Find the best Star Wars board game for you

There is a dizzying array of Star Wars board games. Spanning decades and publishers, good and bad, you could spend entire gaming weekends playing nothing but Star Wars and just scratch the surface. Covering just the contemporary Star Wars landscape, here's a guide to the best board games Star Wars has to offer based on what your gaming preferences are.

For tacticians: Star Wars: X-Wing

Get the core set here

Those who like to test their quick thinking skills and small-unit tactics will love the dogfighting skirmishes of the X-Wing Miniatures Game. It's a game that does tactics brilliantly without a grid using clever movement templates based on a ship's heading and speed.  Plus, the lovely miniatures are sculpted with a kind of fidelity that'll make you proud to display your collection when you're not playing—no painting skills required.

Actions are scripted out each round, with your ships and your opponents' ships then taking whatever movement they were assigned. It leads to brilliant moments of outthinking and outmaneuvering, where the obvious move isn't always the best as it may put you right into your enemy's sights. If your opponent thinks you'll bank right to get on their tail, maybe a fast straight will let you catch them as they try to quickly switch directions? Add in maneuvers like barrel rolls, stealth ships, and extra large models like the Millenium Falcon and you've got serious potential for some four dimensional space chess.

X-Wing, of all the games on this list, has nearly the most years in iterative development. There's an almost overwhelming library of ships and upgrades, multiple interesting factions to utilize, and all manner of clever scenarios to play out. I wouldn't let that deter you: Buy a starter set, find a friend, and just start playing. Its thriving international tournament scene might also interest you if competitive play is your kind of thing.

For chill competitors and collectors: Star Wars: Destiny

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Fantasy Flight's late stage revival of the collectible card game might not be surprising on PC, where Hearthstone is flourishing, but it came as a surprise to many from a company known for the much more approachable living card game. Destiny is a CCG with a twist: It also includes chunky, colorful, collectible dice. Shocking, I know.

Wry treatment aside, Destiny is actually a pretty decent game. You line up a dream team of Star Wars personalities on your side, your opponent lines up their own, and you fight to the death. Rolling the dice associated with the cards is the real twist, as it dictates what you're allowed to do and play that round. More specialized characters, with more reliable dice, are great, but you trade flexibility for reliability—and that's the core of the game. Should you be able to execute a variety of winning strategies, or fewer strategies really well? It's a quick-playing card game that'll appeal to the CCG player who likes to try out weird strategies and see if the gods of luck favor them this game. Players who are more interested in building perfect decks and employing meta-competitive, high level strategies might be better served by Star Wars: The Card Game.

For generalists: Star Wars: Empire vs. Rebellion

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Want an enjoyable Star Wars game experience but don't have the time to collect miniatures, consider cards, and craft in-depth strategies? Here's the one for you. Empire vs. Rebellion is a head-to-head card game of simple number comparisons and tactics as simple as a hand of cards. About outfoxing your opponents and second-guessing yourself, it's more about numbers and cards than a highly thematic Star Wars experience.

Empire vs. Rebellion's real strength is in its simplicity. It's pretty much blackjack at heart. Dad, grandma, kids, random strangers at a bar—pretty much anyone can recognize this as despite the Star Wars theme. That's going to be a plus if the other people willing to learn and play a board game in your life aren't big nerds like you.

For strategists: Star Wars: Rebellion

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If you want to re-fight the rebellion against the Galactic Empire on the grand stage, retelling the Star Wars epic in your own way, then Star Wars Rebellion is absolutely the game for you. Executed at the galactic scale where a fully operational Death Star is almost an inevitability, this game is about maneuvering fleets and divisions of troops from world to world in order to be sure that either the Rebel Alliance or Empire succeed. 

Building and executing a strategic plan is at the heart of Rebellion. The Empire must find and destroy the rebels' hidden base, all while keeping the galaxy in line. The Rebels must strike at the empire just enough to keep them guessing where the base is while also ensuring enough systems support the rebellion for them to keep their supply lines and military production open. It's a truly asymmetrical game where playing as the Empire feels like being a lumbering galactic behemoth, while the Rebels feel like a scrappy hit-and-run force always on the verge of destruction. That said, it takes hours to play the game—so only spring for this one if you've got a lot of game time on your hands.

Perhaps Rebellion's coolest feature is that high-level movements are made using specific hero characters like Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Mon Mothma, or Boba Fett. These characters have their own powers, stories, and strategic capabilities—The Emperor, for example, can turn captured rebel leaders to the dark side, while Luke Skywalker can become a powerful Jedi if he's able to spend some quality time with Yoda. It's a clever twist on command and control in a wargame that lets you really build your own Star Wars alternate history.

For armchair strategists: Star Wars Risk (2015)

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Not actually a proper, boring Risk game at all, 2015’s Risk: Star Wars Edition is a triple-threaded game about the destruction of the second Death Star in the climax of The Return of the Jedi. Laid out like a TIE Fighter, one arm of the board is Luke's clash with Darth Vader, another Han Solo and Leia's assault on Endor, and the middle the clash of fleets in orbit around the Death Star itself. 

If you've never played a modern card-driven war game, and are wary about jumping into the deep end—or just comfortable in the shallow bit of the pool—this is a great game for you. It's a simple and light game about rolling dice and yelling at miniatures for not succeeding, with just enough strategic choice to make it worth playing. It's short compared to most games of its size and scope, and won't overstay its welcome on your table. Simple enough for younger kids, to boot.

For tactical strategists: Star Wars: Armada

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Those who like the fleet-scale combats and strategic clashes of games like Homeworld will love the big ships and clashing fighter wings of Star Wars Armada. Unlike X-Wing, which focuses on smaller fighters, Armada is about maneuvering the sometimes ponderous big ships of a Star Wars fleet. Armada is much more about planning ahead, about picking a strategy and executing it deftly, than about moment-to-moment tactics and clever outmaneuvering in close quarters. 

You'll enjoy building a smart list of ships and synergizing their capabilities, then sending them floating gently at the enemy fleet in neat order before watching the chaos of battle erupt, shields collapse, and ships drift explosively into each other. Armada's more sedate pace than X-Wing lends itself towards a more thoughtful game. Focus more on where to concentrate fire for maximum effect, less on how to juke your enemy on the table. The element of preplanning is also stronger, with larger ships often requiring you to script your movement and attack choices several rounds of play in advance. It's a neat command and control system with lots of depth and room for mastery.

Much like X-Wing it uses lovely prepainted miniatures that display nicely. It's a smaller range of minis to boot, so owning enough for two big fleets is a much cheaper proposition.

For cooperators and RPG fans: Star Wars: Imperial Assault

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A mission driven tactical miniatures game, Imperial Assault sees one player as the almighty Galactic Empire and another as an elite Rebel strike team. The Imperial player controls swarms of stormtroopers, creatures, and galactic scum. The Rebel players each take control a customizable, action RPG-esque hero with unique powers and abilities. They then fight through a series of missions in an extended, branching campaign. Each mission rewards new equipment and skills to the winning side, culminating in a final battle to decide the fate of the heroes in the greater struggle against the Empire.

The neat twist of Imperial Assault is that it received support, years later, in the form of a companion app (available on Steam, of all places!) that will play the Imperial forces for you. It turns a formerly cutthroat head-to-head experience into a cooperative Star Wars themed dungeon crawler—and it doesn't suck, to boot.

For hobbyists: Star Wars: Legion

Get the core set here

A relative newcomer in the field of Star Wars tabletop, Legion is a traditional miniatures skirmish game. Like Warhammer, Infinity, or Warmachine, it’s enough to be a whole hobby on its own. Unlike Armada or X-Wing, Legion is a game as much about preparing to play as playing. You paint and assemble your own miniatures, sculpt terrain dioramas, and think up army lists. Building up forces to the game's recommended size is limited by the supply of patience and cash you have at hand. It's also not a game designed to play well with a simple beginner’s box—not like X-Wing or Armada, which are fine experiences that way.

The disadvantage of this is that it might be the only tabletop game you play. The advantage is the same.

In return for that time investment you get a very modernized take on the miniatures skirmish game. It has the kind of balance dice mechanics and asymmetrical strategies that Fantasy Flight Games has developed over the lifetime of X-Wing and Armada. Clever twists on movement mechanics, coupled with proprietary measuring tools, give infantry and vehicles very different feels on the tabletop. Interesting battle cards give the game varied scenario objectives, keeping the ground combat from feeling repetitive or boring. Perhaps most importantly, it also uses staggered or alternating activations, meaning you never sit while your opponent takes actions with every single one of their figures, and vice versa.

For optimizers: Star Wars: The Card Game

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Designed by the brilliant Eric M. Lang, Star Wars: The Card Game is a tough little head-to-head game about either running out the clock or stopping it altogether. The Imperial player in this asymmetric game must stall the rebels until the Death Star is complete, while the Rebels must attack and destroy the Imperial player's objective cards before 12 turns elapse. That timer gives the game a good feel—you'll never take more than about an hour on a match, often far less than that. The real downside, at this point, is that it has a very deep catalogue—2012 deep—so getting up to speed on best decks and interesting strategies will take some work.

Balanced against that is one upside: Star Wars: TCG is that it's a living card game, the collectible card game's much more reasonable cousin, so when a new expansion is released you simply buy it wholesale, getting as many of each card in the expansion as you might need to build a deck. That means that the metagame of Star Wars: TCG is more about thinking of clever decks than owning the right cards, and you'll never break the bank trying to keep up with new releases or maintain a deck of both factions.

For roleplayers: Star Wars Roleplaying

Get the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game here

Fantasy Flight's line of Star Wars roleplaying games have relatively contemporary story-driven mechanics and a suite of funny dice that make them tick. They've also got a pretty hefty pile of material, like pre-made adventures and splatbooks, covering nearly any period of Star Wars future history you might want to play in. While there will always be a spot in my heart for the old West End Games Star Wars RPG, those old clunky systems and poorly-explained mechanics are no match for smooth a modern design and layout.

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Jon Bolding is a games writer and critic with an extensive background in strategy games. When he's not on his PC, he can be found playing every tabletop game under the sun.