In my gaming groups real time games seem to be one of the most polarizing genres. Some of my friends love them (myself included), while others want nothing to do with them. Personally, I love both the challenge they present (trying to make decisions under pressure) and also the fact that there is almost zero downtime. However, I will admit that most real time board games destroy any kind of relaxing and casual atmosphere, so you definitely have to be in the right mood for one. For when you are in the mood, I’ve put together my list of my Top 10 Real Time Board Games.
A couple of quick notes before we get to the list. I’ve left out games like Unlock or Exit: The Game. While escape room games are timed and technically real time, they really feel like their own separate genre of games, so we’ll save them for another list.
Finally, a few shout outs to a handful of games that I enjoy, but just missed the cut: Magic Maze, Jungle Speed, Happy Salmon, and Drop Mix are all fun, but didn’t crack the Top 10 for me. And also, UBoot, which I’m eagerly awaiting to try when it finally hits our shores this year.
Top 10 Real Time Board Games:
10. Escape Curse of the Temple
The definition of an oldie but a goody. Escape: Curse of the Temple has been on my shelf for about as long as I can remember and was probably my first real time board game. This is a great family game because it’s so easy to jump in and play. Players are trying to find the exit to the temple and must frantically roll dice as they move from room to room. A soundtrack will time the game and make noises when players must rush back to the safety of the start tile.
9. Paramedics: Clear (Review)
A game dubbed “Heart Attack in a Box” and aptly so. In Paramedics: Clear, players are trying to save patients as quickly and efficiently as possible on their turn. Each round, you must triage any patients in your ambulance using the limited supplies you have on hand. The app is mostly just a timer, but the audio on it does an excellent job of inspiring panic in the player as the EKG beeping gets quicker and quicker. This is one of the tensest games I’ve ever played.
8. Captain Sonar
A team-based game that has two submarines hunting for each other. Each player controls a different role in the submarine, and they must work together to secretly take down their enemy. While I really enjoy Captain Sonar, it didn’t make it higher on the list because it’s somewhat hard to get to the table. For this game to shine, you really need 8 players, and I rarely have that many. But if you can get a large group together, this one can be a gem.
7. Now Boarding
Now Boarding is an excellent cooperative game from designer Tim Fowers. Players must work together to delivery passengers around the USA. And since your speed and routes are limited in this game, cooperation is a definite must or you won’t have a chance to win. This is probably one of the most casual games on the list, and it’s only not higher up because the real time aspect is somewhat limited in Now Boarding. Still, it’s an excellent game all around.
6. Galaxy Trucker
A chaotic game where players are quickly assembling a spaceship out of random tiles, with the goal of making the best cargo spaceship. Galaxy Trucker is split into two halves, with the first part being where you frantically grabbing tiles to try to try and cobble together a working spaceship. The second half of the game has you flying your spaceship through the route deck, seeing how well you did (And if it even survives the meteors and alien attacks).
5. Space Alert (Review)
If Escape was my first real time game, Space Alert was probably my second. This classic real time game of survival has players working together to run a spaceship preparing to jump to hyperspace. During the action round, player will have 10 real time minutes to plan their actions (Action programming). While this is going one, the audio from the “computer” will announce threats (boarders, hostile ships, etc…) and players must decide who and how they are dealing with the threats. Once the time is up, the actions are resolved, step-by-step. If someone messed up during the programming phase, it can cause a chain reaction that screws things up down the line.
4. Space Cadets Dice Duel (Review)
This team game pits two starships against each other in a real time, dice rolling battle. Each player controls one or more station of the starship and must frantically roll and allocate dice as they try and maneuver this ship, power shields, and load torpedoes. As players take damage, they lose access to dice, making their job just a little bit harder. Much like Captain Sonar, Space Cadets: Dice Duel is definitely better with more players, so you want to gather a large team for this one.
3. Project Elite
CMON recently created a second edition of Project Elite, but the core gameplay remains the same. Players are a team of elite soldiers trying to stop invading aliens. Players have two minutes of real time dice rolling to fire weapons, search, and complete missions. The core game play isn’t complicated, but there is enough going on in this minis game to keep you firing your weapons for hours.
2. Millennium Blades (Review)
Level 99 created a board game about being a collectible card game player (CCG) and it’s absolutely fantastic. In Millennium Blades, players are gamers of a fictional CCG and their goal is to build the best game deck possible. While the game deck you build is fun, it’s not the core of Millennium Blades. It’s the buying and selling of cards. That’s because, at its heart, Millennium Blades is an economic game. During the real time segment, players have 7 minutes to build their deck. Cards are sold face down in “booster packs”, much like real CCG players have to deal with. This game does an excellent job of replicating the rush of opening a booster pack to see what you get. Frankly, I wish Level 99 would find a way to pull that part of the game out and create a quicker playing game based on it, because it’s an incredible amount of fun.
1. XCOM: The Board Game
Taking the top spot is XCOM: The Board Game. Based on the video game series of the same name, XCOM tasks players with defending the world from a UFO invasion. However, this time players aren’t controlling the boots on the ground marines, but taking a high level, strategic overview of the planet. Each player is assigned a role from scientist, to operations, to squad commander and must do their part. During the real time phase, the integrated app will throw threats at the players and let them know how long they must deal with each issue. Should a player take too long, or not do a good enough job, the app will be sure to penalize them. XCOM has just the right amount of tensions, gameplay, and entertainment to make it my favorite real time board game.