Games Like Chess

Looking for games like Chess? I recommend Hnefatafl.

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Chess is simple to learn but takes a lifetime to master. It’s not a game where you can win thinking about the next move. You have to think about the next series of moves, as well as all the possible variations.

Hnefatafl is called Viking chess because it so closely resembles the game. Many people are unfamiliar with Hnefatafl, but it’s a real-time strategy game that’s abstract, focused on capture, and loads of fun.

If you enjoy challenging strategy games, I’ve rounded up several other games like chess. Some are modern board games, while others come from the ancient world. I’ll share details about each game so you can find the best one for you.

Ready to learn more? Keep reading to get started.

At a Glance

Many board games like Chess are ancient games, proving that strategy games have been popular across time and cultures. These games share similar characteristics that make them timelessly fun.

If you enjoy playing games that focus on capture, you might enjoy Hnefatafl, Go, Checkers, Shogi, or Hive.

Do you want to try a game that’s been around for a long time? You might like Xiangqi, Shogi, Backgammon, Go, Hnefatafl, or Mancala. Many games like these have been played all over the world for centuries.

Prefer a more modern game? Check out Hive, Connect 4, or Catan. These are relatively new games that might appeal to you.

Chess-Like Strategy Game Reviews

Hnefatafl (Viking Chess): Best Overall

Players: 2

Playing time: ~60 minutes

Age: 8+

Hnefatafl is so similar to chess, it’s commonly referred to as Viking Chess. This game originated in Scandinavia and translates to “king’s table.” It falls under the larger umbrella of tafl games, a family of strategy board games played on a checkered game board.

Hnefatafl Viking Chess Set - Authentic, Traditional Two-Player Strategy Board Game Classic - Historic European Tabletop Asymmetric War Game

Hnefatafl is a two-player abstract strategy game where one player attempts to trap their opponent’s king, while the other player is trying to help the king escape to safety.

This is a war game with an asymmetrical setup, so the opposing sides do not have an equal number of game pieces. While the boards range in size, this version plays on an 11×11 grid.

The defending side (the Vikings) consists of 12 soldiers and a king, who start the game in a cross formation in the center of the board. The attackers (the Frost Giants) include 24 soldiers positioned in four groups of 6 around the perimeter of the board.

If you’ve never played Hnefatafl before, the rules are fairly simple. Players alternate turns. All pieces move in straight lines for an unlimited number of squares, much like the Rook in chess. The king usually can only move one square at a time.

There is no diagonal play or jumping. Capture your opponent’s pieces by “sandwiching” them, moving your piece so that an opponent’s piece is trapped between two of yours. The defenders win if the king reaches one of the four corners. Alternately, the attackers win if and when the king is surrounded on all sides by four opposing pieces.

This game is simpler and much easier to learn than chess.

This particular version features beautiful multi-faceted wooden game pieces, including an oversized king piece to rescue from the frost giants. They’re lightweight, however, and easy to knock over when playing.

The board does not require folding, creating a completely smooth playing surface. It features an artistic depiction of the famed World Serpent from Norse mythology.

Hnefatafl is suitable for players ages 8 and up. You can certainly play it with younger players, I did with my son from 6 years old, but they will find it harder to win. 


  • Simple game rules
  • Strategic challenge
  • Easy setup


  • Pieces are easy to knock over

Catan: Best Euro Game

Players: 3-4

Playing time: ~60 minutes

Age: 10+

Catan is one of the most popular modern board games. It may not seem as close to chess on the surface, but Catan has a lot of elements that might appeal to you if you’re a fan of playing chess.

Catan (Base Game) Adventure Board Game for Adults and Family | Ages 10+ | for 3 to 4 Players | Average Playtime 60 Minutes | Made by Catan Studio

Catan definitely falls in the realm of abstract strategy games. In this Euro-style game, players embark on a quest to settle the fictional isle of Catan.

Players must use resource combinations to buy development cards and build roads, settlements, and cities. To win, players must be the first to reach 10 victory points.

Acquire resources through trades, cards, or a little luck with the dice roll. The random element, even though it’s not central to the game, might turn away some players, but this game still relies heavily on strategy.

One characteristic this game shares with chess is the high replay value. Each time you play gives you a different gaming experience. Unlike the other games on this list, the Catan base game is designed to accommodate three to four players. All the other games are two-player games.


  • Plenty of strategic depth
  • Relatively simple to learn
  • High replay value


  • Element of luck

Go (Weiqi): Runner-Up

Players: 2

Playing time: ~60 minutes

Age: 5+

Although the earliest history of the game is unclear, Go (Weiqi in Chinese) has been around for at least 2,500 years. The Japanese variation dates back to the 7th century. This ancient game is considered to be one of the oldest board games still in existence.

Yellow Mountain Imports Shin Kaya 1.2-inch Go Game Set Board with Double Convex Korean Hardened Glass Paduk Go Stones and Bamboo Bowls

Go is an abstract strategy game of displacement, very much like chess. Go is played on a board (goban) that is typically a 19×19 grid of intersecting lines. This version features a reversible board with a 19×19 grid on one side and a 13×13 grid on the other.

Players start on opposite sides and hold black or white stones (called go-ishi). The stones go on the intersections between lines. The goal is to capture your opponent’s pieces by surrounding them.

Just like other chess-like games, Go is a deceptively difficult board game. The rules are simple enough, but winning requires careful planning and high-stakes decision-making.

This Go board game set features exceptional quality. It comes with a reversible goban board made of Shin Kaya wood. The black and white stones are smooth, convex, and uniform in size and shape.

When you’re done playing, you can store the pieces in two bamboo Go bowls. The bowl straps keep the lid in place, while the carrying case allows you to take your Go game set anywhere.

The only downside? That level of quality and craftsmanship comes at an additional cost. This is an expensive game, but it should last a lifetime.


  • High-quality reversible board (goban)
  • Includes storage bowls for stones
  • Easy to learn, difficult to master


  • Pricey

Xiangqi: Most Challenging Alternative

Players: 2

Playing time: 60+ minutes

Age: 8+

Xiangqi is also called Chinese chess or elephant chess. This board game is popular in China but also played in other East Asian countries.

2 Players Strategy Board Games Chinese Xiangqi Chess Set Travel Games with Folding Chess Board Puzzle Games (Color : A, Size : 6cm/2.4")

Xiangqi pits two players against each other in battle, with the goal of capturing the opponent’s king. Like in Go, it is played at the intersections of lines rather than inside squares.

In Chinese chess, all the pieces move in certain ways. Pieces include soldiers, a general (king), a horse, an elephant, a cannon, a chariot, and an advisor. The board has a river dividing the two armies and palaces to hold the two generals.

The game ends when one player checkmates the other’s general, just like in chess.

This Xiangqi set has a foldable design so you can conveniently store and carry it. It features hand-carved pieces in one of four materials–ebony, blood sandalwood, rosewood, or beech. The board is laser-engraved and traced in gold for a beautiful design.

Xiangqi is one of the more complicated abstract strategy games similar to chess. It’s great if you enjoy a challenge.


  • Challenging gaming experience
  • Abstract strategy
  • High-quality pieces and board


  • Learning curve
  • Expensive

Shogi: Best Blend of Chess & Checkers

Players: 2

Playing time: 30 minutes to 2 hours

Age: 8+

A Japanese variation on the classical Chinese game, Xiangqi, Shogi is a complicated strategy game. It is very similar to chess, with some important strategic differences. Shogi is commonly referred to as Japanese chess.

Wooden Shogi Japanese Chess Table w/Drawers and Chessmen Game Set

Shogi is a game in which two players take turns moving pawns in an effort to capture the opposing player’s king. Players move one piece at a time along a grid, much like chess. Some of the possible moves are exactly the same, while others are completely different.

Unlike chess and other games, a player’s pieces are distinguished by the direction they face on the board, not by color. The tiles are marked with kanji to tell you which piece it is.

But if you aren’t familiar with Chinese or Japanese, not to worry. It comes with a full English-illustrated instruction manual to help you.

In Shogi, once your piece reaches the back third of the board, that piece can be promoted. Flip the piece over to reveal a new character underneath with more abilities.

Over time, a drop rule was added that allowed capturing players to return captured pieces to the board. Shogi has been played in its current form since the sixteenth century.

This Shogi board features a 9×9 square grid made of MDF with a wood veneer. It comes with a convenient drawer to store the traditional Koma tiles made from maple wood. But the grid squares are too small for some of the bigger pieces.


  • Strategic depth
  • Includes storage drawer
  • Beautiful high-quality pieces


  • Board is too small for larger tiles

Mancala: Best Point-Based Game

Players: 2

Playing time: 10 minutes

Age: 6+

Mancala is an ancient game tracing its roots to East Africa and the Middle East. The term actually refers to a classification of games. Mancala games vary, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to the Kalah variant as Mancala. This is the most popular version in North America.

Pressman Mancala - Real Wood Folding Set, with Multicolor Stones by Pressman, 2 players

In this game, players take turns distributing small stones, or seeds, in holes around the wooden game board. Capturing seeds is the name of the game. Your objective is to capture more pieces than your opponent.

Players begin with four stones in each pocket on their side of the board. At the end of the board are two big pits, called stores or zones. Each player’s store is to their right.

Players choose a hole on their side, scoop out the stones, and drop one stone into each consecutive hole, including their own store but not their opponent’s.

Like chess, this simple marble game packs plenty of strategic planning, counting, and decision-making skills. Unlike chess, Mancala moves quickly. It only takes a matter of minutes to play a game.

This Mancala set has 48 colorful glass beads and a wooden game board that folds for easy storage. The pockets are a bit shallow, though. The beads are susceptible to falling out when there are more than six.

Mancala is a great game for those who enjoy strategy games like chess, but don’t want to commit to a long drawn-out game.


  • Fast-paced gameplay
  • Abstract strategy game
  • Easy to learn


  • Pockets are shallow

Backgammon: Best Game with Dice

Players: 2

Playing time: 15 minutes

Age: 5+

Backgammon is among the oldest strategy games, tracing its roots back roughly 5,000 years old, though an exact date is difficult to pin down. It shares several similarities with chess.

Crazy Games Backgammon Set - 2 players Classic Backgammon Sets for Adults Board Game with Premium Leather Case - Best Strategy & Tip Guide (Brown, Medium)

Backgammon was a popular board game in ancient Greek and Roman times, and it was mentioned in English literature. The name first appeared in print in the mid-1600s. The word is widely believed to translate to “back game.”

Backgammon is a two-player board game. The board has 24 triangles and is referred to as ‘points.’ The points on the board alternate in color and are put into four groups, each containing six points. 

Each player receives their own pair of dice and a dice cup to shake the dice. Each player also has a home board and fifteen game pieces that they play with. Players take turns throwing the dice and moving their pieces counterclockwise around the board, according to the numbers shown.

If there are two or more of the other player’s pieces on a spot, you can’t land there. If it only has one piece, you can capture your opponent’s piece.

If one of your pieces is taken, it goes off the board. To return it, you have to roll a number that isn’t blocked in your opponent’s area. Once all of your pieces have returned to your home board, you can start removing them from the board. The winner is the first player to remove all their pieces from the board.

This Backgammon set comes in a variety of colors and sizes. The foldable design makes it easy to store and carry, but it still lies flat on the table for easy playing.

The quality is solid, although some buyers did have issues with the stitching either unraveling or interfering with play.


  • Quick gameplay
  • Easy to learn
  • Several color & size choices


  • Some had problems with the stitching

Hive: Best Tile Game

Players: 2

Playing time: 20-30 minutes

Age: 9+

Hive belongs in the category of modern board games, but it’s an award-winning strategy tile game that shares some characteristics with chess. Build the board as you progress, with the ultimate goal of trapping your opponent’s queen bee.

Hive- A Game Crawling With Possibilities

Hive is a game that appears simple but is deceptively complex. Without a board to place tiles on, the game starts when the first piece is laid. The tiles are quite large, however, so make sure you have enough space to spread out.

Unlike other tile games, the goal of Hive is not for players to lay all their pieces. To win, you must be the first one to surround your opponent’s queen.

Hive is played between two people, each with 11 black and 11 white tiles. Each tile depicts an insect. Just like chess, there are rules that govern how the insect tiles can move.

Like chess, Hive is straightforward but not simple. It requires players to use strategy, plan, and adapt. Hive is a faster game than chess, however. A single game only takes 20-30 minutes, depend on the players. You’ll find yourself playing again and again to try new strategies.


  • Simple rules but difficult to master
  • No board required
  • Quick gameplay


  • Takes up a lot of space

Connect 4: Best for Kids

Players: 2

Playing time: 15 minutes

Age: 5+

Connect 4 is a great game for both kids and adults. It’s easy to learn, quick to play, and teaches strategy.

GoSports 1 Foot Width Premium 4 in a Row Game, Choose Between Classic White or Dark Stain – with Connect Coins, Portable Case and Rules

You’re probably familiar with how to play Connect 4 because the rules are so simple to learn. Two players take turns dropping different-colored tokens in a suspended six-row, seven-column grid.

To win Connect 4, be the first player to form a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal line of four pieces of the same color. Typically, each player chooses either a red or yellow token, but this GoSports set includes red and blue pieces.

Even though there are obvious differences between chess and Connect 4, they both fall into the category of abstract strategy games. They’re enjoyable for a wide age range, and they have long-lasting popularity.

The GoSports Connect 4 has a wooden grid in either a dark stain or white finish. It comes with 42 plastic coins, half blue and half red. It also includes a travel carrying case for easy storage and portability.

Although this version is pricier than the plastic Hasbro version, it’s nicer-looking and will last much longer.


  • Great for kids
  • Quick gameplay
  • Easy to learn
  • Requires strategy


  • May not have enough depth

Checkers: Best Short Game

Players: 2

Playing time: 15 minutes

Age: 6+

Checkers is the classic two-person strategy game we all know and love. On any given day, you can find people of all ages playing checkers in classrooms, outside country store restaurants, and in homes. It’s fun, easy to play, and encourages strategic thinking.

Pressman Checkers -- Classic Game With Folding Board and Interlocking Checkers, 2 Players

Chess includes more moves than checkers, but they’re both displacement board games that require players to capture their opponents’ pieces to win.

A checkerboard typically features 64 spaces, alternating between black and white boxes. The game comes with 24 checker pieces, 12 black and 12 red (sometimes white). Pieces can only go on the black squares.

In checkers, pieces can only move forward and diagonally. To capture an opponent’s pawn, jump over it with your own. The winner is the player who captures all their opponent’s pawns.

If your piece makes it to the back row on the opposite side, your pawn flips to reveal a crown and can now move forward and backward (still only diagonally).

This board game can be played within a few minutes, a reason it’s popular in waiting rooms and outside restaurants.

This Pressman edition features plastic tokens and a folding board. It’s not the highest quality, but it’s inexpensive, so you’re not investing a lot.


  • Easy to learn
  • Quick gameplay
  • Great for kids & adults
  • Affordable


  • Lower-quality board & pieces

Chess Board Game Buying Guide

Games have certain characteristics that make them appealing to buyers. For a game to be like chess, it must require players to use strategic thinking, focus, and stretch their mental capacities. Chess is one of the most influential games the world has experienced, but it is far from the only game on the chess board.

Most games that require strategy are competitive, not cooperative. They tend to have longer game times, so be prepared to spend time thinking through steps. While some are appropriate for groups of players, many are between two opponents. They’re geared for gaming duos.

Some games use quality materials and hand-crafted or hand-painted pieces. These will last longer, but they’re more expensive and not suited for kids. If you’re playing with your children, however, you might prefer a cheaper board that can withstand more wear and tear.

Board Games Like Chess: Wrap-Up

When it comes to games like Chess, you have plenty of options. My top choice is Hnefatafl, but I also recommend Go or Shogi for the closest games to chess.

Learn more about the different styles and genres of board games