Creating a system that works and is efficient from scratch is the best way to make something work. If you’re a coder or a PC gamer, this might sound familiar. Isn’t it great to be able to sit back and watch all of your hard work come together?
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Even though he likes games where efficiency isn’t the main point, he always looks for ways to connect the dots and automate some of the more time-consuming parts of gameplay. It doesn’t surprise me that some of our first modern board games were games where we built things.
Engine-building games reward careful planning and strategy with beautiful, efficient gameplay that grows your rewards over time. It doesn’t matter if you prefer steady, gradual progress that’s easy to build on or flashy, late-game changes that depend on lucky plays. There’s something for everyone!
Check out our list of the best board games that build engines if you’re looking to try a new type of game.
What Are Engine-Building Board Games?
Before we go into our recommendations, let’s talk about what engine-building games are. Engines are designed to do things automatically with little to no input from the driver, making them easy to understand. Engine-building games, by way of example, are board games that make it easy to automate gameplay. You set up actions to run in the background so that you can do more in a single turn. Strategies usually involve building a “engine” that gets more powerful and effective as the game goes on, so you can get the most points for the least amount of work.
People who play engine-building games often use one or more of the following mechanics:
The act of drawing from a pool of shared items (cards, tiles, dice, etc.)
End Bonuses at the end of the game: getting or losing more points.
Hand Management: getting money for playing cards in a certain way.
An income is when you get resources at certain times during the game.
Valuing things as a group instead of each one on its own
Tile Placement: putting physical parts or resources on the board. Worker Placement: choosing from a set of actions to do on a given turn.
This isn’t the only way engine-building games can be played. Tableau-building games usually have a personal array that you manage on your own, apart from the game board and other shared pieces. As you play, these arrays will help you keep track of your strategy and make changes to it. The way your array is set up will determine which actions you can take on each turn and how effective those turns will be.
Deck-building games are games where you draw cards from a deck and build a strategy with them. Keep in mind that this isn’t like a collectible card game (CCG). Instead of building your own deck and facing off against other players and their decks, you and the other players will build your strategies and pull cards from the same draw pile.
Best Engine-Building Board Games
If you think this all sounds complicated, don’t worry. Most games are simple enough that you can learn as you go. With this in mind, let’s look at our top 10 engine-building simulation games!
Designer: James A. Wilson | Players: 1–4 | Duration: 40–80min | Difficulty: 3/5
This game is called “Everdell.” It’s about a small group of forest animals who have to get ready for the winter. Your goal is to build a city that is functional and has enough resources for its residents to live. Workers and resources can be collected and points can be earned through the game’s seasons. Before winter comes, you need to build up your city. There are three rounds of play in this game. The player with the most points wins!
Most of the game’s parts that help you build your engine come from the cards you draw. Destination, Governance, Production, Prosperity, and Travelers are all types of cards that tell you what you can do in a given turn. There are a lot of different types of cards. Your cards can help you get the most out of your turn and make your city better.
In Everdell, the art is what really stands out. It’s a fun game that’s not too hard. In the corner, there’s a little pop-up tree.
Designer: Robert Dougherty, Darwin Kastle | Players: 2 | Duration: 20min | Difficulty: 2/5
Star Realms is the next game on our list of the best engine-building board games.
In Star Realms, you play a space general who wants to build a space army with the help of forces from different space groups. The more you build your army, the more benefits you get. You can get more authority from your growing factions and promote trade. Attack your opponents when you have enough military strength to make them less powerful. This means that the last person who is still alive wins!
There are deck-building games called Star Realms. To get ahead, you must be clever with your hands and use them well. In this list, we’ve called it “the engine-building game with the best combat.” This is because it’s easier to kill other people in this game than in other games on this list. There are a lot of different factions in the game, and the boons you get from each one help you decide how to play. It’s important to know where you’re going to spend your time and how that affects taking down your opponents.
Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino | Players: 2–4 | Duration: 30min | Difficulty: 2/5
Dominion is a lot like Star Realms, but the setting is more like mediaeval times. With three estates and seven copper in your hand, you start with 10 cards. You build your deck, claim new land for your kingdom, and earn enough points to be crowned the ultimate winner.
This is one of the best engine-building board games because it has a lot of different expansions. With the addition of new cards and their effects, deck-building games become a lot more interesting to play. You’ll be surprised how many different ways you can play them over and over again!
Designer: Joseph Z Chen, Justin Faulkner | Players: 1–5 | Duration: 45–60min | Difficulty: 2/5
This game is about being efficient, but there’s more to it than that. You’re in charge of building your factory from the ground up. You can buy blueprints, hire contractors, and build buildings during your turn to get the most money. At the end of the game, the person who gets the most points from both the buildings you build and the goods you make is the winner. This person gets points from both.
With most engine-building games, you can only do so many things on each turn. A good strategy will be one that gives you a lot of resources that you can spend later on to improve your factory. This will make your rewards grow over time, until you have the best factory there is. The game has a lot of different types of buildings and contractors, so there are a lot of different ways to play. The rules are simple enough that it’s still a good game for people who are just starting out with engine building.
Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization
Designer: Vlaada Chvátil | Players: 2–4 | Duration: 120min | Difficulty: 4/5
In Through the Ages, players work together to build a strong civilization by drawing cards and managing resources. Earn points as you build up your strength and trigger events that allow you to get ahead. The player who has the most “culture” points at the end of the game wins the game!
Through the Ages is the most difficult game on this list, and you should be aware of that. There are a lot of different things to keep track of, and the number of different card types and possible actions can make it hard for new people to get used to. If you’re looking for a game that’s easier to play, we’d recommend the newer version. It makes the game a little easier to understand, but it’s still a little hard. This is a good game for people who know a lot about engine-building games and Eurogames in general.
A Beginner-friendly Engine-building Board Game
Splendor is a good game for people who are new to engine-building games (or board games in general) because it has simple rules and a lot of room for adding complexity as your skills improve. It’s also a good game for people who want to play with friends of all skill levels. As the leader of a merchant guild, each player has to buy mines, send ships out to find raw materials, and hire skilled artisans to work for their guild. Getting the gist of the game is simple, but there’s a lot of room to try out different strategies and ways to win in the simple framework. So there’s a lot of replay value here, especially when you add on extras like Cities of Splendor to keep things interesting.
This is what one person said: “You can think a lot or a little about each turn. In the end you have three choices: buy cards, reserve cards and chips.” A new player can quickly learn how to play. […] In this game, your choices in the early turns have a big impact on how the game goes in the end. None of the cards are too powerful, and I’ve seen a lot of different ways to win.
A 2-player Deck-building Game That’s An Editor Favorite
Star Realms is an editor’s pick because it’s a fast-paced deck-building game that’s meant for two people. They work as space generals to build a powerful fleet of space warships, which they will then unleash on their opponents in a battle for military superiority, which is what the game is about.
This is one of Kori Perten’s favourite games because it is so fun to play with two people and doesn’t get old. There are a lot of different but satisfying ways to play, and it’s easy to throw the whole thing in a bag or pocket and play while you’re on the go. The two-person base game never gets boring, but there are also many ways to make the game more interesting. It’s possible to buy more copies of the base deck to make it playable for up to six people. You can also choose from dozens of expansions like Colony Wars or Scenarios, which come with cards you can add to the base deck.
According to one reviewer, “It is a great deck-building game that is very easy to play.” Each faction has a unique taste, and your strategy must be adaptable to change. In the real world, you can invest in a wide range of things, or you can focus on a single thing to make more combos based on the abilities of your allies. […] It is very easy to learn and very well-balanced mechanically. You can tell that the people who made this game were fans of Magic: The Gathering. This is a great game for people who want to build decks but don’t have time to play another collectible card game. Finally, the setup for the small game is very quick: shuffle the whole deck and deal. That’s all. “Seriously, this is a great game, and I think everyone should play it.”