Military board games are popular among young and old, and it’s no wonder. The strategy, high stakes, and real-life scenarios are all elements that make these games among my top picks.
It’s just tough to beat Classic Risk. Its popularity and wide appeal make it great for everyone.
But there might be other considerations for you. Do you have young children who want to play along? Are there certain themes or war eras that appeal to you? Do you want a game that can last an entire day?
Here are the war board games I’ve reviewed:
- Classic Risk: Best Overall
- Axis & Allies: Best for History Buffs
- Twilight Imperium: Best Complex Game
- Eclipse: Best Combat Game
- Risk Junior: Best for Young Players
- Dominion: Best Deck-Building Alternative
- Small World: Best Quick Play
- Star Wars Legion: Best for Star Wars Fans
- War of the Ring: Best for Lord of the Ring Fans
- 13 Days: Best for Two Players
I’ve broken down the features, pros, and cons of these war strategy board games so you can make the best decision.
Which war board game should be at your next game night? Keep reading to learn more.
- 1 Best War Board Games Reviews
- 1.1 Classic Risk: Best Overall
- 1.2 Axis & Allies: Best for History Buffs
- 1.3 Twilight Imperium: Best Complex Game
- 1.4 Eclipse: Best Combat Game
- 1.5 Risk Junior: Best for Young Players
- 1.6 Dominion: Best Deck-Building Alternative
- 1.7 Small World: Best Quick Play
- 1.8 Star Wars Legion: Best for Star Wars Fans
- 1.9 War of the Ring: Best for Lord of the Ring Fans
- 1.10 13 Days: Best for Two Players
- 2 What to Consider When Buying a War Board Game
- 3 War Based Board Games: Which One’s the Best?
Best War Board Games Reviews
Classic Risk: Best Overall
Playing Time: About 1-2 Hours
Risk has been entertaining young and old alike since 1957. This modernized version has updated mission cards and improved-quality minis.
Players build armies, invade and conquer territories, and defend territories from attack. While most people are familiar with the rules, this board game has a mixture of strategy and luck.
The dice rolls determine the success of an invasion, while the player is responsible for deciding when and where to attack.
One nice addition to this game is the secret mission cards. The player that first completes their secret mission wins.
If you choose to incorporate the secret mission cards, it could shorten the game significantly. So you’ll have to decide how quickly you want to play.
The look of the map is nice, with a classic design and bright colors. The way they lay out the territories, though, is a little suspect. Let’s just say they take some creative license.
Overall? This is a classic that’s tough to beat. There are niche games on my list that might appeal more strongly to you personally, but there’s a reason this game has withstood the test of time.
- Good blend of strategy and luck
- Entertaining for advanced and beginners
- Variations with secret mission mode
- Might get repetitive
- Map is questionable
Axis & Allies: Best for History Buffs
Playing Time: About 4 Hours
This Hasbro war game is set in 1942, in the middle of World War II. As the name suggests, the game is an epic battle between the Allied and Axis powers.
Each player controls a country’s military forces and wartime economy. The winner is the one that liberates or occupies the greatest cities and wins the Second World War.
The 40″x26″ game board is large enough to cover an entire table. That’s good, too, because this game comes with a lot of pieces:
- 410 plastic pieces
- 12 industrial complex markers
- 100 national control markers
- 5 setup cards
- Battle strip
- Casualty strip
- 80 chips
- 6 dice
The National Product Chart is at the top of the game board. This chart is used to keep up with your Industrial Production Credits (I.P.C.s), which is basically your currency.
One issue I have is that National Production Chart often gets bumped or accidentally knocked over. For that reason, you might choose an alternative way to keep up with your I.P.C.s, such as with poker chips or pen and paper.
Game play is not simple, so this is not the best option for gaming beginners. But there are several videos out there to help, along with the rulebook.
For a detailed breakdown of the rules for Axis & Allies, watch this video by Board Game Nation:
The main objective of Axis & Allies is to capture victory cities, of which there are 13. The players decide between two win conditions: Standard Victory or Total Victory.
Standard Victory consists of capturing or liberating an additional 3 victory cities on top of the ones you start with. Total Victory consists of capturing or liberating all 13 cities.
To set up, put the number of units in each territory, according to the set up cards. Obviously, with so many pieces, the board can easily get crowded. So the game includes chips that represent multiple units of the same type in the same territory.
Players take turns in the same order, according to which country they control. They spend income (I.P.C.s) to purchase to order military units. Then they wage war by deciding and carrying out combat moves.
After combat, the player lands all planes and moves other units. Then the player collects their new Industrial Production Credits.
Buyers raved about how much fun this game is. They liked the action, the chance to recreate famous battles, and the hours of fun based on real historical events.
Some did say the rules are complicated. My thought on this is that this game is not the best choice for a newbie or those who want to pick up a new game quickly. Yet it is amazing for a group of people who regularly get together for long game nights.
While I would recommend this for young and old alike, the minimum recommended age is 12. It would be too complicated for kids younger than that. However, one customer let their 13-year-old grandchild play it, with great success.
- Great for history buffs
- Good strategy game
- Quality board and pieces
- Large learning curve
- A LOT of pieces; slow set up
Twilight Imperium: Best Complex Game
Playing Time: 4-8 hours
Space Lions, Aliens, and Ghosts… Oh, my!
From Fantasy Flight Games comes this self-styled, “epic board game of conquest, politics, and trade.” Twilight Imperium is a behemoth and will require a lot of table space, as it comes with a whopping 1,613 pieces!
One reviewer recommended a 3×6-foot table to accommodate all the pieces and cards. Expect set up to take north of 30 minutes, too.
Players each represent one of 17 different alien factions vying for the title of galactic emperor. Whichever player is the first to get 10 victory points wins the game.
One of my favorite features is the built-in variation. Different factions offer a completely different play experience. So you can play repeatedly without getting bored.
Players raved about Twilight Imperium 4th Edition. They liked the upgrades to the miniatures, which have more detail and a better feel. They also found the technology cards easier to use than previous versions.
But several did warn that this game is not for the faint of heart. If the idea of a 24-page rule book and 32-page reference guide makes your insides turn, stay away from this game.
If you like complex war games, this grand scale battle is definitely for you.
- Many strategic possibilities
- Amazing art quality
- Allows for variations
- Requires large table
- Lengthy game times
- Big learning curve
Eclipse: Best Combat Game
Playing Time: About 1-3 Hours
Eclipse 2nd Dawn combines elements from the first edition base game and the expansion packs, improves the graphics, and streamlines the rules in this updated 4X game (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate).
There are a lot of elements to Eclipse that are similar to Twilight Imperium: a space sci-fi theme, a hexagonal map, settling planets, a combat system, and researching technology.
But these two games are distinct, and the game experience is quite different. Eclipse earns its own spot on the tabletop. For starters, Eclipse is a 2-6 player game and can be played in 1-3 hours, so it’s accessible for most people.
Eclipse also is more straightforward, with a heavier emphasis on combat. There’s not as much emphasis on player interaction, whereas just about everything is based on player interaction in Twilight Imperium.
Eclipse 2nd Dawn has eight rounds. For each round, players choose one of several actions or they can pass. The goal is to acquire victory points through accomplishing different goals.
The game ends after the final round, when players count up their points. The player with the most points wins.
User reviews raved about the component quality and the overall experience of the game. They liked that it works well with two players. Most games like Eclipse really need four players to make it work best.
They also liked the storage that comes with the game. This is a must, too, because you’ll have literally hundreds of pieces to manage.
This is an entertaining war-based board game. But be prepared to invest some cash. Eclipse has a steep price tag.
- Quality miniatures
- Can play in one sitting
- Includes tactical depth
- Great two-player game
Risk Junior: Best for Young Players
Playing Time: 20-30 minutes
If you want a fun game that young children can play, Risk Junior is one game that fits the bill. Players battle for treasure and control of islands in this pirate-themed game.
Learning how to play is simple, and it has a lower playing time, so it can keep a young child’s attention. If you need a fun time-filler, this game can be played in just 20-30 minutes.
Dice rolls make up a large part of the game, so there is a strong element of luck. That means younger players have an opportunity to win, and no one is ganged-up on like in the original game.
That also means it might be a bit boring for adults or older kids. But it’s nice to play with smaller children who are just beginning to learn board games.
Buyers enjoyed playing this game with their own kids. They liked the pirate theme, the simple rules, and the element of luck.
They did have issues with the ships, however. The ships are dice flippers, which is a cute idea in theory.
But kids kept moving their ships to flip dice and then forgetting where their ships belonged. Some also said the flippers tended to upset the whole board. But you can easily roll dice by hand and remove the problem.
- Easy to learn
- Quick game
- Great for kids
- Not as challenging
- Complaints about dice flippers
Dominion: Best Deck-Building Alternative
Playing Time: 30 minutes
While not technically a board game, Dominion is an original deck-building game for 2-4 players. To me, this game feels like a cross between Risk and Bohnanza (another Rio Grande game).
In the game, monarchs (players) compete to build the most valuable kingdom. Each player’s kingdom is represented by their personal card deck.
To win, players fight to acquire the most points from duchies, estates, and provinces. Players purchase these special victory cards using treasure cards as currency.
While the box recommends a minimum age of 14, I feel like you could play this with younger players, and they just need to understand the basic strategy and be familiar with deck-building games.
Customers enjoyed playing this game. They liked that it was relatively easy to learn and quick to play. They also liked the number of expansions available.
Some buyers complained about the quality of the playing cards. Others thought it was too simple.
It comes down to personal preference, but if you like strategy in a card-based game, this is a good choice.
- Quick game
- Easy to learn
- Moderate strategy
- Several expansions available
- Card quality is questionable
Small World: Best Quick Play
Playing Time: 40-80 minutes
Small World is a fantasy civilization game for 2-5 players designed by Philippe Keyaerts as a follow-up to Vinci.
Players acquire gold by controlling territories with up to two factions. You attack using tokens, much like in the classic Risk version.
The content ends when the round marker reaches the end of the track. The winner is the player with the most gold.
I enjoyed this game, as did many customers. The consensus is that it is like a fantasy version of Risk with a few twists. You also won’t get bored after playing it a few times. (And there are expansion packs for those who want extra combinations.)
This is a more cut-throat board game that pits players against each other. With the minimum age being 8 years, make sure any kids playing can handle that level of competition.
Some buyers wished the game had more strategic depth to it, as well.
But if you like Risk, enjoy twists, and dig dwarves and wizards? This is the game for you.
- Quick play
- Easy to learn
- Fantasy elements
- Expansions available
- Not as much strategy
Star Wars Legion: Best for Star Wars Fans
Playing Time: About 2-3 Hours
If you’re a fan of Galaxies Far, Far Away, this Fantasy Flight war game is calling your name. Paint and assemble your own miniatures as you prepare to battle enemy forces as a rebel player or empire player.
The game lasts for six rounds. At the end of those rounds, the player with the most victory tokens wins. Players acquire tokens through accomplishing objectives during play.
There is definitely strategy involved, but the dice roll adds an element of luck to it. You’ll move troops, attack the enemy, and fill objectives.
Buyers loved the quality of the pieces. But some people had pieces with missing arms. Also, if you’ve never painted or assembled miniatures before, watch some videos first.
You need to know that this core set is not enough to play a standard game. There aren’t enough dice, upgrades, or action cards. To do that, you’ll need to purchase at least one other core set. Many buyers recommended the Clone Wars core set.
That can add up quickly, so if you’re not a huge Star Wars/tabletop game fan, you might look at another option.
- High-quality miniatures
- Custom dice
- Incomplete starter set
- Learning curve
War of the Ring: Best for Lord of the Ring Fans
Playing Time: About 2-4 hours
War of the Ring is an all out war for middle Earth in which characters from the beloved series duke it on the board.
You can choose to be a Free Peoples player or a Shadow Player. As a Free Peoples player, you can obtain victory by either gaining four points or tossing the ring into Mount Doom.
As a Shadow Player, you use your shadow armies to capture strongholds and win with 10 points or bring the ring to your Dark Lord master.
This asymmetrical strategy game can move slowly, and it takes hours to complete. So if you want something you can start after dinner and play before bedtime? This isn’t it.
But once you get past the learning curve and possible gridlock, this game is a lot of fun. Although you can have up to four players, most recommend two.
I think the phrase to best describe War of the Ring is frustratingly entertaining.
- Detailed minis
- Involves lots of strategy
- Expansions available
- Slow play
- Steep learning curve
13 Days: Best for Two Players
Playing Time: 45 minutes
This two-player game is set in the middle of the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis. This contest recreates the tension of those two weeks in human history as players play cards that shape political events around the world. Players can resolve conflicts or start World War III.
13 Days is perfect for Twilight Struggle fans, another Cold War-based game.
The objective is to have the most prestige after three rounds of play. For each round, players draw three agenda cards. They secretly choose one of the agendas to pursue. Next, players take turns playing strategy cards in order to place/remove cubes or play event cards.
I really liked this game. It’s like a fast version of Twilight Struggle. Customers, including me, believe you don’t need to be a history buff or love history to enjoy playing.
The rulebook is a little vague, but any doubts are easy to resolve with a quick search or YouTube video.
- Quick play
- Great for 2 players
- No history knowledge required
- Some rules might be a little unclear
What to Consider When Buying a War Board Game
Length of Gameplay
Taking into account the length of play is important. The last thing you want is to start a game, only to get halfway through and have to pack everything up again.
If you have a dedicated table that can stay undisturbed, you might choose to tackle a marathon game that you play over multiple sessions.
If, however, your playing space is your kitchen table, you’ll be better off choosing a game you can complete in one sitting.
Most war board games have a longer playing time than other game genres. Most require at least an hour or two.
You’ll want to consider how long the round takes, how long your gaming session will be, as well as whether or not you can stretch the game over multiple get-togethers.
With the right players, enough space, and some forward planning, you can tackle a war game of any length.
Level of Strategy
Let’s face it, war games can get complicated. Some people really enjoy reading through large rule books and figuring out special situations, while others just want to play.
The best level of strategy is the one that fits your personal preferences.
Many war-based tabletop games are not appropriate for younger players, as they require managing multiple parts and strategies as the game progresses.
Don’t even get me started on keeping up with the miniatures.
For that reason, you’ll want to consider the age limit of any game you choose.
If you have younger kids and want to play a war board game with them, you might like Risk Junior. It’s an easy game that’s a gentle introduction to war games.
You might be bored with a traditional wargame but go all in if the game involves your favorite sci-fi movie. On the other hand, you might enjoy historical games but despise sci-fi fantasy-based games.
The thematic elements of a game can greatly influence a player’s enjoyment of it while playing. If you know there are certain themes that appeal to you, choose a game that features them.
Great games are not just fun the first time you play them, but they provide entertainment each time you open the box. Games that lack variations can quickly become boring and repetitive.
One caveat, however. Some games are specifically designed to be played one time. In that case, variations don’t matter and won’t exist. However, none of the games on my list are that type of game.
Some games have literally hundreds of pieces and require careful storage. Other games are quite portable and easy to store. You’ll want to consider storage before purchasing a game with several loose pieces.
War Based Board Games: Which One’s the Best?
Which war board game emerges victorious? While there are fantastic options, it’s tough to beat the wide-range appeal of Classic Risk. The ease of play, wide appeal, and blend of strategy and luck, are all reasons that make this one of my favorite war board games.
But no matter what your interest or gaming level, you can find a war game that matches your preferences.