Games Like Chess: 12 Best Alternative Board Games

Chess was invented in India in the 6th century, meaning people have played this board game for more than 1500 years. But what exactly makes this game so exciting and elite? Some interesting facts about this board game will blow your mind.

For instance, did you know there are 318 billion possible moves one can make after the first four moves? Just imagine the sheer number of that figure; you can’t predict how a chess game can end.

But the most exciting part about all this is that chess isn’t the only elite board game you can play. Hundreds of other board games exist with gameplays almost similar to chess.

In this article, I’ll look at some of the best alternative board games you can play instead of chess. If you’re a board game enthusiast, this is the perfect place to be right now.

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12 Best Games Like Chess

Some board games I’m about to cover are as old as chess, while some are recent inventions. So without wasting any more time, here are the 12 alternative chess board games you can try today.

1. Checkers

Checkers is one of the oldest board games that’s a lot simpler than chess. But just like chess, it’s played by two people who sit on opposite ends of each other across a board of 64 dark and light squares.

But unlike chess, the playing pieces are usually disk-shaped and of contrasting colors, making it easy for the players to know theirs. The game usually begins with each player having 12 pieces arranged on the board while actual playing takes place on the dark squares.

Players can advance diagonally to any vacant square adjacent to get close to their opponents, taking their pieces out until they become king.

A player is considered the winner when he captures all their opponent’s pieces or blocks the opponent from making any move.

Similar games to checkers were played in ancient Egypt and Greece, but the modern version was adopted in the 12th century AD. Checkers is the board game closest to chess, and most people are introduced to chess through this game.

Some popular checkers players include Marion Tinsley, famous for being among the few people in the early 90s to defeat a computer program called Chinook that Jonathan Schaeffer, a Canadian scientist, created.

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2. Shogi

This Japanese board game employs a lot of strategy and critical thinking. It’s famously called Japanese chess, involving two players like regular chess. The average duration of this game ranges from 30 minutes to two hours with a two-minute setup time, which is very simple.

In this game, two players sit on opposite ends of a simple board separated into 81 smaller squares in a grid of nine files and nine ranks. Overall, the board’s shape is rectangular, a breakaway from most board games that usually use a square board.

Each player is then allowed to start the game with 20 flat wedge-shaped pieces with a pentagonal shape. However, there are unique pieces that may have different shapes or colors; these pieces are the kings. All pieces face forward with the sharp end of the wedge leading.

The arrangement of the pieces starts from the smallest and least essential pieces to the most prominent and valuable ones. They include a King, Rook, Bishop, Gold Generals, Silver Generals, Knights, Lances, and Pawns, almost similar to regular chess.

Another exciting part of this game that makes it different from chess is that the pieces are labeled on the surface, most times in Kanji, with black ink for better visibility. All a player needs to do is checkmate their opponent’s king while protecting theirs.

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3. Go

Go is a Chinese board game that’s considered to be the oldest board game that’s being played today. It was invented over 2,500 years ago, almost 1,000 years older than chess.

At the moment, it’s estimated that over 46 million people know how to play this game, with most of them located in East Asia.

Like chess, the game is played on a board, primarily wooden, with pieces called stones, consisting of black and white convex-shaped disks that are tinier than the ones used in checkers.

The standard Go board is comprised of 19-by-19 grids, meaning it has 361 points. However, there are unique boards for beginners that measure nine by nine or 13 by 13, with players advancing to the bigger ones the better they become.

Unlike chess and other alternatives on this list, Go is one of the few board games where the game starts with an empty board. The player with black stones is always the first to play, and they begin by placing their stones on intersections of the board, one stone at a time.

The rules of Go are a little complicated, which explains why the game is only popular in China, where it has been played for many years.

The average playing time for casual players usually ranges between 20 and 90 minutes, while professional Go players usually spend between one and six hours playing, making it the board game with one of the longest gameplay durations on this list.

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4. Sagrada

A break from the first three board games we’ve covered, Sagrada is a more recent game created and published in 2017. It is a physical and digital game involving players trying to make a stained glass window using a set of colored dice on a board that can accommodate a maximum of 20 dice.

A player has to choose a die from a pool of snake drafts when their turn comes around, and then they have to place the die on a private board based on the agreed set of rules and restrictions.

Another unique fact about this game is that it’s one of the few board games involving up to four players simultaneously. It can also be played by a single person, making it a versatile chess alternative.

Being digital in nature, the game keeps getting updates. The last time that happened was in 2019 when it was expanded by the release of a new version called Passion. The game is mainly loved by online gamers who praise it for being fast-paced but easy to learn compared to chess, Shogi, or Go.

The average duration of each game of Sagrada is between 30-60 minutes depending on the number of players. They keep their scores, and the points are subtracted for each open space left on the player’s window and awarded anytime the player possesses a favor token.

Hard to follow? Well, you may have to give it a try to get a better understanding of how it’s played.

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5. Hive

This is another tabletop strategy game that John Yianni designed, and just like Sagrada, it’s a more recently conceived game that has been around since 2011.

Just as the name alludes to, the Hive game is based around bees. The main objective is to seize the opponent’s queen bee by surrounding it with other pieces while ensuring their queen is protected.

This board game uses hexagonally shaped tiles, each representing the various contents of a bee hive. Most boards are usually colorfully designed, but more recent designs have been predominantly black and almond.

There are 22 pieces in play, 11 for each player. Each piece represents a creature and has a different means of moving. The pieces can either be one Queen (yellow), two Spiders (brown), two Beetles (purple), three Grasshoppers (green), and three Soldier Ants (blue).

Some versions of this game come with three extra pieces including one Mosquito (gray), one Ladybug (Red), and one Pill Bug (Cyan). Like Go, the game starts with an empty board with players starting to arrange the pieces as they proceed with the game.

Digital adaptations of this game were released in 2013 and are free to play through the platform.

On average, the game takes about 20 minutes to complete.

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6. Onitama

This game was designed in 2014 by Shimpei Sato, a Japanese game designer, and it’s a digital strategy board game played by two players.

Like all the other games on this list, this is played on a board but a much smaller one that measures five by five. The players receive five pieces, each with one masterpiece strategically located in the middle square of the back row. This is called the Temple Arch, flanked by four other student pieces.

There are also five random movement cards that are utilized for each game, from a maximum of 16 that are availed to the players.

There are two ways of winning a game of Onitama. You can either capture the opponent’s masterpiece in a move called the Way of the Stone or use the Way of the Stream, where you move your masterpiece to the opponent’s Temple Arch.

Compared to chess, Onitama has fewer rules, is smaller, and is less popular. However, it’s just as enjoyable as chess because you can try so many moves.

The game is available on different OS platforms like Android, where you can play against the computer if you can’t find a worthy opponent, which you’ll notice happens often. After all, not many people are familiar with this game.

The average playing time for this board game is 15 minutes, which should tell you how easy it is compared to other chess alternatives like Shogi and Go.

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7. Blokus

Blokus was created in 2000 by Bernard Tavitian, and it’s a digital board game that uses strategy. Like most alternatives on this list, this game requires a minimum of two players but can be expanded to involve up to four players.

The game has a straightforward premise. The players are given pieces of different colors, and the aim is for players to occupy as much space on the board with their colors as possible. The one that achieves this first is the winner.

The board on which Blokus is played is a square shape divided into 20 x 20 rows and columns with a total of 400 squares. It has a total of 84 tiles organized into 21 shapes in four primary colors including blue, red, yellow, and green.

The playing order is based on the colors, with blue starting, then yellow, then red, and finally green. The game always starts with an empty board, and the first move involves placing the tile in one of the board’s four corners.

Each subsequent piece must touch another piece of the same color. If the player can’t place a piece, they must forfeit their turn and pass it over to the next player.

There have been different variations of this game, like Blokus Trigon, Blokus 3D, and Travel Blockus, just to mention a few. The setup time for this game is under a minute since it needs an empty board to start with.

The average time to complete one game ranges between 20 to 30 minutes.

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8. Tafl Games

This is a two-player game that has been around far longer than most of the alternatives I’ve mentioned so far. It was invented in Northern Europe in the early fourth century and played on a checkered game board with two armies of uneven numbers.

Tafl Games has had so many names as it got adopted by different European tribes, each time evolving into something slightly different. The game was played across Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland and then spread to nations like Britain and Ireland.

At the moment, there are over six main variants with different names. But the overall gameplay follows similar foundational rules. For example, the game is played on a nine-by-nine board with the initial setup shown to both players.

The pieces involved include a King, eight defenders called Swedes, and 16 attackers named Muscovites. To win the game, the Swedes must force the opponent’s king to escape to the spaces at the board’s edge. Alternatively, the game is won if the Muscovites capture the King.

Despite not being as popular as chess, the game still holds a special place among ardent board game enthusiasts and even has major international tournaments.

This game typically takes between five and 20 minutes to play with a one-minute setup.

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9. Xiangqi

This game has long been called Chinese chess and has been around for a very long time, since the Southern Song Dynasty in the 12th century. It’s almost similar to Shogi in the way the pieces are labeled, but the board and arrangement are very different.

Having been created in an era where China was a conglomeration of warring states, the game is based on military strategy, with the two players acting like opposing armies. The primary aim of the game is for the players to checkmate each other’s kings, mainly using a piece called Pao which can jump to capture.

The Xiangqi board is made up of nine lines across the width and ten lines long, giving it a rectangular shape. And just like Go, the players begin their moves on an empty board, placing their pieces at intersections.

Each player is allowed to control 16 pieces at the start of the game, pieces that are usually colored red and black and are circular in shape. These 16 pieces consist of a General, Advisor, Elephant, Horse, Chariot, Cannon, and Soldier, the lowest-ranked piece.

Like most games, Xiangqi has evolved with time into different variations played using different sets of rules in other parts of China. One constant thing, though, is how popular the game is for people looking to pass the time.

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10. Chaturanga

Chaturanga is another ancient board game from India whose origins have been dated back to the seventh century.

Many historians have attributed this game to be the ancestor of most board games today, with Xiangqi, Shogi, and Janggi all believed to be offshoots of Chaturanga that crossed borders and evolved into what they are today.

The game is played on an eight-by-eight board with different types of pieces resembling those used in chess. The pieces include Raja, Mantri, Ratha, Gaja, Asva, and Padai, all serving specific roles to ensure the king is protected while launching the attack on the opponent’s pieces.

But unlike the regular board games we have covered so far, Chaturanga comes with unique markings whose meanings are still unknown. The lines are primarily drawn on the board as part of the tradition and have no bearing on how the game is played.

The pieces come in two colors; black and white. The first move is made by the player using the white pieces. The aim is to capture the opponent’s king (Raja) or reduce the pieces protecting the Raja until they have no moves left to make.

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11. Ploy

Ploy was released in 1970, and designed by Frank Thibault. It has long been considered one of the best variations of chess.

The strategy game is played on a nine-by-nine board and involves two players who get to use between 15 and nine pieces, depending on the variation of the game they’re playing.

But unlike chess, the pieces in this game have unique shapes and colors. The game’s main objective is to capture the opponent’s commander or restrict their movements to the point they have no other option but to forfeit the game.

While the game has the conventional square board, things are a little different inside it. Nine spaces on a side with multiple vertical, diagonal, and horizontal lines connect these spaces. Players have to move their pieces along the lines as they try to corner their opponent.

The game is still popular to this day and is an excellent alternative to chess for people who want something less complicated but equally engaging.

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12. Azul

Wrapping up our chess board game alternatives list is Azul, an abstract strategy game that was designed by Michael Kiesling in 2017, making it the most recent game on this list.

Azul is a colorful game played on a five-by-five board with two or four plates. The aim is to collect tiles and fill up the entire board. Once tiles of a similar color have filled a row, the tile is moved into a square pattern on the side of the player board, where it earns points for the player.

Although the game looks simple on the surface, it requires a lot of thinking on the player’s part. There are different variations of the game that are more complex and reserved for more experienced players.

Azul has won several awards over the years, which is a testament to how it’s gaining popularity.

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Wrapping Up

So there you have it, fantastic chess alternatives that should keep you busy if you want to take a break from chess.

I would recommend Shogi and Go if you want something challenging, while Azul and Ploy would be a good fit if you wish to have some fun without frying your brain with too much thinking.

Whatever game you choose, just make sure you have fun.

About Author

Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.