When it comes to area control board games, we have no shortage of options for our tabletops. Put things in one area, try and have more of those things there than your opponents. Pretty simple right? Well, not always. We love us some area control games here a BGQ, but we are always on the lookout for games that break the mold or surprise us in some way. And that’s what we are talking about today. Unique area control board games. Ones that do something different, go off in a new direction, or just make themselves stand out in a really crowded genre.
Unique Area Control Board Games
Chosen by Tony
While there were a few games in the past that tried to bring the first person shooter (FPS) video game genre to our tabletops, none quite succeeded. That is until Adrenaline showed up. This game was easy to play, fast-paced, and had lots of shooting, deaths, and respawns. But what about the area control you say? Well, at its heart, Adrenaline is an area control game where the players themselves are areas. When you do damage to a player, you add tokens to their board. Once a player has enough tokens, they are killed and respawn. But awards are handed out to the players who have the most tokens on the player when they died (including bonuses for whoever made the kill shot). And players also drop in points the more they are killed, encouraging players to spread out their attacks vs ganging up on one player. Adrenaline absolutely succeeds in bringing the FPS feel to our tabletops and is a game I’m always willing to play.
Spirit Island (review)
Chosen by Alex
“But Alex, Spirit Island is a co-op game, not an area control game!” is your response, and I’m going to yeet your remarks right out the window. You’re fighting against the game for control of the island, teaming up with your fellow spirits to make sure you’ve got your presence in the right places, and your dahan all lined up to prevent the spread of the colonists into your home. What makes Spirit Island unique is that you’re playing area control against the game AI. Well, maybe it’s not unique to all of you, but it’s unique to me, as it’s the only game I have that plays like that. It may or may not also be the only area control game on my shelf.
Chosen by Tahsin
I like area control you say. But it’s not enough you say. I need something more you say. I need to not only brood over my areas but also argue and verbally fight with my opponents you say?! Well partner, you’re in luck. There just so happens to be an area control game with negotiation at its core. When disagreements arise, they’re best settled with bribery, trickery, and outright backstabbery. Even though Tammany Hall is an older design, the cutthroat nature of play makes it a memorable game of ending friendships or earning big significant other points when you as the mayor award city offices. Recommended only for those who love truly mean area control.
Chosen by Dylan
Ok the surface, Inis looks fairly by the numbers. Units moving about a modular board with some special buildings to defend, right? Well, Inis flips area control on its head in many ways. When you are first told it’s an area control game with drafting, most want to immediately compare it to Blood Rage. But Inis has a set number of cards based on player count and the same cards are used every game. All the actions are done through those cards, so even a chunk of the rules are explained on them. In terms of its separation from other area control games, there are multiple ways to win, all through controlling different aspects of the game. Rule over more enemy units at the beginning of your turn? Bingo, you win, if no one else is meeting a won condition. If two players both meet one victory condition, the game continues unless, as an example, you have units in six different territories. It creates fun decisions of how to stop a player from winning.
Pax Pamir: Second Edition
Chosen by Andrew
So what makes Pax Pamir: Second Edition unique? Well, this isn’t an area control game where the map is divided into sections and you are trying to have the most pieces of plastic within them. Instead, players will by allying themselves with either the British, Afghan, or Russian forces. And if any of those factions are dominant, the player with the most influence over them wins most of the points each round. However, if there isn’t a dominant faction, the influence doesn’t matter at all and instead, players will be scored on how many of their spies, tribes, and gifts are in play—their own personal power in the region. All of this is tied together with a huge variety of cards to build a tableau of powers. Not your traditional area control game in the least, but one of the best.
Chosen by Spencer
Clockwork Wars is an area control game that feels epic despite a relatively short playing time. Its uniqueness stems from two qualities. First, it scales perfectly from two to five players. A rarity in the genre. What really makes it stand out is its secret unit deployment mechanism. Every round, players simultaneously write out their orders (which units are going to which tiles) on a sheet behind their player screen. After a round or two, players usually have a ton of options in terms of where they want to send their units. The core tension of the game comes from anticipating what your opponents will do which means you’re also anticipating what they think you will do. The results are always interesting and juicy. Built around that core tension is a fantastic battle-heavy game of controlling areas for points, resources, and combat buffs all while vying for a tantalizing array of upgrades you can purchase throughout.
Chosen by Chris
Area control is one of those mechanisms that I find to be confusing. Not the rules or playing games that utilize this mechanism, mind you, but rather determining what actually classifies as an area control game. My first pick for this list was Imhotep, but I was told that it’s only partially area control, so apparently, there are degrees to this concept. Who knew? One game that is definitely (probably?) an area control game is Ethnos, a rummy style card-playing game in which you put markers across a game board and try to win region majorities at the end of every round. The areas score differently throughout the game, however, so certain locations that score well early might be worth significantly less in later rounds. The most unique aspect of the area control in Ethnos is that one card in each played set will also trigger a power that impacts various aspects of the game. There’s also a timing element to when you play cards since you must discard your entire remaining hand after claiming a region, thereby making those cards available to other players. And there’s even a late-round push your luck aspect as you try to avoid dragons at the bottom of the deck. Yes, dragons! Overall, it’s a clever design by Paolo Mori that’s built around a traditional card mechanic. And it’s absolutely an area control game. (I think.)
Chosen by Michelle
I grew up with “dudes on boards” games like Risk and later Smallworld so I’m pleasantly surprised that my gaming journey led me to a game where trees are cruel entities. The main resource in this game is sunlight and let me tell you the amount of sunblock — yes you read that right — in this game is incredibly satisfying. As a short person I can exact my revenge in this world by having my tall trees deny sunlight to other trees, or planting seeds to reserve areas not within my immediate reach if things seem too crowded. Flexibility and maneuvering around others’ attempts at growth are key and still quite challenging at lower player counts. While many area control games seem to favor odd numbers or minimum player counts of three, I still find Photosynthesis enjoyable at two. The most compelling feature in this game is the movement of the sun, and it’s a fun puzzle to have to balance some very good tree placements at some angles and very bad placements at other angles. Did I mention that the trees are stand-up, 3D components, and have cute woodland creatures hiding in them? Beware: while the art is cute, the game is mean, and I love that about Photosynthesis.
Chosen by Brandon
As most of my gaming sessions are at a lower player count, area control is a genre that doesn’t find its way to the table that often. When it does, it must feature control elements that work well together to amplify the basic tug-of-war concept. A unique example of area control working well at two players is Hanamikoji. Rather than traversing a map and attempting to exert influence on a global scale, Hanamikoji uses a deck of twenty-one cards and four identical one-time action tokens to invoke an almost chess-like level of strategy. The area control shines as players scheme to earn the eye of seven wonderfully illustrated geisha of incremental values. The player who coordinates their action tokens best and garners the most overall favor wins. Do you hide a secret card from the other player until the end of the game? Do you discard cards and hope this gives you the upper hand? Do you gift valuable cards to your opponent and leave yourself with better control options? Each game feels fresh, plays fast, and boils the dynamics of area control into a tight puzzle that you can enjoy at home as a filler or at the pub as a main event.