What do you like in your science fiction? To some, it’s all about sweeping space operas with strange aliens, advanced technologies and interstellar travel. To others, it’s the exploration of the human condition in that fantastical future (or alternate present). Whatever your chosen flavor of sci-fi, you can count on an immersive world, guaranteed to inspire the imagination. To sci-fi fans, there’s no lack of media to consume, whether in print, television, movies, and of course, board games.
I had a few criteria when putting together this list. The first, clearly, was that I had to have played the game, which is why you won’t see well-regarded titles like Scythe, Star Trek: Ascendency, Cry Havoc, or Forbidden Stars on here. I also omitted titles with a zombie apocalypse theme (Dead of Winter comes to mind) as I consider those more in the horror genre than the sci-fi genre. That said, let’s delve into my Top 10 Science Fiction Games.
Top 10 Science Fiction Board Games
10. Android: Netrunner (review)
I think when I first read Snowcrash and Neuromancer, I was too young to really understand everything that was going on. Having reread them when I was older, it was amazing to see just how far technology has come since those cyberpunk masterpieces were written. Netrunner does an amazing job putting you in the role of both a rebellious data pirater and the ominous and plotting mega-corporations.
9. Twilight Imperium 3
It’s the granddaddy of all space opera games. With a host of races you can take the role of, Twilight Imperium 3 gives a science fiction fan a ton to chew on, from alien diplomacy to epic space battles, to expanding and exploring your empire. While it’s a game that you may only be able to get to the table once a year, it’s guaranteed to make you feel like you’re smack in the middle of an Iain Banks book.
8. Galaxy Trucker
The lighter side of science fiction, Galaxy Trucker pretty much sums up everything that could possibly go wrong on a spaceship. The game provides you with a ton of humorous takes on tried-and-true science fiction tropes, with helpful aliens, space pirates, and flying into asteroid fields, all in the hopes of having your ship arrive at the destination (relatively) unscathed. Galaxy Trucker has both a real time building phase and a turn based travel phase, making this one a ton of fun.
7. Euphoria (review)
In a genre all about strong themes, it’s no surprise that Euphoria makes this list. Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia puts you in a world of a dystopian city where the powerful get more power and keep the masses subjugated and segregated from the elite. A solid worker-placement game, Euphoria puts you smack in the middle of a not-so-alien world where knowledge is powerful…and dangerous. The strong theme and impact on gameplay in Euphoria is what puts this title on the list.
6. XCOM: The Board Game
It’s yet another adaptation of a computer game that I spent way too much time playing as a teenager. Aliens arriving and wanting to get up in Earth’s business has been a sci-fi trope for as long as there has been sci-fi, encompassing plenty of literature (Childhood’s End jumps to mind) and plenty of movies (Independence Day, Stargate) and cargo bays full of other media. XCOM puts you in the world where aliens want to get violent and humanity needs to fight back. Plus, the iPad app really immerses you in the experience.
5. Star Wars: X-Wing/Armada Miniatures (review)
It wouldn’t be a sci-fi list without at least one game representing the Holy Trinity. I spent many hours playing X-Wing and TIE Fighter, and I love the idea of ship-to-ship combat. X-Wing Miniatures really gives you the feel of hopping into your fighter and flying with your squadron to take out your enemies. I included Armada at this rank as a tie, since they both hit the same sweet spot of space-based ship combat. Some of you may disagree over which game is superior – I’ll just leave them both here.
4. Star Wars: Imperial Assault
I went with Star Wars: Imperial Assault a bit higher because of the original characters that are portrayed (activating the imagination of us true Star Wars nerds) and because I have been loving the recent Star Wars movies. In fact, after watching Rogue One, it really got my engine going about gritty Rebels taking on the Empire. Imperial Assault takes the Descent system and gives it a great sci-fi spin.
3. Merchant of Venus
I spent far too much time playing Trade Wars 2002 on old BBS systems in my formative years, and playing Merchant of Venus hits me right in a sweet spot of nostalgia. The idea of flying through space, hauling cargo, upgrading your ship, and meeting strange aliens is a trope that has popped up in all kinds of sci-fi media, and it translates well into this classic title. I am cognizant that Firefly: The Board Game can occupy this same type of gamer-space, I’m going to be blunt and let you all know that Firefly, as a show and as a universe, is highly overrated. Deal with it, fanpeeps.
2. Terraforming Mars (review)
I literally played Terraforming Mars the night before I wrote this list, and am I glad I did! While The Martian has been the big buzz lately about the Red Planet, one of the best works about Mars is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, which opens with a focus about changing the Martian environment. Many of the projects and research in this game references much of the modern scientific thoughts and ideas behind Martian terraforming, making the game that much more fun to play. Combining this theme with a solid resource management mechanic makes for a great sci-fi game.
1. TIME Stories (review)
I know what you’re saying to yourself. “Alex, this is a sci-fi list. The first module for TIME Stories is horror, and the second one is zombies!” Yes, you are right, but the overarching story is one in the tradition of Quantum Leap (one of my favorite shows in my formative years) of leaping into a different time, taking on someone’s role in a strange place, attempting to change the future. TIME Stories has unique mechanics and one of the most immersive themes of any game, which is why you see it at the top of my list.
Thanks for taking the time to checking this out. Let me know if there’s anything you agree with, disagree with, or any other sci-fi games I should be checking out!