The Best Games in Space

Space is cold, vast and absolutely full of board games. As settings go, this is one resplendent in glorious gaming options, and I’m not even including all the great games based on sci-fi films and books. There are a lot of good “best space board games” lists out there, with inevitable crossovers, so we’re going to highlight a few lesser known ones here, but no list would be complete without the best of all the space games…

TWILIGHT IMPERIUM 4th EDITION


If I ever had to do one of those missions to Mars where you are stuck in a box for years, this is the game I’d take. If the mission allowed that much extra weight that it is.

Epic in all the right ways, Twilight Imperium is easily one of the best board games on the market, just make sure you’ve got a day free to play it (a game can easily take 10 hours or longer, I’ve played some over 2 days!)

So what makes it so special? Nothing comes close to matching it for that space opera style story telling; high stakes dice rolls, meaty negotiations and pure good fun. You play an alien race looking to expand across the universe alongside up to 5 (or 7 with the expansion) other players doing just that as well. At first you’ll take over empty planets but eventually they run out and then it’s time to decide who your real friends are…

Never shying away from the space theme, with wormholes and collapsed star gravity rifts, asteroid fields and mad alien powers, technology trees and voting intergalactic laws, ‘Twilight Imperium 4th Edition” just gets it right. Not nearly as complicated to play as the daunting box can seem, but with so many options and decision points that you’ll want to return again and again. Let’s just hope everyone is still friends when that capsule finally reaches Mars because a backstab in space hurts twice as hard.

UNSETTLED

Leaning heavily into the science of sci-fi, Unsettled sees you play as lone survivors onboard a research vessel that is hurled across space into unknown territory. Unsettled deserves a place here for being a co-operative game that grabs the opportunities of space with both space suit gloves.

Each mission is set on a different planet, with a lot of your sci-fi classics catered for; ice world, jungle, a legally distinct desert planet that is in no way Arrakis from Dune, and the game uses that as a jumping off point for wildly different mechanics each time. The amount of variation in each mission is impressive, if a bit confusing at times, with players being thrown around by storms on one planet, seeing the ground shift beneath them on another, whilst the training mission has you hallucinate on a spore-filled mushroom world. There’s even a friendly robot on your team, giving even more of that “Lost in Space” feel.

Very much a puzzle-solving game, the writing can be on the cheesy side but it’s great to see a space game without any combat or lasers, just a few pals and their robot trying to science their way home!

NEMESIS


Speaking of legally distinct… It’s a running joke that Nemesis is basically “Alien” the board game and it’s hard to argue with that once you hear the premise: You are the crew of the spaceship Nemesis, woken from cyrosleep by the sound of an intruder, a crew mate lies dead, there are alien eggs, face hugging small aliens and one giant Queen alien, it might be time to start the self destruct… Well, you get the idea.

Nemesis is not without its flaws. Like a lot of kickstarted games it’s a little overproduced, with tokens for days and massive plastic pieces everywhere, but it’s also a total blast! The smartest part is that everyone has a different mission which may or may not coincide with yours. Maybe you all want to get the ship home to Earth, but maybe one of you wants to send it to Mars… who can you trust?

Actions are scarce, escape pods even scarcer, and every time you pull from the alien bag, it might just be that unstoppable Queen… If you want to be able to fire your pals out of an airlock whilst shouting “It’s in the best interests of the crew,” then this is the game for you.

SIDEREAL CONFLUENCE


If we ever list weirdest names in board gaming, we’ll be right back talking about this one. Meaning a coming together of constellations, Sidereal Confluence takes the much loved, “what if different alien races all met up” theme, but instead of the mad wars and alliances of, say, Cosmic Encounter, this game says, “let’s just trade!”

Here you play as a particularly weird bunch of different alien races all trying to swap the things you have a lot of for the things you need most, to power your colonies and create technology to share with the universe. All this whilst playing as, say, galactic communist whales or planet vending space wasps called the Kt’Zr’Kt’Rtl Adhocracy. All turns are played simultaneously, creating a genuine sense of chaos and energy, especially when people need the same resources. If you’ve ever played the old card game “Pit”, you’ll have a sense of that floor-of-a-stock exchange-style feeling of the play in this game.

There is a LOT of stuff on the table, the alien names can lurch between being funny and just unhelpfully weird and my first play was quite overwhelming, but once you realise the core of the game is in shouting “I need 3 brown cubes, who’ll give me 3 brown cubes? I have green and blue cubes!” and then getting into a bidding war with another player that also needs brown cubes because they want to run their “Computational Theoreticians” card, that’s when you’ll realise, space trading can be fun.

STAR REALMS & THE CREW (QUEST FOR PLANET 9)


All the previous games are real table hogs so I wanted to include two smaller, quicker games as well. The Crew is a tight and tricky co-operative game of guiding a spaceship to a new planet by, playing cards. Okay, so the theme is slightly papered on (the rocket’s engines are failing, quickly, each player must win two tricks… because… space!) but it’s a super portable and engrossing team puzzle and of course, what space list would be complete without the classic 2 player deck building spaceship battler that is Star Realms, a fast and super-replayable small box game with the now mandatory weird alien races and, thank goodness, a giant space whale.

Written by Tom Bell

If you want to pick up any of these games, check if they’re in stock at Zatu. Buying them there supports No Rolls Barred via our affiliate partnership. Read more here.