While we would love to include SYNDICATE as one of the best space exploration and conquest board games, we’ll try to be uncharacteristically humble and refrain (for now), especially since SYNDICATE has not yet been widely released, so odds are you haven’t played it. Instead we’ll focus on our favorite other board games in the space exploration and conquest genre, all of which inspired us (at least a bit) while designing SYNDICATE.
#4 Terraforming Mars
Terraforming Mars is a modern space / sci-fi classic by Stronghold Games. The objective is simple: terraform mars. (You might have guessed that from the name.) What’s not simple is you are competing against players (each controlling a futuristic space corporation) and racing against time (as measured by the temperature and oxygen on Mars) to complete terraforming projects and accumulate victory points.
What makes this one of our favorite games (not just in the space / sci fi genre) is that the game is very easy to learn (certainly relative to some of the other heavier strategy games on this list) but it still manages to have complex nuances in its game play and strategy that keep the game interesting and replayable. It’s nuanced simplicity is why Terraforming Mars is one of the most commercially successful and popular board games of the last 3 years.
We also commend Stronghold Games on creating a rich universe of sequels, prequels and expansions that keep the game even fresher. The latest in the series, Terraforming Mars: Turmoil, which looks amazing, recently closed its Kickstarter campaign at $1.4 million (with 26,000 backers). Terraforming Mars: Turmoil promises to be “the biggest & most strategic expansion to Terraforming Mars.” We can’t wait…bring on the space politics!
(By the way, if you’ve read the History of Arcturus, you know before colonozing other star systems, humanity starts by terraforming and colonizing Mars, so in a sense, Terraforming Mars is a spiritual prequel to SYNDICATE.)
(BoardGameGeek average review / rating for Terraforming Mars: 8.4/10)
#3 Exodus: Proxima Centauri
Exodus: Proxima Centauri (by NSKN Games) is perhaps the board game on our list that has least space exploration but makes up for that with a lot of juicy space combat.
You control one of six human factions in the Proxima Centauri star system building your empire, researching advanced sci-fi technologies, upgrading you’re your weapons, building ships, and combating other players (and/or the Resistance).
This is a long-game, to say the least (around 3 hours, depending on how focused the players are), but the game is kept interesting by having multiple phases and mixing space politics with heavy sci-fi military action / combat. This game certainly isn’t for the faint of heart…be prepare for a lot of combat.
(BoardGameGeek average review / rating for Exodus: Proxima Centauri: 7.2/10)
#2 Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy
Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy is a sci-fi / space-themed heavy strategy board game by Lautapelit.fi, which puts in control an interstellar civilization warring with other players for control of planets, which you need to control to generate resource income. Heavy on both space exploration and space combat, this game is intensely gripping.
There’s a lot to love in this game, but the highlights for us are the custom spaceship / fleet construction or the great research element, which allows you to play with a ton of different cool sci-fi technologies that augment your strategies in wild ways.
This is also a game that will test your friendships. To win, you’ll likely need to enter some shaky alliances with other players, who could (and likely will) double cross you at anytime. Space is no place for friendships.
(BoardGameGeek average review / rating for Eclipse: 7.9/10)
#1 Gaia Project
In Gaia Project (by Z-Man Games), is one of our favorite space / conquest / sci-fi board games because of the interconnectedness / responsiveness of different strategies. There are many things to do and research, but ultimately you need to adjust your strategy based on the strategies of others since this is not a game about brute force. It’s not the easiest game to learn – you’ll need to be patient with the rule book – but once you get it, you’ll want to play and replay over-and-over again.
Gaia Project is a follow-up to Z-Man Games’s 2012 hit, Terra Mystica (another great game), and if you’ve never played Terra Mystica, we’d highly recommend it before jumping into Gaia Project. In many ways, Z-Man Games remade and expanded Terra Mystica when it made Gaia Project. Play style and the objectives are largely the same between the two games, with the key difference being Terra Mystica is in the fantasy-realm whereas Gaia Project is a sci-fi game focused on space exploration and conquest.
(If you want to play Terra Mystica, but don’t want to run out and buy another board game just to play Gaia Project, we highly recommend checking out the video game adaptation of Terra Mystica on Steam.)
If you’ve played SYNDICATE, you’d probably also notice Gaia Project has similarities to SYNDICATE. In both games, you play as different faction – in SYNDICATE, you play as different “syndicates”, but it’s conceptually the same – with each faction imbued with special abilities. Both games also have a similar objective: spread through space, colonizing / conquering different planets and allow players to invest in different sci-fi skills to enhance their ability to complete their objectives.
Where Gaia Project and SYNDICATE really depart are in two areas: (1) how you colonize planets, and (2) secondary-themes of the board games. In Gaia Project, you are terraforming planets, while in SYNDICATE, you are colonizing but also combating other players to grow and protect your space criminal empire. Related, in Gaia Project you are principally scientist, whereas in SYNDICATE, the game centers around organized space crime and interplanetary gangsters, so while both games are sci-fi themed, the games feel very different.
Nevertheless, we’ll forgive Gaia Project for lack of space crime, and it remains one of our all-time favorite board games. But hey, if space crime is your thing, check out SYNDICATE.
(BoardGameGeek average review / rating for Gaia Project: 8.5/10)