012

So recently I have been debating what I want to do with this site. I enjoy writing reviews, and I still intend for that to be the bulk of my posts. However, one thing that I've heard from some of my readers is that they like when I compare games to each other. Also, I got to spend some time with Jason from Play Board Games recently, and he encouraged me to start writing "Top Ten" lists - he said that they're both fun to write and engaging to readers. So, why not? Feel free to add comments to my Top Ten, missed games, and whether you like the addition of Top Tens to the site!

Some of these games I have reviewed, and some I haven't. If I've reviewed it, I'll give you the link to my review (instead of the normal link to Amazon, but feel free to use this Amazon link and search for any of these games in the search bar).  If I haven't reviewed some of these yet, I'll try to get around to writing one for you! And, since I just completed my self proclaimed "Abstract Strategy Month" of December, what better place to start than...

Top Ten Abstract Strategy Games!!


10. Tsuro

Simple but enjoyable. This may be the only abstract strategy game that I know of that can support up to 8 players!


9. Stomple

Gorgeous and engaging. This game is perfect for anyone with children, but the amount of luck involved in your initial setup keeps it from placing higher.


8. Abalone

This is basically sumo wrestling as an abstract strategy game. It can be incredible fun, but can also become tedious if you and your opponent are too experienced at it, if you are both able to avoid getting any pieces knocked off the board.


7. Jin Li

One of my surprise finds of 2011 was Jin Li. Having never heard of the game before I was given a copy, I quickly fell in love. Surprising depth with very brief rules, I wound up buying the iPhone version so that I could play it when I needed a 3-minute break.


6. Hive

One of my very first reviews, Hive is the game on this list closest to having a theme, but it's paper thinness allows it to still land on the list. Simply a brilliant game (another one that I've bought for my iPhone) of attempting to surround your opponent's queen.


5. Yinsh

The Gipf project finally cracks the list with what many believe to be the best game in the series. Unfortunately, it's up against some brilliant competition both from other games in the Gipf project, and some outsiders. Still, Yinsh combines some beautiful gameplay elements to make for a great experience!


4. Hey, That's My Fish!

A game that can be enjoyed by everyone, I would recommend that everyone buy a copy of Hey, That's My Fish since you can currently buy it for around $12 from Fantasy Flight. The setup time (especially in comparison to the actual gameplay time) is the biggest downside, which is why I have converted most of my time with this game to playing it on the iPad. However, anyone with children take note - this is a great game that you can play with kids, and I've played it with kids as young as 4, who were still able to understand and enjoy the game.


3. Pentago

Mindtwister USA's flagship game really is a prototypical example of what I look for in an abstract strategy game - easy to teach, easy to transport, and many levels of strategic depth. "Play one, twist one, try to get five in a row." It's much deeper than it initially appears.


2. Gipf

Yes, I should post a review about this one. The original game from the Gipf project, Gipf is an amazing game. It combines elements of pushing and matching pieces into a brilliant, amazing, and exciting game. (I'm running out of adjectives - I love all of the games on this list!)


1. Dvonn

A game that I gave a score of 8.5 to tops the list? Yeah - I always say to read the text and not to focus on scores, and this is a perfect example. I love Dvonn. Love it. What's more, the setup and the teardown of the game are the game allowing for essentially no downtime with either of these activities. Some people disagree, but I think that the ever-collapsing board makes for a great play experience!

Honorable Mention

Rise, Tzaar, Ingenious, Multiplayer Pentago, Cityscape.

Any of these could have easily made the list, as they are all solid titles, but the real question would be - what do I take off of it in their place?

I hope you enjoyed my inaugural Top Ten list. Feel free to leave comments and let me know what you think I got right, and where you think I was way off! (As a note, I've never actually played Go, if you're wondering how it got completely left off of the list.)


  1. Excellent! Have you played Cathedral? We have it, but it hasn't made it to the table yet. It's interesting to me that none of the Blokus titles made your list.

  2. I haven't played Cathedral - maybe I should look into it. I have played both Blokus and Blokus 3D (previously known as Rumis). I thought about putting Rumis on the list, but the others all bumped it down off the list.

  3. Another that we'd suggest you take a look at is Quarto. All you have to do is complete 4 in a row of one matching characteristics of the pieces (light/dark, tall/short, round/square, flat top/hole). But your opponent chooses which piece you play each turn.

  4. I've seen Quarto but not tried it - I believe it's from Gigamic, from whom I've tried a few others that ranged from mediocre to good - but maybe Quarto's the one that'll make me feel different about them...

  5. I agree with many of these but Tsuro is not an abstracts since it has hidden information. Any list without Arimaa at top or close to it is also problematic in my opinion. I am glad you rate Gipf highly. It is the best of the Gipf Project. Hive is a great game but suffers from draws. Although that doesn't bother chess players I suppose. Canon is another gem although the production value is not that impressive. Another to consider is Qyshinsu (pity about the name;they're as bad as Kris Burm's names) which has a cool mechanic.

  6. I think we define abstract a bit differently. I agree that Tsuro has hidden information, but I've never thought of that as a prerequisite for abstract. My definition is more related to the lack of a theme affecting the game. Either way, thanks for the advice on some of those games. I'm sorry my list caused you a "problem" by not including Arimaa, but truly, the main issue there is that I have not played it yet! If I recall correctly, it is on my want in trade list - I'll actually go double check to make sure that I can try it out!

  7. Wow, fascinating list. I'm very familiar with a few of them (Tsuro, Hive, Hey That's My Fish) and very pleased to see them on the list. I'm not at all familiar with some of the others, so I'm interested in exploring those.

    The only GIPF project game I've played is YINSH, and that only once. Did you consider it and decide it doesn't make the top ten, or is it unfamiliar to you?

    If you like Hive, I would recommend For the Win (Tasty Minstrel).

    1. Guess I'm a bit confused on your comment, Paul - Yinsh is the #5 game on my list! I have actually tried For the Win, but I believe I tried it after I made this list. I'd have to play it a few more times before I would put it on my top 10 list, though - just to see how much it grows on me.

  8. My bad ... I don't know how I overlooked it!

    I'm putting Dvonn on my wishlist right now.

  9. I know this is an old list now, but if you haven't played Indigo yet, then you should try it. It's the game that killed Tsuro for me.

  10. I haven't tried that one. I'll look into it - thanks!

  11. Two abstract boardgames I want to try are Ploy and Arkeon. They seem to be very interesting and I'm curious how they would rank on your list.

  12. Hey, Joe. I've actually tried Ploy (since making this list), but haven't heard of Arkeon. Ploy is a solid game, but I don't think that it would make this list. At least in my plays of it, it seems to encourage long down times related to thinking more than a lot of these others.

  13. Downtimes are solved by using a clock like in Chess. I just read your review on Ploy and I see that you have a bias against Chess. And since Ploy is like Chess, then it loses points. I played Chess and Checkers since I was 8 so I guess i'm partial to games similar to them. I've played other board games but I'm more intrigued with pure abstract games where there are no hidden information and/or random elements or luck involved giving one player an advantage/disadvantage, i.e. dice. The reason why I lost interest in games like Backgammon and Stratego.

    As for Arkeon. I found it on my Android device a week ago through Google Play store. I guess it does not have a board game version as I don't think it's possible but it looks very intriguing.

    Will you be updating this list for 2013?

    1. You caught me. I definitely do have a bias like chess. I think that you're right, though, that most of the long downtime that some of these games are susceptible to can be fixed with a chess clock - assuming that your opponents are willing to use one.

      I'm actually not sure when I will be updating this one. It is over a year old now, but I don't know that I've played a lot of new abstract strategy games that would make the list. I'll probably come back to it at some point, but I have a few other ideas for top ten lists that I will probably write first. Thanks for your interest, though!