In more ways than one, science fiction has completely shaped the 21st century. Without sci-fi on our televisions and movie screens, we probably wouldn’t have consumer technologies like smartphones, voice-control assistants, or self-driving cars. It’s not going anywhere, either, with streaming giants like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix catering to the genre’s steadfast fanbase.
But TV shows and movies aren’t the only way to get your science fiction fix. We’ve put together a list of the best sci-fi board games for casual and hardcore gamers alike.
For the best in tabletop sci-fi gaming, Terraforming Mars provides incredible world-building and gameplay that requires players to both compete and collaborate. As a product of the booming tabletop gaming market that doesn’t disappoint, it has undoubtedly earned a spot as one of the best space board games of our time.
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- Best Sci-Fi Board Games
- Best Overall – Terraforming Mars
- Best for Immersive Gameplay – The Search for Planet X
- Best Budget Option – The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
- Best Choose Your Own Adventure Game – The 7th Continent
- Best for Dinosaur Buffs – Dinosaur Island
- Best Multiplayer Game – Cosmic Encounter
- Best for Dice-Rolling Enthusiasts – Roll for the Galaxy
- Best Educational Gameplay – Race to Space Ultimate Edition
- Best for Fans of Gothic Horror – Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein
- Best Space Survival Game – The Artemis Project
- What to Consider When Buying a Sci-Fi Board Game
- Frequently Asked Questions
Best Sci-Fi Board Games
Best Overall – Terraforming Mars
Since its 2016 release, Terraforming Mars has become a mainstay in the world of tabletop gaming. Terraforming Mars takes place several centuries in the future, at a time when humankind has just started turning Mars into a habitable planet. Each player controls one of the major corporations hired by Earth’s government to overhaul Mars’ natural landscape and atmosphere.
Players gain access to new projects and resources by buying and playing cards. Throughout the game, each player must keep track of their corporation’s available income and raw resources. Be careful, though, because spending resources irresponsibly could derail the company mission.
Players must work together with their respective corporations to complete large projects while also collecting as many points as possible. Once Mars has enough water, oxygen, and a viable temperature to sustain human life, the player with the most total victory points is crowned the winner.
Best for Immersive Gameplay – The Search for Planet X
In The Search for Planet X, what comes in the box is only a small part of the game. This educational board game also uses an app to provide real-time clues and even allow players to interact with the sky. While you will need at least one smartphone, tablet, or computer to play The Search for Planet X, the app lets players share a device or use their own.
The goal of the game is to find the mysterious Planet X; an elusive space object believed to exist at the edge of our solar system. Players take on the role of researchers to analyze evidence, put forth hypotheses, and collaborate with other scientists pursuing the same discovery.
The Search for Planet X is by, and large a game of deduction — game designer Jamey Stegmaier compared the game to Clue in a recent video review:
Though not every guess will be correct and earn players points, each wrong guess will still get you one step closer to discovering the location of Planet X.
Best Budget Option – The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
When you don’t have the time or space to set up a complicated tabletop game, an engaging card game can be the perfect solution. In The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, players work together to explore the mysterious Planet Nine (which, by the way, is based on the same real-life astronomical theory as The Search for Planet X).
At its core, The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is a traditional suit- and number-based card game with a thematic twist. But since this is a cooperative game, there is no winner. Instead, all players either win or lose as a team.
Unfortunately, communicating with each other is hard in outer space. Once per mission, each player can use a communication token to share a card and a little bit about how it relates to the other cards in their hand. There are 50 total missions to play through, offering plenty of exciting, space-themed gameplay.
Best Choose Your Own Adventure Game – The 7th Continent
If you’re familiar with Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 80s and 90s, then The 7th Continent will be a welcome reprise. In this behemoth of a game, you play as an early-20th century explorer in Antarctica. The problem is, you and your fellow adventurers seem to have awakened a nasty curse during your expedition and now need to find the cure.
The gameplay is almost entirely made up of drawing and playing cards. Some of these cards represent the various terrain and resources encountered as you travel across the continent. Others represent actions your character may take during the adventure. Just like an adventure book tells you which page to turn to, The 7th Continent tells you which cards to draw as the story progresses.
Playing through The 7th Continent can take many, many hours. To make shorter sessions possible, players can “save” the game and pack it up for later. The game publisher compares this save mechanic to that of a video game.
Best for Dinosaur Buffs – Dinosaur Island
If you hold Jurassic Park near-and-dear, then Dinosaur Island is bound to scratch that prehistoric itch. Just like the beloved book and movie franchise it’s loosely based on, this game revolves around reviving extinct species for the sole purpose of creating an ill-advised theme park.
Throughout the game’s phases, each player is responsible for collecting DNA, creating lab-grown dinosaurs, adding park attractions, and ensuring their guests leave happy (and alive!). The player who earns the most points by completing objectives is named the winner.
Above all else, Dinosaur Island is a worker placement game and may be overwhelming for younger players. However, the ability to customize each play session’s length and add challenging “Plot Twist” cards means that this game caters to a fairly wide audience. Plus, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?
Best Multiplayer Game – Cosmic Encounter
What’s sci-fi tabletop gaming without some quirky alien board games? In Cosmic Encounter, there are 50 different alien races to discover. As one of these races, players must battle against other alien fleets to colonize foreign planets and win the game.
In Cosmic Encounter, players are quite literally stuck with the hand they’re dealt with. Because of this, being able to negotiate (and occasionally bluff) your way out of combat encounters can completely change the course of the game.
Each race also has its own unique ability or win-condition (emphasis on ‘unique’). For example, one alien race wins if they lose and vice-versa. Another can freely look at its opponents’ hands. Yet another can draw cards from anywhere, including other players’ hands. While these abilities aren’t always fair, they ensure the game is endlessly entertaining.
Best for Dice-Rolling Enthusiasts – Roll for the Galaxy
If you have a soft spot for classic dice-rolling games like Yahtzee, then adding space exploration is just icing on the cake. Roll for the Galaxy is a reimagining of the popular card game Race for the Galaxy with a six-sided twist.
This sci-fi game comes with a whole lot of dice — over 100, to be exact. These dice represent each player’s populace and available resources to spend toward specific goals. Rolled dice are secretly assigned to a single action, which, if successful, will move your space empire one step closer to victory.
While on the surface Roll for the Galaxy is just a dice-rolling game, players must keep track of a wide variety of goals and resources to succeed. If you fail to plan ahead or allocate your populace resources correctly, the other players will quickly leave you in the dust.
Best Educational Gameplay – Race to Space Ultimate Edition
For parents, there are few life lessons as valuable as teaching your children that learning can be fun. Race to Space Ultimate Edition combines classic family tabletop gaming with educational trivia to help reinforce and encourage learning outside of school.
In Race to Space Ultimate Edition, players will need to answer academic questions from four different categories: Science, language arts, social studies, and math. Along the way, you’ll also roll dice and encounter fun mini-games that pit players against each other.
Of course, trivia knowledge alone won’t win the game. Players can actively sabotage each other or steal star points from their opponents. The goal of the game is to be the first player to successfully reach outer space (or, in the game’s terms, earn 15 star points).
For more tabletop games that combine fun and learning, check out our top picks for Best Educational Board Games.
Best for Fans of Gothic Horror – Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein
Modern science fiction goes hand-in-hand with intergalactic travel and futuristic technology. But the genre wouldn’t exist if not for the work of one young woman. Based on Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel, Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is a gothic horror game where players race against each other to build their own Creature and decode the science of life itself.
As its source material suggests, Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is far from light-hearted. Players must actively collect body parts from unsavory parts of the city to progress their research. Failing to use these body parts quickly (or put them on ice), however, will result in rotting resources that cost you points.
While this game has some gruesome overtones, there’s something to be said for its anatomical accuracy. Players also earn bonuses or take penalties based on the morality of their character’s actions. Though not for young children, Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is a story-based game that horror fans are sure to love.
Best Space Survival Game – The Artemis Project
In any type of space exploration, stepping foot on a celestial body is just the beginning. The Artemis Project lets players explore what happens after humanity ventures into space and must build a moonbase to survive.
Europa’s crust is made almost entirely of ice, making survival near-impossible at best. Players must work against each other and the game in an effort to collect resources and build the most sustainable colony base. Fortunately, the game’s large illustrated board makes keeping track of your progress remarkably easy.
While the game takes place on one of Jupiter’s actual moons, it also takes a page from science fiction. Alien sea life populates the moon’s underground oceans, posing unique threats to colonists as they try to uncover valuable resources. As the game progresses, even deeper secrets are revealed about Europa and its history.
What to Consider When Buying a Sci-Fi Board Game
Most science fiction board games come with an age recommendation that is provided by the manufacturer. While these age ranges are just suggestions, they can be extremely useful for parents and caregivers.
Manufacturers base this age ranges on various factors, including the complexity, duration, or content of a given game. Some games may also include small parts that are unsafe for very young children.
Tabletop games can take anywhere from a few minutes to several days to play. If you’re short on time or playing with younger children, it’s important to consider how long a game will probably take.
Number of Players
Every game has a set number of people that can play at a time — any more or less, and it just won’t work. Before purchasing a new board game, make sure it accommodates the right number of players for your family or friend group.
Many board games also offer a single-player mode, meaning you play against the game rather than other players. This feature can be extremely valuable, especially for those who can’t always get together with friends to play a game.
Some manufacturers offer expansions that will accommodate more players than the base game. While only available for select titles, these expansions are great for large gaming groups.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is sci-fi/science fiction?
Science fiction is the use of imagined technology or scientific developments in media such as books, movies, television, video games, and board games. This fictional science can be a central part of the story or just a small part of it.
Is all science fiction space-related?
No. Although the term sci-fi has become synonymous with space exploration, it covers far more than that.
Other classic sci-fi worlds include “Jurassic Park,” “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” and the “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Science fiction is also popular in children’s and young adult literature, with some well-known examples including “A Wrinkle in Time,” “The Giver,” and “The Hunger Games Trilogy.”
Do sci-fi and reality ever overlap?
Yes, and it happens all of the time. In fact, science fiction sometimes precedes real technological developments by just a few years.
One of the most famous examples of this is Star Trek. While we don’t have transporters or hyperspace travel (at least not yet), modern cell phones are heavily based on the communicators used by Starfleet members. But at the time of Star Trek’s original airing, these devices seemed almost as far fetched as teleportation.
What can fiction teach us about real scientific advancements?
At its core, science is based on a few key principles like hypothesis, research, and theory. Even when the science itself is fake, good sci-fi still adheres to and can teach children about these principles.
Science fiction can also inspire young minds to think outside of the box. All science starts as “fiction,” so to speak. It’s only when hard-working researchers and inventors strive to bring their imaginations to life that we gain new scientific advancements.
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Last update on 2021-01-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API