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Excellent Alternatives to Chess: 20 Games That Will Keep Your Mind Going

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

While chess is known as one of the oldest and most popular strategic-based games of all time, there are many great alternative games if you ever become bored or want to try something different. 

Chess’ global prevalence cannot be understated, with most predicting it to remain the world’s leading tactical game. Today, we’ll discuss several mentally stimulating, enjoyable, and timeless alternatives to the chess game. 

For a game to be considered similar to chess, it must require players to fully utilize their mental capacities, appropriate strategic skills, and focusing capabilities. While chess is one of the most historically significant strategy-based games, many prefer great alternatives such as Shogi, Hive, Go, and Azul. 

Despite it being quite hard to match chess’ ability to significantly exert your tactical skills, strategic analysis, and mental reasoning abilities, we think you should definitely try other lesser-known alternatives. There are hundreds of games that, in one way or another, can be comparable to chess. 

These are 20 strategic-based games that are great alternatives to chess: 

1. Go

Go is often considered as being the best alternative to chess. Go was one of the first strategic-based board games ever created, with each player having 19 pieces. 

To win in a game of Go, you must conquer as many of your opponent’s stones as possible. While Go may seem simpler to play than chess, it’s enormously complicated, tactical, and strategic, often taking many years to master properly. 

2. Shogi

Shogi is quite similar to chess, although the exclusively Japanese version requires the board to be separated into 9 different sections. However, Shogi’s board sizes vary depending on the players’ level and associated complexity. 

To win a game of Shogi, you must conquer the opponent’s king. Despite some variations, such as promotion zones and unit capturing, Shogi is considered quite comparable to chess. 

3. Hive

Hive is a strategic and tactical game created back in 2001. The game uses different insects instead of traditional chess pieces. Hive is based on realistic insect warfare, meaning that the first player to trap their opponent’s queen will win the game, similar to what happens in nature. The game does not require a physical board, so it can be played on any flat surface. 

4. Azul

Azul is among the most globally famous and popular strategic board games, with many claiming its aesthetic appeal is unmatched. Azul’s objective is to occupy alternative-colored tiles, strategically placing them over the board to maximize a positional and points advantage. The game is less complex than chess, although a significant mental effort is required to come out on top.  

5. 3-D Chess

Despite many assuming that 3-D chess is a modern variation of the game, it was first played during the early years of the 19th century. Chess in 3D has the same rules as the traditional variation; however, there are 3 layered boards on which players must simultaneously compete. 3D chess requires significant cognitive engagement, and for some, it can be more fun than the game’s traditional version. 

6. Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis requires players to grow more plants and trees in the board’s forest. While the game feels less violent than chess, players need to entirely account for the weather, the sun’s position, and the alternating seasons. 

The game, which is known as the green strategy board game, requires participants to use their strategic skills. 

7. Dead Of Winter

Dead of Winter is a well-known strategic game that requires players to utilize well-thought-out strategies to avoid defeat in the dark game. Between 2 and 5 players can compete in each game, forming alliances to navigate the numerous conflicts and pressures presented by an external world. Players must betray their partnerships to win, as there can only be 1 winner. 

8. Ploy

Ploy is somewhat similar to chess, although the game is set in a futuristic and artistic setting. Between 2 and 4 players can compete simultaneously, with the game’s main objective being conquering your opponent’s commander. An opponent’s commander is similar to the king in chess and can be defeated by strategically pushing your pawns in an appropriate direction. 

9. Onitama

On the surface, Onitama seems to be another Japanese-style version of traditional chess. However, the Onitama was released in 2014, since becoming a timeless, strategic, and popular board game. The game has a distinctive look, with players’ moves determined by the cards they have drawn. 

Unlike chess, the pawns in Onitama are far more powerful, making the game unpredictable and fun.  

10. Xiangqi

Xiangqi is closely related to other chess variations, such as Shogi and Go. The game is most prevalent in China, with the main objective being the destruction of the opponent’s king. In contrast to traditional chess, Xiangqi utilizes intersection and not alternative-colored squares. 

While similar to chess in many ways, Xiangqi consists of unique pieces such as generals and cannons. 

11. 7 Wonders

Since its release in 2010, 7 wonders have become one of the most popular strategy-based board games globally. Opponents compete between chosen nations, with the main goal being construction instead of conquering or war.

7 Wonders requires significant mental engagement, appropriate tactics, and long-term strategies. Different boards, tokens, and decks of cards enhance the general playing experience. 

12. Blokus Duo

Blokus Duo shares similarities with chess, checkers, and dominoes, requiring players to capture each other’s pieces by matching them in the corner of the board. Blokus Duo is difficult to master, requiring skill, practice, experience, and high-quality cognitive abilities if you aim to defeat your opponent. 

13. Tafl Games

Tafl games are a group of ancient Scandinavian strategy board games. They combine Tablut, Hnefetafl, and other similar games into one board. Tafl games are similar to chess, as it is based on war-type scenarios; however, Tafl is focused on battle sieges instead of direct conflict. 

The game transpires on a 9 by 9 board, with one player being a defender and the other an attacker. To win, the attacking player must capture the king under siege, while the defender must maneuver their king to any board’s borders. 

14. Risk

Risk is a strategy board game focusing on world war battles instead of the individual battles associated with chess. Each player begins with one country before attempting to occupy more countries and dominate the world. The roll of a die decides conflicts, and the player with more troops will have an advantage. In Risk, strategy is essential, and many consider it a great alternative to chess.

15. The Resistance

Resistance is a card-based group game that revolves around the government against resistance groups. Significant strategic awareness, good social skills, and sufficient creativity are essential for victory; players must avoid enemy spies to win.

16. Cathedral

Cathedral goes back to the 1970s when it was created by Robert Moore. The game is largely based on strategy and design. By utilizing appropriate piece placement and strategy, Cathedral players can use all their pieces before their opponent does, resulting in victory. 

17. Sagrada

Sagrada is a design-orientated board game, with opposing players attempting to obtain as many points as possible by utilizing appropriate colors in pre-determined places. The player with the most unique and special pattern will be declared the winner, although the accompanying deck of cards can occasionally throw an unforeseen spanner into the works. 

18. Patchwork

Patchwork utilizes a board closely resembling traditional chess. However, Patchwork’s rules are based on a combination of similar board games such as Cathedral and Azul. Patchwork is time restricted, meaning you can defeat your opponent by achieving a higher score through better designs when their time runs out. 

19. Checkers

Checkers is related to chess in that they both can be played on the same type of board, as well as that each player starts with light or dark-colored pieces. However, the gameplay is quite different from each other. 

In Checkers, the pieces can only move in a diagonal direction and only conquer opposing pieces when the adjacent square is unoccupied. By taking all your opponent’s pieces, you will emerge victorious. 

20. Catan

Catan is a well-known and strategic board game created in 1995. The game requires opposing players to use various trading strategies, which enables them to obtain more resources. The player that managed to construct the most desirable settlement, achieved through appropriate and savvy strategic implementations, will be declared the winner. 

In Closing 

Chess is arguably one of the most popular strategy-based board games ever created. However, there are numerous exciting, entertaining, and enthralling alternatives to try if chess happens to become too monotonous. While each game is different from chess, there are many similarities, necessitating mental engagement, focus, and appropriate strategic skills.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.