14 Best Strategy Board Games For Teaching Employees Strategic Thinking
Remember when you heard advice about how you should separate business from pleasure, where the very idea of having fun while learning or working seemed a very improbable thing to do? Of course, that is an ancient way of thinking by today’s standards.
Perspectives have shifted and we have all realized that, yes, fun may be combined with work and school, and you can still get excellent results! In fact, many would even say that you’d get better results than if you chose one “side” and stuck to it.
Take learning, for example. While it is true that going to school or taking formal classes is still the most conventional form of acquiring knowledge, it is also a fact that we can still gain knowledge outside the four walls of a classroom. Even school teachers and professors make use of unconventional tools and techniques in imparting knowledge to their pupils and students.
Now, “playing to learn” is definitely one concept that many of us would get behind. The perfect example? Strategy board games.
STRATEGY BOARD GAMES
There are so many reasons why strategy board games are such a hit. First and foremost, as far as games go, they actually offer hours and hours of fun, perfect for days when you are looking for something fun to shake things up and break the monotony of your daily routine. There is also the fact that it is ideal for playing by more than one or two people.
Some board games are even designed to be played by groups composed of as many as 10 people. So the next time you and your friends or your family members are looking for a game where you can involve everyone, and you’d prefer to do it indoors, it is time to bring out that board game.
Another reason why board games are so popular is that there is a board game for everybody, no matter what age or gender. Many of these board games are even designed for play by people of all ages. This certainly allows parents to play with their children, opening opportunities for supervised kids’ play.
But strategy board games are also great for learning. As the phrase implies, these board games require coming up with strategies and tactics for you to win over your opponents. That is already a great reason to put your thinking (or is it strategizing) cap on and play. This way, you will also discover new ways in plotting winning strategies which, later on, will help you greatly when applied in real-life scenarios.
You do know what they say about how “practice makes perfect”, right? In this context, playing strategy board games is a great way to practice your strategizing skills. The more you play these types of games, the better you will be at coming up with winning strategies and making decisions.
There are so many strategy board games out there that you can pick up for this very reason. However, for this discussion, we will focus on 14 of the most highly recommended and effective strategy board games that can actually teach strategic thinking to employees, entrepreneurs and business people.
Let’s start with the more traditional one, and what would be more considered more traditional than the ancient game of chess?
Believed to have originated in India, derived from the Indian “chaturanga” game and dating all the way back to as early as the 6th century, chess is probably one of the most played board game the world over, even spawning world tournaments where the greatest “minds” (read: the greatest chess players) compete, outwitting each other over a game of chess.
No. of players: 2-4 players
Unfortunately, the popular ancient board game is meant for two players only. However, if you are willing to learn some new battle rules, there are several variations of the game with boards that can accommodate more than one player like the three man chess or the4-player chess board.
The board contains 64 squares of alternating colors, divided into 2 sides, with each side assigned to each player. Each side (and each player) has 16 pieces, with their own set of King, Queen, 2 pieces of Rooks, Bishops, and Knights, and 8 Pawns.
The goal is to trap or corner the King of the opponent, blocking his escape. This is called “checkmate”. Once your opponent’s King has nowhere to go to evade capture and there is no other piece that can come to his rescue,you win.
How Chess Teaches Strategic Thinking
Many board game enthusiasts will tell you that, while chess is so easy to learn that even 4-year-olds can start learning how to play it, mastering the game is a whole different cup of tea. The likes of world champions and chess grandmasters such as Kasparov, Fischer and Karpov devoted practically their entire lives to learning and playing chess and they STILL make mistakes from time to time.
Chess is seen as a great game for learning life skills and other life lessons, such as patience (one game could go on for hours!) and self-control. For purposes of this discussion, however, let’s focus on how chess teaches strategic thinking.
- Chess teaches emotional competence, where employees learn to control their impulses, not making a decision immediately, but instead wait for a better opportunity. Some employees tend to make decisions impulsively, without evaluating the other factors at play, not knowing that their next decision will actually cause more problems for them.
- Chess teaches you to set goals. On the surface, you are thinking of the next move, but in reality, you are looking further ahead, thinking how your next move will lead to the next move, which will eventually lead you to capture the opponent’s King, The whole time, you will also be anticipating the countermove of your opponent.
- Chess teaches you to make decisions after identifying the alternatives available to you and anticipating the possible consequences. This is essentially how you are going to be able to manage your position well in a game of chess.
Who doesn’t want to be rich, even if it is in a game setting? Monopoly turns you into a land owner turned property mogul, and this simulation is what makes it very attractive to money-loving players. Just like Chess, Monopoly’s popularity also spawned an annual World Championships event.
No. of players:
2 to 8 players can play this game at one time, and one game can last anywhere from an hour to 3 hours.
You are a land owner, and your goal is to be the last player with any money. To do that, you’d try to buy and develop land and other acquired properties, depending on the spaces where a dice roll will lead you.
A roll of the dice will give you the opportunity, but you will decide on whether to take that opportunity or not. Generate more income by developing the land that you own, and that’s one way of increasing the money in your coffers.
How Monopoly Teaches Strategic Thinking:
Monopoly teaches a lot of personal and financial lessons that can be applied in real life. That’s why it is referred to as a simulation game.
- Monopoly teaches some of the basic business management and marketing strategies, such as the importance of location, the market, and valuation. In Monopoly, the properties are in various locations, with some locations and markets more attractive and “wealthier” than others. You get to choose and decide which ones will give you the higher yield.
- Monopoly teaches you about asset management and income generation. That includes how you spend and save your money, and how you can look for ways to increase your income. Your investing strategies will be honed as you will learn about diversification and growing your savings.
- Monopoly teaches you flexibility. There is still that element of luck; after all, Monopoly is still a game involving the roll of the dice.
Acquire is one of those business-based games, where you take on the role of a stock investor. This is another simulation game that attracts money-minded individuals. It goes by alternate names such as Cartel, Grand Hotel, Investor and Trust.
It’s actually quite old, having been developed in 1964, but it remains, to this day, to be one of the best strategy board games.
No. of players:
This game may be played by 3 to 6 players, and the average playing time is 90 minutes.
You are a stock investor, and your goal is to be the wealthiest stock investor at the end of the game. Thus, you have to acquire shares in businesses, investing and reinvesting to increase your portfolio. This means you are likely to be involved in trading, and mergers and acquisitions.
How Acquire Teaches Strategic Thinking
Acquire stands alongside Monopoly as one of the greatest financial board games of all time. It trains you on strategic thinking based on the following:
- Acquire teaches you the importance of timing, coupled with patience. This goes beyond the basics of teaching the basics of trading (ex. buy low, sell high). Investing in companies is not something that should be done randomly, because you have to choose the right time to invest in order to maximize your profit. Just because you have money to invest does not mean you should do it right away, because there is a right timing for everything.
- Acquire teaches you about money management. Aside from investing, you will also learn when to spend and what to spend your money on, even if it’s not necessarily buying up stocks of companies.
- Acquire teaches you how to use information to your advantage. While playing the game, you will be privy to some insider information. Now what you choose to do with that information will dictate how you will fare in the game. In real-life situations, you will also learn to distinguish useful information from the irrelevant ones and, more importantly, when to use that information to your advantage.
The multi-player board game Catan, which used to be called the “Settlers of Catan”, is a classic and a crowd favorite, and that resulted in many versions released over the years. To date, the Catan Series includes versions and spin-offs such as Catan: Cities & Knights, The Fishermen of Catan, The Great River, and Trails to Rails, to name a few.
No. of players:
3 to 4 players can play this game, although it is most advisable to have the maximum number of players to gain the most amount of fun. The playing time can go from 60 to 120 minutes.
The board is basically a map of the island of Catan where you and the other players are the settlers. Your goal is to be the dominant force on the island. Roll the dice to collect resources and use what you earned to build settlements, establish cities, and create roads.
These will help you accumulate victory points, which you can increase further by building the largest army.
How Catan Teaches Strategic Thinking:
- Catan teaches you how to manage your resources well. Most employees have resources, but they don’t know what to do with them in order to make them grow. A game of Settlers of Catan will give you some practice on how you can go about it.
- Catan teaches you to be more aware and analytic about your environment. The island is filled with resources ranging from the seemingly worthless to the most beneficial ones. Your awareness will definitely grow as you become more observant, and you’ll be more open to critical and deep thinking in analysis of your environment, especially on how the resources can be of use to you.
- Catan lets you hone your negotiation skills, which will come in handy when coming up with strategies in real life. Building your settlement and strengthening your position of dominance on the island requires some negotiation with the other players, and you’ll be amazed at how much you will learn about how to convince and persuade others to come to a solution that will benefit everyone (well, ideally, you mostly).
Carcassone is another classic among board game lovers. It shares a lot of similarities with Catan, and even the gameplay is roughly similar.
No. of players:
It will take around 45 minutes for one game of Carcassone to be completed among 2 to 5 players.
Carcassone is the name of the town depicted on the game, and players are meant to develop the town through the use of tiles. Your goal is to be the player with the most developed town, complete with castles, towers, pastures and road systems.
Lay down the tiles and your town will grow bigger, and so are your chances of winning. Of course, you have to make sure your town has enough population to actually work on the constructions.
How Carcassone Teaches Strategic Thinking:
Again, just like Catan, Carcassone involves a mixture of luck and strategy, and this encourages players to be on their guards at all times.
- Carcassone teaches you to be more cautious when making decisions. You have to be organized and plan out your moves, and this will come in handy when you create personal budgets and financial plans.
- Carcassone teaches you to recognize value: when to hang on to an asset, and when to let it go. For example, you probably have to lose a farmer or worker in order to obtain a property. Being greedy is a natural inclination if you want to win, but this may be detrimental in the long run, so you have to be more careful in making choices.
The name calls to mind something related to burgers in a maze, doesn’t it? But Ravensburger Labyrinth is actually a board game-slash-puzzle.
No. of players:
This can be played between 2 to 6 players, with each game lasting up to 120 minutes.
Instead of a single board, this game actually involves “maze cards” which will be laid out on a flat surface. Your goal is to reach all your treasures by turning over all your treasure cards, and then beat the other players in going back to the starting point.
How Ravensburger Labyrinth Teaches Strategic Thinking:
Mazes are amazing games to work with if you want to stimulate your brain, and that’s exactly what the Ravensburger Labyrinth does.
- Ravensburger Labyrinth teaches you the importance of planning ahead, thinking through all your available options so you can make your way through the maze. One small move can drastically change the course of the game, and your path towards winning, so you have to think carefully before making a move.
- Ravensburger Labyrinth teaches you how you should plot more than one course of action. In life, it is a good idea to have a Plan B, and maybe even a Plan C and D and so on. This is so you are able to cover all your bases, in case something unexpected happens along the way.
- Ravensburger Labyrinth teaches you to be constantly on your guard. There is no fixed scenario for this game, and the board is assembled in such a random manner, it could change at any time, depending on whose turn it is. This will teach you to stay on your toes so you can adjust accordingly. Being complacent will definitely not help.
No, this is not going to teach you about the intricacies of farming, but you will have an encounter with farming concepts. Agricola brings you back to the middle ages, and how agriculture works during that time.
No. of players:
If you are a group of 5, you can definitely get a game of Agricola started. As a matter of fact, you can also play this by yourself. The range of playing time is anywhere between 30 to 150 minutes.
You’re a farmer, and you and your spouse start with just a wooden shack on a farm. From there, you’d work your way up to building your farm. This involves building expansions, taking on various occupations and actually getting ready to start a family.
How Agricola Teaches Strategic Thinking:
- Agricola teaches you the basics of resource management, specifically on what to grow and what resources are worth collecting. You’ll be competing against other players for the resources as they become available, so you have to plan ahead on what resources to gun for, and which ones to let pass.
- Agricola teaches the importance of diversification. Basically, in order to win, you have to own a bit of everything, and that’s where the difficulty lies. Again, it lies in the planning. You may end up stockpiling on one resource instead of diversifying your “portfolio”, so to speak, and this will lose the game for you.
Another game with ancient origins, Mancala is unique in that it involves the use of a long wooden board with two rows of carved holes or pits, 6 on each side, and two larger holes (one on either end). Instead of your usual dice, you can be as creative with the game pieces you will use.
When the originators in Africa (specifically Sudan) and the Middle East first played it, the game pieces used were beans, nuts, seeds and stones. In recent years, shells and marbles are also used.
No. of players:
This is another two-player game, but it takes around 10 minutes to finish one game, so more players can take turns.
This game is played in turns, with each player dropping seeds on each hole in a counterclockwise direction. Turns are switched if your last seed falls into the opponent’s row. Your goal is to capture the most number of pieces at the end of the game, which is marked by a row of empty holes.
How Mancala Teaches Strategic Thinking:
On the outside, it looks like a pretty simple and, sometimes mindless, game. However, it actually teaches you a few things.
- Mancala teaches you how to think analytically, so you can be more objective when it comes to solving problems and making decisions. You’ll have to think ahead and plan how to move your pieces so that you will get the most amount of pieces in your own holes and prevent your opponent from stacking his own number of game pieces.
- Mancala teaches you to be more observant. You are not allowed to count the number of pieces in a hole, so you have to be more observant and make mental calculations. You will also learn to read your opponent’s moves and use that to distinguish the good plays from the bad plays.
Pandemic is another game that is so popular it resulted to several spin-offs, each of them also gaining esteem among board game players and enthusiasts. In fact, the 2015 spinoff Pandemic Legacy is currently ranked #1 on BoardGameGeek.com.
No. of players:
This game is best played among 3 to 4 players, with each game lasting around 45 minutes.
As players of the game, you take on the role of specialists out to fight the four viral diseases that broke out all over the world: treat the areas where the diseases have broken out and find a cure for the four plagues before they become worse.
This board game comes with cards that provide you with abilities as you take actions such as traveling between the infected cities, treating these areas, researching cures and building a research station.
How Pandemic Teaches Strategic Thinking:
What makes this board game unique is that you are not strictly opponents, because you should actually work together in order to find the needed cures. This cooperative nature actually teaches you about strategic thinking more than you thought.
- Pandemic teaches you to actually be cooperative instead of competitive. You don’t get to make the decisions by yourself; you actually have to talk it out with the others and get down to planning.
- Pandemic teaches you to discover your strengths and fully utilize them. In the game, the players each have their own specialties. In the course of the game, you’ll have to mainly rely on your area of specialization to help in fighting the plagues. You’ll also work on fitting your strengths with that of the team.
You’ve probably heard it said more than once before that businessmen make good diplomats, and vice versa.
Certainly, it takes a certain level of diplomacy to wade your way through the cutthroat corporate or business world, and that is reflected in the classic board game Diplomacy. Fans of the TV series House of Cards will definitely have a blast with this one, because it’s basically their favorite TV show on a gameboard!
No. of players:
More players can have fun in this game, since it is best played with 6 to 7 participants. Playing time may be quite long, too, going up to 6 hours if you’re having a lot of fun.
Seven European countries (“the Great Powers of Europe”) are involved in the first world war, and each of the seven players will take one of these countries under their control.
They will be going through 4 stages where they will be making or breaking alliances. Your goal as one of the players (and the ruler of your country) is to reinforce your armies by taking Supply Centers.
How Diplomacy Teaches Strategic Thinking:
This board game does not involve luck, and there is no dice to be rolled. That means it’s a purely strategic game.
- Diplomacy teaches you about the intricacies of relationships and alliances. At many points during the game, you will find yourself having to betray your allies, because it is in your country’s best interests to do so.
- Diplomacy teaches you how to negotiate. You can start developing your negotiation skills with a game of Diplomacy, and you’ll definitely find that to be useful practice for when you have to negotiate with other people when it comes to your job or anything work-related.
- Diplomacy teaches you how to work with what you have. It is wartime, so resources are scarce. Even your modes of attack during war are limited, so you’d have to look at what you have and use them to your advantage. In this case, what you will be working with is your negotiation skills and your diplomatic strategies.
Say hello to another board game that teaches strategic investing. Puerto Rico is one of those games that are ideal to be taught to young children because it teaches them about cash management at a young age.
No. of players:
At least 2 people can play this game, but for the best experience, round up a group of 4 or 5 to play it. Playing time can reach up to 2 and a half hours.
Colonialism is the name of the game, and you and the other players are governors on the island of Puerto Rico. Your goal is to build up your company and have the highest number of victory points when the game ends. These points may be collected by constructing buildings on your territories on the island, growing crops and producing goods that will be shipped to Europe.
How Puerto Rico Teaches Strategic Thinking:
- Puerto Rico teaches you about managing resources, which is to be expected from financial-oriented board games. You work with what you have, grow it, and re-invest to make it bigger. This means you will learn how to spot opportunities and even create them.
- Puerto Rico teaches you how to cope with change. This board game recognizes the volatility of markets, and how you respond to the changes in the market. One lesson to be learned is how nothing is permanent when it comes to finance, specifically on investing, and that there are simply things that are outside your control. They include some market behaviors.
Sometimes, a simple game can be very educational. It doesn’t have to be too complicated, or involve a lot of complex rules, in order for one to learn something from it.
A great example of a simple game that is actually useful when training employees strategic thinking is 7 Wonders. Although it’s not strictly a board game in the sense that there is no board to speak of, it ranks high up there as one of the most favored strategy games.
No. of players:
Ideally, 4 players will ensure that this game is going to be a lot of fun. But this can be played by a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 7 players. One game can be finished in just 30 minutes.
It is the Ancient times, and seven great cities make up what we know of as the beginnings of civilizations. Each player will lead a city and build it, with the goal of erecting an architectural edifice, which will soon become one of the wonders of the ancient world, transcending time and remaining to be so during modern times. It basically makes use of cards to play throughout 3 stages (called “ages” in the game), as players gather resources and start building their city. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
How 7 Wonders Teaches Strategic Thinking:
This is not the first build-your-city board game, and if you’re wondering why they are so popular, it’s because of how they are able to train you to become a creator, all the way from the planning stage.
- 7 Wonders teaches you about resource management. Of course, it is partly down on luck, because you’ll be somewhat dependent on the cards that you’ve drawn. But what you do with the cards that you draw will be down on your strategy and decision-making. The mere fact that you get to plan the creation of your architectural wonder is already an indication that you will be putting your strategizing skills to use.
- 7 Wonders teaches you to analyze your strengths and weaknesses, as well as that of your opponents. You’ll be comparing military strengths at the end of each stage, and this comparison will give you a better glimpse on where you’re lacking and on where you are strong at.
In Dominion, you do not lead a country, govern a city, or control an island. You are the ruler of a kingdom. This adds a bit of mystique and grandeur to your board game experience, and isn’t that a great way to improve your strategic thinking ability?
No. of players:
Get 1 to 3 others to play with you, since Dominion can be played between 2 to 4 players. The average playing time is 30 minutes.
As a monarch, you want your dominion to grow and flourish, along with your subjects. But you’re not the only one who thinks so, as there are other monarchs with the same idea. Thus, it’s a race as you build your dominion ahead of the others. Your goal is to have the most number of kingdom cards and the largest kingdom.
How Dominion Teaches Strategic Thinking:
Just like 7 Wonders, this is technically a card game, with a total of 500 cards divided into 25 categories.
- Dominion teaches you to be more creative with your decisions. You cannot stick to the same tactic all the time; the variety of cards you will get on each round will make sure of that. This is a great way of training yourself to work with what you have, specifically the cards that you’ve been dealt.
- Dominion teaches you to be on your guard. There are others who have the same goal as you, and if you let your guard down, they will beat you to building castles and other facilities on their domain. You will learn to be on the alert, so you can defend yourself.
In these recent decades, mass market war games have become a huge hit, and one of the biggest hits is undoubtedly Risk: The Game of Global Domination. It has become so popular that it now has several variants, including one based on the hit TV show “The Walking Dead” and another on HBO’s “Game of Thrones”.
No. of players:
This can be played between 2 to 6 players, with each game lasting up to 120 minutes
The goal is simple: to conquer the world. Global domination is the name of this game, and each player can do so by gaining control over the most number of territories and continents, which are presented on a board containing a map of the world.
A roll of the dice will dictate how you will move, but you will be the one to strategize how the attacks will work to your favor.
How Risk Teaches Strategic Thinking:
A roll of the dice may affect how you play, adding an element of luck, but that’s where the risk lies. At the end of the day – or the game – how you roll with the roll of the dice will show how good you are at strategizing.
- Risk teaches you to recognize a chance or an opportunity when it arises. Even as you await your turn, you have to keep your eyes peeled and use your powers of observation in order to assess how your opponents’ moves will be beneficial to your goal of global domination.
- Risk teaches you to act when it truly counts. For example, in Risk, you will learn to attack only if you have significant advantage. If you are still weak, you will work on building up your defenses and becoming stronger before you can go on the offensive.
- Risk teaches you to identify beneficial alliances and how to build and nurture them, all to maintain a balance of power. In a business environment, you will find yourself in relationships with co-workers, supervisors, and clients. Naturally, you’d have to know which relationships would be more beneficial to you in the long run, and Risk can give you some practice on how to do that.
These board games are called strategic games for a reason: they teach you to be more strategic in how you play. On the outset, it may look like just fun and games, but you will later on realize that the principles of strategic thinking that you applied in playing these games can also be useful in actual, real-life scenarios.
In San Francisco, we meet co-founder and CEO of Gild, Sheeroy Desai. He shares his story how …